Calculating the business impact of customer education programs has proven to be a difficult task. Studies suggest that the current methodologies used to provide evidence of the business impact of all educational programs are lacking. Richard Griffin, a faculty member at London South Bank University, for example, asserts that the current approaches to training measurement fail to meet the needs of business stakeholders. Management consultant Josh Bersin captured the spirit of this shortcoming in a 2010 study on modern measurement that concluded that training measurement initiatives needed to expand. Phaedra Brotherton, a trained career development facilitator and former manager of ATD’s career development community of practice, takes the sentiment a step further by citing feedback from senior training executives, who stated that the training industry as a whole lacks a measurement methodology that ties financial outcomes to learning engagements.
An additional challenge faced by the individuals who oversee customer education programs is that popular approaches for measuring training impact are geared for employee-based training and development programs, not customer education. Rajeev, Madan and Jayarajan of the Indian Institute of Spices Research support this perspective by pointing out that virtually all training evaluation approaches in use today are a modified version of the Kirkpatrick four-level model, which was developed to evaluate employee-based training initiatives. The shortcomings of using this approach for measuring the business impact of customer education programs is perhaps best highlighted by the studies of Yardley and Dornan from Keele University Medical School, which found that the Kirkpatrick approach involves implicit assumptions that are only useful in simple instructional designs and short-term endpoints. Yardley and Dornan further asserted that the Kirkpatrick methodology lacks a formal approach for measuring the variable – customer loyalty – that the literature frequently states as the rationale for delivering client training.
The belief that the Kirkpatrick model is inappropriate for evaluating customer education programs is not universal. Some researchers argue that level four, results, is appropriate for demonstrating the business impact of customer education programs. In the European Journal of Training and Development, Curado and Martins Teixeira claimed that when applied correctly, the Kirkpatrick model captures the impact that training has on business results. Tripathi and Chaurasia, of the Greater Noida Institute of Technology Mahamaya Technical University, concur with this perspective and advocate for the Kirkpatrick model in reverse. They suggest that the model works when the process begins with level four, results, and concludes with level one, reaction. Jack and Patti Philips also advocate for the Kirkpatrick approach, with the caveat that it is not always necessary to measure return on investment.
While arguments about the validity of using of the Kirkpatrick model to evaluate customer education programs continue, what is not disputed is the belief that it is vital for learning practitioners to evaluate education programs in a way that substantiates their impact on business results. For customer education programs, customer loyalty is one such metric.