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A Guide to 4 Methods of Customer Training: The Pros and Cons

Posted by Sandi Lin on August 25, 2014

Why is customer training important?

As Michal Lev-Ram discussed in a recent Fortune article, the emergence of the subscription economy, defined by the rise in subscription-based services, has sparked a need for customer success management. Companies are dedicating resources now more than ever to proactively ensure that customers continue to recognize the value of a service after initially signing up.

Customer training is a crucial part of a company's customer success strategy. Let's look at four common methods of customer training, and the benefits and disadvantages of each. By understanding the pros and cons of these methods, you can better implement your own customer training program, or take your training program to the next level.

customer training-pros cons
Adapted from photo by NEC Corporation of America / CC BY

Method 1: Help Center

Help centers (also known as help desks or knowledge banks) are a frequent starting point for providing customer training. Most often, these are publicly available materials and accessible by existing and new customers.

Pros:

  • Customers can easily access content
  • Freely available content generates potential SEO benefits
  • A help center is especially useful for simple, to-the-point questions and answers
  • The content is always available to customers, who can self-service and find answers in real time

Cons:

  • Customer engagement with your training content is not trackable by individual user
  • The volume of content within your help center can become overwhelming, and organization can be challenging, especially for complex topics
  • There is little to no interactivity between your company and your customer

There are many help desk software options, many of which are integrated with a customer support ticketing system. Here are a few to consider.

Method 2: Self-Paced Online Courses

Self-paced online courses, also called 'on-demand' training, are becoming increasingly popular as a delivery format. The most scalable method, it is always available no matter the time zone or geography of your customer. And self-paced training is the most preferred learning style for adults. For instructors, creating video content is easier than ever, whether that's narrated slides, animation, or 'talking head' style production.

Pros:

  • You can provide structured learning paths, e.g. for different products and roles
  • It's the most preferred learning delivery format by adults
  • Engagement is trackable by individual user, and data can be sent to other systems for analysis, communication, and other processes
  • Trainers can engage customers with quizzes and assess their understanding of the material
  • Self-paced online courses are great for onboarding and in-depth training topics
  • Online courses are always available so customers can learn on their own schedule

Cons:

  • Creating courses requires the trainer to produce video or other content
  • Interactivity is minimal. Discussion forums are a popular format used in self-paced online courses

Skilljar is a technology provider for self-paced online courses. For more information, visit www.skilljar.com.

Method 3: Instructor-Led Virtual Courses

Instructor-led virtual training is used when personal interaction is needed with your customers. It is often utilized for regular office hours, general Q&A, or paired with on-demand training.

Pros:

  • This method provides an opportunity for real-time Q&A with the instructor
  • Virtual training is a less expensive option than classroom training
  • It can provide a good avenue for occasional personal interaction and direct customer feedback

Cons:

  • Instructor-led virtual training requires participants to be present for a scheduled session
  • There are technical requirements and setup that all participants must complete, in addition to the trainer

Common webinar technologies include the following providers, ranging from simple group audio/video calls to rich learning platforms with polling and virtual whiteboards.

Method 4: Instructor-Led Classroom Courses

Live, face-to-face training is the most traditional form of customer education. Course sessions are typically at least a full day or longer, and may coincide with product and industry conferences.

Pros:

  • Customers receive hands-on learning and personalized help
  • Instructors can get quick feedback from learners
  • In-person events create networking opportunities among attendees

Cons:

  • Live customer training requires attendees to be physically present
  • There are more logistics involved such as travel, space planning, setup and catering
  • This is the most expensive format
  • Live training requires the most time commitment of the four methods described in this article

Many customer and partner education programs employ all four methods, since they serve different purposes throughout the customer success life cycle. The end goal is to educate customers on your product/service so that they can get the most value from it, resulting in a happy customer, and ultimately creating an advocate for your company.

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