Earlier this year, Thought Industries published its 2020 State of Customer Training Report. Conducted by Claire Schooley, the former lead learning analyst at Forrester, and Barry Kelly, founder and CEO of Thought Industries, this was the second annual survey of over 150 individuals over a variety of industries, primarily enterprise software, to understand the perception and the reality of customer training in today's marketplace.
Melissa VanPelt, Senior Director, Customer Education & Community at Seismic
Adam Avramescu, Head of Global Enterprise Customer Enablement & Training for Slack, and founder of the CE Labs podcast
Matt Mulholland, Customer Education Manager, Miro
Following is an overview of their views.
Customer training and the rapid response to COVID-19
The discussion began on how the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way each organization has focused on training. The 2020 State of Customer Training Report shows that COVID has led to a major shift with 59% of respondents indicating that their top priorities are retaining customers and 56% of respondents indicating a priority to move from in-person training to remote learning or virtual instructor-led training (vILT).
Melissa, “The first big pivot at Seismic was we had to redevelop our very popular and extremely well-attended live instructor-led courses into a virtual format.” These two to three-day courses had to be recreated, but with 2 provisos:
They had to maintain the same quality of learner experience as the live events
They had to mirror the same learner design – lecture, demonstration, hands-on activity, again and again.
Seismic shift to create virtual courses from ILT
Seismic spent 1100 hours across 36 lessons on development and production of these courses, necessitating a huge, and unplanned, reallocation of resources. The good news is that with those courses in a virtual format, Seismic has been able to extend their reach across their customer base, and rapidly improved their scalability. They knew they had to do it eventually, and now that it’s done they know there will be long-term benefits from the short-term pain.
"We were really fortunate enough pre-COVID to have built and launched Seismic University and Percolate Academy, which both host a robust library of on-demand and self-paced courses, learning paths that support customers during onboarding and beyond."
Slack was in a different position, already being an online communication and collaboration resource, enabling customers to transition quickly to the new normal. Per Adam, “our strategy was not as much about taking a bunch of things that we were doing live and quickly transforming them. It was more about accelerating the online strategy that we’d already had in place.”
They were already training Slack on Slack, and using platforms like Zoom to promote interactivity. They had released their new certification program last year with a series of live events. The COVID crisis spurred their effort to scale the program by bringing it online, making it more self-paced, and available on-demand.
Customer training is important (96%) but customers aren’t adequately trained (14%)
The 2020 State of Customer Training reports that 96% of respondents said that customer training is important to the organization, but only 14% believe their customers are adequately trained. [Tweet this]
Matt remarked that the correlation of those results was unsettling and not the culture at Miro. “We’re fortunate to have executive backing to run our programs. But we are constantly getting questions from our community – how do I make a better business case, how do we get management to let us hire, let us buy an LMS? It seems intuitive that if people are trained to use your product, they’ll buy more and use it more.”
Adam pointed out that the Thought Industries report cataloged priorities for customer training goals in 2020, the top 2 being:
49% want to expand their content library beyond feature functionality
47% want to incorporate online training within their product or platform.
While the impulse is always going to be to continue to build, to add more, customer training needs to step back and think about a portfolio of content. “When you do that, you see that some of the content needs to be retired. Operational metrics attached to the content library will tell you what’s actually performing and what’s not performing.”
The second biggest challenge of customer training is content
58% of respondents reported that content management, including creation, portability and versioning, is the second biggest challenge they are facing, right behind customer engagement and adoption.
Melissa, “Yeah, this one keeps me up at night – we joke that trying to align our learning efforts with our rapid release cycle is like being on a hamster wheel. Our product team is innovating at lightning speed. Which is fantastic, but unless you have an army of resources or a massive outsourcing budget, it definitely poses a serious challenge”.
The answer to managing this challenge lies with Seismic’s ability to constantly track product development, product release cycles, working closely with product management and tech writers to understand what’s changing, when it’s changing, and the impact to the courses that are already out there.
Seismic has assigned a dedicated project manager to plan, prioritize and keep track of capacity and resource allocation so that their customer training is in sync with releases. They are deliberate about learning design and the impact that product changes have on content. They are always thinking about how they modularize content and align those modules to learning objectives. Lumping an entire course in one SCORM package can be a nightmare to update.
Who makes up a customer education team?
Team structure is very important. Seismic has instructional designers, developers and facilitators. Then there is project management and operations, creative and community management. But at the end of the day, it’s all about LMS administration, operational coordination of live events, data and reports, and customer success.
