The first step of successful customer education is to create deep engagement with customers. Without that, most of the hard work of developing and delivering great training and content will be wasted. The key to successful engagement, more than anything else, is interactivity -- social learning, gamification, video, certification and strategic communications.
Let's go through each of those essential elements to understand what's needed.
Essential Element #1: Video Reading seems to have become a lost art. Make sure your learning content has a big dose of video training. These video segments need to be:
Short (three minutes is optimal);
Punchy (skip the 30-second dramatic opening with your company logo); and
Mobile (so people can put it up on their devices for a quick viewing).
At the same time, make sure you:
Include transcripts (in case people prefer to scan instead of view);
Don't waste too much effort on production value (but make sure the audio is clear); and
Show precisely what button is being pushed or lever is being pulled (don't gloss over vital details).
Essential Element #2: Gamification
The idea of adding elements of gaming -- points, scorecards, leveling up -- has a rich background of research to bolster its value in learning. That doesn't mean it works for everybody, however.
Here's an area where you should talk with your customers to find out whether gamification has appeal. For example, if your customers are doctors, accountants or attorneys, they may not be interested. But for others, it will make all the difference.
Essential Element #3: Certification …
Certifications are expensive to build. You could easily sink hundreds of thousands of dollars into setting up an initial certification program. When it works, it builds a tribe of enthusiasts for your product. Again, this is something your users can help you decide on.
Find out having credentials in your product has any meaning for them. If indications say yes, set up a small prototype and find ways to validate it before making a bigger investment. Offer to beta program to certify customers for free in exchange for their feedback during the program.
Essential Element #4: ... and Badging
The realm of badging, in contrast to certification, is big and getting bigger. And it doesn't require nearly the investment for a full-fledged certification program.
The idea is to help people validate their learning of the latest technologies. They take training, prove their newly-gained expertise through some kind of verified step such as an exam or project and earn the right to display a virtual badge in their professional profiles.
Oftentimes, companies begin by offering badges and then parlay those into more complete certification programs. The badges allow their users to gain recognition on the journey without having to wait to earn the bigger, more structured certification.
Essential Element #5: Social Learning
Social learning isn't new; people have learned from each other forever. But now it has a technical aspect. People -- and even entire companies -- around the world can learn from each other online. This form of social learning can take place in online communities, discussion forums, websites and virtual conferences.
As one report put it, "Customers see tremendous value in learning from peers, and it's often difficult for them to organize such encounters on their own." By doing it for them, you earn a level of trust and engagement that's tough to acquire any other way.
Also, as Adam Avramescu writes in his book, Customer Education: Why Smart Companies Profit by Making Customers Smarter, community platforms can provide space "for users to upvote different feature requests." These can become a big part of your "voice of the customer" initiatives but giving you insight into "the most-requested features and what users have to say about them."
Essential Element #6: Communications
Communications through email, webinars and targeted social media give you micro opportunities to reinforce your messages with customers with "learner notifications" and encourage them to pick up the pace in their learning journeys. The key here is that most of it needs to be automated. You can rely on a good learning platform that has prebuilt notifications, reminders, and suggestions.
Plan to ramp up your marketing. You want to generate excitement and probably need to do more marketing during the onboarding process than might seem natural. In general, most users will ignore 50 percent to 75 percent of your communications, so if you're doing a kickoff webinar to all the new users, then it'll take more than one communication to sink in.
And persuasive communication is just as important. You have to express benefits and the "what's in it for them." Just saying, "We have a webinar coming up to give you an introduction to the product" is much less effective than, "We have a webinar coming up to show you how you can use the product to save an hour a day."
By embedding these essential elements of interactivity into your learning content activities and efforts, you'll generate more engagement and product adoption among your customers, which results in greater retention of the lessons learned, more effective use of your product and less customer churn.