What is Customer Education? Top Strategies for Building a Customer Education Program
September 1, 2023
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It can take weeks, or even months, to attract a lead, move them through the sales process, and negotiate a contract. Unfortunately, new customers can experience problems very quickly.
Maybe they’re overwhelmed with the options in your solution, or they ran into a problem they couldn’t resolve. Even the most powerful products don’t add value unless customers have clear direction and helpful resources.
Customer education showcases your investment in customer success, and also streamlines product adoption, and helps you stand out from competitors.
What is customer education?
Customer education teaches buyers how to use your product or service to achieve their goals. Studies show continuous training increases customer satisfaction and product adoption and boosts renewal rates.
Customer education is an incredible value-add that should begin before the sale and continue after onboarding.
A customer education program is designed to help people find value in your products and become advocates for your brand.
It includes resources like:
- A customer education academy where customers complete certifications and courses
- A knowledge base with resources like training documentation, blogs, case studies, and podcasts
- Live classroom training like lectures or webinars
- Interactive learning through product walkthroughs or in-app messaging with a customer service professional or a bot
Customer training can also include courses, tutorials, webinars, and certifications.
The importance of customer education
Customer education is an invaluable tool to empower users and build loyal brand advocates. It can help to improve customer experience, increase loyalty, reduce customer churn, and create opportunities for upsells and cross-sells.
Customer education is particularly helpful for:
- Products with complex features and tools
- Products that actively release updates
- Products that require extensive support to set users up
Customer education example
Qualified used WorkRamp to scale customer education efforts, which resulted in their customers becoming brand advocates. Because the company was growing quickly, it was essential for Tony Vaughn, Director of Qualified University, to help customers understand how to use the tool to build pipeline effectively.
When Tony first arrived at Qualified, there was no external customer training platform. Everything existed in blog posts and marketing pages. Tony set a bold goal of getting live in under 30 days, and using WorkRamp allowed him to reach that goal.
He found that trained accounts were at least 2x more likely to renew and did a better job using Qualified to develop pipeline. WorkRamp’s analytics and integrations were essential to show that impact.
Because they had a single platform that could host both internal and external training, they could grow quickly, reduce churn, and avoid hiring extra headcount to administer the software.
Who is customer education for?
You could argue that customer education is essential for any company. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling software or hair care products; customers need guidance on using your product or service.
A survey by Thought Industries found that customer education programs were used across a mix of business models:
- B2B (83%)
- B2C (29%)
- B2B2C (16%)
- B2B2B (9%)
Companies that invest in customer education programs often meet the following criteria:
- Complex products that have a long time to value
- Products that require new behaviors or processes
- Products that add new features often
- Products you can upsell
- Products that require a lot of customer support
Customers who can easily understand and implement your offering will be more likely to engage and quickly realize the potential gains and benefits. You’ll want to create a customer education program that’s easy to deliver and evolves to consider updates in your product or service.
Benefits of implementing a customer education program
A customer education program helps buyers get quick wins that make them feel good about their purchase.
You also get the opportunity to reinforce the features that made them buy while also introducing additional functionality so they get even more value from your solution.
Customer enablement and quicker maturity
Customers who have just made a significant purchase sometimes experience regret or anxiety that the solution might not provide the value they expected.
The good news is that with a strong customer education program, you can help new buyers implement the solution more quickly and get immediate wins reinforcing their good decision.
As customers learn more about your product or service over time, they find ways their company can get additional value from it, which helps them decide to stay with you instead of moving to a competitor.
A robust customer education program that shows the learner the next step in the process can improve implementation, prevent unnecessary calls to your customer support team, and help your customer become an advocate for your solution.
Builds customer trust
Helping your customers learn and succeed, especially before the sale goes through, shows them you’re invested in their growth. They should feel like your business is their partner, ultimately leading to loyal brand advocates who refer you to others who need a similar product.
Build customer trust by:
- Welcoming new customers with a getting started guide, a curated selection of your most helpful blog posts, and essential product walkthroughs
- Installing a help widget on your website or product so customers always have a quick solution to any problem
- Sending frequent customer feedback surveys to gauge their satisfaction. If they feel unsure about your product, reach out to them and let them know you are working to solve their query
A customer who trusts you and knows how to use your product or service will be more engaged with your solution and likelier to recommend you to a colleague or friend.
Increase product adoption
The faster your customers learn and use your product, the faster they will see results.
Waiting for answers, misusing your product, or getting fed up and logging out are common reasons customers don’t adopt new products. Providing customers with resources from the start will eliminate confusion and produce confident users.
