Leveraging Customer Education to Drive Retention

Thought Industries
June 19, 2021

Recently, Daniel Quick, Senior Director of Product Experience at Thought Industries, led a panel discussion on how to leverage customer education to create sticky customers who continually adopt, consume and renew. Joining him were: Tom Studdert, Vice President of Learning, Support and Integrations at ZoomInfo Powered by DiscoverOrg; Dave Derington, Senior Manager, Customer Education at Outreach (and Founder at CELabs); and David Stevens, Senior Director of CentralReach Institute at CentralReach.

This post summarizes their discussion, highlighting their opinions, experiences and advice on using customer education to increase customer success, decrease churn and drive customer retention.

Together, they began by defining “stickiness” as it relates to customers. The shared definition was helping customers attain value in your product as quickly as possible, and making sure it becomes mission critical. This includes:

  • Creating and providing a world-class customer experience that allows customers to get a very quick and sustainable value from the array of products and services.
  • Making sure that we get them onboarded correctly, that we get them to a place where they’re getting ROI very quickly. And then, being able to measure that throughout the course of their customer lifecycle.
  • Training that gets the customer up and running fast, and stays with them. It’s like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s going to stick with you for a long period of time because it’s approachable, it’s easy to consume and hopefully fun.
  • It’s about making sure that the customer is maximizing their value, their return on your investment, and that you continually help them solve problems they either didn’t know they had, or they didn’t think there was a solution for.

Daniel Quick: What is the impact of customer training on stickiness?

Dave Derington shared that his training team found that their live training engagements of 60 to 90 minutes actually made it harder for customers to digest and consume the content.

“So, we started breaking up sessions to a little bit here, a little bit there, and parse them out over the course of a day in a workshop atmosphere, giving people time to relax, put the content in context and play with it. You lose a lot of information within 24 hours if you haven’t put the lesson to use. This change towards more of a workshop really made the training a lot stickier. Sort of cognitive stickiness.”

Tom Studdert added and important catch-phrase, “Training is Retaining.”

His team also concluded that 90-minute sessions “are a snooze-fest.” That resulted in breaking up the training into smaller, more bite-size installments, first, to get customers up and running quickly. Then, more advanced training is built on that foundation, “like scaffolding.”

“We’ve been able to draw a line between customer training, and customer usage of our platform. We know that customers who participate in both our live and our on-demand training efforts, use our platform and our suite of products 40% more than those who do not participate in training. Increased usage ultimately decreases customer churn. That’s sticky.”

Daniel: How are you aligning training with the customer lifecycle?

The panel cited a few important examples of how training aligns and adds value to the customer lifecycle:

  • CentralReach uses training to drive demand into the funnel. Their target market consists of certified professionals who require ongoing, continuing education to maintain that certification. “We let the market know that we offer courses with CEUs. When people sign up to get the information, we get their contact information, which feeds the top, of the top of the funnel.”
  • Dave Derington has had a similar experience. Putting examples of training on LinkedIn, etc. generated prospects who said, “Solves my problem. I’m all in.” That turns into a quick adoption.

“Training’s job is to serve busy customers in their moment of need. We think about lifecycle as this constellation of different training interventions that are there when you need them, in the modality you prefer.”

“We want to be able to put a dollar amount behind what training brings the business, adds Tom Studdert. Whether it’s an opportunity to renew, or an opportunity to upsell, we actually tie the training to the campaign.”

Daniel: What is the role of certification in facilitating product adoption, brand engagement and customer stickiness?

“Certification means something different and is unique to each and every organization. You have a spectrum of what certification could mean.”  – Dave Derington

His team is building what they call the Outreach Administrator Certification Program. The intent is to define the admin role, or persona, as the first line of defense. They want the admin role to have the knowledge and confidence to handle inquiries from inside the company and not feel they need to call support. They know the best practices for the platform. “Oh yeah, I know how to set this up. I can create a new sequence.”

To David Stevens, certification is a lever. It creates internal champions, primary problem solvers. “Measuring the decrease in calls to support is just one aspect. Certification is helping our users to consume as many features as possible. Certifications are also a lever for growth for our learners. All this increases the value that they receive. It’s built-in stickiness.”

Tom Studdert credits his former SVP of Customer Success with the quote, “We don’t just want to certify people on our platform. We want to help them be better professionals.”

