Adam Avramescu has provided another great guest post. This one is a bit longer, but worth the read!
Adam is head of the Customer Education program at Optimizely, the world's leading experimentation platform. The Optimizely Customer Education program is called Optiverse, where customers learn about more than how to use the Optimizely product features, and includes a knowledge base, academy, academy live, community, and certification. I met Adam at the Learning DevCamp 2016, happy to meet someone in a conference full of training professionals who also focused on training customers vs. employees.
By the end of 2013, Optimizely had filled the major gaps in its Knowledge Base and produced several high-quality videos that helped customers self serve more easily. But support tickets were still on the rise, and we were hearing a common theme from many segments of our customer base: “It’s great that you have knowledge articles, but we want to learn Optimizely from beginner to advanced. Show us the path to value.”
My background is in instructional design, so this theme really spoke to me. It was time to get to work on our first Optimizely Academy.
In many ways, this felt like the situation that Geoffrey Moore describes in Crossing the Chasm, where technology companies and products move from a user base of self-motivated early adopters to a more risk-averse majority. Users in the majority group are less willing to assume the risk of adoption technology sight unseen, are less tolerant of bugs, and prefer both social proof and more detailed training or instructions.
As Optimizely crossed the chasm with its customers, so did our learning materials. But you don’t just create a full learning center overnight, so here’s how we got to the first version of what we now call Optiverse Academy.
The Big Dig: Training Content Excavation
Before we even put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, anyway) on a concept document for our academy, we wanted to get a sense of the core path to value for new Optimizely users. We knew there were different roles at Optimizely delivering different training sessions, but there were a few problems:
We decided to do a trial run of the content by hosting three different training webinars, pointed at the core skills that we taught customers as they onboarded with Optimizely. We gave them value-oriented titles and had subject matter experts on our Customer Success team deliver the content. We called this series “Optimizely Launchpad,” and the three courses offered bi-weekly were:
Note that, at the very least, we tried to make our content more about workflows and best practices -- not just product training, but some focus on how you can more effectively use our product to do your job.
We didn’t market these sessions to our entire customer base, so attendance was low, but we also used the webinars as an opportunity to refine the content so we could record it and post it online. Now, our Customer Success team at least had something to point customers to as a learning resource.
Minimum Viable Academy
Sometimes when I speak to Customer Education leaders who are tasked with building a program from scratch, they say, “I really want to build an academy for my users, but I can’t get the budget for an LMS approved.” Good news -- you don’t need to, as long as you understand the tradeoffs.
We designed and built the first iteration of our Academy on a second Zendesk Help Center instance over the course of four months. With those two restrictions (no new software, and four months to get to release), we made some deliberate decisions about what we would and wouldn’t include. Here’s what made the list (and, maybe more importantly, what didn’t).
We said YES to:
We said NO to:
After we released this first version of Academy, we saw engagement steadily grow as CSMs referred customers to it during onboarding, and from in-product promotion. Within the first few months of launch, our Academy was receiving roughly 500 unique visitors per month, representing roughly 10% of Optimizely’s customer base at the time. Considering that Academy was designed primarily for onboarding users -- not mature customers -- we considered that a healthy number for our first version. But more importantly, we learned from the feedback they gave us, as well as which lessons they tended to engage with most and least.
Today’s Academy is hosted on a real LMS called Docebo, and the interface and UX is much different from that first version. We’re also offering multiple avenues for training, including live sessions and custom, private trainings, but our Academy continues to be the most scalable platform for customers to learn at their own pace.
How were we able to justify continued investment? Well, in addition to the adoption metrics I mentioned above, our Academy was a piece of a bigger launch -- our combined customer portal, Optiverse. Optiverse made a meaningful impact to our business when it first launched, and has continued to mature since then. I’ll get more into those details in a future article.