The project I'm currently developing is for training on Office 2016 products and includes instructor guides, student training manuals, PowerPoint slides for instructor use, and self-paced eLearning, which includes some presentation-style slides, interactive practice slides, and review questions. For different projects or deliverables, like user guides and online help, I might choose a slightly different settings and outputs for this automated workflow.
I normally like to capture my images as I'm writing content to have the words that go with the picture and the picture that goes with the words. I love that SnagIt has made that process so friction-less.
When I first started freelancing, I used Adobe Technical Communication Suite for FrameMaker and Robohelp, and I really liked the simplicity of the RoboCapture tool that came with that suite. I kept using it long after I moved on from FrameMaker/Robohelp. Once Office added the ability to insert a screen clipping for Word and PowerPoint, I often used that. So it's only been recently that I've really embraced Snagit as my capture tool of choice. But I mentioned last post, I'll never go back!
In order to have a frictionless workflow for capturing images to build your library, you need to do a few things to set up your system ahead of time. While this is true with many tools, with screen captures, I had never found the need to use these features until I was staring up a mountain of work with similar content in different forms.
So here are the steps for setting up your capturing environment for use in the automatic workflow that I'll share.
I like to have a thin black border around the images for documentation, for use on PowerPoint slides and for use in self-paced eLearning materials. You can have SnagIt add this border automatically.
Note that there are several other effects that are possible to add at the same time, like adding edge effects, shadow, or scaling the image. I don't use any other effects at this time, but it's good to know that they exist, and that you can apply more than one effect at a time. With my next project that requires tons of images, I will definitely investigate applying some of those other effects automatically.
Now, your capture settings are ready to roll, and the workflow is really easy.
However, if I wanted to further modify the image (such as by taking out personal information in an example screen or add a highlight of some type, I can do that in the SnagIt Editor before I select Finish (see below). Note that the Copy to Clipboard option doesn't capture any editor modifications, so you would need to copy the final version or use the saved file if you do make changes.
Now, even though I make heavy use of copy and paste to shortcut work, I have the files saved when I come back to them in a different context.
*But I want to be completely honest about this workflow, so here's my confession. I planned to place each section in a separate folder and change the automatic name for each topic. But I sometimes forgot to change either name or folder as I was working, and I would end up with 30 or more files in one folder an hour or two later. They weren't as well-organized as I would have liked. However, it was still the quickest and most efficient way of capturing and storing images than anything I've previously tried.
I can think of some great applications for this workflow, especially when combined with single-sourcing. In the meantime, I'll keep writing and capturing those images as I go.
P.S. Here's one more caveat: SnagIt is not great at capturing itself. This blog post includes captures from both SnagIt and Word, with some additional editing done in SnagIt Editor.
Between instructor guides and student training manuals, I wrote approximately 1400 pages of content (or about 200,000 words) in 2017. To support those workshops, I developed over 400 PowerPoint slides and several quick reference guides. For self-paced training, I developed a total of about 800 eLearning slides, evenly divided between presentation style, interactive and review questions.
I produced 110 minutes of tutorial videos, and between the videos and eLearning, recorded approximately 210 minutes of narration. I wrote another 6000 words of new knowledge base content across four different software products.
After working as a localization specialist on other authors' single-source documentation for several years, I also authored my first massive single-source documentation project for both user guides and online help for a multi-module SaaS product.
In addition, in my own business as a freelancer, I wrote proposals, blog posts and even a start to my own course content.
It all feels like a pretty good accomplishment, so now I want to share the strategies and workflows that help me stay super efficient and productive.
In this post, I'll introduce you to my technology stack. What I've learned in 12 years as a freelancer, is that one tool does not do it all. I'm a big believer in using the right tool for the job, and these are the tools I've invested in on a regular basis to help me create effective content.
Words are the basis of any customer education project, whether they are delivered as guides, instructor-led training or scripts for narration work.
Images are an absolute must for technology documentation and training.
A video of under three minutes can teach a basic skill exponentially better than two or three pages of text with visuals. No one reads documentation, but as long as you keep videos short, your audience will watch and learn what they need to know.
