Apr 21, 2023

Read Time 6 min

Getting started with digital customer education with Steve Cornwell


Has customer training become a full-time job for your CSMs?

Instead of focusing on account churn risks and growth opportunities, CSMs spend their days demoing features, reciting answers to FAQs, and resending lost resources to customers.

Relying on traditional training methods, like one-to-one sessions and email, is a surefire way to burn out your CS team and lead them to look for a role where they can do the strategy work they were hired to do.

Enter digital customer education. This approach uses self-service learning, embedded courses, and digital academies to reduce a customer’s reliance on CSMs and eliminate their role as the gatekeepers of product knowledge. With a digital-led program, customers have the freedom to learn in their own time and space.

In our webinar, “Unlocking the power of customer education,” Steve Cornwell, CEO of Northpass, and You Mon Tsang, CEO of ChurnZero, share five of the best use cases for digital customer education in CS and how to build your own program.

The webinar’s Q&A session covered topics including how to get customers to attend self-service trainings, how to keep LMS content up to date with continuous product changes, and who should manage an academy’s ongoing maintenance.  

Building a digital learning program with Steve Cornwell

Before we get into the Q&A, we wanted to share the findings of an audience poll we ran during the webinar. We asked the audience how they’d rate the maturity of their customer education program across five stages: nothing, chaotic, developing, scaling, and strategic. Majority of respondents answered with “developing,” which is described as having a repeatable curriculum that’s manually administered with basic attendance tracking. Only 4% of attendees rated their program at the highest maturity level of “strategic,” which identifies with having a digital academy that supports the entire customer journey along with learning data that’s integrated into a CSP or CRM.

If you rate your own customer education program as chaotic or developing, our webinar will show you what’s needed to standardize and scale your training.

Audience poll: How mature if your customer education program? 54% of webinar attendees said "developing," 24% of webinar attendees said "scaling," 17% of webinar attendees said "chaotic," 4% of webinar attendees said "strategic," and 1% of webinar attendees said "nothing."

Q: Have you fully transitioned from traditional (e.g., in-person or one-to-one) training formats to digital training formats?

Steve: By and large, yes. There are situations, particularly for companies that are enterprise companies that have enterprise clients, and those enterprise clients have really unique configurations and the training for that just can’t be scaled. It has to be contextualized, so in that case, we do. The human element is still an important part of it.

What’s interesting about the poll results is they line up with research that we’ve done. I’d say that the audience on this webinar is a little bit more forward thinking and mature in the programs. Because in our research, we found that in the SaaS industry, 86% of SaaS companies still rely on traditional customer training methods.

Q: How would you respond to concerns that customers may be less likely to attend self-service trainings compared to more traditional formats like one-to-one or class trainings?

Steve: You’re not alone in this concern. The last webinar I ran with a customer education luminary in this space, she said that was the primary concern amongst people thinking about doing this for the first time.

Second, we have a webinar next week that’s a drilldown on this exact topic.  It’s going to be with the founder of HubSpot Academy, someone who really understands this and has scaled this up.

There are a couple points that you want to think about.

Tight partnership with marketing and tight partnership with product can drive the full engagement of the academy. In many ways, you have to think about the academy like a small product—an MVP, if you will—at first. But you do need to think about it as a product and you do need to give it the proper promotion.

Having a good agreement with your marketing team to do the effective promotion on social and in the newsletter is a great way to drive that engagement. When you put it out there, you want to make sure you promote it effectively.

With product, it’s important to have the partnership because if you think about the way you would want to learn and be presented with a learning experience, it’s likely you’d like to learn in context of what you’re already doing and where you’re already working. With that relationship with product, you can have the academy and its courses embedded within your product. I know ChurnZero’s in-app communications allow you to do that nicely with guides and walkthroughs so you can embed the learning experience in there. That’s another great way to drive grassroots adoption of the academy.

Then finally, to create an organic viral loop, make your content shareable. After people complete the course, make it easy for them to go out and share that on social. Help them celebrate that. It will create some nice brand and buzz around it.

You Mon: I’m going to double down on make sure that the content is there when customer need it, when they expect it. There are a couple of places that product can help. If you’re on a page with a feature that you’re using for the very first time, systems can know that and offer “Here’s a quick, two-minute training.” If they’ve gone through onboarding, and logged in 10 times, you can offer product 201 training, so more advanced training. Be smart about when you offer it.

Q: How can you keep LMS content up to date with continuous product changes?

Steve: There are technological advancements that you’re going to want to take advantage of, and then there are procedural SLA agreements you’re going to want to have.

On the technological side, there are platforms that allow you to dynamically change your content as things update. We offer some of that here at Northpass. As your product docs and your interfaces change, you can use variables to efficiently update that information.

Second, is having the right agreement with your product team, and your product marketing team, around these changes and making sure there’s a good pipeline of communication.

Third, I don’t want to dampen the importance of having a pixel perfect interface screenshots. It is important to provide clarity for your customers and what the screens look like. But, it’s also worth noting that you have to think about the “why” aspect of why you are training, why someone is using the feature. And in many cases, when you look to solve for the why, you don’t have to have the exact pixel perfect, most current interface. Unless of course you’ve completely overhauled and done an UI change. But realistically, how often does that happen? Every couple of years, probably.

I have found that you really don’t need to have the pixel perfect, current point in time. You can use images that may be a little more abstract and that provide the right direction and support that with the reason someone wants to use it.

These three things: technological advancements to make it easy and more automated, good SLA, and strategy around focusing on the why—just as much as you would focus on the how.

Q: Earlier in the webinar, you mentioned having someone who’s a go-getter lead the LMS launch. That person will likely work part-time on it to start. However, who should you dedicate to managing the academy’s ongoing maintenance and upkeep?

A: For the first timer, that LMS lead is the right person to dedicate to the maintenance of the academy. With a good agreement with marketing, particularly with product marketing, and a good agreement with the product team, establishing that communication and update cadence, you have a nice start to a smooth operation.

For the lead, you want someone who’s good at getting things done and can work cross-functionally, especially if you’re starting for the first time. You want someone who has deep empathy and understanding of your customers, knows your product very well, and is generally interested in helping your customers succeed and enabling them at scale as opposed to a one-on-one way.

The ideal candidate that we see for this is oftentimes someone who’s already in your company. They’re probably in support, implementation, pro services, or a CSM. They’re probably the person who everyone is always going to for training. They’re likely already doing some of this job. We’ve seen a lot of success in just making that actually their job and giving them some extra responsibility to drive that forward in a proactive way and supporting them to do that.

Manage, automate, and scale your entire customer education

Learn how ChurnZero customer, HackerRank, eliminated one-to-one customer training with Northpass and ChurnZero. Get HackerRank’s five-step playbook for academy success and discover how the team is using learning data to detect and mitigate churn risks.


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