L&D is increasingly serving not just internal clients (employees) but also learners outside the organization, such as external partners and customers. “Customer training and customer enablement is the key to retention and revenue health,” says Sandi Lin, CEO and co-founder of Skilljar, “and that’s a change that’s really happened with the subscription economy.” While companies used to focus on customer acquisition through a perpetual license model, customers now have choices and can renew their business or find a different company every year or even every month. It’s no longer enough, Lin says, “to sign a customer and then wait for the support tickets to roll in. That’s not going to be sustainable going forward.” Lin believes that customer training professionals “are going to be the heroes of their organization.”

Lin says her company is “a customer enablement platform that provides all of the tools and resources” for companies to make their customers and external partners successful. She breaks down customer enablement into customer onboarding, the most critical phase, and customer training, which happens across the customer lifecycle. One of the two leading causes of customer churn or cancellation, Lin says, is improper adoption during onboarding. “If you believe that new customer success is key to company health, then onboarding is key.” Having a successful customer onboarding program will start relationships off on the right foot.

Barry Kelly, CEO of Thought Industries, which recently announced a new customer learning platform, agrees that customer training is key to successful customer relationships, particularly for software and technology companies. “Educated users stay connected longer, are more engaged [with] the product and become great references.” From onboarding, where successful programs move “new customers toward quickly understanding the true value of your product or service,” to keeping existing customers up to date with updates and making sure they’re staying engaged and satisfied, “customer training is one of the core pillars of customer success.” Many organizations, Kelly adds, even monetize their customer education through programs like certifications.

Perhaps as a reflection of the growing importance and demand for customer education, Skilljar just announced a $16.4 million Series A funding round from existing investor Trilogy Equity Partners and new investors Mayfield and Shasta Ventures. Lin says Skilljar will use the new funding for “really, everything” – accelerating product development, continuing its investments in research and development, and expanding marketing and sales activities. Thus far, Skilljar has mainly grown through word of mouth and sharing success stories from customers such as Zendesk, a public customer experience software company, which has used Skilljar’s platform to exceed training goals and grow accounts. In fact, Lin says, Zendesk’s accounts that have been trained using Skilljar “have grown considerably more than [its] accounts without training.”

Thought Industries’ new customer learning platform supports training throughout the customer lifecycle, and Kelly says the company is planning additional features this year, including “more integrations, more complex certification management, moment-of-need learning features, and updates to Panorama,” its licensing management suite for branded B2B training and certification.

Selecting a Platform

When selecting a platform for a customer education program, Lin says it’s important to look beyond the “bells and whistles” and focus on the two or three features your organization, specifically, needs. For example, how do customers enroll in training? What CRM integrations do you need? What does your finance team need for efficient payment processing? What technical capabilities do you need? Make sure the platform will be able to scale with user demand that can be unpredictable.

It’s important, adds Kelly, that the platform “will allow for easy delivery of engaging, well-curated training from one platform.” He recommends looking for these features:

  • The ability for subject matter experts to create high-quality, interactive learning experiences in their browser
  • Full branding capabilities
  • The ability to add widgets easily inside your product to offer contextual learning and updates, linked to the broader training program
  • “A robust suite of APIs” so you can connect easily between the learning platform and other technologies, and the ability to integrate the platform with products like your CRM, webinar tool(s) and marketing automation tools
  • The ability to create custom reports that you can send to key team members and transfer in real time to external databases
  • Certification management
  • The ability to monetize training, including integrated e-commerce management to create training registration, discounts, coupons, subscription and reporting

Tips for Effective Training

What about the actual training content? Lin points out that customers, unlike employees, aren’t taking long periods of time to complete training. Microlearning is popular for all audiences but especially important for customers, who “want to be able to discover new content, search [and feel like they’re making progress” in between their daily work and personal activities. Microlearning can, therefore, be effective, and Skilljar’s own data backs that up. Kelly says that he sees a lot of companies using blended learning that combines webinars and synchronous learning with self-paced learning. It’s also important to target programs at specific user personas and at specific stages of product orientation.

Lin also says it’s important to be flexible and agile. Customer needs are continually changing, and “you’ll learn, you’ll try different business models [and] you’ll update content.” Steve Blank says that “no business plan survives first contact with a customer,” and Lin says the same is true for customer training.

Most of all,” Kelly says, “measure, measure, measure.” Define your metrics, Lin says, and make sure the platform you use can support measuring and reporting on them. Kelly recommends metrics including which content is used the most; how engaged learners are; and how training is impacting churn, customer satisfaction, customer lifetime value and net promoter score (NPS).

In addition to what Lin calls “first-order metrics,” like engagement with content, registrations and completions, “the true ROI comes when you can say, ‘90 percent of accounts with training renewed or expanded their business,’” versus the accounts that didn’t receive training. Make sure you can understand the impact customer onboarding and training has on your revenue (that’s part of why integrating your customer training platform with your CRM is so important).

By combining an effective customer enablement strategy with measurement and reporting on ROI, L&D leaders truly can become heroes at their companies.

Learn more about customer onboarding in tomorrow’s webinar, “The Essential Principles of Great Customer Onboarding,” sponsored by Skilljar. Click here to register.