Customers are increasingly making buying decisions based on the quality of their experience with a vendor rather than pricing and products. According to “Customers 2020: The Future of B-to-B Customer Experience,” a Walker report, customer experience will be the key brand differentiator for organizations.  Companies like Ace Hardware, and Quicken Loans have consistently earned top J.D. Power ratings for customer satisfaction, having made their mark by setting a new standard for impressing customers and exceeding expectations.

Competition for customers is intensifying across both B2B and B2C companies. Organizations are investing a significant amount of time and money to crack the code on acquiring and retaining customers. The most successful today are outpacing their competitors in delivering top notch customer experiences. According to Harvard Business Review, customers who have the best experiences spend up to 140 percent more and remain a customer up to six times longer compared to those who have the poorest experiences.

Establishing a successful customer experience and putting it into practice is not easy. Exceptional customer experience is not just the result of one or two defining interactions. It is the cumulative impression formed by every interaction between an organization and its customers, prospects, partners, contingent workers and other external audiences.

One area that can have a significant impact on customer experience is training. Learning programs help organizations deliver a best-in-class experience and achieve their business goals by providing an opportunity to be a well-informed advocate to everyone interacting with the brand.

Knowledge is the foundation for customer experience and business success

Employees who have access to relevant expertise and information are better equipped to answer questions, resolve issues and provide guidance to customers faster.  By quickly and effectively resolving issues and minimizing escalations, well-trained employees not only deliver better customer experiences, but also save their organizations time and money. Successful companies recognize this and take steps to extend the benefits of learning and knowledge-sharing opportunities beyond employees and across their entire business ecosystems.

Recent research by analyst firm Aberdeen Group reported companies that extend learning programs to customers achieve an 800 percent annual increase in revenue per full-time equivalent and a 33 percent annual increase in customer retention than those that don’t. Achieving these results is exactly what is driving the growing trend of extending learning to external audiences.

Extending learning opportunities can catapult business performance and deliver business value in several ways including:

  • Increased market awareness: Organizations can easily build brand allies by providing access to knowledge and information anytime and anywhere.
  • Superior satisfaction and retention: Learning programs accelerate product adoption and usage, enabling customers and partners to attain greater speed to value from an organization’s offerings.
  • Greater revenue potential: Organizations can offer learning content, certification programs and continuing education as an add-on service for a fee. Additionally, learning results can be tied to business performance goals, allowing organizations to measure the impact of their learning investments on overall growth.
  • Improved productivity: Ready access to information and subject-matter expertise empowers employees, contractors and partners to work smarter and more efficiently.
  • New client acquisition: A highly trained workforce delivers shorter sales cycles and improved close rates on new customer opportunities.
  • Lower operational costs: Effective learning programs reduce the volume and frequency of costly support inquiries, saving an organization time and money.
  • Reduced risk and maintain compliance: Contingent workers and partners are often required to adhere to the same regulations and requirements as full-time employees. Proactive and timely training can help organizations avoid fines and exposure.

Creating an engaging learning experience

External audiences are more likely to embrace learning if it is personalized, contextual and delivered just-in-time. Organizations should target the branding, design and content to each audience, skill level and role. Content must relate to the task at hand and tightly integrate into the systems and processes that users interact with every day. According to Forrester’s “2013 Mobile Workforce Adoption Trends” report, nearly one-third of the global workforce uses three or more devices, works from multiple locations and uses many apps so access should be available anywhere, at any time from any type of connected device.

Organizations can engage internal and external audiences by providing a variety of learning opportunities. Some ideas include:

  • Deliver and promote free training content: Organizations can engage their external audiences on their website and social media channels by presenting a series of short how-to videos or infographics related to their product or service.
  • Create a certification program: Companies can foster awareness and increase the perceived value of their brand by recognizing and rewarding loyal advocates through product and service certifications, which can be included on resumes and other social networks.
  • Provide in-the-moment customer support training: Organizations can implement HR technologies that deliver training at the point of need by seamlessly integrating with customer relationship management software and other business applications. Employing technologies we’ve come to expect from consumer-oriented sites like, contextual HR software makes personalized recommendations for just-in-time training to help users complete the task at hand.

Knowledge is essential to nurturing employees, partners and customers to become loyal brand advocates. The demand for exceptional customer experience will continue to grow. Innovative learning professionals who develop comprehensive strategies that empower both internal and external audiences with information and skills will increase the value of their training programs, help their organizations gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace and make learning the core to business success.