How to Scale Customer Education & Improve the Learning Environment

Man putting on headphones
Thought Industries
March 17, 2020

This recent round-table discussion, “How to Scale Customer Education – Taking Customer Training Beyond the “Classroom,” featured John Leh, CEO and lead analyst at Talented Learning, Barry Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Thought Industries, and Britney Tamul, Director of Customer Success at ArrowStream.

John Leh:

This roundtable is in two parts. First, we’ll talk about trends in customer education and how scalability is relevant to customer training. Then, Brittany will take us through the ArrowStream case study of switching to a hybrid instructor-led training (ILT) and virtual instructor-led training (VILT) model with amazing results.

ArrowStream is a technology that provides predictive and directional analytics for corporate food-service supply chain teams and their decision-making around procurement, distribution, logistics and quality.

There are a lot of balls in the air when you first get into customer education operations, as you can see from the chart above, and it can be overwhelming.  Thus, scalability is something you can’t think about at stage one.

Every organization is different because customer training programs, unlike HR and employee training, it touches so many different segments of the organization.

HR and training touch the HRIS and the single sign-on system. Product feature training touches sales and marketing and customer service, and the technical teams and research and development. It can seem monumentally complex at first, but as we’ll see, it tends to follow a path.

Maturity Stages of Customer Training Organizations

Stage 1: Entry

Barry Kelly:

As an organization, we have two pillars to focus on: One we call ultimate respect for the learner, which is about working with organizations to provide tools to create more compelling learning experiences. We’ll talk about that a little bit later in terms of the diversity of learning delivery and how creative you can get around developing those products and experiences.

The second pillar is managing and optimizing the complexity of learning operations. It’s taking the things that for a learning practitioner are highly complex and trying to streamline them. Our experiences show clear maturity stages.

The first stage is ad hoc – everyone has to start somewhere. We try these tools, incorporate them into their business and start to see growth in the organization. Maybe we’re doing a webinar, or one-on-one product training, or videos – we’re starting to understand how to create content, how customers need to learn, how they want to be trained.

Stage 2: Intermediate

Let’s say I turn up as a trainer or a Customer Success Manager and I train a team. Then the team starts to change. Someone leaves, someone gets promoted and then there is a real need to formalize the structure of delivery: automation to manage the movement of learners, to put them into learning paths with scheduled training that allow self-enrollment and introduces self-paced learning.

You need to start introducing customer education programs that are going to give you more scale, where you can train 1 to 100,000 people quickly and easily and begin to blend those programs together. Now you absolutely need technology to stitch all this stuff together. It’s like marketing automation, bringing all the operations of marketing together under one roof.

Stage 3: Advanced 

Stage two is usually a growth phase. In stage three, some companies are starting to focus on things like gross margin. How do I begin to turn this opportunity, this large audience of customers, and start to look at licensing and the monetization of learning?

Plus, you’re not going to scale unless you have the technology to manage the scale.

John Leh:

The trick is to start with the end in mind and see if you can plan your process. That’s the difference between those that are maximizing their scalability and those that reinvent the wheel.

Contextual vs. Application Learning

Barry Kelly:

The point of learning is where the individual is learning.

When we think about the point of learning, we think about it in two ways. For the first, we call it “contextual learning,” which is the first step in making the customer successful, and is the point of product training, time to value. Context learning from a software standpoint teaches basic tasks, like building a page, sending an email, creating a campaign or sending a bill.

Then, there’s a really natural handoff between contextual learning and application learning, which is applying the technology for success. A good example is a bad email campaign. Anybody can send an email. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful.

To bring this back to the point of learning, use this example of a great tool: an in-app widget. An in-app widget allows you to bridge the gap, to embed training, progress suggestions, etc., inside of a software application. It allows you to meet the customer where they are in the customer journey and help them be successful.

Learner Personalization in Customer Education

John Leh:

Let’s say you’re working in the field and you need to get some knowledge. What you can’t afford to do is have to find a quiet place to log in and dig through 10 screens to find the module that you need. That whole process of “self-service” just doesn’t make sense. The system needs personalization – it needs to know what you need to know.

