This past year, customer learning, the next evolution in customer centricity, has really begun to take shape and gain traction. Whether you’ve been reading this blog all year, or just started, one thing should be very clear: the value of an educated customer is undeniable, and CLM offers a way to maximize what and how a customer learns to reduce churn, build loyalty and impact your bottom line.
If 2021 was any indication, 2022 has a lot in store on the customer learning front that will continue to break down walls between groups within an organization, and impact customer understanding, loyalty, and ultimately, revenue growth.
We asked a wide swath of experts—from those on the front lines of customer success to industry thought leaders and of course, a few of our own Thought Industries experts—to share their predictions for what’s next when it comes to customer learning. Here’s what they had to say.
Experiences are going to get more personal and customized.
Of all the predictions we received, increased personalization and customization of customer learning is one thing everyone agrees on.
“We can expect more and more personalization of the customer learner experience,” according to John Leh, CEO and lead analyst at learning tech research and consulting firm, Talented Learning. “Think more customization of the learner system interface, the emails and text notifications that customers receive, the dashboards they use, and the overall content experience. The drivers include granular data about the learner from inside the learning environment, as well as external data about the learner that’s stored and shared from an organization’s CRM.”
For futurist Gerd Leonhard, personalization also means more intuitive online learning solutions and the use of things like avatars and virtual rooms, and even early metaverse-like environments. “It will also become more important to build real personal connections again, at the same time,” he says. “After all, this is what makes all the difference to humans. Drivers will be the increasingly fast convergence of online and digital, and offline, real-life, in all sectors of society.”
Thought Industries Chief Customer Officer Jill Sawatzky echoes the prediction that a personalized education experience will become even more critical for organizations. “Customers will want to take training when and where they need it, including in the product and on mobile devices,” she says. “They will expect immediate answers to questions and problems, and support experts will assist digital education using tools like online chat and video messaging. Customer success managers will increasingly provide business consultation on best practices to enhance digital learning.”
Brian Childs, VP of Product Marketing at Thought Industries, also predicts more uses of microlearning. Think small bursts of training as companies seek different ways to drive learning and engagement across industries and roles. He also sees remote work driving increased adoption of asynchronous learning experiences for people to learn on their own time. And this isn’t just based on personal preference, he says. “As companies build these things out and remote work continues, there will be an even bigger desire for upskilling workforces.”
Personalization also means more relevant content for individuals, says Dirk Braune, AVP BMC Education for BMC Software GmbH. And he says this means less pre-packed content, and “an accelerated focus to learn where and when you want, in the workflow and within apps, 24/7.”
Customer education teams are the new power players for SaaS companies.
Dave Derington, Director of Customer Education at ServiceRocket and co-host of the CELab podcast, says this coming year we can expect “more SaaS businesses both creating and expanding customer education teams, which is good! I expect to see this trend continue, perhaps even increasing through 2022. Because of this, I see that there’ll be an emergence of third-party services and training specific to customer education to help support the growth of this key business function.”
Teams aren’t just forming and growing in size; they–along with their programs–are also expanding into new areas and functions, like community and engagement functions, according to customer education leader and co-host of the CELab podcast, Adam Avramescu.
“Customer education leaders are being hired earlier and at higher levels with broader scopes than they were pre-pandemic,” Avramescu says. “This seems like it’s partially due to the customer education field-building stronger traction in SaaS companies over the past half-decade, and partially due to the pandemic accelerating the role of scalable customer touchpoints.”
The other factor driving this? Customer education is increasingly accepted as a core business function, as opposed to something synonymous with things like education services and multi-day training, he says. “It’s being used to drive customer engagement with the product and users’ jobs to be done through the right channels at the right time. This is why I think we’ll see more programs, including customer communities, user groups, advocacy programs, in-product messaging, and trigger-based engagement campaigns within the remit for customer education.”
The symbiotic relationship between revenue and learning will only increase.