*I have also used Adobe Premiere Pro, but find it way more power than I need for tutorial videos.
Video is just not the same if it doesn't include narration.
I worked in Authorware for a couple of years before my extended family leave from the workforce, so I was excited when I got the opportunity to add the rapid development eLearning tools to my skill set.
Project Management and Beyond
I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that all of this content takes planning and project management to stay on task and get things done. I use a combination of Evernote and Nozbe to manage tasks and projects. I also have other tools that help me run my business, including Toggl, Excel and Quickbooks, but I'll focus on content development in this blog.
Coming up, I'll be doing some deep dives about specific workflows that help me take advantage of each tool's strength, while staying efficient and effective with the task at hand.
I've read, listened, followed, and learned quite a bit since then, improving my skills and tracking down "the right" kind of projects. There is a Customer Education revolution about to explode. But the idea of customer education is far from universally accepted.
Part of a technology company's success is created through providing top-notch educational content for customers and potential customers. Rob Castadenda, founder of CEO and ServiceRocket, said at the Business of Customer Education track at Gainsight Pulse in May 2017 - "Customer education is a proactive way to help customers be successful with your products from the start." A recent job posting by Box explains the current customer education revolution so well: "The emergence of the Customer Education field is the result of the pervasiveness of SaaS businesses and their need to prove their products' value to customers. The old Learning & Development parameters are no longer sufficient to drive product adoption."
The right content (delivered live or online) can bolster a customer's successful onboarding and engagement with the product, so customers can get maximum value from your product. That also means expansions or referrals, as well as the renewals a subscription-based company needs to thrive.
But it may be hard to find the right person who can create this content, especially in a way to leverage similar content for different purposes or stages along the customer journey.
In an ideal world, you've got your Customer Education role(s) reporting under Customer Success, and Customer Success in constant communication and alignment with other areas of the company that use customer-facing educational materials, like Sales and Marketing. You'd have a repository of knowledge and content ideas shared across the company, such as in Evernote Business shared notebooks, which could quickly and easily be re-purposed for different needs with a single-source mindset.
But we don't live in an ideal world.
I've been monitoring the types of jobs that incorporate customer education since I put that stake in the ground for my own career, and am amazed at the inconsistency in what I find in this exploding discipline. Recently, over a period of two weeks, I identified 29 different titles (for 35 different current job postings available on LinkedIn, both entry-level and leadership levels) that included developing customer education content as most of or a significant portion of the job responsibilities. These range from the more obvious "Customer Education Specialist" role to various sales, success, and product-related titles. Some companies graft titles from the learning and development world, like instructional designer, but I suspect those are more mature companies with the need for specialized roles. Other companies seem to create their own titles that incorporate the shared responsibilities and blended roles required in a fast-paced tech company.
It's a wonder that tech companies find the content development skills they need in potential hires, and that people with those skills find the companies who need them.
Julia Borgini had a great article to help with identifying what companies should look for in the person who develops the content for the customer education building the foundation of customer success. She calls the role "Learning Designer." To summarize, her top recommended skills and competences are:
Julia closes by saying it may be difficult to find one person who demonstrates all of these skills (though, to toot my own horn a little, I know it's possible). Make sure to evaluate your goals to determine what kind of content you need for where you are in your company journey.
Adam Avramescu says "I like to say 'we are all educators' when it comes to making customers successful." But he believes that Customer Education is the in title that will stick as time goes on - be it Customer Education Content Developer or Director of Customer Education - and that some existing L&D titles like instructional designer will stick around as specialty roles.
If you haven't already, make Customer Education a part of your organization's plans for obtaining, onboarding and retaining customers with the content to help your users succeed.
But with the coming “knowledge tsunami,” the time has come for single-sourcing to be applied to content creation everywhere. Marc Rosenberg reports in his October 17, 2017 article in the Learning Solutions Magazine on an IBM prediction that “by 2020, knowledge will likely be doubling every 11 to 12 hours.” He says: “Establishing processes and priorities for curating and managing knowledge within and outside your organization will help you become more efficient and your knowledge products...become more effective and valued.”