Tom’s example shows that if you’re providing certification, then those people who gain those skills, that kind of expertise are going to be able to leverage that knowledge, that certification in their career.

Daniel: Do you offer onboarding certification?

Onboarding certification comes in two symbiotic varieties at David Stevens’ company. His team at CentralReach uses this strategy to arrive at an end-to-end solution. Administrator certification focuses on the workflow. Specialist certification focuses on unique functions, and goes deep. The result empowers the customer’s organization to increase usage, decrease friction and become more self-sufficient.

“We say to those who have achieved administration certification, hey, you’ve already got the basic knowledge, why not just keep going?”

Daniel: How does badging contribute to the goals of certification?

Badging is becoming an important component of certification to Dave Derington. He observes that many of his learners have grown up on Xbox, Steam, and Nintendo where they’re used to getting badges for legitimate accomplishments. He suggests that badges are like breadcrumbs along the way, helping the learner to take the path to achievement, the educational outcome, with frequent positive feedback.

“Training exists to drive educational outcomes. Certification is a powerful tool in driving those outcomes. Certification is hard. We want to reward people towards that goal.”

Daniel: Badges versus credentials versus a certificate versus a certification

“At the end of the day, if it’s a certification, or a credential, it’s your name that’s on it. You’ve got to design this so it’s worthy of your name and reputation.” – Tom Studdert

He recounts when his CEO looked over each and every test to make sure it was difficult. His point was, we need to make it hard enough that the credential, or the certificate is worth something, that it is difficult to achieve and meets a high standard.

David Stevens added, “If you’re going to just rubber stamp everybody, then it has no meaning.”

Clarity on the rigor of the requirements or the qualifications, per Dave Derington, lies in clear measurement. “Hire a psychometrician if you have any doubt about your ability to construct a “legally defensible” exam.”

Daniel: What are your views on whether and when to monetize training?

“When you’re looking at training as a way to stay competitive, does the conversation ever come up among your leadership around how you can monetize these efforts? Our customer base is constantly wondering if monetizing their training takes a step back from being a partner, or provides some value to the content that they’re consuming.”

Tom Studdert went first and recounted that his company made the decision several years ago that training equals retaining. There’s no reason to charge for training – it’s such a huge factor in net retention. The cost of a service needs to include how to use the service. If they can’t use the service, they won’t stay.

Dave Derington offered, “Don’t say it’s free. I say it’s included in your subscription.”

Per Dave, there is a spectrum – some training should be free. Some should have a fee attached, if the training provides extra, specific and measurable value. Interestingly, there is often the perception that one gets more value out of training if they’re paying for it. ‘I expect a report on what you learned.’

David Stevens agreed: “Free access to training on our software – it’s included in the fees. Our certifications though are paid.” Additionally, his team provides training to customers who then train their staff. They made the decision to charge for this because there’s a clear value exchange.

David’s team benefits directly from the ecommerce revenue generated by certifications. “It helps fund things that the team wants to do that I might not otherwise get permission or funding to do.”

Daniel Quick weighed in with his view that when you start exploring whether or not you want to bring on a fee strategy, or you want to start monetizing your efforts, at the very least, you should have some free offering to help enable your customers to achieve measurable value in as short a time span as possible.

Daniel: What advice you can give the audience looking for ways to increase the stickiness of their customer base?

Dave Derington:

“The answer is to ask your customer base what it is that they’re looking for. They may not always be able to articulate that in a standard way, but if you ask them, you get the voice of the customer.

“What do they think they need? What do they want? What are they looking for? What’s the modalities that they want? Do they want live? Do they want to read a document? Do they want to look at a video?”

Tom Studdert:

“Realize that customer training sits at the intersection of customer experience, customer success and account management. Training is an essential part of the conversation of how do you drive the customer lifecycle.

“Training strategy should be the result of a solid partnership with everybody on your team. The CSMs, the account managers, your professional services. They need to participate in and contribute to where and how training fits into the overall process.”

David Stevens:

“We need to figure out ways to leverage content across the entire customer experience. And in many cases, one piece of content can be used in 13, maybe 20 different novel ways. Customers learn and then become peer educators. That’s the formula to draw buyers through to customers, and hopefully, sticky customers. There’s that word.”


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