When I first started overseeing customer education programs over 15 years ago, I had a lot of trouble finding studies that focused on that segment of corporate training. Anytime I attended a conference or read an industry magazine, the topics were almost exclusively about employee training and development. To further complicate matters, I found that measuring and evaluating the impact of customer training was challenging, mainly because many of mechanisms that were in place to capture information from employees didn’t exist in the customer education world. For example, it was challenging to incorporate level 3 of the Kirkpatrick model, which requires a determination of the extent to which the learner applies skills taught in the training program on the job.
I also found that the business leaders who financed customer education programs were continually asking for metrics that articulated the return they were getting for their investment. One question they always asked was, “How is this training to impact how customers feel about my business?”
To understand how clients’ experiences with customer education programs impacted their loyalty to the firm offering these programs, I undertook a research study. I believed that understanding this relationship would provide me with a better way to communicate the business impact of customer education programs.
I wanted to provide context to the findings, and I needed to describe, interpret, verify and evaluate the customer’s experience, so I used a qualitative research design called phenomenology. This approach allowed me to explore the topic in greater detail than I could have using quantitative techniques. The sample was seven clients from three different financial service firms. This sample size was large enough because phenomenological research requires smaller sample sizes than quantitative studies. I conducted 15- to 30-minute semi-structured interviews on the telephone using a semi-structured interview guide that was field-tested with colleagues in the financial services customer education industry.
The results yielded three themes about the clients’ experiences with customer education programs that caused increased loyalty:
1. When customers perceived education programs as offering useful information, customer loyalty increased.
Five out of seven participants indicated that their experience with product education programs increased their loyalty to the firm because the programs offered useful information.
2. When customers perceived that the presentation of education programs was professional, customer loyalty increased.
All seven participants reported that the professionalism of the education programs caused them to regard the firm favorably. Two of the seven reported that their perceptions of professionalism were associated with the trainer, including the trainer’s friendliness and ability to remember students’ names. The remaining participants reported that their impression of the professionalism was related to the quality of the educational presentations, specifically the visuals, video, tables and graphics.
3. When customers perceived that education programs offered information in a way that was manageable, customer loyalty increased.
The participants described “manageable” as presenting the information in bite-sized pieces in a way that allows them to understand “the big picture” and “how everything connects”. This type of presentation caused them to feel more loyal to the firm.