Customer education is a rapidly growing segment of the training market. In fact, in Thought Industries’ 2020 “State of Customer Training” research, 75% of respondents reported an increase in customer training over the past five years. Customer education has “risen in importance for brand awareness, customer retention, and critical engagement that drives a variety of business performance indicators,” the report notes. However, while 96% of respondents said customer training is important to their company, only 14% said they believe their customers are adequately trained.

How can learning leaders deliver training that benefits both customers and the business? Let’s dive into what makes customer training successful — and what doesn’t — in today’s business climate.

1. Don’t Forget to Onboard

Just as onboarding sets up new employees for success in their roles, onboarding sets up customers for a positive experience with a product or service. For example, guided onboarding can help customers better understand a new software program’s tools and features, leading to increased adoption and, in turn, better business outcomes, says Rob Ayre, customer marketing manager at Docebo.

It’s important to remember that the goal of customer onboarding is not simply to teach users how to use a product. The goal is to help them become successful using it, says Barry Kelly, chief executive officer of Thought Industries. After all, “Lots of people can learn how to use a product and not be successful with it.” And if customers are not successful using a product, they will not adopt it or recommend it to other customers.

As effective onboarding decreases time to value, it is a key driver of business outcomes. In fact, Skilljar’s 2020 “Customer Education Benchmarks and Trends Report” found that product onboarding and adoption, and the associated decreased time to value, is the No. 1 business goal that drives stakeholder investment in customer training.

However, despite the direct link to business outcomes, the onboarding aspect of customer training is often left behind. After asking 250 individuals (nearly half of whom work at software companies that depend on customer training for business success) which part of their customers’ life cycle could “use more or better” customer training, the majority (37%) said onboarding.

Due to the pandemic’s widespread economic toll, businesses are “focusing more on [onboarding] existing customers,” says Sandi Lin, chief executive officer and founder of Skilljar. She predicts that doing so will lead to a “more balanced approach” to customer onboarding in the post-pandemic world.

2. Make It Accessible

Customer training is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. “Everyone wants to learn in a different way, through a different modality,” Kelly explains. Diversified content is key in reaching customers “where they are.”

Businesses should offer customer training in a variety of formats, using a variety of technologies, for maximum impact. Now that in-person training is largely inaccessible due to the coronavirus pandemic, companies have “rapidly shifted their education activities online,” Lin says, through on-demand or virtual instructor-led courses. Organizations should also offer customer training in a mobile format to ensure that they don’t leave behind the learners who don’t have access to a dedicated computer, Ayre says.

With many companies, and indviduals, facing financial insecurity due to the coronavirus crisis, Lin says, “Companies are increasing the accessibility of their training programs by reducing or removing fees normally required to sign up for training.” By keeping customers “educated and enabled,” Ayre says, you can retain them for the long haul.

3. Measure Your Impact

Now, more than ever, learning leaders must actively prove the return on investment (ROI) of all training initiatives. As Lin says, “COVID-19 has made companies reassess and upgrade their view of how customer education programs can drive business outcomes.” But measuring ROI isn’t easy. In fact, Skilljar research found that while 45% of respondents “see a strong correlation between training and customer retention levels,” only 24% track evaluation metrics such as retention, renewals and expansion. How can learning leaders bridge this gap and prove the impact of customer training on the bottom line?

To effectively measure the ROI of customer training, Ayre says, start by determining which needles the business wants to move. Then, “put in place the measurement tools and strategies to articulate that change on a recurring and regular basis.”

Kelly agrees that measuring ROI starts with determining the company’s key goals. This way, you “know what you’re measuring” and can “work your way down from there.” Metrics like customer retention, net promoter scores, customer engagement and successful product use can help gauge the impact of customer training on key business outcomes and lead to increased buy-in from stakeholders.

In today’s uncertain business environment, customer education is still important — perhaps even more so. It showcases your organization’s commitment to the people it serves, increasing customer loyalty at a time when it has never been more important. By following the three best practices outlined in this article, your customer training program — and your organization — will be positioned to thrive during and after the crisis.

Editor’s Note:

This article was updated to reflect the accurate number of people Skilljar surveyed for its “Customer Education Benchmarks and Trends Report,” the majority of whom work in the technology field.