Customer education is an important component in improving customer retention, product adoption and customer support. At the same time, as many businesses move to SaaS models, traditional training models are breaking. Doing an onsite training for a new product implementation is becoming less and less practical.
Most businesses are moving toward providing self-help, web-based services where customers can go to find answers to their own questions. But as we help customers make this transition we find that many don't have a clear idea of what they are trying to accomplish. They know they want to do things better, they just don’t know where to focus their efforts.
The Customer Educational Lifecylce
We have found it helpful to use a framework we call the Customer Educational Lifecycle. If you are familiar with Lifecycle Marketing you know that the goal is to deliver the information that the prospect needs at their particular stage of engagement with your company or your product. When we think of customer education we are really zooming in on a specific area of Lifecycle Marketing and focusing on the time from when the customer first begins to use a product (either a trial or after a new purchase) to months or years later when they are an expert at using your product.
At each stage the customer is going to need different educational resources depending on their interest in, commitment to, and understanding of your product and market space.
We break the customer educational lifecycle down into four areas:
- Customer Support
Onboarding can mean a lot of different things to different people. For our purposes, we are going to focus on product onboarding. This is the process where your prospect, customer, or employee reaches the point that using your product creates value for them. This doesn't mean that they are a product expert or that they are getting all the value that your product can offer. It just means that they are deriving enough value to want to continue their relationship with your product.
The educational material you prepare and deliver here needs to be optimized with that goal in mind. Depending on the complexity of your product or the complexity of the problem your product is trying to solve the material could be anything from a short introductory video to multi-day training sessions. The key here isn't the length of the content, but the depth. During onboarding you only want to deliver the amount of information that is absolutely necessary to help the customer reach their initial goal. Too much information will overwhelm them while too little will leave them short of their goal.
Key attributes of Onboarding resources:
- Information is focused on achieving clearly defined milestones
- Only the information required to reach the milestone is included
- Clear paths with little variation need to be defined
Once a customer gets onboarded and then wants to continue using your product, you need to move into training. The way we define training and teaching is a bit more specific than most organizations. Training is educating your customer on how to use your product. Teaching is educating your customer on best ways to achieve business goals through things like best practices, case studies and higher level skills.
A good example is learning to drive. Learning to accelerate, brake and turn would all be examples of training. Learning how to best navigate traffic, drive in slippery conditions or drive defensively would be examples of teaching. Training makes your customer competent with your product. Teaching broadens their vision and helps them achieve great things with your product.
Key attributes of Training resources:
- Information should be presented in layers, allowing users to start with high level information and then dig down into more detailed information
- Necessary information should be highlighted while unnecessary information should not be required
- Information should be presented clearly so that training can be completed in as little time as possible
- Information that must be memorized should be separated from information that only needs to be referenced
As I stated above, in our framework, teaching is at a higher level than training. Teaching should focus on best practices, productivity enhancements and innovative ways of using your product. As another example, a new ScreenSteps customer needs to be trained on what a site, manual, chapter and article are. But they need to be taught about how to best organize their knowledge base and write effective help articles.
Key attributes of Teaching resources:
- Concepts should be higher level
- Real world examples should be given
- Clear recipes should be given to help your customers achieve similar results
4. Customer Support
The final component is Customer Support. At each stage of Onboarding, Training and Teaching there will be times that your customer will get stuck. Customer support resources should be designed to resolve their questions and get them "unstuck". You shouldn't try to reuse the same content as both a training resource and a customer support resource. Training resources lead customers down a path. Customer support resources remove roadblocks that prevent your customer from continuing on the path they have chosen.
Key attributes of Customer Support resources:
- They answer very specific questions clearly and concisely
- They are usually shorter in length
Thinking about the Customer Educational Lifecycle inside of this framework can help you understand what type of information your customer needs at any given time. It can also help you evaluate where you have gaps in the educational information you are providing to your customers.