Adams adds that at Slack, it’s not just about creating new content, it’s also how to maintain it over time. “We want to be clear that as we put out new content, and as that content ends up in deliverables, it must become more scalable coursework, including badges and certifications.
“We work closely with a team that’s focused on scalable user education. My team is focused on enterprise customer education, but there are many Slack users who come in ‘self-service’. We work together to build a core curriculum that is based on the key actions needed to adopt Slack, no matter what the level. The temptation is to create content about everything, but what really matters is teaching customers how to do their job better.”
Miro, by comparison, is a free-form tool – it’s all about how it’s used to solve different problems. Matt shared, “It's about the tool, and the training that we provide for the most part should be about what they're trying to do.”
43% of respondents are struggling to measure how customer training is impacting their business
It all comes down to measurement. Per Barry, “how do we help organizations to connect training to business metrics? Time-to-value, skill set, etc. are not traditionally data points.”
Adam offered this insight: “Discoverability and value are what you need to track. You especially want to know when there is a disconnect between the two.” He offers the example of a piece of content that has extremely high uptake, but low evaluation scores. This represents your customers telling you what needs to be fixed.
Or, content that has high value, but low discoverability – not showing up in searches or not getting a lot of views. This content deserves more promotion and thus exposure.
Overall, he counsels, training data should go into a centralized data warehouse where it can be correlated with business metrics such as product adoption, customer retention, etc. This will show the difference between trained and untrained customers and ultimately, the impact of customer training. It will show the customer training team, and the executive team, what’s working and what’s not.
While aspiring to the correlation with hard business metrics, Seismic reports strong gains in customer satisfaction, reduction in support tickets, faster time-to-value and the overall ability to scale. Moving towards measuring the ROI of customer training, they are looking at engagement, satisfaction and effectiveness.
Miro has implemented a system where customer training partners with a growth team that owns activation, and thus the initial onboarding experience. They provide value that’s quick and in the moment, where training digs deep. The shared goal is to make sure customers are thoroughly trained on the platform and confident in using the tools to get their job done.
Working in tandem, they’ve found that there are a group of customers who are just overwhelmed. Per Matt, “As a result, we’ve seen a really big increase in demand for basic stuff. We have to realize that while we know our products well, it’s challenging and frustrating for some.”
Customer training drives the customer experience and retention
Seismic seeks to provide a world-class customer experience as a key driver of retention. “It’s how we can best support our customers’ success with our platform,” adds Melissa.
“When we built our customer education program, we first had to align the learning ecosystem, the channels, audiences and touch points to the customer journey. Merrill’s Principles of Instruction were very helpful as we grappled with at what point do customers need more information about things that have changed, and where and when will we give them an opportunity to apply that information? When will they need performance support?
Adam at Slack shared his predictions, “Clearly, customer education is getting more funding. The 2020 State of Customer Training Report shows that 45% of respondents expect increased investment and another 30% expect significantly increased investment. The C-suite is realizing that customer education can be a strong value driver for their business.”
He believes that customer education is on the verge of meaningful growth, much as the concept and the implementation of customer success took off with the rise of SaaS and continuous renewal. The short-term necessity of moving training online will turn into a long-term strategy as a way for training to easily scale. Along with this, the need to greatly enhance the customer experience will become increasingly obvious.
We’ll see an increase in the usability of customer training and the recognition that, as Matt said, it can’t be boring. We need to put the user first and go for engagement over mere attendance.
He also foresees an actual consolidation of platforms, perhaps beginning as stronger APIs, where the LMS, the knowledge base, product education and community become more of a portfolio. This will force a more holistic view where training concentrates more on telling the portfolio-based story instead of thinking how do I put more content into my LMS, or revise more articles in the knowledge base.
Matt adds, “There’s one thing I’m super excited about in the next year or so and that is finding ways to add delight to the learning experience. Right now, we’re looking at ways to add humor, celebration and fun moments. We’re trying to add additional degrees of humanity, of personal interaction. We think having a little fun as we learn stuff and get better at our jobs will yield meaningful improvements.”
Per Barry, "As businesses rapidly shift to online learning to fill the void of in-person training and events, they're at the crossroads of speed and quality. Our report shows that product adoption and learner engagement have become critical components of retaining customers and enhancing brand loyalty, while customer training has become an integral driver to business success at scale."
Looking to the future, respondents noted a few goals for customer training in 2020 and beyond. Almost half (49%) want to expand their content library beyond feature functionality; 47% want to build out their training beyond the onboarding path; 43% want to incorporate online training within their product or platform; 39% want to get a better grasp on measuring their ROI.