The time has never been more auspicious for customer training to take its place alongside operations management, finance, sales and marketing as an essential business function. Among the reasons why:

  • Increasing product and service complexity requires more training and education to ensure customers quickly realize the value they expect from your offering.
  • Increasing competition escalates the need for your organization to stand apart and deliver superior customer experiences.
  • Higher customer expectations regarding the quality of the training available to them to become proficient users of your offering.
  • The rise of subscription-based business models highly dependent on achieving levels of customer satisfaction that generate healthy renewal rates and recurring revenues.

Preparing for Crossing-the-Chasm Challenges

Arguably, prevailing business conditions should be motivating all forward-thinking organizations to elevate their customer training efforts. But the need is particularly acute in organizations navigating the introduction of disruptive new products or services. Those organizations are going to hit the “chasm” in the technology adoption life-cycle defined by Geoffrey Moore in his book, “Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers.”

Multiple indicators will signal that your organization has encountered the technology adoption chasm Moore identified. Training backlogs will be growing. Support tickets will be piling up. Customer success managers and others engaged in post-sale support will be consumed by firefighting rather than helping convert customers to expert users who can become long-term brand advocates.

These are early indicators that your customer base is beginning to shift from enthusiastic innovators and early adopters – customers largely comfortable with figuring things out for themselves – to a more training-dependent early majority cohort. And left unaddressed these red flags will likely lead to more troubling outcomes, including declining customer satisfaction scores and increasing customer churn.

With preparation that includes reimagining customer training as much more than a post-sale function, these outcomes can be avoided. Solutions reside in enlarging the training function’s footprint within your organization and being more mindful and intentional about how training intersects with multiple other functions.

Embracing Customer Training’s Enterprise Impact

Elevating customer training to essential business function starts with recognizing that customer training interacts with many other business functions to address a range of business challenges. To earn the executive support that is a prerequisite to lifting customer training’s role, training leaders need to articulate how training will support the organization’s larger goals in improving product adoption, scaling customer support, maximizing customer success, creating brand ambassadors and ultimately leading your market category.

This means that customer training, like other essential business functions, needs to assume accountability for measurable results. It means doing the hard work of figuring out what training outcomes you can realistically measure. You elevate customer training to essential business function by committing to (and delivering) results that are meaningful at the enterprise level: increasing adoption rates, deflecting support tickets, reducing churn and time to value and improving net promoter scores.

Customer Training is a Team Sport

As a practical matter, these enterprise level outcomes are a shared responsibility and accountability. That means making customer training an essential business function requires an effort that crosses disciplines. From training’s perspective, you will need to build and sustain relationships not only with the subject matter experts (SMEs) that inform content development, but also across sales, customer support, marketing, human resources (HR) and even third parties, such as channel partners, resellers and distributors.

With sales, for example, customer training can collaborate to optimize how your offering is presented and demonstrated. With customer support, customer training can flag areas where new users get stuck or frustrated and help develop documentation or in-product aids to resolve the issues as or even before they are encountered. With marketing, customer training can contribute to developing educational and thought leadership content that reflects the training team’s empathy for users’ needs and on-the-job challenges. Customer training can even support HR in ensuring new hires have a thorough understanding of your organization’s offerings. Ideally, customer training has a seat at the table for all roadmap and go-to-market strategy discussions to be better positioned to anticipate training needs and start earlier on training materials, instructor recruitment and preparation and other foundation-building steps.

An Evolution, Not a Quantum Leap

For nearly all organizations, elevating customer training to the level of essential business function is going to be a journey, not a fast transition. The “team sport” dynamics and resourcing issues are complex, to name two obvious challenges.

Forward-thinking organizations are likely to work at converging customer training, learning and development (L&D), sales enablement, customer success and more in an enterprise-level learning strategies organization. Stages in that evolution will include developing a core training function in the organization, building a foundation to enable scaling it, optimizing customer training offerings for different learner personas, refining pricing models and ultimately connecting a community with the diverse skills and credentials to best serve your customer learners.

Mastering customer training is a daunting task, but there are ample incentives to take it on. They reside in the pre-sale, post-sale and lifetime customer value benefits that will accrue to organizations that treat customer training as an essential business function.