Single-sourcing is one of the most powerful processes available to prepare you for riding this wave.
“Establishing processes and priorities for curating and managing knowledge within and outside your organization will help you become more efficient and your knowledge products...become more effective and valued.”
The existing definitions of single-source publishing are often dry, nerdy and use complicated words. You can get explanations from Wikipedia, MadCap Flare (one of the providers of technology supporting single-sourcing), or this one by the CEO of another technology provider, Paligo. These definitions will probably make your eyes glaze over if you're not a nerdy technical writer type.
I used this utility to make sure I could explain single-source publishing as simply as possible.
To boil it down to the essence, single source publishing is a way of writing once for many uses. It takes a bit of work up front to write in a way to use it again, and another bit of work to store the content in a way to make the pieces easy to find later.
But the payoff for the added set up is an exponential increase in efficiency and productivity. You can maintain the content pieces in an agile way to keep up with your product changes, and assemble deliverables ranging from white papers to knowledge base articles to training materials in minutes.
Single source publishing is a way of writing once for many uses. Writing and storing the content takes a little extra work at the beginning, but pays off in increased productivity, with more efficient updates across multiple outputs and audiences.
Though write once for many uses takes some up-front work, the techniques are not complicated.
A good overview starts with a summary of Anders Svensson's 5 principles*:
It is possible to over-complicate the design for reusing content. I once had a client who wanted user guides for multiple modules of multiple products with multiple licensees. As I implemented his requests one-by-one over time, the documents I'd inherited ended up getting so complicated that maintaining what amounted to hundreds of pages of content needed to be a full-time job rather than a once-every-update outsourced project.
However, in the new subscription service landscape, these principles of single-sourcing are vital not only to documentation, but to every aspect of an organization’s content creation, from customer education and success to sales and marketing.
The most successful companies will master these methods of reusing and sharing content across their organizations.
* Rosenberg, M. (2017, October 17). Marc My Words: The Coming Knowledge Tsunami. Retrieved from Learning Solutions Magazine: https://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/2468/marc-my-words-the-coming-knowledge-tsunami
* Svensson, A. (2016, January 13). The 5 Principles of Single Sourcing in Technical Documentation. Retrieved from LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-principles-single-sourcing-technical-documentation-anders-svensson/
You know you need to create content for your customers to train them on your product. But where do you start?
But instead, you've got limited resources.
While a long-term strategy can connect and reuse content for different purposes, it's best to determine your main goal to help set priorities on where to start and how much you can tackle now.
There are number of common goals that companies have when they want to create self-service content. I polled my colleagues on The Customer Success Forum on LinkedIn and got some some feedback that mirrors what I've found in my consulting work with software companies.
Reduce Support Costs
"Of course they want to reduce support tickets. Support is expensive...you want as much self-service knowledge as possible."
Goal Number one for many companies is reducing support costs. Scott Hopper, an IT Software Technical Support Engineer says, "Of course they want to reduce support tickets. Support is expensive. Unless, you are trying to grow your support team, you want as much self-service knowledge as possible."
If this is the issue you want to start with as you embark on creating your content, make it a specific, measurable goal, like "I want to reduce the number of open support tickets each month by 10%." That way, you can get a clear financial impact that shows the value of your time spent writing and maintaining online help or a knowledgebase.
Brooke Harper, a Sales Development Representative, clarifies the purpose of content like this. She says "As a consumer, I usually look for a quick answer to basic questions or quick actions to simple tasks."
Scott Hopper mentions a couple of other goals you might have as you develop content. "Onboarding customers and converting trial users, puts money in [company's] pockets."
Let's look at these goals separately.
Convert Trial Uses
One of my clients with a microniche software company wanted to improve the conversion rate of his trial users. He had a conversion rate that hovered around 20% of potential users who downloaded the trial version who became paid customers. The product had a fairly steep learning curve, and he gave 14 days of use on a lite version of the product for potential customers to make a decision.
