Today's focus on "the customer" bodes well for customer training. You can gain a strategic advantage over your competitors with a well-designed and blended learning customer training program. After all, we're in the “Age of the Customer,” and concocting just the right mix of learning for them will help ensure their success and your own.
Here we look at how improving customer engagement through training goes right to your bottom line, the role "blended learning" plays, what elements work for which customers, and how to refine your blended learning for the best outcomes.
According to Technology Services Industry Associates' (TSIA) State of Education Services 2017, there's a surge in customer success-related activities: "The time has never been more perfect for [education services] organizations to seize the day and establish themselves as a major force in enabling customers to achieve their outcomes."
As the report explains, you can think of learning as "engaging" the customer with your product or service. Investing in customer-valued learning generates brand loyalty, greater spend, lower support calls, a closer vendor/customer relationship, and higher renewal rates. In fact, a TSIA study showed that in one case, the renewal rate for a trained software subscriber was as high as 92%. While we can't be sure the gain is all from learning experiences, the data indicates that learning has a strong impact on customer satisfaction.
What is blended learning?
The blended approach to learning provides flexibility and in-the-moment learning. As customer training continues to move to a digitally-enabled online environment opportunities to advance are available anytime, anywhere, and from any device. Learning is no longer entirely classroom-based or focused on lengthy eLearning courses. Rather, customer education now uses multiple learning modalities chosen according to the nature of the content. This approach is called blended learning.
Learning approaches don't abandon classroom learning—certainly some learning experiences need hands-on, face-to-face instruction. But today's technologies allow a great amount learning to move online. Online modalities include on-demand learning, short single-concept microlearning, video, virtual classroom, and online social interactions. The secret sauce is in the blend—choosing the approaches that best fit the learning content—and wrapping these together into an engaging learning experience.
Examples of blended learning modalities
Self-paced learning accessed by customers when they need the information
Overview with text and graphics to help customers learn about the product
Brief (2- to 4-minute) single concept, multi-model and in-context learning
Review one feature of the new software product with an instructor, text and graphics
Short real-time captures
Show the process for replacing or setting up a part of the software
Instructor-run, virtual online discussion or interactive presentation
A scheduled online discussion of best practices after customers have been introduced to the product
Online social interaction
Asynchronous discussion and collaboration with feedback
Blogs, online chat, FAQs, user group site
Performance support system
Help feature built into the software that intelligently knows when the user is having a problem and helps
A short help screen enables the user to solve the problem and continue in the application
Here's an example of the features a blended learning module for a customer becoming familiar with new software might include:
A video host who introduces the product, explains with graphics what it will do for the business, and gives examples of how it will make user's job more efficient;
An eLearning module on how to get started using the product;
Microlearning lessons with each focusing on one feature or function of the product. Label each short lesson clearly for easy access;
Chat set up with support services for questions;
Frequent virtual session for admins and users after product introduction for feedback, questions, issues, and other follow-up as needed;
Blog articles with shared authorship across IT, customer service, sales marketing, and the executive suite, addressing many aspects of the product from a variety of perspectives; and
"Social" learning to allow customers to interact with the company and other customers around questions, discoveries and best practices.
While this example shows end-user learning, a similar approach for administrators, for instance, would use some of the same content and add extra material specific to their role.
Customer training needs the right technology for blended learning
A learning platform—most likely a learning management system—is an essential technology component for blended learning and it must be consumer-like in its ease-of-use. In other words, the platform shouldn't require any end-user training on how to take the training.
An LMS carries out many basic tasks. It enables customers to register for learning, see all the learning opportunities related to the product, and launch an appropriate blended learning module.
Those with administrator access can track the customer training by running reports. This lets them see metrics on the most-used learning content or pinpoint parts of lessons where users are spending a lot of time—which could suggest that the content needs to be revisited, streamlined, or made clearer.
In addition, a nexgen LMS has other features:
A content creation tool
An assessment engine
Gamification, such as scores and badges
Drive customer training by infusing education into the sales process
Customer success is top of mind for all companies. It drives renewals, higher product spend, and referrals of potential new customers, to mention just a few benefits. This means that the sales organization must understand the learning strategy of their company as well as the customer's strategy, be knowledgeable about training opportunities the company provides, and feel comfortable discussing the learning blend during the sales process. Training is no longer an extra that’s tacked on at the time of purchase. It’s now a service that is in development right alongside the software as it's being brought to life.
But it's not just sales that needs to understand learning opportunities and why they are important. The customer success management (CSM) role has grown with the continual movement of companies to "software as a service" (SaaS), a subscription model for software. If a customer is not "beyond satisfied" with the product, it's easy for them to move to a competitor—since there are no more perpetual licenses or installed software. CSMs are in a perfect position to emphasize learning opportunities, recommend starter learning—which is generally free—and make customers aware of more advanced learning that carries a cost. Professional services as well as customer support need to talk to customers about learning opportunities too. Learning becomes a partnership effort among Sales, CSMs, Professional Services, Customer Support, IT and the customer education department.
Four ways to get your blended learning right
The top challenge in enabling good blended learning is to get the blend right. In preparation for creating blended learning, do the following:
Determine any appropriate content you already have. From a company video, you might pick out two minutes that reinforce how your company values customers or customer training. If you have recorded classroom sessions, look for a two- to three-minute piece that explains a technical component, for example.
Consider design thinking to help develop a stellar learning program. If learning is stale, you don't feel your existing program meets customer needs, or you are starting fresh with learning, institute some design thinking sessions. Design thinking for learning is all about ensuring that the user's learning experience is simple and easy to use. Make sure learning is easy to get to and the blend makes sense. As a learning leader, get input from other groups in the company and be innovative in your approach.
Work with marketing & PR to advertise the value of blended learning components. Brand your learning. Make sure it's integrated with other information about the product. Work with marketing to reinforce the message that learning is available and the ways it will help users obtain value from the product. Let marketing create a deliverable that will provide customers with the array of learning opportunities available.
Curate learning into blended learning packages for different groups. The groups you package for could include users, administrators, super users, and IT. Start with one group and build your learning—most likely the users. Some blended learning components will be a part of all packages while others will be appropriate for one or two groups. Each package will be multi-modal depending on the mode that is best to communicate the learning.
About the author:
Claire Schooley, principal, Claire Schooley Consulting, and long-time Forrester analyst, specializes in workforce growth and development. She has over 25 years of experience in education and corporate human resources, focusing on learning, recruiting and performance.Contact Claire through her website or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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