Instead of just having user profile data, like in most employee LMSs, we need a customer profile: what you bought, what you need from the application, what courses you’ve taken and so on. Your habits are also important. What type of content do you like? What kind of content do you click on and actually consume?

The goal is to get you to the right customer education. You might be on a certification path or you need on-demand training or just-in-time support out in the field. Technical advancements are making this personalization possible.

[Check out our diverse catalog of learning features in the Thought Industries Platform]

What’s nice about customer training is that everything is proprietary. You can’t go to a third-party and find customer content that’s going to be right for your customers. It’s always about your intellectual capital or intellectual property. Creating content and leveraging that content is probably more important than anything.

Barry Kelly:

We use the words learning products or learning experiences rather than courses or classes because we are providing tools for organizations to be creative about what they build and how they build it. I think the most successful organizations understand that training individuals and training customers requires the ability to have diverse offerings.

The difference between the training a content creator needs and a designer needs are vastly different. Sometimes it’s a curated pathway that helps them become proficient with the technology.

Sometimes they need specific knowledge at a specific moment. Microlearning then becomes especially valuable. You’re not going to get an ecommerce certificate or get Salesforce certified through microlearning, but it will certainly allow you to figure out small, quick and executable tasks.

Same thing with video, because it’s a very powerful mechanism for learning, but sometimes it can be too passive with very little practice time. Self-paced learning is introduced because people want to get more diversity or give people more access so they can learn anytime and anywhere.

Think broadly about what your customers need, think about how you can create multiple variants of learning rather than one very strictly defined learning product.

Brittany Tamul:

For us, at ArrowStream, diversification of learning products is key because we’re trying to provide learning content to a number of teams within the supply chain: procurement, distribution, logistics, and quality. We all recognize that those are vastly different roles. We’ve been able to come up with learning paths that fit each of those roles and then use a diverse catalog of learning products.

For example, for repeatable tasks, articles and documents are great because you can reference them again and again. Videos are helpful if we’re looking at something that may be more complex, where someone can follow the steps.

And then for us, the assessments are key. That’s what’s ensuring objectives are met. When we do have classroom training, that focus can be on what may need additional review based on the assessments.

Barry Kelly:

Acquisition is really important. If you’ve got a complex product, whether you know it or not, you’re educating your customers in the market. More and more we’re seeing the marketing organizations working closely with the training teams to do this.

A trial period is a great opportunity and often overlooked. Just the benefits of being able to increase conversion rates of trial to adoption is a massive lever.

John Leh:

If you think about it, while the learner content might be at different levels of depth or broadness or structured differently, it’s the same content across all of these different areas. It’s the application of it that’s different. You can create a lot of bang for your buck by repurposing.

Brittany Tamul:

At ArrowStream, we provide directional and predictive analytics. Let me give you a foodservice example: Let’s say you log onto Grubhub to get a burger delivered. We expect a quality product, we expect it to be consistent and always ready when we hit the button. That’s really what foodservices is about. How does that burger get there and how do we get it so that it’s always consistent and it’s always there when we need it?

When you think about the complexity of it, there’s a supply chain team behind that and they have to streamline those complex decisions into metrics, into action so that we as consumers stay satisfied. And in turn, we’re going back to those favorite restaurants time after time.

This slide is a view into our software and what it’s providing to our customers.

We think of it as the vital signs of our customer’s supply chain team. Our entry page tiles were modeled after FitBit. When you think about your FitBit, you’re going to look at your health and your vitals: how many steps did I walk; how many hours did I sleep; what was my heart rate?

Our customers start their day referencing the health of their inventory, their contracting, their spend, and their quality. We’re enabling them to be proactive versus reactive. In the dynamic, volatile market of commodities, you can imagine how difficult that is.

For a restaurant operator, this means they stop a stock-out before it happens. We’re predicting when the stock-out will occur, which is a different conversation than how do I recover when there’s no product available.

We also see this on the quality side. The overall theme here is let’s use those analytics, let’s be predictive and let’s take something complex and break it down into everyday actions that our customers can do.

We talked about how complex the supply chain is. New people enter the industry with no experience, which puts us in a perpetual cycle of product knowledge training. Their expectations are that data’s going to be there, that we’re a technology-driven company. They want immediate results and they need quick, efficient software with focused direction.

