Why investing in customer education is imperative to your business

Despite advances in software and excitement about what products and services can do today, implementation often remains a barrier. Companies are hesitant to spend money on something that requires a significant time investment to figure out, and leaders want to ensure that new software purchases don’t sit on the shelf because employees lack the knowledge to fully leverage their capabilities.

If software vendors hope to remain competitive in today’s SaaS-based world, they must be prepared to address customers’ adoption issues and fears. If a service is not being utilized for whatever reason, organizations won’t have to look far to replace it. Sales and customer retention increasingly depend upon delivering comprehensive product education. This has become a new business imperative, sparking an evolution in how training is deployed.

Anthology of Customer Education

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Although support teams exist to answer customers’ questions and resolve their service tickets, this can be a huge burden if customers have not been thoroughly trained on a product. Modern organizations aim to reduce this strain as well as minimize customer frustration by supplying educational opportunities. There is a typical progression in the level of support provided, and companies fall all across the continuum.

Step One: The Basics

Typically, when we think of customer education about a product or service, it starts off with something written -- a "How To" document, an FAQ, or maybe a "Getting Started" page. This is the most basic, introductory step. It might get a user up and running quickly, but it’s probably not going to help them extract substantial value from the product or service.

Step Two: Product Highlights

The next step frequently involves companies hosting a webinar for customers or partners. This might happen once a quarter. Users can attend live online and maybe submit questions, or they can watch the recording after the fact. Generally, though, webinars are not really what people would consider "training." They’re more like big demos, walking through product features. This is helpful from the perspective of learning more about what a product can do but not necessarily how to do it within a given work environment.

Step Three: Zoom On

Moving beyond the webinar, customer support teams are increasingly putting together instructor-led training sessions. These are going to be a GoToMeeting or a Zoom, conducted like a private or small group class. There is a lot of interaction, it’s more hands-on. This step is where attendees are actually educated on the product. It is also where many companies tap out and think their training is done, but in reality, there are a few steps left that are worth pursuing.

Step Four: Class Is in Session

For those that continue to extend training opportunities, they develop true courseware that dives into how a product works. There is a slide deck or a guide that attendees are led through, and trainees receive collateral at the end to which they can refer back if they ever get stuck.

Step Five: The Split

If we follow this progression, the final step could go in one of two directions. There is the on-site, live, instructor-led training variety. This usually coincides with an event or conference of some kind. It typically involves a full certification program like what Microsoft, VMware or AWS offer. Companies invest heavily, promote and refine these programs over time, and such certifications can potentially help the employees that secure them land better job opportunities or higher pay.

But not every company is at the stage of a Microsoft, VMware or AWS. For them, there is another option that is becoming quite popular: on-demand training. This is a whole new generation of training. Vendors use a learning management system (LMS) that enables them to easily create training resources as well as publish content online and make it securely consumable for customers and partners, who can find what they want, when they want. They can watch it online, move through modules, and find answers to all of their questions. On-demand training enables quality, self-serve learning.

Additionally, organizations can follow employee progress, see how many people have signed up, and track who has completed training modules. This enables them to get an idea of where teams are and how well they are leveraging a product or service’s capabilities. It also sheds light on where people are having trouble, signaling that support teams may need to expand explanations or upload additional content for clarification.

The key to this approach is to always keep customer needs and experience top of mind -- consider what would make someone love the product even more, what would exceed their expectations. Maybe this means including a five-minute video that can replace a bunch of documentation so that customers don’t have to wade through a bunch of text. There are myriad options!

Miscalculations

Ideally, SaaS vendors would aim to get their customer education programs to the final step, but many taper off their training efforts to preserve resources for "higher value" tasks. This is understandable -- creating the content for a robust customer education program takes time, effort and dedicated resources to maintain. But the idea that they could save money and resources by skimping on education is misguided.

Although there is a substantial upfront investment for on-demand training, these programs more than pay for themselves by retaining customers who are happy with their experience, adding new customers who no longer fear product implementation, and reducing the number of support calls saturating vendors as customers seek help and resolution. And once education programming is in place, it only entails moving a resource or two over from the support team into education, which doesn’t cost a vendor anything.

Understanding and mapping solutions to a customer’s needs through a quality education program is the difference between being a product seller and a product partner. On the surface, a product seller appears to be the easier, most cost-effective way to go, whereas in reality, product partners engender loyalty and reap greater rewards in sales and retention.

Image credit: fizkes / Shutterstock

Chaz Spahn is education services manager at Adaptiva, a leading, global provider of endpoint management and security solutions for enterprise customers. Chaz has been working in IT for 30 years and has worked with Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager and Windows Deployment for much of that time. Chaz has deployed and managed endpoints for many of the world’s largest Fortune 500 companies with his work at Adaptiva and in his past role as a principal consultant with CompuCom. Chaz has also been an instructor and courseware developer and is happy to continue that role with Adaptiva. For more information, please visit https://adaptiva.com/, and follow the company at LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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