In e-learning, the most commonly addressed audience is an organization’s internal employees. That makes sense, given the immediate impact that your employees will have on your organization’s bottom line. There are, however, benefits to expanding your learning programs beyond internal audiences to address your extended enterprise. One such activity, which yields massive returns, is customer training.
Let’s take a deep dive into the concept of customer education, and explore how you can create an external learning program for your organization.
- What is customer training?
- Customer training examples
- Why is customer training important?
- Benefits of customer training
- How to create a customer training program
- Enabling customer training with your LMS
Customer training – a segment of extended enterprise enablement – is the process of educating your customers on how to successfully use your product or services in order to meet their goals. Practically speaking, it involves providing the customer education materials and information they need to be successful and meet their organization’s business objections.
The goal of customer training is threefold:
- Attract and retain customers at every stage of the customer lifecycle
- Improve customer experience by providing training that leads to value
- Maximize the impact of your product or service within your customers’ organizations
Customer training can mean different things to different companies, so it’s not a one-size fits all approach.
As mentioned, customer education comes in many different forms. Learning materials can be either guided, self-paced or a combination of both, depending on what your customer base responds to best.
Typically, customer training programs include one or more of the following:
- Guided onboarding
- Self-paced learning
- On-demand training material
- Knowledge bases
- Training and certification programs
Ideally, your customer education program should contain a blend of these content offerings. This will allow your customers to choose where and when they want to consume your training material.
According to the Extended Enterprise Learning 2020 research report from the Brandon Hall Group, more than half of organizations deliver learning to external, non-employee groups. This includes a combination of customers, channel partners, distributors, value-added resellers, and franchisees.
Of those surveyed in the report, 45% said they actively provide training to customers, and 49% agree that customer training improves client relations.
That’s the good news. The better news? It doesn’t take much additional budget to reap these benefits.
On average, the report says, these activities take up just 10% of most companies’ L&D budgets, but present major opportunities for organization to:
- Build brand awareness
- Improve customer relationships
- Generate additional and recurring revenue
- Improve overall customer experience
“Organizations that do not consider all their possible learning opportunities may be missing out on critical opportunities to improve customer relationships, increase sales and generate revenue,” the report states.
One caveat to this is that customer education may not be relevant to all industries or product and service offers.
Companies that offer software, tech, and subscription-based services, as an example, are particularly suited to customer training. These companies must deliver value at every stage of the customer lifecycle, prove their impact to the company, and ensure that they’ve communicated that value in advance of any renewal date or upsell opportunity.
Providing a strong customer training program offers a variety of impactful benefits for both your organization and your customer experience.
Some benefits of customer training for your organization include:
Increasing revenue and decreasing costs
Great customer training can help to increase revenue both directly and indirectly. It’s estimated that the cost of acquiring a new customer is anywhere from 5-25 times more expensive than retaining an existing customer.
When executed well, the value provided by client training can increase customer loyalty and contribute to a more positive customer experience. This translates to increased revenue, as happy customers are more likely to renew their contract or choose your services again.
Similarly, you can also package and sell training to your customers, which can open new streams of revenue.
Increasing engagement with your product or service
People tend to use and value a product or service more if they understand how it works, and what the value is to their jobs. Customer training programs can be used to ramp up your customers quickly so that all users are fully aware of your company’s benefits and impact.
As users become more familiar with your product, both through training and on-the-job usage, they are more likely to become fans and, potentially, advocates for your product or service internally. This helps to drive adoption and makes your company a necessity, rather than a nice-to-have.
Strengthening customer retention and creating upsell opportunities
Any sales person or account manager will tell you that, when it’s time to ask for a renewal or upsell, you better be able to prove the value your product or service has had for the customer. If you can’t, then it’s unlikely that your customer will shell out more money for a renewal, let alone an upsell or a cross sell.
By providing training and enablement from the starting line, customer training ensures that your customer is empowered to drive maximum impact at their organization using your product or service. Once that impact is proven, your sales team should have a much easier time making the case for why an extension is a good idea, or why the customer may benefit from additional products.
Creating brand advocates and champions
The more customers can prove the impact of your products or services, the more likely they are to become brand advocates and champions for your company, both internally and to the wider public. Once customers become advocates, they transform into one of your most valuable sales and marketing resources, making great contacts for case studies, event speakers, and sales references.
Reducing customer support costs
Without a customer training program, all inquiries that come out of pre-sales, onboarding, and ongoing usage of your product or service will need to be fielded by someone on your support or account teams. As you scale, the volume of calls, tickets, chats and emails can become overwhelming and incredibly resource intensive.
Customer training helps to ease this burden by allowing you to address common questions and issues in a centralized location. Customers can find the answers for themselves, rather than reaching out to your team every time they have a question.
Of course, customer education isn’t supposed to only benefit your company. The goal is to offer programs that benefit your customers, which in turn has positive impacts for your business. It’s important, therefore, to understand why your clients may want customer training, and what they will get out of these initiatives.
Some benefits of customer training for your customers include the following.