Customer learning can drive revenue, but what does that look like in practice? And how do we know it will increase? Bill Cushard, Executive Director and global head of the future of work and customer education practices at ServiceRocket, says to look no further than the net revenue retention (NRR) figures of the fastest growing SaaS software companies–specifically, high NRR numbers that indicate lower churn and more revenue.
“A high NRR is a sign that customers need that software. It becomes mission-critical. Mission-critical software is not left to chance by the customer. Customer learning and other services are very often required by the customer,” Cushard says. “Customer learning teams will struggle to keep up with that kind of demand. The right learning technologies and mix of designing high-touch, instructor-led, and low-touch on-demand training are critical for keeping up with this demand.”
Cushard also predicts a growth in learning subscription offerings. “Software isn’t the only product moving to subscriptions. Customer learning is,” he says. “Recurring revenue earns higher valuations than traditional transaction training course sales. And customers are demanding more flexibility in how they upskill new employees on the software they buy. Software companies need to adapt to this demand.”
More learners will go with the (work) flow.
Dirk Braune mentioned more in-app learning, and Kristine Kukich, Senior Principal Instructor and cloud delivery lead for Oracle HCM Cloud agrees.
“I really believe it’s all about learning in the flow of work,” she says. “We’re starting to see this terminology appear in a variety of locations to launch awareness of the options that exist.”
What does more learning in the flow of work look like, then? Kukich says it’s an uptick in “in-app” technology usage. “We need to make sure that from a learning perspective, we are tackling the different personas of our learners, and in-app technologies can handle the ‘how-tos’ of the process for that first-level end-user that performs many tasks on an infrequent basis.”
She also predicts more learning experience management as companies increasingly leverage the consumer technology that many learners are already using. “From the use of chatbots to the search tools that present content, I believe that adaptive intelligence will drive the user/learner experience. If we focus learner management on solid principles while onboarding our customers, we can only make our product stronger.”
Thought Industries Chief Product Officer Todd Boes sees customer learning meeting end-users wherever they’re learning. “In 2022, we’ll see a lot more examples of contextual and experiential learning, largely driven by Customer Learning Platforms delivering training experiences beyond the traditional website,” says Boes. “This will drive a further wedge between traditional LMS’, as flexibility and extensibility become an architectural advantage of these newer CLM platforms, empowering customers to reach their learners anywhere and anytime.”
Customer learning is here to stay and cannot be overlooked.
At Thought Industries, we’ve been talking for a while now about the rise of the customer learning economy, which we estimate is worth $127 billion. It’s a new ecosystem where organizations view customers and prospects as partners and learning, and they get value at every stage of the customer journey. What this points to is the fact that customer learning software and services are a fast-growing market not to be underestimated or overlooked.
Craig Weiss, CEO and lead analyst at the Craig Weiss Group, emphasized that “systems that focus solely on customer training and learning (aka extended enterprise) will need to continue to add capabilities that align specifically with this segment.”
For Weiss, this means going beyond traditional employee training systems. “Too many of the ‘combo’ systems (they go both employee and customer, but skew employee) will be a force in the industry,” he says. “The problem though is that their features and overall approach skew toward employees.”
Related, Daniel Quick, Vice President of Learning Strategies at Thought Industries, predicts we’ll see a permanent shift in how companies view their strategy for educating their customers, and this will result from a couple of factors.
First, more and more organizations will recognize the benefits of a centralized, scalable customer education function that can deliver training globally through virtual channels, he says. Second, customers will continue to shift their expectations around how they consume learning, seeking the same types of bite-sized experiences that are easily accessible to them at any time, in any place, and at their own pace—just as the other experts we surveyed said.
“Given the somber tone of the last two years, I also expect a lighter touch for educational content, incorporating humor and fun where possible,” Quick says. “An added benefit to this approach is that it holds greater appeal for younger audiences, who comprise an increasing majority of the workforce and are heavily swayed by stellar digital experiences.”
Want to see how these predictions shake out in the coming year? Keep watch on our blog and in our newsletter for what’s sure to be a year of continued evolution and change for all things customer learning-related.