Sep 28, 2018

Read Time 11 min

Customer Education: The Secret to Scale in Customer Success


Earlier this week we hosted a well-attended webinar on – Customer Education: The Secret to Scale in Customer Success. 

In this webinar we learned how to scale your Customer Success efforts and sustain Customer Lifetime Value while increasing brand value and decreasing Support costs through Customer Education

Topics discussed included:

  • How Customer Education scales a Customer Success team
  • Which components to include in your Customer Education program
  • Tips for making your Customer Education as successful as possible

No worries if you missed the webcast, we’ve got you covered. You can now view the webinar on-demand here.

The audience also engaged in some great Q&A with our speaker, Adam Avramescu. Below is a recap of the Q&A that we covered during the live webcast.

As a bonus, Adam took the time to answer more of the audience questions that we didn’t have time to cover during the live webcast. (Thanks Adam!)

Adam Avramescu
Head of Customer Education & Training
Checkr, Inc.

Q&A Recap

Q: We are giving our Community Forum of facelift and there hasn’t been much activity in months. Any tips or tricks to drive the users to engage?

A: So, one question that I would ask you is – do you have a person who owns the Community? One thing that I see commonly, is that people like to build Community Forums because they think it’s going to do all these great things, but then they don’t actually invest in having a Community Manager who drives ongoing Community programs. I think that’s part of giving your Community a facelift – is making sure that you have someone who owns a content calendar effectively. So, it’s not if you build it they will come. It’s constant work.

There’re some things that you can do to increase that engagement. Number one – making sure that you don’t have unanswered questions sitting in the Community. One thing that I find is helpful to do, is to have an SLA for responding to questions that are in the Community and make sure that you’re doing a very regular audit, maybe a daily audit of unanswered threads and who should be answering them. The Community Manager can answer them, the Support Reps at your organization can answer them or maybe you have people who you’ve designated as MVPs. MVPs can respond in exchange for some sort of prestige or you know some people like to invite their MVPs to their conferences for free. There’s a lot of things you can give your MVPs to have them actively involved in answering questions as well.

So, do that and then your Community Manager should also be responsible for generating activity through Q&A’s, through contests, through constant discussions that get people thinking and get people active. It doesn’t need to be super meaty every single time. You could have a meet-and-greet Monday where new members of the Community introduce themselves. So, I think the key is just keep generating activity and then make sure that activity is valuable to customers.

Q: How do you avoid overloading customers while still providing them with all the knowledge they need to know about your product?

A: One of the best things that we can do in terms of content I think is prevent cognitive overload. That’s something that I think about a lot as a training professional. A lot of the times if we’re the subject matter expert, our inclination is – oh my gosh, I know so much about this product and I’m just going to open up my brain and I’m going to take it and I’m going to jam it into the customers head. That’s a pretty faulty way of thinking about training. So, think about that 80/20 principle again. What is the thing that you actually want customers to be able to do as a result of taking your training? That answer might be a little different based on customer segments. It might be a little different based on customer lifecycle, but until you can answer that question really solidly and really clearly, you’re probably going to do the type of training where you are just brain dumping.

So, one thing that I recommend using if you’re not using them already today is – learning objectives. You might know learning objectives as the thing that comes at the beginning of a training when you sit down to take it. It’s like – the learner is going to be able to do the following things as the result of taking the training, like – understand the product or answer common questions. In my opinion those aren’t very good learning objectives, because they’re not really measurable and they’re not really important outcomes for a customer. So, really spend the time defining what are the few things that are most important for the customer to be able to do as a result of training and start being really active about cutting other content out of the training so that you’re not overwhelming the customer. Everything should stem from solid learning objectives.

Q: Do you feel like Customer Success and Support should be working closely together or as two separate entities?

A: I’m a big fan personally of the four-pillar model of Customer Success where there’s – CSM’s, Support, Education and Services. The four pillars of a Customer Success team are something that you see some companies do. Not everyone does it. Some of them don’t and have their team’s siloed. I’m a fan of actually having them report into the same chain if possible. If not, then you should be connected at the hip, because you’re probably getting a lot of the same feedback and questions from customers.

