Delivering Effective Customer Training: Part 1
Customer training used to involve writing a 300-page user manual and delivering a week long, on-site seminar for all new users. While these efforts explained, in intricate detail, all of the functionality of the product, they were also ineffective, difficult to scale, and very expensive. Successful companies have largely moved past the 300-page user manual, but many are still operating in the past when it comes to the way they deliver customer training. In this two-part article, we will examine 4 of the most common ways of delivering customer training, and learn ways to augment them with online learning.
Most customer training efforts begin as one-on-one consulting. When products are new and only have a small number of users, white-glove onboarding and education makes sense. After all, there's no point in spending weeks developing training materials for just a handful of customers.
Add to that the fact that customers appreciate one-on-one consulting. It makes them feel valued, and it can help them come up to speed very quickly, since all of their training is specially tailored to their needs. "Customers all believe that they are unique," Lincoln Murphy, Founder and Principal at Sixteen Ventures, explains. "And they are, but there are also things that are true across your whole user base."
One-on-one consulting can benefit the person overseeing the training as well, since it gives them an outstanding view of the real needs of customers. It's not surprising that the first customer trainer at many SaaS startups is the founder of the company. Teaching a new customer how to use your product is an excellent way to shape your product development roadmap.
However, one-on-one consulting has some downsides. It's expensive and, in many cases, you'll need a full time employee just to handle the training for a single large customer account. Add in the travel costs and scheduling challenges, and one-on-one consulting soon becomes impossible to scale.
Turn One-On-One Consulting Into A Profit Center
Augmenting existing customer training efforts with an online training solution adds value to your company's one-on-one-training efforts. Zenkeep, a full service managerial accounting and digital bookkeeping company for small businesses, is an example of a company who is in the right position to offer this kind of 'premium' training. The way CEO and founder Dave Willson set up online customer training frees up time for Zenkeep to reserve one-on-one consulting for more meaningful occasions. Willson starts all of his new customers off with both written documentation and video training to get them up to speed on how to input their information with the software he uses. This allows his employees to concentrate on helping customers with their accounting problems, without having to worry about teaching them proper data entry. Companies like Zenkeep are changing the landscape of one-on-one consulting in the customer training space. They're delivering training through online courses, and many of them are simply charging customers extra for customized, face-to-face consulting services.
This can turn consulting into a profit center for the company, rather than a financial liability. Balancing online learning and one-on-one consultation is a scalable, more cost-effective approach to handling customer training and support needs. Online training materials can be used to teach customers common functions and success tips for your product, the kinds of concepts that all of your customers should know. Then, save the one-on-one consulting for particularly large or complicated customers that need the attention and are willing to pay for it. Nichole Elizabeth DeMere, Moderator at Product Hunt & GrowthHackers.com, explains that "Customer training can't be one size fits all. Different customers need help at different times. But you need one-to-many training in order to scale."
In Person Seminars (One-to-Many)
Another popular training method involves in-person, one-to-many seminars and training sessions. These carry the benefit of allowing a trainer to teach dozens or even hundreds of people at once. This method is more scalable for large enterprise products that are rolled out to large user bases within a specific company. For example, if your product is geared towards salespeople working within large organizations, you might hold a group training session once a quarter to teach new users how to use the system together.
Large in-person seminars can also be useful for creating community among your customers, especially if you're training people from different companies simultaneously. Gathering them into a room encourages cross-pollination of ideas. Unfortunately, when your customers are large companies that need new employees to use your system, you face a timing problem. New employees don't always start at the right time for a scheduled training session, which means your customers might have dozens or even hundreds of new employees who are entirely untrained on a mission critical software installation.
Furthermore, anyone who has ever sat in a large conference room for days listening to a corporate trainer explain how to input information into a system knows it's not the most effective way to learn a new skill. "Salespeople especially get antsy if they're sitting in their seats for too long," says Lynn Hunsaker, Customer Experience ROI Strategist at ClearAction, a company that provides training and consulting for customer experience. She explains that it's better to teach students in short bursts on their own time, so they don't start aimlessly checking their email.
Integrate Blended Learning Into Your Training
Instructor-led learning is still a useful way to excite customers about your product, so don't feel pressured to eliminate in-person seminars just yet. Instead, treat in-person seminars as drill-downs on very specific subjects, while driving customers to online courses to consume most of their training. There are several advantages to doing this. First, the self-paced nature of online training means that people who need more time with certain subjects won't feel left behind as they might when attending a large seminar. Also, the combination of online training with in-person 'drill-downs' makes for an effective approach to learning that allows you to engage customers on two fronts. Known as 'blended' learning, its benefits have been extolled by a 2010 US Department of Education study, and it was found to be the most popular delivery method of online learning among European companies by market research firm lpsos in 2012.