He wanted to give the potential customers enough self-service information in a Quick Start Guide to help those customers make a decision about purchasing the product. For him, we determined that his goal was to have an increase of 5 sales a month, which was worth thousands of dollars a year, for an investment of a couple of weeks of focused effort.
Improving Onboarding Process
Another one of my clients has a very technical product that requires a lot of customization. Their account executives spend several hours with new customers helping with a new implementation. But I helped them create some videos that explained concepts that are important for the customers to understand in order to use the product. This saved about 1/2 an hour of the implementation consultant's time for each new customer. That may not sound like a lot, but when you multiply it by every new customer over the months and years that they may use it, it adds up to literally thousands and thousands of dollars a year. And this is just the start for them. When you want to climb a mountain like this, you still have to take it one step at a time.
"One goal is to facilitate adoption for large accounts, where a CSM could have a hard time delivering high-touch assets for every user. This helps deliver product and support updates to all customers with just a link."
A similar goal is clarified by Sebastian Cabrera, a Customer Success Manager. He says, " One goal is to facilitate adoption for large accounts, where a CSM could have a hard time delivering high-touch assets for every user. This helps deliver product and support updates to all customers with just a link.
This is closely tied to a goal of providing self-serve education for customers. Self-serve education can be anything from basic 1-2 minute YouTube tutorials on how to complete specific tasks, to much more elaborate academy course offerings that go beyond using the tool into industry best-practices, as well as preparation for high-stakes proctored exams (certification).
All of these are good goals, and you can find evidence in the Customer Education discipline of how beneficial each can be to your bottom line. Once you start developing your content, you will find that much of what you develop can be tweaked to serve more than one purpose including in sales and marketing where the financial return is more obvious.
But when you are starting out, focus on one very clear, specific goal. It's great to think long term about how that project can scale along with your company. You need to have that laser focus on what you are trying to accomplish. Otherwise, you may end up with lots of help, but find that your customers don't find it very helpful.
*This post is an excerpt of an upcoming course I am developing on creating customer-focused content. Stay tuned to hear updates on the course development and release date.
I'm excited to be one of about 100 people on the launch team offering suggestions and real-life examples related to productivity for Michael Sliwinski's upcoming publication of 10 Steps to Ultimate Productivity. The launch preparation includes team challenges sharing real experiences related to productivity, and I decided to post an article related to the first challenge here on my Train Your Customers blog.
The challenge is to write something related to the topic of the current chapter we are reviewing within the group, which for this week, has to do with productivity myths.
My own myth was that I believed that I just needed the right tool or process. I could get things done - and not feel overwhelmed - if I just had the right system.
"It’s hard even for a naturally organized person not to get lost without a good productivity system." #10stepsbook
I read an earlier edition of David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) back in 2006 around the time I first started doing freelance projects. I had already dabbled with a number of different productivity approaches - both analog and digital. Something clicked when I read this book, but I definitely didn't implement everything overnight. At that time, my children were still quite young, and some days it felt like a win just to get dinner prepared and the dishes washed.
I forgot about GTD for awhile, but every time I started feeling especially overwhelmed, I came back to the practice of emptying my head and thinking through the next steps for each of the goals I hoped to accomplish.
As my freelance career expanded, I found that I had to get very good at project management because I often juggled up to 7 or 8 direct client and subcontracting projects in different phases at once. I used a few different digital tools to help me stay on top of things, and even started and stopped with Nozbe a few times before coming to the regular practice I have now (which still has lots of room for improvement!).
I still have to work on my implementation of productivity practices every day and every week, refreshing, refining, and adding to how I approach what I want and need to do. The system and the tool aren't enough, and even though the principles behind GTD are simple, the implementation takes (a little) time and practice.
I'll add the link here once I have it published, but the plan is to have regular posts on ways to use my favorite digital tools like Nozbe, Evernote, Toggl, Google Calendar and more to implement your own productivity practices. I've been wanting to do this since I finished the Evernote Certified Consultant training back in May, along with offering one-on-one coaching in Nozbe and Evernote. I'm calling the blog Michele's Productivity Practices. I hope to see you there soon!