Chauncy Cay Ford, Director of Customer Enablement at Quantum Metric, shared how they use customer education to streamline adoption. “We have built a help menu everywhere within our product,” she says. “So if our customers are overwhelmed, or they can’t remember what happened at that demo, no big deal, this help menu is always there for them.”
When users click on the help menu, they can search for what they need, and videos or guidance will pop up. Quantum Metric has received excellent customer feedback, with some saying it’s like a quick phone-a-friend feature.
This kind of easy-to-access support is what creates customer satisfaction—the confidence that the buyer made the right decision when they purchased your solution and that they’ll see the benefits they hoped for long term.
Improve customer retention
Training creates “sticky customers” that continually adopt new features and renew subscriptions. You can also create certification programs facilitating product adoption, brand advocacy, and customer loyalty.
A strong training program reduces customer churn for several reasons:
- Customers see no value in products they don’t know how to use, and consumers won’t keep spending money on products that don’t benefit them
- Customers want immediate solutions; when organizations fail to provide them, they will move on to a different solution
- Customer education helps users feel at ease with product changes and informed about new features. Keeping customers in the know is vital to retaining them
In a survey of 200 organizations, 40 percent of respondents named customer education as an important tool in reducing churn in challenging economic times, according to the 2021 State of Customer Education report.
You can sell an amazing product, but unless you take the extra step of helping customers create results, you’ll struggle to prevent the problems that cause customers that leave for competitors due to unmet expectations.
Supporting your customers with education is the best way to increase customer lifetime value and maximize profits over time.
Studies show that an established customer education program can lead to a 6.2 percent increase in organizational top-line revenue.
Thorough, easy-to-use training promotes product adoption, satisfies customers, and frees up company time. Happy customers renew contracts, and your employees have time to focus on more significant, more critical problems.
This also gives the customer support team more time to upsell current users. It’s much easier to upsell a satisfied existing customer than win over a new buyer. Upsell opportunities could be anything from VIP packages to paid training content on a specific topic or even unlocking a new feature early.
Reduced support costs
A 2018 customer experience report showed that 83 percent of consumers experienced customer service issues like having to repeat themselves, difficulty using self-service, and trouble accessing an agent. Of the businesses surveyed, 68 percent agreed that their customer service struggles to keep up with support queries.
A strong customer education program can proactively address common problems and help users troubleshoot their own issues, which gives customers immediate results and lowers the stress on your customer support team.
With easy-to-access education modules to serve as refreshers, customers can self-service most of their needs without needing a customer success representative to walk them through the process. This self-support helps users feel more capable and comfortable with your solution, which helps them get the value they expect and choose to continue with your company.
Aligns marketing and sales teams
Customer education is a pillar that can help unite your marketing and sales teams. While most companies think about customer education after the sale, the truth is that the same materials that support new users can also support the buyer’s journey.
Your customer education materials can help marketing educate prospects, and the same ideas and messaging can help sales move leads through the buying process.
What is a customer education plan?
A customer education plan is key for empowering customers with product knowledge. It also helps your organization differentiate itself and reduce churn.
What goes into creating a customer education plan?
What are the integral pieces to get your plan off the ground and create a successful program? Here are the criteria.
Define the scope and central goal of your plan
Your customer education plan’s scope and central goal are the topics and objectives you want to cover and the primary outcomes you want them to achieve. A program’s scope sets the boundaries, while its central goals give it direction.
Imagine a company that sells project management tools. They create a customer education plan to help customers use the software better.
Their scope may include topics like:
- Navigating the central dashboard
- Creating and managing projects
- Collaborating with team members
- Generating reports
The central goal is to empower customers to optimize project management processes using the software.
To define the scope and central goal of your customer education plan, follow these steps:
- Identify your target audience: Find out who your customers are and their levels of expertise. Developing a tailored education plan requires understanding your customers’ needs.
- Analyze your product or service: Look at the features, benefits, and potential pain points. Doing this lets you know what aspects require education and how much info you’ll need.
- Consult stakeholders: Gather insights on customer pain points and expectations from sales, marketing, support, and product teams. You can prioritize and refine your plan based on their input.
- Set a clear central goal: Decide what you want customers to achieve. Maybe it’s better adoption, better customer satisfaction, or fewer support calls. You can prioritize and refine your plan based on their input.
- Determine the scope: Identify the topics you must cover in your customer education plan. Sort them by priority and relevance to the central goal. Ensure the scope remains focused and manageable.
Regularly revisit the scope and central goal to ensure they remain relevant and aligned with your business objectives and customer needs. This will help you continuously improve your customer education program and drive better results.
