We've been training customers since we've had products that required training, but recently, the idea of onboarding training has been getting more and more attention. So today, I'm providing a summary of the webinar hosted by Skilljar and presented by Adam Avramescu and Linda Schwaber-Cohen from January 2019 called "New Formula for Customer Onboarding."
With the rise of subscription-based businesses, companies need to make sure their products are effectively adopted by their customers. Customer onboarding is such a critical investment, because if customers don't adopt the product, they don't renew and can end up costing more to acquire and support than the revenue they generated.
Adam and Linda started the webinar with a few observations about what some companies are doing wrong when it comes to onboarding.
For example, you wouldn't want to give end users and administrative users the same kind of training. Either the end users will be overwhelmed with too much detail about setting things up, or your admins will not be getting enough training for their jobs.
The second mistake is equating account onboarding and user onboarding. Yes, there are tasks that need to be done when you obtain a new account. But these are not the same as the more frequent new user onboarding every time a new person joins a team that uses your product.
The third mistake Adam and Linda discussed is that onboarding should be owned by one team. The truth is that onboarding is a journey for the customer, and you'll have team members supporting different parts of that journey from marketing, sales, and customer success.
Of course, your onboarding strategy won't be perfect overnight. Adam and Linda recommend defining which onboarding archetypes you have in your company, and which are the highest priority for optimizing. They also recommend shadowing a customer onboarding to see if you are using the wrong approach or the wrong archetype. Get started with the most impactful thing and lay the foundation for measuring your success.
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 improving your customer onboarding strategy.
Let me know if you need help building content for your on-demand onboarding strategy.
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.
I started this blog in hopes that I could help companies who want to reduce time spent on customer training and support tickets and improve customer acquisition and retention metrics by providing on-demand customer education content.
Along the way, I've found a number of resources from vendors who serve similar companies. I'd like to bring a number of those resources together for you in one place.
Three of these sources of applicable information are LMS (learning management system) companies. All three of them have resources dedicated to creating educational content that goes beyond how to use their systems into the broader realm of how to get a job done - the job of scaling your customer education content so that customers can be successful with your product. Their tools are but one part of getting the job of educating your customers done. A couple of my favorite resources for each source are linked.
Skilljar is an "online training platform for customer onboarding and success,"* and has published a number of helpful short ebooks, case studies, and worksheets available on their Resources page.
Building a Business Case for Customer Training
How to Measure the ROI of Customer Training
The Three Stages of Customer Training Development
Learndot is "the LMS for software customer training,"* developed by ServiceRocket. They also have a number of resources, including customer stories and webinars, as well as their Guide for Building a Strategic Enterprise Software Training Business. In addition to these resources, the ServiceRocket blog has helpful articles on advice and processes related to starting your customer education program.
5 Steps for Implementing Your First Customer Training Program
Create a Customer Education Program Focused on Customer Success
Schoolkeep is a cloud-based LMS that "provides the tools you need to create online courses and optimize your training operations, no matter how small or large your learner base."* They also have a number of resources with a number of articles available in the Customer Education Use Case area of their Resources page.
Why Proactive Customer Education Is More Effective Than Reactive Support - this article is actually on the SalesForce blog, but was written by Julee Ho, who was head of Product Marketing at Schoolkeep at the time of the article (July 2016).
The 5 Point Checklist to Kickstart Your Customer Education Program
8 Ways Training Automatic Helps You Attract, Onboard and Retain Customers
Schoolkeep has done an excellent job of connecting related articles, so once you get started on one of their articles, you may find several others you want to read as well.
Springboard Solutions Consulting
I'd also like to mention my new friend Donna Webber of Springboard Solutions Consulting, whose expertise is in Customer Success and Enablement and developing an overall strategy for your customer training program. She's published a few articles on LinkedIn that are also good resources when thinking about whether you want to invest more in customer training offerings.
Five Ways Customer Education Impacts Your Bottom Line
Why Training as a Service is Good for Your Customers
Why Training as a Service is Good for Your Company
Of course, don't miss my previous guest author, Adam Avramescu, who wrote Why You Should Invest in Customer Education in 2017 (And Your Customers Will Thank You).
Though I've included resources from three different LMS companies (and I'm sure there are others for this use case), I haven't created content specific to any of them as of this writing. I do know enough to see that they have different audiences and different capabilities, so can't necessarily recommend one product over the other. It really depends on what your budget is and what you'd like to get from the system.
As the trends for customer success and scaling customer training efforts grow, more and more resources and solutions will become available. I've only included a small sampling here. There are meetup groups, professional organizations like CEDma, and tons of other resources out there to help you.
Please leave additional recommendations in the comments section.
Once you've decided to invest in on-demand customer training or online help, you'll need someone to help develop or repurpose your existing content. My expertise is in creating clear, concise, and engaging instructional content to support software customer success.
This week, I'd like to review THE handbook for Customer Success, published by Gainsight in 2016.
With any experience in a subscription economy, you probably know that "you can't...sustain real growth if customers are leaking out...at a high rate." (p. 5-6). The book begins with how Salesforce created the template for the subscription economy and what it takes for your recurring revenue business to succeed. It's a simple formula:
new customer acquisition + high retention + positive upsell results
In other words, customers must remain your customers AND buy more stuff from you in order for your business to succeed.
This first chapter of the book also gets into the history of SaaS and why you need to manage or at least nurture the installed base of customers. It describes how Customer Success is all three of the following: an organization, a discipline, and a philosophy.
Chapter two gets into strategies, defining where Customer Success fits into a new high-level organization chart. It defines the activities of the new group and the metrics for defining success. I'm particularly interested in how training fits under the Customer Success leadership, rather than sales or support. Customer Success would have onboarding, professional services, classic customer success, customer support, and training team members reporting to the VP of Customer Success. Later in the book, there's even an argument for Sales Consulting to fall under Customer Success, because the Customer Success leader "has to live with the sales decisions" (p 196).
The rest of the chapter talks about what Customer Success is NOT, provides a thorough definition of what Customer Success IS, and explains it's cross-functional impact on the entire company.
Chapter three points out the differences between high touch, low touch, and tech touch Customer Success strategies, based on a company's customer value and number of customers. To put it simply, lower value customers (that may be more likely to scale to millions of customers) require more low- or tech-touch models for success like self-serve documentation and on demand training, while companies with higher value customers "can afford to throw some bodies at their customers..." (p. 50) and provide a higher touch strategy.
The second part of the book presents the 10 laws of Customer Success. These laws were commissioned based on Bessemer Venture Partner's success with their 2010 Ten Laws of Cloud Computing, also known as the 10 Laws of SaaS. The Customer Success laws were authored by ten different experts, and each law is graded for relevance to specific scenarios, including B2B SaaS, Subscription-based, Pay-as-You-Go, B2C, and traditional models. The chapter for each law provides the author's explanation of the law, as well as an executive summary and additional commentary on how the law applies to high touch, low touch, and tech touch models.
The laws are:
Part Three of the book goes into more detail on the role of the Chief Customer Officer (or other variants of the top Customer Success job) and where and how the role fits into the overall organization. It also talks about technology that can help manage the "plethora of customer information" (p. 199) and possible coming changes to this new and constantly evolving landscape.
The book is an excellent example of a company (Gainsight) providing education on the broader industry, rather than just their specific product. It talks about Gainsight as a tool very little, but the book can be an excellent guide as you restructure your organization and practices for incorporating a Customer Success philosophy.