Please. No more mind-numbing webinars passed off as learning.
Because I'm in the training industry, I'm exposed to LOTS of content. I'm interested in some other aspects of my business as well, so I join a lot of webinars. Some are for running a freelance business, some are for online course development, and many are related to the emerging Customer Success philosophy. I also want to learn about specific tasks I perform in my job as a Customer Education consultant, so that I can improve my eLearning and video tutorial design and development skills.
And what I can tell you after dozens of webinars in the last year is that not everyone is good at training virtually. Sometimes I find the learning worth my time investment, but just as often, I don't.
Not long ago, I found myself on a webinar that I quit before it was over. Ok, I admit that I'm a little OCD, and quitting early is just usually not something I consider. I might do something else of low cognitive load (like checking email or cleaning out my physical inbox) while I listen. But this one was poorly done and poorly matched to its promotional materials, and I realized that I was getting no value from it.
It wasn't that the presenter wasn't a skilled trainer. If the content is good, I'm usually willing to overlook a lack in presentation or training skills. What frustrated me is that the webinar completely failed to deliver any of the value I had expected.
I'll try to be better at evaluating content before I sign up. But I also dream of a world with better webinars.
So here are my suggestions to webinar presenters, in three simple rules.
1. Don't Mislead Learners
Yes, you want to use a catchy title for your content. But make sure that it really represents what you plan to teach. The title of the webinar I mentioned above was a little too general, but even the description of the planned webinar made it sound like something of value from my standpoint. However, ten minutes into the presentation, it became clear that the presentation was really about a very specific aspect (localization) that wasn't addressed in the title or the description. I think what made me so angry wasn't the fact that the person talked about a topic that didn't interest me*. I was actually angry because he DIDN'T talk about what I was expecting and hoping to learn, based on the description. I was disappointed that something I'd been looking forward to for a week completely failed to deliver any value.
It goes without saying that your webinar should be thoroughly planned. You've taken the time to promote it, so hopefully you've taken the time to put some instructional design into it, as well as some practice presenting. If you've really done these things, coming up with a title and description that accurately reflects the content shouldn't be too difficult.
2. Respect Learner's Time
Who decided that webinars should last an hour? That's 5 minutes of introduction and chit-chat, 30-40 minutes of actual content, and the rest for questions. Boring. No engagement. Here's my dirty little secret. I usually sign up for the webinar, watch at a later time because I've had something come up or don't want to disturb a deep work session, and if the platform where the recording is hosted allows it, watch it at 1 1/2 times the normal speed. I almost never have to slow down to catch what the presenter has said, and I get done with an hour webinar in about 40 minutes. Shame on those platforms that don't allow speed-watching.
Your audience has taken time out of their day to listen to what you have to say. Don't drag it out for the sake of timing. Don't waste time on trivial matters. And plan, prepare, and practice to make your content as valuable and engaging as possible.
3. Help Learners Be Better at their Jobs
No matter what type of content you are delivering, the purpose is not about you. It's about the people listening and participating. What valuable processes, procedures, or expertise do you have to share? If you are just showing one or more features, you're not helping your audience be better at their jobs. If you are doing an information dump, you're not really helping your audience be better at their jobs. You can't just provide information that your learners haven't heard before. You have to make sure that you are fundamentally improving their skills, decision making capabilities, or knowledge in a way that will make them rock stars at what they do.
Always make sure you consider your audience and make sure you are providing valuable information.
Here's to many improved webinars from following these rules!
* I almost always find something about a webinar interesting, even if it's only one small tip I haven't heard before. But the misleading title webinar was about localization. I've spend a fair chunk of my time on localization projects over the last six years, and didn't need a beginner's guide.
In a previous article, I mentioned Learndot, ServiceRocket, and Donna Weber of Springboard Solutions as providing some helpful resources as you start thinking about creating your customer education strategy. They've teamed up together and recently launched the first run of Customer Education University (CEU).
They plan to run this Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) several times a year, and today I'd like to present it from two different perspectives.