Q: My software changes pretty frequently. How do you go about keeping up with all the updates in terms of Customer Education?

A: This is the one of the most common questions that I hear. So, I just said – go out and get more mature and start building all of this self-paced content. And the thing about building self-paced content, you learn is, once you start doing videos and e-learnings, then all of a sudden, your content starts to go out of date when you change the product.

I would say there’s a few things that you can do to help with this one. If you’re following that principle of don’t just educate your customers on the product, educate them on their jobs, then you should actually have a fair amount of content as time goes on, that is not product dependent and is not based on just screenshots of your product. So, when you start building content really think about how much of your content is going to be conceptual, and how do I build a program where the core of it is not just walking through every screen in my product. That will also help with the cognitive overload question that was asked earlier.

The other thing that I would say is, define a threshold for the times when you do show your product. I think sometimes people get really anxious about minor changes to the user interface (and by people, I mean the people making the content) but customers don’t actually care if your UI looks slightly different in a video then when the customers is actually using the product. I’ll tell you that at least in my experience, very few people are scrutinizing the video side by side with the actual product. So, have a threshold defined of what you think is a significant change that would actually prompt you to update your content. But don’t do it every single time there’s any minor UI change.

The third thing I would say is, if you start making a style guide for your content (and this is especially true for help centers but also works for any training) you do have to be really careful about how you describe your UI in writing. For instance – in a Help Center article I could say “click the button that says campaigns” or I could say “click the blue button in the upper right that says campaigns”. Well, if you say “click the blue button in the upper right that says campaigns” then I guarantee you you’re going to have to update that content again a lot sooner than if you just say “click the button that says campaigns”.

Q: How do you convince the Product team to see the importance of in-product help, so they can commit resources to it? And then how would you go about selling the concept of Customer Education to the C-suite?

A: Every product team is different. I think it depends how intrinsically motivated your product team is to educate customers. I’m guessing if you’re asking this question then maybe they’re not. First, think about how your Product team is goaled. A lot of Product teams are just goaled on what features they’re releasing but some are actually goaled on product adoption. If they are goaled on product adoption it makes it a lot easier, because you know that Customer Education and customer adoption have that really nice correlative effect.

I think another way to do it though, if your product team does not have goals related to adoption is to start working with your Product Design team a little more. I find that a lot of the time Product Designers are intrinsically interested in how customers are motivated to use the product. A lot of the time there’s this misconception where Product Designers think – oh, well, if we have to put education in there, then that means we didn’t design this beautiful, clean, intuitive UI. I think one thing to start working on them with, is show them examples of really good customer education, especially in-product education.

Slack for instance, has amazing in-product education. They use their product to teach you their product and it doesn’t feel super clunky. It feels like part of the onboarding experience. So, I think one misconception to start to dismantle with them is, that customer education or in-product education is only necessary if you have a deficiency in your UI. Customer Education actually helps customers get value on top of what’s already kind of obvious in your UI.

For the C-suite, I think starting from that CAC/LTV (customer acquisition cost/lifetime value) ratio is a good way to start, because one thing the board is asking the C-suite about – is how do I know that all the work that you’re putting in to acquire customers, you’re achieving ROI on in terms of the lifetime value of those customers.

So, if you start to backtrack from there you ask – well, what promotes lifetime value for customers – well, we get lifetime value when our customers renew before you’ve got an ROI on the cost you spent to acquire them. So, how do we get them to renew – well, we get them to adopt – how do we get them to adopt – well, we have to educate them. So, I think that’s one way, you kind of backtrack and you can do some projections on this if you want.

For instance, you can make some assumptions on – hey, you know I’ve seen that 68% stat for adoption and if today we have 40% of our customers after on-boarding reach first value on the expected time frame. And I think if we were to invest in a more formal Customer Education program that we could actually boost that number and that would increase our renewal rate. So, you can start to project this out a little bit and I think it’s okay to make some assumptions if you don’t have a Customer Education program today, because you know that you’re figuring some of this out for the first time as a business. There’s the industry data that backs up the correlation between Customer Education and adoption and renewal. So, try to project some of those things out. See what would happen if you could raise your renewal rate by 12%. I bet you that would make a big difference.

