Introduction to Customer Training

If you’re reading this chances are you’re familiar with customer training, but you’re probably hoping to dig in a little deeper. You want the what, why, and how this type of eLearning program can help your company. If that’s the case, you’ve come to the right place!

As an educational hub, we designed this guide to answer fundamental questions about customer training. It will provide some resources you can use to start planning a customer education program for your business.

If you have a question about any of the information we encourage you to join our Customer Training Network on LinkedIn. There you can connect with training experts, customer success managers, and course designers. You can ask questions and gain insight from a community of experts.

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The Rise of Customer Training

Companies in every industry are in a state of disruption. This is especially true for software, technology, and subscription-based businesses. They must now deliver value at every stage of the customer lifecycle in order to fend off competition and ensure sustainable recurring revenue.

The 3 Major Disruptors Impacting the Modern Day Sales Process

  1. Customers Have More Choices
  2. Customers Have More Power
  3. Companies Have More Competition

To attract and keep customers, forward-thinking companies like HubSpot, Salesforce and Onshape have developed training and certificate programs. This helps their customers accomplish business objectives. This approach to customer advocacy is having a positive impact.

According to Technology Industries Services Association (TSIA), companies with trained customers experience a 92% renewal rate. Compare that to the  renewal rate for companies (80%) who have untrained customers and you can quickly understand why you can’t have customer success without customer training. 

One cannot underestimate the importance of training in the customer success lifecycle, and starts as early as the presale period. But, what exactly is customer training? What types of problems can it help you solve? And what does a good customer training program look like?

In the following section, we define "customer training" and start you down the path of how you can develop a program for your company.

What is Customer Training?

If you asked ten different people to define what customer training means to them, you’d undoubtedly receive ten different answers. No one actually has time to ask ten people, so we asked Samma Hafeez, Vice President of Customer Success at Thought Industries (TI) to help us out.

Samma knows a lot about customer training and support. Prior to joining TI, she helped brands like CareCloud, and BrightEdge build and strengthen their customer communities. When Samma described customer training as, “the process of educating your customer on how to successfully use your product or service to help them meet their business goals,” she convinced us. We had our answer.


“At its core, customer training is the process of educating your customers on how to successfully use your product or service to help them meet their business goals.”

-  Samma Hafeez  -

In addition to providing a very concise definition, Samma was quick to point out that customer training is an ongoing process that should help companies attract and retain customers at every stage of the customer lifecycle. This is particularly true during onboarding when training is critical for helping a customer use your product to accomplish quick wins.

We encourage you to check out  7 Steps to the Perfect Onboarding Program if you’re looking to get some tips your customer success team can use to ace their next onboarding. We cover onboarding in more depth later in this guide if you'd like to keep reading.

Now that we have a better understanding of what Customer Training is, we’ll dive into how developing a program can help your company.

What are the Benefits of Customer Training?

Customer training is often considered a “value-add” that can help you differentiate your company. Besides giving your company a leg up over your competition, customer training can help you achieve the following results.

Provide smoother customer onboarding

Increase engagement with your product

Strengthen customer retention

Reduce support costs

Improve upsell opportunities

Create brand advocates

5 Training Tips That Will Improve Your Customer Onboarding

Onboarding is a critical time in the lifecycle of a customer. According to ChurnZero, 40% to 60% of software users only open an app once, then never log in again. With so much at stake, companies are now leveraging training to attract and keep customers during this crucial period.

In a recent Thought Industries article titled, "Why Smooth Onboarding is the key to Customer Success", we outline two important points that impact the success or failure of an onboarding program. These points are:

1) the moment when a customer purchases a product, and
2) the moment when the new customer achieves their first success with a product.

Shortening the timeline between these two events will greatly improve your company’s chances of keeping a customer over the long haul.

To help you shorten the distance between initial purchase and win, your onboarding team should

  1. Understand Your Customers’ Needs - It’s important to realize that your customer chose you to help them solve a problem. As their business coach or trainer, you need to make sure that your onboarding team maps out and prioritizes what business challenges they want to solve during the early phases of your partnership.