It is a great resource for customer success professionals who want to focus on customer education and need to learn the vast amount of details to consider in training customers online. I learned quite a bit in the course, some of which I will share throughout the article.
However, what I find even more valuable is how we can learn from it as an example. There is value in providing self-serve education on product features - and the return for an investment in that kind of content can easily be measured in reduced support costs, easier customer onboarding, and more renewals and upsells. But the value of also educating potential users within the industry on how to do their jobs better goes well beyond reduced support costs and into a realm of marketing and scaling in an exponential way.
Many of the CEU lessons spend time discussing why it is worthwhile to invest time and resources into customer education. But the course also has a nice mix of 101-style high-level conceptual overview along with specific tactics you can implement as you move through the process of educating your customers in a scalable way.
The course runs for six weeks and consists of a live one-to-many webinar each week, plus additional assignments of reading and watching related recorded webinars. I'll give a high level overview of what the course covers.
Getting Started - Week One
The Getting Started week presented learning and best practices that ServiceRocket has gained through their partnership with Gainsight, their integration with SalesForce, and their work with their customers as they measure the value around customer education. Their experience consistently shows that better educated customers make better, more informed buying decisions and have higher conversions. When customers are more successful at achieving their business outcomes from increased product utilization, they have an increased Net Promoter Score® (NPS) and ultimately provide greater revenue for the company. Donna Weber's addition to what ServiceRocket has learned comes from her years of building and managing successful customer education programs for companies. (Donna ran the webinars starting in week two for this first cohort of the course.)
Defining Your Strategy - Week Two
Week two was all about defining your strategy. Where is your company on the maturity model? What types of courses would best link what your customers most need with what will best support the company goals and is actually something you can do, given current skills and resources? I had seen before many times the Enterprise Software Training Maturity Model, with its phases of reacting, performing, scaling and optimizing, but during this week, I had one of those "aha" moments that goes hand in hand with an agile methodology of course development. Get something your customers can use out there, even if it's rough around the edges, and iterate and improve from there. It's good to have a strategy for where you'd like to be, but don't let that ideal version keep you from starting wherever you are with what you can provide right now.
Building Your Offering - Week Three
The third week of CEU focused on defining and building your offering based on what your customers need and balancing that with the reality checks on build ratios. Instructor-led training (classroom, even if it's online) can take between 20 and 60 hours to develop and deliver the content for 1 hour of learning. The ratio for eLearning is even larger, depending on the quality of the visual media and complexity of the interactions. This week's webinar included lots of practical tips including recommendations to talk to your customers, create a minimally viable product, using a phased approach, communicating with stakeholders, repurposing content in different formats, curating content and scheduling update cycles.
Go To Market Plan - Week Four
The Go to Market Plan module of the course stressed strategies for pricing, marketing and selling your customer education offering. Even if you plan to make your training available to customers for free, you can position your efforts within the company so that the value of those offerings are identified. Otherwise, you won't get the resources needed to be effective or the program is vulnerable to being cut altogether. The business model of your customer education team generally aligns with the company maturity model. Wherever you are, it's important to track the costs of development and delivery and if possible, the money coming in not just as sales for the training itself, but the savings and sales indirectly associated with the training.
Metrics and Technology - Week Five
Week five - metrics and technology - discussed technology categories, like the learning management system (LMS), course development and authoring tools and other needs for training your customers. That week's webinar also addressed measuring the impact of learning as well as the impact of business. While Excel can be a good tool for tracking in the beginning, you'll quickly want something a little more sophisticated. Don't build your own system - there are plenty of tools out there (including Learndot, and I was impressed that this week didn't turn into a sales pitch).
Moving to the Next Level - Week Six
I'm proud to share my certificate from the first cohort of students, and will refer to the lessons when I come across different scenarios with different clients.
And that's what I mean by a good example. It wasn't a course about how to use Learndot. But it didn't have to be. I'm sure they will iterate and make the course better each time they run it. And for companies who are a good fit, Learndot can use this course to generate some well-qualified potential customers.
