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.
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.
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.
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:
- Sell to the Right Customer by Ted Purcell, Senior VP of Sales and Customer Success at Clarizen
- The Natural Tendency for Customers and Vendors is to Drift Apart by Karen Pisha, Senior VP of Customer Success, Code42
- Customers Expect You to Make Them Wildly Successful by Nello Franco, Senior VP of Customer Success, Talend
- Relentlessly Monitor and Manage Customer Health by Dan Steinman, Chief Customer Officer, Gainsight
- You Can No Longer Build Loyalty Through Personal Relationships by Bernie Kasser, Senior VP of Customer Success and Services, Mixpanel
- Product is Your Only Scalable Differentiator by Kirsten Maas Helvey, Senior VP of Client Success, Cornerstone
- Obsessively Improve Time-to-Value by Diane Gordon, Chief Customer Officer, Brainshark
- Deeply Understand Your Customer Metrics by Kathleen Lord, VP of Sales and Customer Success, Intacct
- Drive Customer Success Through Hard Metrics by Jon Herstein, Senior VP of Customer Success, Box
- It's a Top-Down Company-Wide Commitment by Nick Mehta, Chief Executive Officer, Gainsight
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.
Recently I wanted to solve a problem of scheduling short meetings with new contacts. I decided that Calendly had a good solution for my needs, but I stuck with the free account, as I only needed one event type - the 15 min meeting.
I geek out over all things efficiency and productivity. One of the main ways that I can be successful as a content development consultant is by focusing on one project and client at a time, also known as time blocking. But I've found it increasingly challenging to communicate my schedule availability with a number of different clients and project timelines.
When I started looking for a solution to the problem of scheduling longer blocks of time, I found my way back to Calendly, but it wasn't an easy or intuitive use case that would solve my particular problem. I asked for and gratefully received another chance to evaluate the upgraded account with my new use requirements so I could figure out whether it would work for me or not.
However, I found it difficult to implement the solution I needed. As an author of self-serve customer education content, I naturally turned to their online help.
Their knowledge base did include a few scant articles aimed at freelancers and solopreneurs. However, the educational content didn't really offer any help or instructions, other than feature-based instructions on how to set up an event type or make it secret. I didn't need help using the tool itself. What I needed was a little more conceptual help, as well as guidelines on setting up my Google calendar to make it work with the Calendly events.
I contacted support again with more information about what I was trying to do, but I got back a rather vague question requesting more details. I read between the lines of the support ticket and decided the support team didn't quite have the answers I wanted. Besides, like many users these days, I wanted a self-serve solution on my time frame, not a hand-holding "let's-figure-it-out-together" solution.
I ended up persevering enough to get my availability and event types set up in such a way that I could time-block for different types of meetings and/or projects and still set aside time for all my administrative tasks. But it took me several tries over the 2-week trial period to get it right, which involved not only how I set up Calendly, but also how I set up my Google calendar and specific appointments. I finally put the finishing touches on my implementation by the end of the trial, without actually having testing it with clients. However, I decided to take the leap and give the upgraded subscription a try without having yet put it to the real test.
From a customer success perspective, they almost lost the sale of my upgraded account, and as it stands, I'm likely to become "churn" the moment another option comes along that might serve my needs better. I'm not likely to forget the hours I spent trying to figure out how long to make my event types or how to block particular things on my Google calendar to make it work. And here I am, telling you I had an experience that was less than stellar.
The point? Now with hindsight, I see that an easily accessible well-designed story-based lesson or two of around 5 minutes could have communicated what I needed to do and saved me lots of time - turning me into an excited advocate for the product instead of using it as a customer education cautionary tale. I should reiterate that there was nothing the support agent could have done (i.e., the reaction) differently to change my experience. This was all about the lack of self-service educational content (i.e., the proactive actions they hadn't yet taken).
I don't believe most users would perserve enough to work through the issues I had. Maybe I don't represent Calendly's main base of premium subscribers, but I can't be the only missed or nearly missed sale amongst however many non-conversions they probably have all the time.
In the scope of their product and customer base, a super small investment either in their team's time (being proactive instead of reactive) or by outsourcing a relatively small project to a person like me. No they aren't going to create Calendly university overnight to provide users and potential users tons of educational content. But I hope they have more educational content in their long-term plans.
To contrast, I have a second recent experience to share.
I use Review My eLearning to share my eLearning projects and collect comments from reviewers on those projects. The account that I have only allows a few courses to be hosted a one time.
Review My eLearning has a fairly intuitive interface, so I had never visited the online help or investigated all of the capabilities in depth. As a result, I didn't know there was a way to upload new versions of a course and retain comments through multiple reviews. Because this didn't come up super often for me, I hadn't taken the time to find out what the right way was. Instead, I was exporting comments, deleting the course to make room on the account for the new version, and uploading the new version. I knew it wasn't the most efficient way of handling it, but it wasn't painful enough for me to figure out the right way.
But Review My eLearning recently updated their software and the update included a new tour. The next time I went into my account after the update, they had a WalkMe style in-app tour that showed me the main features in just a few seconds. I learned about the feature I hadn't previously known was there (or maybe it was a new feature, I don't know): that I could in fact replace a course with a new version, retaining the previous comments. I had reason to use it right away, and the beautiful AHA moment happened. Problem solved. Time saved. Customer Happiness.
I don't know how much of an investment they had to make in that education - it wasn't more than a few sentences. But it showed up in front of the right eyes at the right time.
What do you think I'll do when my subscription comes up? I'm likely to remember how happy I was that they made something easier for me and continue subscribing to their product.