Providing more effective and efficient customer onboarding
Getting up to speed with a new product or service can be time consuming and challenging. Customers expect that their onboarding experience will be as smooth as possible, allowing them to start making an impact in their organization as quickly as possible.
Well-organized customer onboarding programs help new clients get up to speed faster, and are scalable so that you can offer these benefits to all new contracts.
Establishing value and ROI early on
Customers will have gone out on a limb to secure funding for your product or service. They’ve made a pitch to their superiors, and potentially senior leadership, and they will need to deliver on the promises they made.
Customer training helps your clients ramp up quickly and prove the value of their new programs as quickly as possible. This does wonders for customer satisfaction and can help you generate staying power within their organization.
Now that we’ve established the benefits of customer training, let’s talk about how to implement your own strategy.
Creating an impactful customer training program starts with understanding your clients’ needs. Your goal should be to gain a 360-degree understanding of how your customers currently get information about your product or information, how they ask questions and receive support, and what type of content they respond to best.
From there, you can craft a customer training program that delivers maximum impact where and when your customers need it most.
Here are some key steps to consider to accomplish this:
1. Find your customer support touch points.
The first step is to outline where the important touch point will be for your customer training. To help, meet with your sales, account management, customer success, and support teams to map out where and when they typically interact with customers.
Examples of key touch points include: onboarding, technical support, user support, strategic support, and account support.
2. Understand your customers’ needs at each touchpoint
Once you’ve established these touchpoints, work with internal stakeholders to map out all key business challenges and information requirements for each of the stages listed above.
You can also consider making this activity a two-way conversation with your customers. Poll them about what information and training they would find helpful. Create open forums where they can ask questions. Analyze your web traffic, product usage statistics, and internal search queries to see what types of information people search for.
All of this data will offer valuable insights into what customer training material you should create, and how it should be delivered.
3. Use the right LMS and content
After you gain a clear understanding of what questions your customers are asking, you can begin to think through the best media and delivery platform to use for each type of information.
As an example, onboarding might be best suited to an online video series via an LMS. Ongoing support might be best suited to a forum or knowledge base. Consider creating multiple versions of the same training material and testing to see which platforms and media types receive the best engagement.
4. Improve customer experience with blended learning
Regardless of which platforms and content you choose, you should offer blended learning in your customer training program. People learn and process information in many different ways. Some like to learn at their own speed, while others work best in more formal learning environments. Your customer training program should aim to cater to these different learning styles.
Be sure to offer a mix of hands-on, live, and self-directed learning. Live webinars and interactive sessions can be used for more formal learning, while on-demand video series, slide decks, and quizzes can be used for self-directed learning.
Experiment with a combination of on-demand, self-paced and micro-learning to discover what works best for your customer base.
5. Establish and track the right customer training KPIs
No customer training strategy is complete without a clear set of success metrics. These should be established during the planning phase of your customer training program, and act as the guiding light for all new learning initiatives.
Pick one to three KPIs that you’ll use to track the impact of your customer training program. Examples include: time-to-value, training engagement, customer retention, number of direct support requests, customer satisfaction, renewal rate and recurring customer spend.
Leverage learning analytics tools to ensure that you can measure and report on the ongoing impact of your customer learning programs. Track movement on these KPIs over time to determine whether or not your customer education program is having a noticeable impact.
As you begin to piece together your customer training strategy, you’ll quickly realize that selecting the right platform is critical to success. We’re biased, but we think a high-powered LMS or learning suite is the way to go for any customer training program.
Just as we train our employees with the most relevant and exciting content, your customers will also respond to the same materials. It only makes sense to extend the same privileges of a Learning Platform to your client base and engage them with quality learning programs.
Echoing this, the aforementioned survey by Brandon Hall Group found that 62% of organizations use a Learning Management System (LMS) for extended enterprise learning, and it’s easy to see why.
An LMS can help to dramatically improve customer experience by accomplishing the following.
Centralize customer training materials
An LMS is the central location where your customers can find your training materials. As such, an LMS enables customers to easily access courses, experts, and other learning resources.
Deliver customer education content efficiently
An LMS also enables e-learning materials to be quickly updated and easily delivered to different learning audiences. This allows for product and service changes (e.g., UI updates, new features) to be communicated quickly and easily.
Enable formal and informal e-learning
As a best practice, customer training should support learning as it happens, leveraging both formal and informal learning methods. A top LMS should have features that support social learning so customers are empowered to learn through social channels.
Measure the success of your customer training program
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of learning technology is that it provides metrics on learner activity. This allows organizations to gather insights that can fuel and improve their learning programs, ensuring customer success.
Connect to your tech stack
Some modern learning suites come with built-in integrations that let you tap into your CRM data. This is invaluable for your sales and account teams when it comes time to discuss renewals and upgrades with your customers. Your team can review what training has been completed, and what can still be done to improve the impact of your product or service within the customer’s company.
As you can imagine, choosing the right LMS is incredibly important. Selecting the right (or wrong) one plays a key role in the success or failure of your customer training program.
Again, we’re biased, but we like to think Docebo is a pro at all key considerations listed above.