A customer education program isn’t something you can just launch without much thought. Some thought is required. Here are 10 customer education best practices.
Customer education continues to gain steam as companies realize the importance of customer experiences (CX). Gone are the days when a good product or flashy marketing campaign was enough to win someone’s business. That was so 2019.
Sure, closing the deal is the necessary first step, but it’s not enough to keep product- and service-first companies alive. These companies must invest heavily in post-sales tactics that create incredible customer experiences to survive — specifically, customer education.
Unfortunately, customer education isn’t a plug-and-play thing. Some thought is needed. That’s why we compiled some key customer education best practices you should keep in mind.
Benefits of Educating Customers
Before we dive into best practices, let’s answer a fundamental question: Why is customer education important?
Product and Feature Adoption
It’s inherently human to steer away from something you don’t understand or know how to use.
Are you going to use a mobile app that’s supposed to help you organize your finances if you’re completely overwhelmed by the UI and lack of support upon logging in for the first time? Probably not.
What about a new technology that’s supposed to streamline some business processes? If you kept running into technical glitches but could never get ahold of your CS rep, would you keep using it or get fed up? You’d probably ditch it and seek an alternative.
This behavior is prevalent today due to the abundance of alternatives. If one product or service doesn’t help solve a problem or make life easier, you better believe there’s another one out there that will. This is with educating your customers to generate product adoption is so important.
For any product or service business, your most pressing question should be, “how can we retain our best customers?”
The answer: Commit to demonstrating constant value.
For example, if you release a new feature, ensure every customer knows about it and understands how to use it. Providing value beyond the purchase and showing customers why using your product is in their best interest is one of the best ways to retain customers.
Fewer Support Touchpoints
When’s the last time you spent hours on hold waiting for a customer service rep and, upon hanging up, said, “Wow, that was such a good time.”
In reality, your reaction more likely went something like, “wow, that stunk.” This sentiment is a huge pain point for customers and a primary driver of churn. Most people have decided not to go through with a purchase solely because of a poor customer service experience.
Although you may not be dealing with a traditional phone-based support center, the message is all the same: Poor customer support can be detrimental, which is precisely what will likely happen if your CS and support teams don’t have the resources and knowledge to help your customers.
Additionally, a customer education program helps your customers be successful with less hand-holding from your internal teams. So, instead of spending a 30-minute call explaining the basics of a new feature, your team can spend that time talking about advanced strategies and ways the customer can really use it to be successful.
It’s hard to argue that customer onboarding isn’t the most important part of the purchase journey at the top of the pyramid.
It’s all about time to value (TTV). A customer education program enters the fray immediately after a customer signs the dotted line, helping them realize the value of what they just purchased in the blink of an eye.
For example, you can set up an automated email new customers will receive showing them how to log in for the first time. No touchpoints with CS or waiting around are required. Just immediate value benefits.
That said, there’s no doubt some new customers will need some help. Well, they’re in luck. Now that your CS and support teams aren’t inundated with constant hand-holding, they have all the time in the world to sit down with your customers — virtually or otherwise — and help them get started.
If you look at an industry-leading company, you’ll see that they all prioritize customer education strategies and best practices.
HubSpot ushered in this wave more than a decade ago and has since started a revolution for companies looking to add another cog to their growth engine.
Such public-facing customer education strategies offer high-impact content relevant to their industry and jobs. This type of content positions their academies to simultaneously improve the experience for existing customers while attracting new customers organically.
Bonus Benefit: Enablement
Here’s a non-starter: If your sales team isn’t knowledgeable about your product or service, they can have meaningful conversations with customers. The same goes for your customer success (CS) and support teams.
If they don’t know the ins and outs of whatever the customer is using, how can they have valuable touchpoints that help them grow? They can’t. But a customer education program, albeit typically aimed directly at customers, can benefit your internal teams, too. Don’t discount this as a critical benefit of customer education.
Ten Customer Education Best Practices
Prioritize One Goal
One of the biggest mistakes upstart customer education teams make is trying to do too much at once.
We get it.
You want to be the answer to everyone’s problems, but that’s not the smartest path forward. Spreading your resources too thin will just diminish returns and sacrifice the performance you need to maintain leadership buy-in. Instead of trying to be everyone’s saving grace, start with one problem — for example, reducing support tickets for your CS team. Then, pour your resources into solving that.
Once you do, move on. Eventually, you’ll have a customer education program that helps many teams be successful.
Appoint One Customer Education Leader
Just like you should prioritize one business challenge, appoint one person to lead your customer education program.
