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In Episode 66 of the CELab Podcast we discussed Best Practices for keeping your Customer Education content up-to-date despite the rapid-pace of change that we experience in Software-as-a-Service businesses.  

But what happens when you also have a highly-configurable product?  

Charlie writes:

I have been tasked with creating a customer education program at our software company. I am devouring your book and podcast episodes. I am trying to create a strategy for implementation based on your guidelines, but the sticking point I keep getting stuck on is that our software is configured for each customer. We have many functions that are fairly standard, but every implementation looks and acts a bit different. I know that I can create education material for more advanced topics that our customers would consume without any customization, but our basic user training is the main thing we are trying to standardize, and I am struggling to determine the best way forward. Thanks for your brains!

The hypothesis we’ll challenge today is:  We are able to create content at scale that meets the needs of most customers without any customization.

Thank you Charlie for your submission and if you have a question, use this form to send one in for us to consider and answer on the show!

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We are back from Summer Break and are entering Season 3 of the CELab Podcast!

In this episode. we start to get beyond the Fundamentals into more Advanced material by empathizing with your first “aha!” (and potentially, “ouch”) moment as a Customer Education team or leader.

Building content is easy. Keeping your content up to date? Well, that requires some different strategies. In Software as a Service Companies where products change quickly, it’s one of the key processes you have to get sorted out fast! With limited resources and time, finding ways to make your process scale is the lifeblood of an efficient Customer Education program.

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Who should I hire for my customer education team?

This isn’t a new question. In fact, we first covered this topic on the show – if you can believe it – nearly three years ago! But there’s been new research in this area, and the market has changed quite a bit in that time. We’re seeing more new customer education teams form than ever before, and the people hiring for those roles are all asking who they should hire.

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In Adam Avramescu’s book, “Customer Education – Why Smart Companies Profit by Making Customers Smarter”, he first introduces that, “Customer Education is your scale engine for Customer Success” (p 11).  This concept – the Scale Engine – is novel in that it channels the fundamental challenge of many rapidly growing Software-as-a-Service businesses:  All your processes need to scale as the business grows.  That includes how you educate your customers!

Dave speaks here on some of his early experiences in the field of Customer Education where he was embedded at Gainsight, building foundational programs.  We as a community realize that all growing businesses reach an inflection point where it’s time to build efficiencies into your Customer Success function.  

Many Customer Success leaders may know, but may not quite know what to do when all that 1:1 customer training your CSMs do begins to really drain your team’s time and energy.  This is where a Customer Education program is your best approach to support your customer success growth — not hold it back. In this episode we’ll talk about what successful, scaleable Customer Success looks like from the perspective an education program, the role Customer Education plays in customer success, and how Customer Education can scale CS by “building a flywheel of information and getting that to the customer when they need it”.  

Many thanks to Cutler Bleeker and Amy Davidson (and the great folks at Skilljar) for the invitation to this great webinar!  For the full video version, please visit Skilljar’s website here.

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A key part of CELab’s role in the Customer Education Community is to keep you updated on the research and reports coming out of the Customer Education world, especially when they address the state of our industry. This episode covers two great reports: TSIA’s 2021 State of Education Services and Thought Industries’ 2021 State of Customer Education.

We like these reports because they come at the research from different angles, whether it’s a third party like TSIA, the Technology Services Industry Association, coming at things from a more independent perspective, or a Customer Education company like Thought Industries who can combine third-party reporting with their own customers’ trends.

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In this episode we return to the subject of Certification, this time focusing on how to adapt development of programs to meet the breakneck pace of change with growing Software-as-a-Service businesses.

Dave interviews Debbie Smith, who is Sr. Manager of Smartsheet University and an expert in credentialing and certification programs.

Pencils down, it’s time to write your certification! Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

For many Customer Education professionals, we first begin working on certification programs when a senior leader asks us to, but the definition of certification can vary wildly from person to person. It’s crucial to know what you intend to build, what outcomes it will generate, and how much maintenance it requires.

The hypothesis that Dave and Debbie explore this episode is: “Certification programs for SaaS can be delivered in much shorter timelines, but with caveats.”

When some people say they want to develop a certification, what they actually mean is “some learning modules with a quiz at the end.” But to create a legally defensible certification that can be used for hiring, firing, and other high-stakes situations, you need something far more rigorous, fair, and accurate. This means it’s going to take time and money.

In this episode, Debbie walks us through the project management required to build and maintain a certification. She takes us through how to build a JTA (Job Task Analysis) which defines what the job being certified actually is, and what the skills involved are. This means you need to meet with SMEs to understand what is being certified and what skills are involved to do the job.

Then it’s on to item writing – and by “items” here, we mean questions. Writing valid and fair questions is extremely difficult, and there’s an art to it! Debbie suggests some techniques for item writing workshops and writing better multiple-choice questions. And getting the right SMEs in, especially if they are billable and their time comes at a premium, is difficult. But you can also reward them for their efforts by giving them a certification, a badge, or other perks for participating in the program as an expert.