Evernote had 11 million users by July 2011, so there's a good chance you've heard of the popular note-taking cross-platform app. Like me (at first), maybe you've added a few notes and thought that was cool, but didn't really do anything else with it. Or maybe you use it more like I do now - to manage any and every piece of digital information that comes your way. Or maybe you fall somewhere in between, knowing that it has some powerful capabilities, but not having learned how to really put it to work for you.
Because of my interest in how different software companies approach the problem of educating their customers (and helping them develop the documentation and tutorials to do so), when I found out about the Evernote Certified Consultant training program, I was intrigued. I completed the program in May, 2017. As a recent graduate of the program, I got the chance to interview Joshua Zerkel, who is Director of Global Customer Education and Community at Evernote (and a Certified Professional Organizer). We talked about Evernote's approach to educating their users on getting the most value from the product.
In the early days, the original CEO, Phil Libin made some low budget/low tech video walk-throughs of the product and posted them on YouTube. The company didn't have a strategy for training customers at first, but along the way, the offerings evolved as a combination of different perspectives among the company, such as addressing frequent support tickets through additional instructional information and providing more professional how-to videos.
Although Evernote now has approximately 350 employees, Josh's team for managing the Global Customer Education and Community functionality is very small. He and one other full-time person manage all of the content, education and community activities. When we spoke in late May, he was also looking to add an instructional designer position. (How I would love to be magically transplanted to Redwood City, CA to join his team!)
Though Evernote doesn't currently "connect the dots" between customers who have consumed a certain kind of educational content and their usage of the product (especially renewals and upgrades), Josh mentioned that it's something they may add in the future. They do know anecdotally that people who consume certain kinds of content, like reading the blog or using templates, tend to do better with the product.
But along with the challenges of having such a diverse user population, one of the educational challenges is that Evernote is a flexible product that is used in almost as many different ways as there are users. Josh believes that "the company doesn't have to be the only one delivering the message." So he designed the Evernote Certified Consultant training program, which has existed in its current version for about a year (and existed in a different version for about a year before that). There are now approximately 800 Evernote Certified Consultants, as well as approximately another 800 Evernote Community Leaders, all of whom are helping Evernote users learn more about the product.
The program that potential consultants must go through is fairly rigorous (and must be done in English). Candidates who meet the requirements must plan on spending 20-30 hours with just about two weeks to complete several modules designed to help consultants learn detailed information about Evernote's brand, standards, and procedures. The program offers lots of practical experience working with Evernote, as well as access to other students' work to share and collaborate on different ways of approaching different problems. But the percentage that make it through the program every month adds to Evernote's ability to train a global audience. Josh personally reviews every single assignment, so you can imagine the amount of time he spends grading assignments. My graduating "class" included 30 new Evernote Certified Consultants, but Josh says he's had as many as 300 students in one month. Josh and I talked quite a bit about the benefits of charging for this training to offset some of the costs, as well as weeding out some of the folks who never finish the program.
Evernote will keep evolving it's educational offerings as the team is able to make improvements. But if you need help starting out with Evernote or optimizing your use of the app, there are so many options and people available to help. Just ask!
I'm super exited that I have another guest post to share to help in your journey for creating educational content for your customers, brought to you via blog post exchange. This time, the Nozbe team members share with us how Nozbe turns a passion for productivity into different ways to educate customers of their to-do, task, project and time management application.
I started using Nozbe in Jan 2016, and now I absolutely couldn't live without it. It helps me manage multiple client engagements, as well as my volunteer, family, and personal projects. If you'd like to give Nozbe a try, please tell them I sent you by signing up with my affiliate link.
You can read my contribution to the Nozbe blog at https://nozbe.com/blog/michele-wiedemer-adding-to-nozbe/.
Productivity as the Passion for Educating Customers
Ask Michael YouTube Series
Another teaching vehicle we use is YouTube. Apart from traditional tutorials explaining entire Nozbe interface and all its options translated to all the languages we work in, we regularly record and publish episodes of Ask Michael series. It's hosted by our CEO, Michael Sliwinski, who answers the most frequently asked and the most interesting questions we get from Nozbe community. He tackles questions about general productivity-related issues, as well as specific Nozbe features.