One final way I think to get the C-suites attention around Customer Education is that competitive differentiation point. If you are in a crowded space, being able to educate your customers and your prospects in a way that differentiates your brand, may very well be the key to running your Customer Education program over time. In fact, I see some Customer Education programs that were poured into Marketing not Customer Success for that reason.

Bonus Q&A

Q: Metrics are key to proving the value of training at any org. However, tracking users attending live trainings is tedious – any recommendations outside a spreadsheet?

A: Yes, most Customer Education programs use a Learning Management System designed for external learning. Similar to how your HR team may have a Learning Management System to track training, a customer-focused LMS provides tracking and reporting. But Customer LMS platforms tend to focus more on customization of the UI to meet your branding needs, and also integrate with your systems of record like a CRM so you can measure training data against customer data.

Q: How much time do you spend ensuring CSMs are educated on the same content provided to customers vs focusing on their day to day responsibilities? 

A: CSMs must be familiar with the most-used content — so I always recommend that they take the customer onboarding trainings as part of their onboarding, and I share new content with them as I release it. Even when you provide additional enablement tools and talk tracks, nothing replaces actually taking the courses in terms of making the CSM a trusted advisor and expert resource to the customer.

Q: Does the production of Customer Success materials lie in the hands of Marketing?

A: Customer Education typically produces and delivers content. It usually lives in Customer Success but sometimes reports into Marketing. While Customer Education materials should adhere to marketing’s brand standards, marketing teams typically don’t hire instructional designers or people who are skilled in creating training content.

Q: How long should the initial training/on-boarding be? When does it become too much training?

A: Think of this less in terms of length, and more in terms of objective. What’s essential for the customer to be able to do on day one? If the rest is just “good context” or “nice to have” then save it for another session. This is also an advantage of having self-paced learning — you can space out different sessions and topics. That said, the trend is to move towards shorter sessions. For webinar-style sessions, I would aim for no longer then 90 minutes. For videos, aim for 5 minutes or less per video.

Q: Should we be offering training for free or should we charge?

A: Most Customer Education programs now offer a blend of fee-to-free. Resources like help centers, knowledge bases, communities, and intro-level classes are usually free because they promote product adoption and self-service. It helps your business directly to have customers use those resources. For more advanced content, certifications, or custom-delivered classes — things that take individual prep work on your part or offer an added value — those are usually fee-based.

Q: Is the community portion something that you think would work for ALL SaaS companies or only certain industries? Some better than others? Where does most of the value come from in communities?

A: Communities aren’t right for everyone. Some companies get good value out of them as scalable support tools, because if you answer a question once, the answer is now available to others who try to search for it. But for generating ongoing activity and thought-leadership discussions, communities work better in industries where there are many practitioners who want to connect with each other, but not an established place for them to go. For example, developer communities don’t typically work as well because developers go to StackOverflow.

Q: Working in Construction Tech, each customer/team can get pretty unique regarding on-boarding.  Would you recommend making multiple repeatable template decks for each customer type or having a general deck and customizing while training? Or maybe something customizable? Where they can choose X amount of most important features?

A: Most industries have something like this, where there can be lots of customization, especially for Enterprise clients. One question to ask is how much of the content is completely different vs. just slightly different to ensure that your learners accomplish their objectives? If it’s completely different, then a “build-your-own” deck from multiple topic areas may work better. If it’s similar but there are variations per customer type, then I recommend building those variations into the master deck — for example, “use this version of the slide for customer type x.”

Q: The majority of our users use our mobile app. Do you have any recommendations for products that offer in-app training? Most of our users are field techs and will never be in front of a computer.

A: Keep your content short and (of course) mobile-optimized. Simplify the number of clicks it takes to get through content, and make sure that you aren’t leaning too heavily on audio. Many Learning Management Systems now also optimize for mobile audiences.

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