Why You Should Invest in Customer Education in 2017 (And Your Customers Will Thank You)*
For many companies, the most successful customers with the highest LTV are the ones who are educated - not just about product features, but also about key workflows, best practices, and maturity in the broader industry.
Many early-stage Customer Success teams haven't begun to use Customer Education as a key to scale. Customer Success teams who make a true investment in Customer Education will see a positive change in the way their team's tribal knowledge scales out to have an impact on Sales, Marketing, and even Product.
If your CSMs are doing trainings, and your support agents are writing articles, with no centralized guidance, then you have a recipe for linear growth in your customer success team. Your individuals are likely spending a lot of time creating duplicate content, and it probably takes them longer to do it because you didn't hire them to create scalable content, so they don't have the competency and they're task-switching to do it. Even one professional dedicated to capturing the expertise of your Customer Success heads will help you create reusable, scalable content.
Key Performance Indicators of an Education Program
What direct impact does your Customer Education program have on your business?
Beyond that, if you have the ability to measure attribution, determine how education consumption drives increased adoption of key features, or average speed to first value.
*This article is an excerpt of the article Adam Avramescu published on Linked In on January 6, 2017.
Most products present the user guide as a necessary evil if they bother to provide one for their customers at all.
But if you keep in mind the purpose of a user guide, and use topic-based authoring and a good design, the user guide can provide a foundation for your entire customer education strategy. And it doesn’t have to make you tear your hair out in the process.
A user guide is a map, not a document that will be read from cover to cover. The purpose for a software user guide is to explain screens that the user is likely to encounter and provide procedures for the tasks that they can perform. It can also include conceptual information if helpful for learning how to complete tasks. A user guide is not a training document, nor should it be used for marketing or sales. It is simply the most clear and concise explanation of what the user needs to know to get a job done, organized in such a way that the information is easy to find.
Topic-based authoring is a way of chunking information. One topic is the minimal amount of information needed to perform the given task – and only one task – with hyperlinks or cross references to point the reader to prerequisite or subsequent tasks or other related information. Conceptual information is kept separate from procedural information and usually organized before the related procedures.
There are significant advantages to writing your user guide with topic-based authoring. It creates a structure that makes it easy to navigate, for the author, subject matter experts or other reviewers and editors, and most importantly, the reader/user. But you can also easily leverage topics for other purposes, including training in person or online, tutorial video preparation, and online help/knowledge base creation.
Keep the design simple, with every design decision made to ensure that the information presented is clear and concise. Use consistent wording, capitalization, punctuation, and formatting to provide landmarks to your user for navigating the tasks. Use emphasis sparingly. I recommend bold for any button or field name the user interacts with and italics to reference screen names or other topics.
Free User Guide Template
After working with a number of companies just starting out with user guides, I've developed an easy-to-use Microsoft Word template to help with the design. (You can download it here.) It includes some common user guide features, including:
I said last week that one-to-one training was too inefficient, and you could get rid of it. And then I read this blog post by Alex Direnzo on the value of one-to-one customer support for SAAS. I actually agree with much of what Mr. Direnzo says.
However, I want to clarify the difference between customer training and customer support. One-to-one is a great support model if you have the staff for it. It's a terrific way to build relationships with your customers that can have lasting results.
But as a method for training, it is inefficient, when you can develop effective procedures to help customers learn what they need to know to be successful. These procedures can be shared in an easy-to-access, engaging way for a relatively small investment compared to the ROI to be gained. Procedures can be provided via knowledge base articles, FAQs, context-sensitive online help and other documentation, tutorial videos, and online learning. It's best to have a mix of these, as different ways will be more useful for different customers, and depend on the complexity of the software you are providing.
Providing online education in a variety of formats helps customers be successful with your product so they don't leave. According to Help Scout, 91% of unhappy customers leave without complaining. (Reported in Customer Engagement in a Digital Age, a presentation by Cynthia Clay of NetSpeed Learning Solutions.)
While providing training could be ONE component of your efforts to build relationships with your customers, it shouldn't be the only method of relationship-building, nor should it be the only way you provide training.
By providing your procedural education for customers (up front, as part of your product, or as part of your support offerings), you save your important one-on-one time for building relationships and solving more unique or difficult problems. So make sure you are working toward a customer education program. It will improve your customer relationships in the long run.