I attended a webinar hosted by Linda Schwaber-Cohen of Skilljar, a learning management system focused on accelerating customer onboarding and adoption, customer engagement and modern training methods. Skilljar teamed up with James Scott of SuccessHacker to deliver the webinar. This week, I would like to share a quick summary from the webinar, titled "How to Create a Successful Customer Training Strategy."
The webinar started with a brief discussion on why customer training is important. The reduced support costs are important, but most of the benefits come in the faster time to value for the customer, the improved product adoption, and the overall better customer experience.
My favorite quote from the hour comes from this portion of the webinar, when James said, "If customer success is the engine for growth, then I think training/education is the fuel."
Once you've decided that you do want to invest in a customer training program, the first step is to figure out what exactly you'll be training. You'll need to know what your customers are interested in learning; therefore, talking to customers is an important part of this, as well as visiting with your support team to identify the most common support issues.
What type of technology do you need to meet the customer's needs? If you need to do live online training, your needs will be different than if you need self-service eLearning content or tutorial videos or plan to do your first phase as classroom training. With this information, you can consider the budgeting needs. In this area, James talked about how to justify the costs to your leadership. An effective tactic James suggests: instead of forecasting what you think you can deliver with the training, think of the "worst case scenario" or the break even point for the training investment. For example, saving one customer per quarter or increasing upsell by 1% a year, what does that equate to financially for the company? You can demonstrate that training is a worthwhile investment with these types of conservative measures.
Now that you have some resources assigned to developing training, you can identify your objectives. Linda and James discussed several ways to come up with your objectives.
The next step is to consider pricing. Should you charge customers for your training? James gave a thorough example showing how charging for your training may not always have the best revenue impact. For example, if you have more customers taking free training than paid training, leading to more upsell ARR and retention ARR, you may gain more overall revenue impact with the increased numbers in training than you do from the actual training revenue. However, there are scenarios in which charging for your training is not only appropriate, but necessary, including a consideration that something with a higher price tag might be seen as more valuable than training that is given away. Linda discussed three pricing models, including a blended model in which some training is free; a subscription model, in which customers pay a flat fee for access to training resources; and a la carte, in which there is a charge per course.
In step 5, the webinar hosts discussed ways to market the training, such as through email campaigns, direct client outreach, and in-app notifications.
Finally, you'll need to consider your timeline of when to open training for registration and when to evaluate your success, as well as planning for updates.
For those who didn't get a chance to view the webinar live, you can access the recording here. If you get the chance, it's an hour well-spent if you are thinking about starting or improving your customer training strategy.
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.
I'm thrilled to share another guest post from Adam Avramescu, who 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.
I will be forever grateful to the early leaders at Optimizely who began recruiting for a dedicated Customer Education headcount at around 50 employees. Because they saw the need early, we evolved past the “fix-the-Knowledge Base” stage into a more mature function that serves as a competitive differentiator and scale engine for the broader Customer Success team.
End Content Poverty
Perhaps no surprise for a 3-year-old, 50-person company, our documentation was far from feature complete. The early Customer Education task force did some analysis of the product features and wrote basic documentation to fill in the gaps. This wasn’t necessarily every minor feature or setting, but the major components of the product.
The feature documentation also wasn’t in the greatest detail. Taking a lightweight approach here allowed us to avoid documentation bloat and add content based on questions that actual customers were asking, not every edge case we could imagine.
This approach evolved into our “80/20” principle of documentation: document the common features, issues, and practices that 80% of your customers will find relevant, and leave the 20% edge cases and specifics out.
"The support team members
were solving the
same issues repeatedly..."
Highlight the “Head” Issues
The original documentation had different tone based on which agent wrote the article -- great for personality, bad for consistency. The “FAQ” didn’t have the most frequently asked questions, but just random questions that people had asked (personal pet peeve).
We found the support team members were solving the same issues repeatedly, so we prioritized making the most common support questions and best practices easy to find. We asked our Strategy Consultants and Technical Account Managers what best practices they shared over and over, or what they found themselves teaching customers most often. We turned these issues into FAQs and articles.
At this point, we had an article for each major feature, and special articles for the most common questions, issues, and techniques.
Lights, Camera, Action
Written content is great, but video works better in many cases -- especially for visual workflows that users can replicate. We created short video content for the most common and most valuable in-product workflows. Video content has a higher production cost, but articles with video tended to receive higher ratings, and were easier to understand than stepwise instructions. Some of those videos endured for years after they were first created, especially the ones that were more conceptual vs. describing specific UI components.
A few things that I think made our videos particularly successful in the early going:
A Little Something Special
You can’t do everything well. (We didn’t, and still don’t.) But my strong opinion is that you should find at least one way to differentiate yourself, measure it, and invest in it as a differentiator. For us, there were two: videos and “This Article Will Help You” sections.
“This Article Will Help You” is a concept similar to learning objectives in the instructional design world. Learning objectives entice the learner to commit to a learning experience by telling what they’ll be able to do. For example, “create an Audience in Optimizely using targeting conditions” is a good, practical learning objective, because it describes something that a customer can actually do. “Understand how audiences work” is a bad learning objective because no one needs to understand this for its own sake.
We still use the “This Article Will Help You” section today, and receive good feedback from customers that it helps orient them within articles.
The final thing we did in the early days: define success metrics based on discoverability and value, but that is a story for another day.