There are four key factors to creating an effective customer education strategy: Relevance, Engagement, Consistency, and Continuity.
Relevance: No two customers are identical in their needs. Even within a single company, each member of the team has unique preferences, experiences, and task-related focus on specific features. Keeping this in mind, the last thing you want to do is provide one-size-fits-all update newsletters or to push out a library of pre-recorded demos and videos. First, collect feedback from the field (sales, support) to determine the subject most asked about. Then, offer training in an interactive, hands-on virtual environment in which, after a general overview of new or improved features, customers can work primarily with the functionality they use most.
Engagement: Even in a live webinar, avoid building your customer education program on a lecture/monologue model in which a trainer simply explains a feature. Try creating a story to frame the explanation (“Margaret has always processed invoices in five steps, but here’s how she’d do it in two…”) and then follow it through each feature or step. This approach takes the demo out of the abstract, and into the realm of the more concrete. Also, make the experience active, not passive: Encourage questions (through a virtual hand-raise, unless it’s a small enough group to handle verbal interruptions) and discussion along the way, as well as quizzes or simple tests. Finally, as mentioned above, provide that interactive, hands-on practice in which they can try out what you’ve described: on their own, at their own pace, so that the concepts they have learned can really sink in.
Consistency: Just as your customers are unique, so are your own in-house trainers. It’s important to centralize and streamline your customer education program so that customers are all learning the same content, using the same modes, and coming away armed with essentially the same skills. Even if you aren’t providing a formal “certification” (though this is a great way assure this internal consistency), you want to ensure that all customers know what your product offers and how to use it. Without this priority, customer support becomes time-consuming, and even basic documentation and email updates are hard to create in a way that matches the audience’s knowledge.
Continuity: On the one hand, you don’t want to annoy a customer with non-stop training – indeed, if they feel your product needs so much training, it could reflect badly on the UX design. On the other hand, customer education opportunities are important both to keep you top of mind, and also to make sure that customers are up to date as new versions arrive. The ideal formula is to always begin with a broad onboarding program for new customers, and then to improve customer education: alternate between strongly recommended general feature overviews for new/improved features (without which usage could suffer), and optional “Expert Classes” for those who are interested in a deep-dive into specific functions and benefits.
Following these three basic guidelines will yield multiple, measurable benefits:
- Increased usage of your product, strengthening reliance on it and loyalty to you as a provider.
- Reduce investments in customer care and handling support tickets submitted by confused, poorly trained users or those who haven’t spent time exploring your feature set.
- A relevant, first-hand way to collect feedback for product development (either explicitly offered or collected by tracking usage of a virtual environment)
- Boost in reputation as a company that invests in a serious customer education program