The 6 Ingredients of a Scalable Customer Education Program

Cartoon Person balancing different graphics
Donna Weber
July 31, 2019

In my years of advising organizations on customer education and customer success, I’ve developed an indispensable list of ingredients necessary for creating a customer training program that will grow and scale with you.

Ingredient #1: Content, Quickly Produced

It used to be that content didn’t count unless it came from your training experts. That was the group charged with producing “official” training. Those days are long gone. Now, your products are updated too quickly for users to wait for “officially produced” training. They want information as soon as it’s available — at their fingertips.
This makes the need for scalable content creation even more essential. Where do you go for that? I suggest you try out your subject matter experts — those folks on the front lines with experience doing what it is you want to teach your customers to do. They understand the ins and outs of the work and can provide a level of authenticity your users will appreciate.

Ingredient #2: Well-defined Pathways to Success

“Pathway” is the term I use to describe the training route for guiding a user to help them to use your product.
While a lot of companies just dole out a bunch of courses, expecting their users to find the ones that are relevant to them, in my experience, the real winners are organizations that master the art of setting up specific learning pathways for the various personas at different points in their usage of the product.

Ingredient #3: Establishment of Personas

Pathways vary depending on the role of the individual user. A business user will have a different set of goals for their use of your product than an administrator or a developer. Therefore, defining the pathways requires an understanding of those roles or personas.

And defining the many different personas of your customers requires you to bring together all of your customer-facing teams to learn about the roles they come across in their interactions with users.
These are the common personas that could show up on that list:

  • Basic users
  • Super users
  • Administrators
  • Developers
  • Managers

To understand how each persona works with the product, go back to your customers and talk with the individuals who fit those personas.

Ingredient #4: A Cross-functional Content Council

Developing a content strategy for your onboarding efforts brings customer-facing teams together into an orchestrated whole that has one tune: providing a coherent, cohesive, harmonious way to help customers reach success. I like to call this cross-functional effort the content council.

You may decide through collaborative strategies that the best way to serve each persona is through the customer-facing group that works most closely with those users and best understands their needs. For instance, you might feel that the documentation team should address the needs of hardcore needs or super users and developers, while customer education managers focus on basic users and managers. It’s the content council that will sort out those decisions and become the final arbiter when disagreements arise.

Ingredient #5: A Measure for Success

Everybody has a unique approach for measuring success. I like to look at lagging indicators and leading indicators. While lagging indicators are most important to your company, it can take too long to know the impact of your onboarding and enablement programs. Leading indicators provide key information early and along the way.

If you want to show your impact on the business bottom line, you can track whether customers renew or buy more. But even then, compiling data on those measures could take you a year or two (or even longer) to compile, depending on the length of your licenses.

Your goal should be to discover what kind of impact your onboarding and customer training efforts have here and now. You might check users progress along the onboarding journey, and their continuing involvement with your training modules, but the challenge there is that oftentimes too few customers are trained, so where does that leave you?

What you really need is a strategic plan that starts with the goal of enabling all your customers. This strategy incorporates onboarding milestones and deliverables to help you monitor how engaged the customers are with that part of their enablement. It could include support log data, product usage information, voice of the customer program data and Net Promoter Scores.

Ingredient #6: Establishment of Customer Health Scores

I like the idea of creating customer “health scores,” a compilation of various kinds of data that tell you where your customer is along the journey and help you prioritize your accounts on a spectrum of customer risk. As I’ve written about before, it may be that you stop worrying about putting too much energy into the companies that are at the far left of your spectrum — the ones with negligible scores that haven’t done much to help you help them — and concentrate more of your effort on the ones in the middle, which could go either way when deciding whether or not your product provides value to them.

With the mix of these six indispensable ingredients, you’ll have the makings of a customer training program that can scale as your business grows.

Next time, I’ll share the five solid steps you can take for producing scalable content.

Learn the tips, tricks, insights, and avoidable traps of customer onboarding in Thought Industries’ new white paper, “Secrets to Great Customer Onboarding and Education.”

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