Examine your product’s post-sales process & implementation
When you understand the journey after purchase, you can discover what challenges and gaps customers face. Creating a plan that addresses the correct issues and delivers a seamless product experience is also easier.
Here’s how to examine your post-sales process:
- Map the customer journey: Outline the key milestones customers experience after purchasing your product, such as onboarding, setup, feature exploration, and ongoing use.
- Identify pain points: Determine common challenges and difficulties customers face during the post-sale process and implementation based on customer feedback, support requests, and product usage data.
- Assess skill gaps: Identify any knowledge or skills gaps your customers have. You can bridge these gaps with targeted content.
By analyzing and improving your post-sales experience, you can create a customer education plan encouraging customers to stick with your organization.
Determine if you’ll need to segment your customer base based on product fit
What range of customers do you serve?
Chances are, you’ll need to divide customers into groups based on their unique needs, preferences, and product usage. Segmentation is necessary to create a tailored education plan that results in more effective learning experiences.
Say you’re a productivity tool that services small business owners and large enterprises.
- Your enterprise plan may cover reducing communication overhead and improving performance management processes.
- While your small business plan may focus on building a day-to-day structure and automating specific tasks
Follow these steps to segment your customers based on product fit:
- Evaluate factors such as customer size, industry, and experience to identify potential differences in product usage and needs.
- Examine how customer groups use your product, including frequency, feature usage, and common challenges.
- Determine if different segments have unique learning requirements or challenges that warrant tailored content.
- Assess whether you have the resources and capacity to manage segmented customer education plans.
Identifying significant differences in customer needs or product usage patterns can help you segment your customer base and tailor your education plans to meet those needs.
Look into customer renewal feedback
Customer renewal feedback refers to customers’ insights and opinions when renewing their contracts. You can collect it through surveys or face-to-face interviews.
By analyzing this feedback, you can identify areas for improvement in your product or service and improve your customer education plan.
Say a software company gets feedback from a client who struggled with certain advanced features. The company can avoid similar issues for other customers and increase renewals by addressing these concerns in its customer education plan.
Prioritize and validate your research
Your customer education plan needs to be rooted in fact. You want to guarantee the information provided is relevant, accurate, and useful.
Here’s how to validate your research:
- Gather research: Collect data from various sources, such as customer feedback, support requests, product usage analytics, and market research.
- Identify themes: Analyze the research to find common themes, challenges, or opportunities that require attention in your customer education plan.
- Prioritize issues: Rank the identified themes based on their impact on customer satisfaction, product adoption, and business objectives. Focus on the most pressing issues for your education plan.
- Validate findings: Cross-reference your research findings with data from other sources, such as industry reports or direct customer feedback, to ensure accuracy and relevance.
- Incorporate priorities into your plan: Develop targeted educational content that addresses the prioritized and validated research findings, tailoring the material to your customers’ needs and preferences.
- Measure effectiveness: Track key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess the impact of your prioritized and validated research on your customer education plan’s success and adjust the plan as needed for continuous improvement.
By focusing on the most critical aspects and confirming their validity, you create a targeted and effective learning experience for your customers.
Customer education best practices
How do you create a strong customer education program? The good news is that you don’t have to start from scratch. Instead, you can integrate these best practices into your customer education plan.
1 Build a strong customer education team
Each customer education program is unique, so your team will differ based on your needs. However, stakeholders across your organization are crucial to a successful customer education program.
There are a few key roles that all programs should consider:
- Customer education lead. Responsible for creating the customer education strategy, building the team, and launching the program
- Subject matter experts (SMEs). Ensure your program is accurate and relevant to customers.
- Instructional designer. Turn the concepts identified by SMEs into content and courses that assist customers in learning
- Technical lead. Manages your Learning Management Platform’s technical workstream and day-to-day operations
- Executivesponsor. Ensures your program is aligned with the organization’s strategic priorities
When building Kustomer’s customer education program, Content Strategy Manager Krisi Thurston spoke with multiple leaders from various departments to understand what was going on. “I wanted to be aware of what was available to me, data-wise, [and] what other leaders thought would be big needs in the future,” she explains.
2. Determine customer education goals
Customer education is a challenge. Without setting specific initiatives at the start, you risk executing poorly and struggling to understand the impact of your work.
So, what do you want to get from your customer education program?
Some common business goals include improving:
- Product adoption rates
- Customer satisfaction scores
- Net retention
- Renewal rates
3. Assess customer needs
Knowing your customers is the key to creating effective content. Businesses often generate training materials that are hard to understand and don’t apply to the actual customer journey. To make a program that sticks, you need to match your training to the needs of your new customers.