The objective, as we said, is to take a complex data set and make it easy to use. The attitude of “run a report and we hope you find what you’re looking for” just isn’t going to cut it. It’s not sustainable.

Saving Resources Moving from ILT to Online Training – Without Losing Personal Touch

This and the previous slide are why we needed to take a new approach to learning.

We have had 46 new customers over the past three years, and there are going to be 13 hours of implementation training per new customer. 46 times 13. That is a lot of hours when we’re focused solely on instructor-led training.

As the frontline support hub for the organization, we have benchmarks to measure against that help us set our goals so we could deliver results. Thought Industries was the right solution for us. It was the right time to bring it all together.

Here are the goals we set to achieve with the addition of the Thought Industries customer training platform.

On average, we’re looking at 15 training sessions per month. At times, it could be up to 25 in one month. And we’re talking about multiple hours of foundational content and knowledge within our system that we were providing throughout those multi-hour sessions.

There’s a critical path to customer onboarding. We could use similar areas of focus across all of our new learners which makes the content creation rather straightforward. It’s an opportunity to get customers on the right path and highlight our best practices.

The shared experience for all learners ensures they are getting that same depth of knowledge.

The second goal was weaving this into implementation. Going back to that idea of 40 plus new customers and 16 of those in one year: We were averaging 13 hours of instructor-led training, which meant 13 hours of a resource from our organization, 13 hours of resources from our customer’s organization. We needed to supplement that instructor time with online content and saved resources.

Then lastly, adoption. We needed our legacy customers to buy into this as much as our new customers. Some of the most exciting feedback has been our new customers go in and they love the system and they say it sets them up for success.

On the flip side, we have legacy customers going into the system saying, “Wow, I learned something that I never knew before. I have a new way to approach an opportunity within my supply chain.

Let’s get to the results.

Since implementing the Thought Industries customer training platform, we have seen a 74% decrease in customer training requests. We went from an average of 15 a month to about three to five going through the end of the year. You can look at it as a 74% decrease in training requests, but that’s also a 74% increase in higher value for our customer support.

Our department provides other services outside of training, so it’s helped our teams focus on customer needs and customer experiences. We’re delivering more.

Since we implemented Thought Industries, we’ve seen a 182% increase in the customers that log into the application. Every month, we’re seeing new learners joining and finding great information. We’re also seeing our veteran learners returning as we put out new content that relates to their day-to-day activities.

We love feedback, we love hearing that things are going well, but we need the numbers to speak to that.

We have a 74% decrease in training requests, a 182% increase in logins, and then we have that beautiful number in the middle, a 31% decrease in implementation time. We went from the 13 hours that I was talking about earlier to nine hours of instructor-led time.

It’s a win-win for everyone. And not only that, it’s changing the conversation during customer training. They no longer ask what does this button do? It’s what does this button bring to your organization in terms of opportunity and overcoming challenges?

Being able to supplement the instructor-led training experience without losing the personal touch has been epic for ArrowStream.

We’re delivering technology and online learning that is synonymous with the technology that we’re providing to our customers. It is a first-class experience that’s providing value, that’s taking complex data sets and making them into something predictive and directional.

Customer Training – Planning for Scale

John Leh:

In closing, some things for you to consider.

Customer training is mainstream. Every organization has to start somewhere and scalability has to be something that you think and plan for.

Scalability in terms of the customer training platform you use, your content approach, your content mix and the proximity of learning. All of those are things that need to be in the forefront of your mind as you go through these steps, even though you may not be able to see the top of the staircase yet.

And as you heard from Brittany, it enables you to truly be a business partner and help in all aspects of revenue, customer service and success. All of that is possible in a measurable and impactful way.

Barry Kelly:

I’d like to add one last thought. We think the road to success, to increasing engagement and reducing churn, is to find an LMS provider that is willing to work in partnership with you, to understand the complexity of your business, how you’re looking to grow, how you need to scale.

We work with organizations to help them develop compelling learning products for growth and scale and help them transform the way that they’re able to grow learning operations.

It’s not just what the technology can do, but the support you get over the long term.

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