Innovations are pointless unless people and organizations harness them to achieve their goals. While we may not be able to predict the future, that does not mean we should sit idly by as the tides of change wash over us. One of the most effective mechanisms to ensure customers are continuing to derive value from your innovative products and services is by investing in Customer Education.
According to The Atlantic, one way we can measure innovation and the rate at which technology is accelerating is by exploring trends in the records of the U.S. Patent Office. As of 2015, more than 9.6 million patents had been granted, up from approximately five million in 1990. And of those 9.6 million patents, only 222,000 were granted in the entire 19th century. As the researchers relayed, “Technology moves faster than our imaginations can keep up with. We invent one breakthrough technology today and then tomorrow’s inventors transform it into another we never imagined possible.”
The frenetic pace of innovation isn’t the only trend that’s affecting the business landscape. In this post, I’ll address four additional trends and share how I’m seeing organizations use Customer Education to tackle the accompanying challenges.
#1: The Subscription Economy has forever changed the dynamic between companies and their customers
Companies across the spectrum - from Netflix and Amazon, to Skilljar - operate on a subscription-based business model, and the number of companies adopting this model continues to increase, particularly in the software category. According to research from Zuora, SaaS is one of the fastest growing industries within the Subscription Economy, with a growth rate of 23 percent in 2017, and 19 percent in 2018 (see graph below).
Tien Tzuo, CEO of Zuora, explains what this shift from transactional to subscription-based means for the relationship between companies and their customers:
“The Subscription Economy has increased the intimacy between SaaS companies (or software vendors) and their customers...In the Subscription Economy, every company must better manage a direct, complex, responsive, multi-channel relationship with its customers. Customers are absolutely key in this relationship and rather than putting the focus of the business on the ‘product’ or the ‘transaction,’ subscription economy companies live and die by their ability to focus on the customer. Now, the formula for growth is focused on monetizing long-term relationships rather than shipping products.” (Disclosure: Zuora is a Skilljar customer)
In practice, this shift means that SaaS vendors are constantly working to maintain their customer base (in terms of renewals and expansions), and must focus on the overall customer relationship, rather than a one-and-done transaction. For SaaS companies in particular (but certainly relevant for other industries as well), lifetime value is based on a strong foundation of active, engaged users who understand the value of your product and experience that value regularly.
Customer Education is the key driver of creating this value for customers at scale. Potential opportunities include the development of resources such as the following:
- 30-second video walk-throughs that demonstrate how to use a particular feature;
- Learning paths made up of short, modular courses in which users can select the specific part of the training they want or need; and
- In-product guidance that enables users to learn as they go, without leaving your product.
- Short, how-to videos that walk through the fundamentals of using your product;
- Blog posts that outline best practices, tips and tricks, and additional resources at the users' disposal; and
- Knowledge checks and quizzes that ensure users are successfully acquiring the right information.
Developing impactful content is no easy task and it is certainly an investment, particularly when a Customer Education program is being created for the first time. But remember, the initial investment will pay out over the long term if the content meets your users’ needs. The customer relationship is now a core component of business success and ensuring they feel supported as your product and company evolve is critical to engendering lifetime value.
#2: Users are not engaging with SaaS applications, which presents an existential threat to software companies
According to Intuit, enterprises across industries utilize between 25 and 100 SaaS applications. However, according to Totango, only 17 percent of paying customers use their SaaS services daily and 50 percent never even log into the tools. From the vendor side, if these SaaS companies want to stay competitive, it’s not enough for companies to purchase their products, the customers (and their employees and partners) must understand how to use and derive value from them. This is where a strong Customer Education program can be a critical business initiative to drive the adoption (and long-term engagement) of software.
Through the creation and dissemination of tailored, on-demand resources, companies can equip customers with the information and skills to achieve their business goals, and in turn, improve customer retention and promote expansion. Organizations can no longer assume that their users will just “figure it out.” For truly impactful adoption and engagement, businesses must empower their customers with the right, most relevant information at their fingertips. Research from the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) supports this premise, finding that trained customers are 68 percent more likely to use a product than their untrained colleagues.
While SaaS is fundamentally changing our day-to-day processes, Customer Education can effectively set customers up for success in this new landscape.