  2. Focus on the Right Tools - Once you’ve identified, and confirmed, what really matters to your customer, you should start to weigh out what products or tools will be most relevant to helping them accomplish their goals.

    (Example: If your customer has identified that they’d like to use training to improve customer onboarding, you might want to find a customer learning platform that offers these features.)

  3. Offer the Right Mix of Learning - Sending an email is much different than knowing how to craft and design an email message that delivers a 50% open rate. What we’re talking about here is the difference between Application and Contextual Learning. To ensure that your customer appreciates the value of your software, you will need to provide them with training. That training helps that not only helps them use your platform and inspires them to find new ways to improve their business performance.

  4. Use Self-Paced Learning to Scale Your Training - Finding the right combination of hands-on and self-paced training can give your customers the best chance of success while managing critical internal. As you establish a baseline, you’ll be able to layer in new trainings, loop in subject matter experts and expand the scope of your training program.

  5. Measure What Matters (Time to Value) - Embracing good, predictive metrics habits can give your business a competitive advantage. In order to measure your onboarding training and fine-tune for success, you will want to make sure that you are monitoring two KPIs which are:

    1) Time-to-Value; and
    2) Training engagement.

By following these training tips, your customer onboarding team will be better prepared to help the customer understand the value of your software as it relates to helping them solve their real-life business challenges.

In the next section, we outline ways your customer success team can use training to improve customer engagement and retention.

Leveraging Customer Training as an
Engagement and Retention Tool

Once you have successfully completed the onboarding process, it’s important that you continue to find opportunities to engage with your customer. Help them find new ways to meet their business goals. This ongoing engagement between you and your customer should create a win-win scenario. The more you can help your customer solve problems with product training, the more they will come to value your partnership. They will see your company as a trusted partner.

As John Leh, a technology consultant, explains, “the investment in engagement has ‘measurable value’ because it feeds into keeping that customer. And the cost of keeping a customer is far less than it is to find a new one, he points out.”

These points are reinforced in the article, Customer Engagement, Retention, and Beyond. Written by Pat Durante, the President of the Customer Education Management Association (CEdMA) and a Senior Director at Talend, the feature outlines the role training plays as part of an effective customer engagement strategy. It helps companies improve their customer retention efforts.

Screenshot 2018-06-22 13.47.34PRO TIP 1: Use “Blended Learning” to Increase Engagement

Investing in customer-valued learning generates brand loyalty, greater spend, lower support calls, a closer vendor/customer relationship, and higher renewal rates. A surefire way to increase the success of your customer education program is to increase customer engagement through blended learning.

By offering different learning modalities like on-demand or self-paced learning, microlearning, and video streaming, your customers will  engage with your content. This helps them advance their knowledge and use of your product. If you’d like to learn more we’d encourage you to check out, Design the Perfect Learning Blend for Customer Success.

Platform-mockup1PRO TIP 2: Use a Certificate Program to Build Retention

Certification can be a very important component in assuring that your customers experience success with your products. In practice, certification can occur at different stages across the customer lifecycle, depending on how your organization decides to approach it.

Managing certifications—and the delivery of them—can become a complex proposition for any organization. From building completion rules and award criteria to managing recertifications and submittals, certificate management is no easy task to scale. To drill into this idea, we suggest you check out How to get the Most Out of Certification in the Customer Success lifecycle.

How to Build an Outstanding Customer Training Program

Now that we know what customer training is and how it can help your business, let’s talk about the 3 Key Steps of Building a Customer Training Program.

There are a lot more than three steps you’ll use when developing your program, but the following ideas will give you a solid foundation.

1 Identify Program Goals

Before you schedule your first software demo or run out and hire a team of instructional designers and curriculum developers, you should take the time to identify what you want your customers to learn from your training.

As part of this process, avoid the tendency to be too broad in defining outcomes like, “we need customers to use our product more efficiently.” Instead, use S.M.A.R.T. goals. If you’re unfamiliar with S.M.A.R.T., it stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound.

A good example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal is sounds something like “we need get 80% of our new users to know how to create and send an automated email from our platform within 45 days of onboarding.”