Think about who your new users are:
- What are their goals?
- What are their fears?
- What content will help them do their jobs better?
- How do they consume content?
If you don’t know, set up customer interviews to help plan your content. Interviews offer great opportunities to understand:
- How people interact with your brand and product
- Customer pain points
- Common knowledge and skill gaps
- Where to improve your onboarding process
- What your customers want to learn
Although it may seem like a lot of work upfront, you can use this process repeatedly to build future courses and content. It will save you time and energy in the long run.
4. Determine subject matter experts
Once you understand your customers’ needs and company goals, find subject matter experts (SMEs) to work with on course and module outlines.
An SME could be someone from your product team who understands product features and how they work. Or someone from your customer success team who works with customers daily. The goal is to gather information about how customers learned in the past and what worked and didn’t work. Ideally, you want one subject matter expert for each learning area.
5. Use a learning management system (LMS)
Choosing the right LMS to support your program is crucial to success. Ask yourself the following questions when choosing a platform to invest in.
- How fast can you get learning content to customers? Consider how long it takes for the program to be ready for customers. Long implementation times can add weeks to your project
- Can you brand the content and learning portal? A good learning management system will let you add branding elements throughout programs
- What reporting features does it have? You can track key success metrics to measure the revenue impact of customer training. Some learning platforms, like the Learning Cloud from WorkRamp, integrate with Salesforce and other CRMs for in-depth reporting.
- Is the content easy to access on the backend? You’ll want a platform that makes content easy to create and manage in one place.
- Does it provide a fun learning experience? Features like certifications and social learning elements increase retention and engagement.
- Can it scale with your organization? Your ideal platform should be able to deliver exceptional training, whether it’s for 500 or 5,000 learners.
An all-in-one LMS, like the Learning Cloud, can manage internal and external training and is easier to manage and more efficient for your company.
6. Measure progress
When you get your program up and running, you should track various metrics to prove it’s working. There won’t be any evidence of high retention or customer growth during the program’s first six months.
Getting long-term business results takes time, but you can prove value fast. Learn how to measure these key customer education metrics to understand and prove the ROI of your program.
How customer education fits into the customer journey
Customer training plays a crucial role in your business strategy. Training programs are growing faster than ever, with 60 percent of surveyed participants increasing their investment by 30 percent in 2021.
Customer education helps with three stages of a customer’s lifecycle:
It’s not enough to build great products; today’s businesses need to develop the right informational tools to compete in the marketplace. The promise of a robust customer education program builds trust and confidence in your company by:
- Showing customers around your product to see if it will work for them. Think product demos and free trials. If a customer signs on, they will already be familiar with the basics of your product and will be ready to hit the ground running.
- Identifying common industry challenges and showing how your product can solve them. Many customers will do their research even before they’re in the funnel. Having accessible case studies, blogs, or podcasts can position you as the market leader in solving their problems.
Customer onboarding might be the most crucial time in your customer education program. Onboarding is the time to help new users learn to use the product independently and start securing those all-important early wins.
For smaller companies with high-touch customers, the first 3 to 4 weeks are to get the customer up and running with a product. Larger-scale companies might opt for a university or academy model so new customers can get an extensive process with less human effort. Using certifications and courses helps monitor product adoption and quickly address customer problems.
The onboarding phase is also where companies tend to make the mistake of giving customers too much information. Your program is fantastic; you want to show your customers everything it can do. But if you show them every capability on the first day, customers will get overwhelmed and think there’s no way they could learn it all. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to share more with them as they get accustomed to your product.
Your customer education program should extend beyond onboarding, as you want customers to become experts in your offering. Customers who develop true mastery of your product will likely become advocates and recommend your product to others.
Encourage continued growth by:
- Creating VIP packages that include a subscription to your podcast, live events, or monthly virtual webinars. This is a great upsell opportunity as well!
- Regularly updating your blog or learning platform and notifying customers about new content
- Starting a Slack channel, LinkedIn group, or Subreddit thread where customers can interact and share best practices using your product
Whether training brand new customers or retraining existing ones, customer education should keep everyone up to date on the latest information and best practices.
Use the best customer education software for ongoing customer success
Creating a strong customer education program has many benefits for your organization. You’ll have happier customers who can see benefits from their purchase right away, will use more product features, and will be better able to self-service their support needs.
However, to create a successful program, you need the proper foundation. The Learning Cloud is the all-in-one solution you’ve been looking for.
Get a demo to learn more about how we can help your customer education program excel. Contact us today!
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