#3: Customer experience is a critical value-driver for both B2C and B2B companies
There’s broad consensus that we are operating in the Age of the Customer. According to a study from Accenture, 90 percent of B2B executives cite customer experience as a “very important factor to achieving their organizations’ strategic priorities,” but only 20 percent “excel at CX and achieve strong financial results.”
This just goes to show how difficult it can be to translate the understanding that customer experience is important into tactics that help bring that strategy to life. One of the most effective means of keeping customers satisfied is by ensuring they are quickly and regularly finding value in your product. Time to value, or TTV, is defined as the length of time between a customer signing on with your product and the point at which they first derive value.
By decreasing and maintaining a short TTV, you make it more likely that customers will continue to use your product. Consider some of the following ways to offer customers a personalized, valuable experience:
- Create customized training paths: Given the complexity that often accompanies SaaS offerings, as well as the variety of job roles that may use a particular product, it can be impactful to present each role or team with a training program that makes it possible for them to achieve their specific needs and goals. You can do this by customizing training paths by job role, knowledge-level, and goals.
- Offer multiple training formats: The way that busy, modern adults learn is fundamentally different from traditional learning models that were developed for classroom-based formal school instruction. Accordingly, offering different types of self-paced, on-demand courses - from webinars and quizzes, to infographics, one-pagers, or videos - ensures that learners of all types have access to resources that best fit their unique learning style and needs.
- Proactively address support questions: By tracking common inquiries and understanding where customers are having trouble on a regular basis, companies can create educational content to pre-empt other customers experiencing those same challenges. This also enables customers to self-service in their moment of need without waiting for Support or their Customer Success Manager’s availability.
Ultimately, designing a Customer Education program for users to work independently and at their own pace greatly increases the chances of participation and content absorption and leads to a greater understanding of your product’s value.
#4: An increasingly global and mobile workforce
Today’s workforce is more spread out than ever before. Not only do customers, partners, and employees span offices around the globe, there is also a notable increase in remote workers who do not sit in traditional office settings, or even work the standard 9-to-5 hours. According to a forecast of employment trends by the World Economic Forum, flexible work, including virtual teams, is “one of the biggest drivers of transformation” in the workplace. Further, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, 43% of Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely last year, up from 39% in 2012.
Alongside this dispersion of the workforce, individuals’ preference for self-service modalities is increasing. According to a study from Microsoft, 89 percent of U.S. customers expect a brand to offer a self-care portal (and 90 percent of customers globally). Research from American Express further found that more than six in 10 U.S. consumers say that their go-to channel for simple inquiries is a digital self-serve tool such as a website, mobile app, voice response system, or online chat.
A recent Skilljar study also supports this trend, finding that adult learners have an overwhelming preference for online, self-paced training. To the adult learners surveyed, self-pacing was by far the most important factor when considering enrolling in a course - more important than the ability to practice hands-on exercises or even having an instructor at all. Ultimately, customers want (and expect) resources they can access when, where, and how they want.
With these shifts in flexible workplace and increased preference for self-service options, companies need to prioritize on-demand training options that are not restricted by time zones, geographies, room capacity, or instructor availability.
Typical on-demand education includes a mix of content types, and often involves video, interactive simulations, and downloadable performance support. Resources can include recorded webinars, infographics, slideshows, blog posts, and more. By providing the opportunity for workers to learn when and where they want, you are significantly increasing both the likelihood that they will engage with training, and that they will be in the best frame of mind to retain the Information.
By offering coursework that can be completed in a self-paced and on-demand manner, we reduce the pressure on learners to “squeeze in” training. This approach also encourages learners to complete courses when they feel they are in the best frame of mind to learn,
While keeping up with the pace of technology development and innovation can seem overwhelming, building a strong Customer Education program is an effective way to proactively address a number of common challenges. There are a number of easy incremental steps to start experimenting with that will help you scale while still maintaining a high level of quality and customer satisfaction. In particular, providing access to on-demand training ultimately enables you to support more customers and create a faster onboarding process. By supplying your customers with the right content exactly when they are seeking it, you help build the customer relationship and lay the groundwork for long-term success.
For more information about building a Customer Education program that scales and innovates alongside your company and product, check out some of these other Skilljar resources:
- eBook: Your Guide to Creating a Customer Onboarding Program
- eBook: Three Keys to Unlocking a Successful Customer Education Program
- On-Demand Webinar: Customer Education Strategy 101: Technology, Content, and Engagement for Success
- Toolkit: Best Practices for Launching an LMS