Using S.M.A.R.T. goals will give you the opportunity to:

  • Generate specific ideas about what you need to tell/show customers and what they need to know/do to improve.
  • Measure your training to determine what is and what is not working.
  • Identify and design learning pathways to improve training
  • Prioritize and manage training courses

2 Choose the Right Technology

When building your customer education program, the technology you choose will play a key role in the success or failure of your program.

Barry Kelly, CEO of Thought Industries, offers a nice overview of the customer training tech space in his article titled, How to Assemble Your Customer Training Technology Stack.

While evaluating a long list of customer lifecycle platforms you’ll want to consider how your customer learning platform integrates with other platforms your company might be uses. (like HubSpot, and Salesforce, as well as meeting software such as GoToMeeting.)

When it comes to building out your technology stack make sure you weigh out key questions like

  • Is the software easy to use?
  • Does it provide a lot of flexibility and control?
  • Can the platform be easily accessed from mobile devices?
  • Can the software be customized to ensure a seamless brand experience?
  • Does it offer robust analytics and reporting capabilities?
  • Does the system come with built-in gamification (i.e. points and badges)?

3 Create Engaging Content

How relevant and engaging your training courses are will determine the success of your program. The biggest success driver here will be whether the training effectively meets your customers’ needs. If your customers don’t find your training useful, neither your company or your customer will gain any value from your program.

We put together a few ideas on how a software company could use different touch points to create engaging content to support you training program.

  • A video host who introduces the product. They can explain, with graphics, what it will do for the business, and give examples of how it will make the user's job more efficient;
  • An eLearning module on how to get started using the product;
  • Micro-learning 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. These could address aspects of the product from a variety of perspectives; and
  • "Social" learning to allow customers to interact with the company and other customers. Share and questions, discoveries and best practices.

How to Promote Your Customer Training Program

Training is the most important part of every customer success program, but customers don’t often have the time to master your product. As a result, they put off training until it’s too late. This usually results in expensive support costs for your company and unhappy customers.

You mitigate both of these unpleasant situations by taking a proactive approach to marketing your training program. According to Gordon Johnson, a co-author of  The Ultimate Guide to Customer Training, “The solution is to treat your training programs like your company’s products and insert a healthy dose of marketing to drive training consumption.” 

Below are 9 Ways You Can Promote Your Program.

Host a Training Webinar

Email Marketing

Offer Training Packages

Offer Training Credits or Vouchers

In-Product Messaging

Social Media

Gamification

Create a Certificate Program

Add A Training Page to Your Website

Measuring Customer TrainingHow to Measure Your Customer Training Program?

There is no doubt that customer learning is a "value-add" that differentiates your company from the competition. In addition to helping you separate yourself from your competitors, investing in customer-valued learning generates brand loyalty, greater spend, lower support calls, a closer vendor/customer relationship, and higher renewal rates.

But, how do you measure and evaluate you success of your training program?

On one level you can evaluate your training by looking at KPIs such as the number of people who registered for a course, number of course completions, and even the number of training course offered in a given time period. But, are these numbers really going to help you understand if your company is getting a ROI from customer training?

Instead, Claire Schooley, a long-time Forrester analyst who specializes in workforce growth and development, emphasizes the importance of using deeper metrics to evaluate the value of your program. In her piece, Measuring the ROI/VOI of Customer Learning, Schooley suggests that companies focus on bigger business metrics like

  • Increased customer retention and higher renewal rates
  • Increased customer spend and use of more product
  • Better customer satisfaction scores
  • Improved customer engagement
  • Decrease in questions to support team

To reach this level of insight, it’s important that stakeholders from across your organization align and work toward the same goals. If you have any questions about evaluating your customer training program, schedule a call with one of our training advisors now!

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Case Study: How to Scale Your Onboarding from 12 to 12,000

Onshape's project team knew they had to deliver an exceptional user experience their customers would embrace. As David Katzman, Vice President of Strategic Accounts and Business Development explains, “One of the challenges of bringing a new product to market after 25 years is that we face a very entrenched market. So, one of the big obstacles we need to address is onboarding, or bringing people up the learning curve as fast as possible so that they can use our software effectively.”

 

 

 

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