The adage “too many cooks in the kitchen” applies.
In reality, anyone passionate about customer education can lead the charge, but here’s a pro tip: See if the person most closely aligned with your goal will come on board. So, if you’re trying to reduce support tickets, see if the head of CS or someone on the team wants to be involved.
Set a Foundation (But Always Keep Your Eye on the Prize)
There are a lot of impressive programs out there that have seemingly mastered every customer education best practice. As tempting as it may be to envy them, try not to.
You’ll get stuck in the mud. Start by laying a foundation. This could be by posting a new article to your help center or uploading a quick video. Don’t obsess over what could be and focus on what can be right now. That said, don’t be afraid to keep your eye on the prize with a “wish list” you can check off as time and resources permit.
Put Your Customers First, Always
It’s not uncommon for beginner — and even seasoned — customer education teams to approach their program from an unstable, imbalanced or even biased POV.
That’s human, but it’ll result in something that fails to engage customers and achieve business outcomes. So, instead of thinking only about how implementing customer education best practices will help you succeed,switch your mindset to obsess on how they’ll help your customers.
If you do the latter, the former will happen organically.
Define Business and Program Goals
No matter which stage of your customer education journey you’re at, you should always have two goals: One tied to the greater business and one connected to the program. Think of your business goal as what you’ll report back to the leadership team (e.g., customer growth or revenue).
On the other hand, your program goal is, well, related to the program. For example, reducing support tickets. While fundamentally different, they should be related. In this case, you’re showing how one influences the other.
Think Big and Small
So, we just talked about setting a foundation and setting a goal, both of which are relatively small steps. So, why are we now saying to think big?
While you don’t want to get ahead of yourself, it’s ok to think about the big picture from the start. Specifically, a customer education best practice is to think about how you will scale, especially overseas, with a global customer base. You should also start thinking about localization (i.e., the process of creating and delivering content to customers speaking different languages and living in different cultures).
Then when the time comes to grow, you’ll have a foundation in place and won’t start from scratch.
Assume Mobile Learning is the Norm
Whether it’s waiting for a plane, sitting on the beach or posted up in their home office, it’s safe to assume your customers are no longer tied to their desks in a physical office setting.
As a result of this shift, you must optimize your content for mobile devices. If you don’t, engagement will go down and you won’t realize the benefits of customer education.
Microlearning is Almost Always Better Than Long-form Content
We live in a fast-paced world and your customers don’t have time to sit down and spend a ton of time learning. This is why microlearning is almost always the way to create content.
This could mean breaking an existing video into a few or taking a 2,000-word blog post and separating it into four 500-word ones. Regardless of how you approach microlearning, don’t sacrifice your message or the learning outcome you want your customers to achieve.
Don’t Rest on Your Laurels
The great thing about customer education is that it can pay dividends quickly. Within a relatively short period, you’ll see mission-critical metrics go up. When that happens, keep pushing. Don’t rest on your laurels and become complacent.
As you grow your customer education program, your customers will expect more, your leadership will demand more and so will you. So, keep looking for ways to advance your program and realize the long-term benefits of customer education.
Scream from the Top of the Mountain
This customer education best practice pertains primarily to newer customer education teams, but it’s worth noting for anyone. No matter where you’re at in your journey, never stop promoting what you’re doing.
Internally, talk non-stop about what you’re doing, why it’s important and how customer education benefits the entire company. At the same time, promote it externally to new and existing customers. For example, during onboarding, make sure you explain the value of education and why their success with your product or service hinges on it.
Types Of Customer Education
A customer education strategy can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Frankly, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question “what should my program look like?”
That said, there are a few types of customer education you can mix and match to build out your program:
In-person Customer Education
In-person learning is what it sounds like. Your customer education program — or parts of it — occurs in person.
In-person customer education is standard for smaller teams just getting started and are training smaller teams located in relatively similar areas (i.e., a regional customer base). That said, in-person customer education is generally not a scalable solution.
Online Customer Education
Online customer education is the opposite of its in-person counterpart. Online customer education is entirely online — think online courses, quizzes, blogs, webinars and videos.
This type of customer education continues to gain steam as companies search for effective and efficient ways to educate a disparate customer base. The primary drawback here is that those who prefer in-person instruction won’t have that option.
Hybrid Customer Education
Hybrid customer education marries online and traditional instruction. It’s not fully online, nor is it entirely in person.
Instead, it requires the customers’ presence at times while offering some material online to give them the flexibility to learn on their terms.