It's worth nothing that the issue I had with Review My eLearning was feature-based and the issue I had with Calendly was not. But as a user, I don't care about the difference. I just want to solve my problems as quickly and easily as possible.
Whether you have a B2C or B2B software business, you can no longer ignore the importance of the right customer educational content in helping your customers be successful with your product. Customer education affects the company's balance sheet, whether you know how to recognize the effect or not. I related in my last post some of the reasons you can justify the expense of customer education as related in the Skilljar/SuccessHacker webinar on How to Create a Successful Customer Training Strategy: reduced support costs, faster time to value for the customer, improved product adoption and overall better customer experience.
My experiences highlight the fact that these issues don't simply justify the cost of developing customer education; the right customer education is a fundamental imperative to the success of your business. You simply must find the right person (ideally a technical communicator or instructional designer or someone with experience at both) and allow them to prioritize creating content to help your customers succeed by solving their problems as quickly and easily as possible.
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 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.
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.
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:
- The “trainings” weren’t actually trainings. In many cases, they were knowledge dumps with no interactivity, no chance for the participants to test their skills, and pretty poor retention after the fact.
- Content was different from person to person. There was no guarantee that a customer would learn the same thing from one CSM or Technical Account Manager to the next. Not great for the customer, especially if their account team ever changed hands.
- There was no way to get back to the content after that initial training, aside from watching the recording of your session (if we even did a recording). Not great if a new member of your team came on-board months later.
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:
- Setting Up Your First Experiment: The 5 Steps in Every Test
- Using the Optimizely Editor: Best Practices for Editing Like a Pro
- Making an Impact: Testing Strategy, Methodology, and Hypotheses
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:
- Content tracks. We created paths spanning four different skill levels, and covering four different subjects (Platform skills, Strategy skills, Implementation, and Results interpretation). Each path featured a combination of text-based lessons, videos, and activities.
- Video. Many, but not all, lessons had corresponding videos. This was a good reason for us to produce more new video content that we could also repurpose in our Knowledge Base. Originally we wanted to add live-action “bumpers” to the beginning and end of the courses where you could see a real person from Optimizely introducing the video, but we cut this from the scope.
- Bright, sharp copy. With time in short supply for us to produce engaging, interactive content, we instead tried to engage users through the power of the copy. Each lesson was written with a strong voice -- friendly, helpful, sometimes a little quirky or funny. We received positive feedback on this, and it ended up being a good way to engage customers and make the content feel more human.
- The “Why”/WIIFM: Instructional Designers are taught to focus on the “WIIFM”: What’s In It For Me? We tried to lead each piece of content with explicit focus on how this would help customers do their jobs better, or why the skill we were teaching is actually important.
- Callout boxes. One of the biggest design changes we made for our Academy was custom-designed callout boxes for notes, tips, warnings, and examples. This added visual contrast and helped to highlight and chunk information. We repurposed these callout boxes back into our Knowledge Base as well, since both the Knowledge Base and Academy were hosted on Zendesk instances.
- Stories and examples. Customers responded well to stories of other companies who were in their position, and other people who were going through the same situations they were. So we created three fictional companies with their own fictional optimization teams, who were learning the same lessons as our actual learners. Each of these fictional companies represented one of our key customer verticals at the time (e-commerce, media, and B2B). If I had to re-do this, I would have used more actual customer stories, but the simulated stories were quicker to produce because it took less sourcing, and we didn’t have to clear them through Marketing.
- Self-assessment. At the very beginning of our Academy, we designed a quick self-assessment that pointed you toward the skill level that was most appropriate for you. This was not interactive or dynamic in any way -- just an HTML document -- but this was effective in giving customers a sense of where to start, and setting expectations correctly.
We said NO to:
- True interactivity. That’s right -- no Articulate or Captivate for this first version. It was painful not to have actual interactivities where users could test their skills and receive meaningful feedback, but e-learning modules would have added too much production time, and we weren’t going to have these SCORM files reporting into an LMS anyways. Instead, we came up with written instructions for activities where customers could go into the Optimizely products, follow the instructions, and apply their knowledge that way. Although we did go back and create more rapid-dev e-learning content; the demise of Flash, limitations of SCORM, and general performance issues make me think that we shouldn’t have gone down that path at all.
- User-based tracking. This was one of the bigger sacrifices we ended up making. User-based tracking seemed essential for us to (1) be able to report on individual users’ progress through the Academy, and (2) flag content as done vs not done, so a user would know what content they had or hadn’t completed. But we launched without this, opting instead to look at aggregate metrics in Google Analytics and get qualitative feedback from our customers. The point of this first Academy was to validate the flow of the content, and once we validated that, we were ready to invest in a system that could support user-based tracking.
- “Next” buttons. Ouch -- this was a miss. That’s the #1 thing that our customers said was missing. Turns out that people want to know where to go next!
- Sandboxes. Having sandbox environments to make the experience truly interactive is what makes platforms like Salesforce Trailhead so powerful. We opted not to do this for our first version of Academy due to the technical complexity.
- Live sessions. Although we had been doing our Launchpad webinars on a recurring basis, we opted not to include these in this Academy -- and, in fact, to discontinue the Launchpad sessions due to low attendance. We wouldn’t bring this back until we launched our Academy Live program in 2016. The biggest lesson we learned here is that just because something seems like a good idea (training webinars seemed to be tried and true when we first built them), it doesn’t mean it will work perfectly for you. You might not be ready for it yet. But the live sessions were a great way to validate new content, and we currently use our Academy Live program to introduce new content as well.
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.