Michael feels good in front of the cameras and speaks several languages :-) He also loves sharing his knowledge and experiences related to motivation, efficiency, personal-development, etc. Perhaps that's why he recorded this free of charge, professional productivity course a few years ago. It consists of an intro and 10 short parts in which he explains the crucial productivity rules followed by Nozbe-based examples. The course was recorded in English, German, Polish, Spanish and Japanese.
The Nozbe CEO also writes books. His first one (co-written with A. Pinaud) is #iPadOnly. The second one ("It's all about Passion!") shows how seven types of passion helped him achieve success with his productivity startup. The third book tackles the idea of working remotely and explains which tools are the best for it ("No Office Apps"). Recently, Michael has written another book - a super-handy guide based on his video course. Currently it is available only in Polish. We are in course of translating it into other languages (https://productivitycourse.com/).
As you see, we really like sharing everything we have and know about productivity. Another way to do it is a podcast. It is not strictly Nozbe-related show but it definitely educates the listeners. The Podcast is a weekly conversation between Michael, (our CEO) and Radek, (Nozbe VP Apple) about the things they're interested in. They talk about books, insights, business, productivity, technology, and whatever else comes to mind, really.
Apart from announcing new releases and promotions, we use email to inform our community members about all the resources we prepare. Every month we send a newsletter with a list of all the blogposts, The Podcast and Ask Michael episodes, and any other materials that Nozbe users may find helpful.
One of Nozbe features that we frequently use to pass on our knowledge are shareable project templates called Nozbe.how. The Nozbe team creates practical templates, like a packing list, recipes, various checklist and guides. We then generate a public link to the template and post it on our blog or in social media. This way everyone can access what we prepare, eg. https://nozbe.com/blog/nozbehow-april/
Up to last month (April 2017), we regularly published a free productivity-related magazine. Each issue came with an interview with a person we admire, as well as a bunch of timeless and practical articles written by the best experts in the field of productivity, teamwork, personal development, coaching, psychology, etc. Although we stopped publishing it, all the archived issues are still available for free online.
Social Media Channels
We regularly post productivity-related resources on our Facebook wall and on Twitter. These are either links to blogposts, Productive! Magazine articles/interviews or external articles and guides that our team finds online. Our social media manager frequently answers questions people ask via social media.
According to our observations, the top educational channel at the moment are webinars. People love them - perhaps due to the direct contact with the webinar hosts and the possibility to ask them questions.
We've also noticed that despite all the materials we offer, users very often don't see or understand basic features and options that we find crucial and impossible to miss. It clearly means that what is obvious for us can be sheer magic to others. To find out the reasons of such discrepancies a lot of research, surveys, conversations and testing is required. We are working on it :-)
We would also love to make our blog much more popular. It is the same with Nozbe Help Page. It is a fantastic source of information and somehow people seem to give it a wide berth sometimes.
We know we need to improve the in-app communication with our customers. Although we have an introductory tour for first-time users, we know it isn't as good as it could be. We definitely will be working on it. This is extremely important aspect of educating the app users - without a well-designed welcome tour, they won't learn about many of the fantastic features and options we have to offer.
Once Upon A Time...
At the beginning Nozbe was just a one-man-shop run by Michael. He recorded simple video tutorials and screencast at the time and just replied to emails people were sending to gain any information needed.
After a while, he hired a programmer and one customer support person who continued replying to emails with all kind of questions the clients had.
There was a time when a Nozbe forum existed. It was not popular amongst the community though. People preferred to write to customer support than post their queries online and wait for other users to advise.
Educating pays off
There definitely is a correlation between more "educated" Nozbe users and their renewal rates or tendency to upgrade from the trial version to a paid subscription. The more you learn about cool features Nozbe has to offer, and see how to employ them to optimize your workflow, the more you appreciate the tool. People who are aware of how our software can make their lives easier are more willing to pay for it. Time is money and we should look for a solution that works for us. That makes us more productive. That saves us time. An educated and aware person isn't afraid to pay for these things.