After an exciting COGNITION session today, Thought Industries’ VP of Learning Strategies, Daniel Quick, shares his background and experiences on the front lines of customer education, and how they have influenced his approach to customer learning – which has resulted in new developments like the maturity roadmap for customer education programs.
Read on for details on Daniel’s perspectives on the customer learning space, and why he’s excited about Thought Industries’ work within the Customer Learning Economy.
Q: Can you describe your background on the frontlines of customer learning – in particular, your experience with less mature customer education programs versus those that are further along?
I started my career in customer education over 6 years ago at Optimizely, where I built and grew the Optimizely Academy. For that organization, Customer Education was a competitive advantage. They were (and still are) widely considered an early innovator in customer education. At the time, there were really only a handful of SaaS companies who were investing in education across the customer journey as a tool to generate leads, drive product adoption, deflect support tickets, and transform customers into brand advocates. One of the key innovations of Optimizely was the Optiverse, which was open to anyone who wanted to register. Inside the Optiverse, you could learn about experimentation, enroll in courses on A/B testing, join a live workshop, get certified in experimentation strategy or in the platform, and network with others. On the backend, there was an LMS, a CMS, and a community platform… different systems, all connected through a unified frontend and branded as the Optiverse.
After spending three years at Optimizely, I left to build a customer education program at Asana, where there were a lot of teams thinking about customer learning. After all, the key to success at Asana was getting customers to change the way they manage their work (which requires a big investment in education!) While it was clear there was buy-in across the organization, the work lacked coordination; it wasn’t clear exactly what (and when) were the right things to teach customers, which ran the risk of serious cognitive overload for our customers. Initially, I began as a team of one, playing a “conductor” role; I’d coordinate work across many different teams to ensure focus and alignment. Eventually, I hired a team to help to scale customer success through digital content and grow the Asana Academy. In my time there, I really branched out to deliver more personalized, segmented learning. And before I left, my team was driving significant initiatives in product, marketing, and customer success.
Q: How has your background with customer learning informed the work you do now at Thought Industries?
Now, at Thought Industries, I lead the Learning Strategies organization, where our mission is to educate the market, educate the customer, and educate the team. Essentially, we are a center of excellence focused on three areas: product mastery, learning experience design, and customer learning programs. It’s important that our customers develop skills using our product, of course, but it’s also critical that they are supported in the work they do. From tips on creating engaging content, to pricing strategies, we are invested in supporting professionals in the customer learning industry.
This includes making sure our own team develops deep empathy for what our customers are doing and that we’re thinking comprehensively and explicitly about the learning journey: if the customer journey is about how customers interact with a brand to achieve a goal, the learning journey is everything customers learn along the way. If you think about the moment customers first hear about your brand, all the way through the moment they recommend your company to others, what does the customer need to learn along the way? Designing a strategy around that learning journey (and all the learning junctures within it) is the focus of our team.
My background in customer education informs the work I do now at Thought Industries because I have walked in our customers shoes. In fact, I still do! Our own customer education program sits within learning strategies. So, I’m hyper-focused on how Thought Industries can show up in helpful and effective ways for professionals just like me, both through our content and through our product experience.
Q: How do you think TI uniquely serves the growth and maturity of its customers?
At Thought Industries, we are 100% focused on customer learning. We are incredibly invested in solving the problems customer learning professionals are tackling. Whether it’s through our blog, the COGNITION conference, our Thought Industries Academy, or the product itself, you see that commitment baked in.
Developing a maturity model was our initial focus because we wanted to explore this question around how to improve customer learning, and what excellence in this field really looks like. By starting there, and by talking to dozens of leaders in the field, we can now provide actionable recommendations to advancing performance; a true roadmap for achievement in customer education.
In the Thought Industries Academy, we offer robust learning paths focused on developing customer learning skills. Our first certificate, called Customer Education Strategy, provides lessons, expert interviews, job aids, and guided questions that help you to craft your own strategy, one step at a time.
Q: What are some of the most common challenges that customer education programs are up against as they aim to mature?
As customer education programs mature, they face a variety of challenges. First, they must figure out how to scale customer learning and keep up with the pace of a rapidly growing business. This often means moving from instructor-led training to a digital content strategy. As programs mature, they must solve the challenge of delivering engaging and personalized education to customers who have a wide variety of learning needs, based on how they use your product and where they are in their journey.
Ultimately, one of the biggest challenges customer education programs tend to face is in understanding the impact of customer learning on your business. Whether your goal is to increase product adoption, build brand awareness, or reduce churn, it’s important to measure your results against that goal. This is difficult because it requires us to connect many sources of data and control for tricky variables. Do customers use your product because they’re trained, or do they get trained because they’re using your product?
Q: What are you most optimistic about as you look toward the future of customer education?
Customer learning is an exciting field ripe for innovation – there are so many greenfield opportunities and untested business models. We’re at a turning point now, where SaaS companies are broadly recognizing the value of customer learning, and we’re seeing new ideas all the time on how to achieve results. Technology is solving for the challenges we face in super interesting ways. For example, at Thought Industries, our product teams have invested a lot in helping our customers demonstrate impact and improve performance through robust data integrations and powerful reporting tools.
Not too long ago, it was unusual to see companies recruiting for Directors of Customer Education. Now, we see job postings pop up all the time, and some companies are even seeking VPs to manage their customer learning strategies, just as I’m doing at Thought Industries. At the same time, we’re seeing similar fields, like education services and content marketing, converge onto the same idea: customers are learning everywhere, all the time, and it’s more critical now than ever before to execute a holistic learning strategy across the customer journey.