Blended Customer Education
Blended learning combines traditional and online learning as well. The difference between this and hybrid learning is that the latter has a fixed mix of traditional and online learning.
For example, someone could take an online course to learn the basics of a topic but attend an in-person seminar to engage with experts and up their skills directly.
Starting a Customer Education Program
A customer education strategy or plan can take shape in many ways. For those newer to the customer education world, getting started may be a bit overwhelming, so here are a few simple steps you can use to get started:
Set Specific Customer Education Goals
Let’s take it back to one of the customer education best practices we talked about already: Setting business and program goals.
Start by syncing with leaders at the very top of your company (e.g., the C-suite, board (if applicable) and so on). When you talk to them, ask them about customer acquisition, lifetime value (LTV) and other metrics they use to make strategic decisions.
These goals are about your team and should focus on how what you’re doing is impacting your learners — think metrics like user growth, engagement rates and course completion rates.
Again, these aren’t the same, but they should be aligned. If your program goal operates in a silo away from the business goal, you’ll run into some major speed blocks down the road.
Designate Customer Education Roles (aka Build Your Team)
There’s no concrete rule that dictates the makeup of a customer education team, so if you only have one colleague ready to help or you’re riding solo, that’s fine. That said, there are a handful of roles you should look to fill out over time.
Customer Education Lead
The customer education lead keeps everyone on track. This person is also tasked with measurement and liaison with the leadership team.
Subject Matter Expert (SME)
The SME has a comprehensive, in-depth knowledge of a product and how it works. Ultimately, they’re responsible for helping you decide which information is necessary for your customers to achieve the desired learning outcomes.
Instructional Designer (ID)
The ID takes the information from the SME and transforms it into a beautiful visual reality. The difference between an ID and a traditional graphic designer is that the former is trained to create and structure courses to optimize the learning experience and improve knowledge retention.
The technical lead makes sure that any technology tied to the customer education program is working, namely, a learning management system (LMS). The technical lead is also responsible for ensuring learning data flows through the system correctly.
The video editor works closely with the ID to create video assets that should serve as the cornerstone of your customer education program. If your ID has existing video production experience, an additional video editor may not be necessary, although extra resources never hurt.
The executive sponsor is your ticket into the boardroom. This individual will help establish leadership buy-in at the beginning and maintain it as your program grows. Having an executive sponsor is especially important for companies dipping their toes into customer education and may not be dealing with a leadership team that fully understands its value.
Beta testers troubleshoot everything from new training modules, features in the LMS, full courses and anything else related to your program. Customer engagement hinges in large part on creating a seamless learning experience, so ensuring there aren’t any hiccups will go a long way.
Outlining Your Customer Education Strategy and Content
It’s time to start outlining your content and preparing for launch. To do this, work with an SME to understand the required information to achieve the program’s goals.
Then, take that information and team up with your ID to turn that information into structured modules and courses — at this point, the ID should advise on whether or not customer education certificates, games, social engagement or other tactics make sense.
Now, launch. A big part of this step is to invest in some sort of customer education marketing, both internally and externally. You want to make it abundantly clear that customer education is valuable to the entire company.
Once you’ve launched, it’s time to measure what matters. Dive into any insights or metrics — this is super easy if you’re using an LMS — to understand what’s working and what’s not. Take those learnings and make adjustments in the best interest of your customers.
You’ll want to keep doing this perpetually as your program and customers evolve and have different needs.
Perfecting Your Strategy With a Customer Education Platform (aka an LMS)
No rule mandates using a customer education platform (an LMS or customer education software). That said, it’s a requirement if you plan to scale:
All LMSs have built-in automation features that make delivering the learning experience super easy. For example, you could set up an automated email welcoming a new customer the second they sign the dotted line. Similarly, if you notice a customer isn’t using a specific feature, you can automatically send them a piece of related content.
Most customer education programs start small and focus on training a small subset of customers. When this is the reality, in-person instruction and other more laborious tactics aren’t out of the realm of possibility.
That said, when you start growing your customer base, doing everything by hand becomes completely unmanageable. The logistical nightmare gets even worse if you have customers around the globe. Using an LMS takes a lot of the tedious work off your plate and makes educating a growing customer base easy and efficient.
No two customers will use or learn about your product or service in the same way, which means a one-size-all approach to customer education won’t cut it. Given the array of learning styles at hand, you need to offer content in ways that help every customer learn, no matter how, when or why they want to learn.
An LMS gives you this ability, allowing you to tailor the learning experience to different learning styles and evolve as your customers’ needs and products change.
Learn more about Gainsight Customer Education here!