Debbie also shares tips for beta testing, and how many people you need to participate in a beta process.

Keep in mind that for SaaS businesses, whose products constantly change, writing a certification also means that you’re signing yourself (and your SMEs) to update the certification constantly and keep it in tune with your product.

Overall, certifications go to a much deeper level than you may expect if you haven’t built one before. These concepts are helpful to share when an executive asks you to build a certification, because you can help educate them on what’s actually involved in the process. If you’re not ready to commit the time, effort, and resources to build a formal certification, maybe a lighter-stakes credential like a badge is a better offering! If you’re just making a test with no proctoring or controls, you can call it something other than a certification.

Listen to the episode and find out more of those “201”-level techniques.

Education takes many forms in the world of B2B SaaS Software and Sam takes us on a journey:  How to Inspire, Cultivate, and Distribute Success.

Continuing in our Customer Success series, we dive deep into the thoughts of Sam Cummings, Author, Data Scientist, and Customer Success professional, currently working as an Enterprise CSM at LinkedIn. 

Education takes many forms in the world of B2B SaaS Software and Sam takes us on a journey:  How to Inspire, Cultivate, and Distribute Success.  Beginning by telling human stories, anchored in data we can inspire – or connect – with our customers.  Then, we Cultivate the seeds of success, and Distribute that through champions to other networks of people.  

We also delve into what Sam calls “b2c-ification”. This maps to discussions that many of us in both Customer Success and Customer Education are seeing. While we talk about Social Selling or Digital Selling, at the core of this is the human factor.  We connect and share our experiences on LinkedIn, YouTube, and many other platforms

Enjoy this great discussion!

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In this episode, we return to our Instructional Design 101 series, where we informally cover key concepts from the instructional design world and apply them to customer education.

In previous episodes, we’ve covered frameworks like the Kirkpatrick Model of Evaluation, which helps you measure the effectiveness of your course, and Bloom’s Taxonomy, which helps you define what types of knowledge or skills you’re actually teaching and how you’d expect the learner to put them into practice.

But neither of these models answer a key question we hear from Customer Education professionals every day: how should I think about structuring my course?

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Customer Education has evolved
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Steve Cornwell is CEO and Founder of Northpass, the LMS that powers learning experiences for some of the top SaaS, sharing-economy, and subscription-economy companies. He joins us for the return of our CEO series, where we get CEO-level perspectives on the Customer Education market.

In our discussion, Steve talks about the Evolution of Customer Education, pointing to the ways that it is maturing as a category. As the subscription economy matures, building healthy recurring business is more important than ever, which places a premium on companies’ user experience. One effect of this has been the rise of Customer Success as a more defined function. The onboarding and learning experience for users can also make a huge difference.

Just as Customer Success as changed and matured over time, Customer Education is growing and changing as well. It’s not just something you do when you’re one of the huge industry players; you can increasingly invest in Customer Education from earlier stages with fewer resources to begin with. In fact, for many companies, effective Customer Education programs can help them accelerate their growth from earlier stages. With improvements in technology to produce and host learning, it’s easier than ever to get started.

But your Customer Education program isn’t just about producing content. It needs a strategy too. Steve talks about the evolution of Customer Education strategy, and how it has moved from a competitive edge to table stakes for many businesses. You simply need to be educating your customers if you want them to stay. This has also spurred the rise of Customer Education within Marketing departments, where efforts to educate customers aren’t solely tied to feature usage or retention; Customer Education is also used to drive pre-sales efforts, including industry or category education. As Steve points out, Customer Education is really about a company’s products, services, and best practices – not just features. It’s a way to supercharge the customer journey with directed pathways, interactivity, and even achievements.

Steve also talks about Customer Education breaking through boundaries. For one, Customer Education is outgrowing the classic “Academy” model where everything lives in a single portal or homepage. Now, Customer Education spans multiple properties and is increasingly embedded in the product experience.

As Customer Education increasingly spans multiple properties and involves more technologies to drive its strategy, Northpass has been a proponent of Learning Ops: a discipline of driving learning across the org to support multiple use cases (such as internal and customer education), integrated and in-app learning, and analysis of learning-related data.

Listen to this episode to find out more about Steve’s perspective on the industry!

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Does Onboarding Matter?  That’s what Donna Weber, veteran Customer Education professional and President of Springboard Solutions firmly asserts in her new book, Onboarding Matters! She says: “Onboarding is the most important part of the customer journey, yet many B2B companies fail to act proactively at the start of the relationship.”

In her book, she outlines the reasons why onboarding is a crucial motion for B2B companies, especially those who experience churn or attrition later in their customer lifecycles. Improper onboarding contributes to low adoption, low satisfaction, and ultimately unhealthy business.

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