Customer Education Labs

Educate. Experiment. Find your people

CEdMA, or the Customer Education Management Association, is one of the primary organizations for Customer Education Leaders. Adam spoke at their fall conference in Boston and brought back some nuggets to discuss with Dave in Episode 005 of CELab.

At CEdMA, all the presentations are led by member organizations, so you’re not hearing from abstract “thought leaders” — you’re hearing from other Customer Education leaders. This also means that, rather than artificially imposing a theme, the themes that arise are more organic and based on the issues and trends that Customer Education leaders see on a day-to-day basis.

This year’s conference saw two key themes:

  • The role of the traditional Education Services P&L (which stands for profit and loss, and refers to running your department like a business, where you must achieve profitability) vs. using Customer Education to support the overall health of the broader business.
  • The role of certification and badging, to certify and credential our customers.

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With the rise of Customer Education in SaaS companies, many Customer Success, Marketing, or Services leaders are in the position of needing to make their first Customer Education hire. But who do you hire?

Do you promote your rockstar CSM or support rep? Do you bring in an experienced Education Services leader? What skills are you looking for?

When you’re looking for your Customer Education Leader, you can choose someone who’s been in your business or function (like a great CSM, who has Customer Success experience), someone who’s led Customer Education for a company with a different business model than yours (i.e., on-prem instead of SaaS), or someone who has competency in a key skill like Instructional Design but hasn’t done it for customers before. So you end up looking for someone in a Venn diagram kind of like this one:

For smaller companies, your first Customer Education hire will often be doing the job solo for a few months. This means you’ll need someone comfortable being a player-coach: someone who “has done it before” but also “still wants to do it.”

More established companies may already have trainers or content developers in place — they just haven’t formalized a Customer Education function yet, and now they’re looking for a leader. Here, you have more options. You can potentially promote someone on the current team, or you can bring in a leader from the outside.

There’s no one right solution to these challenges, but if you’re intentional about whom you bring in, you’ll be ahead of many companies!

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When we talk to Customer Success and Services leaders who are starting Customer Education teams, they don’t always have a lot of perspective on who the best hire is. They look at different experience levels, different strengths, and different backgrounds.  

Do you bring in someone with a proven track record? Do you promote that Rockstar CSM?  Listen in to find out!

 

The Learning Management System (LMS) is often the first system that a Customer Education function will purchase. After all, if you’re going to deliver online courses, you need a place to host them and track people’s completion. And even for live courses, you need a place for people to register and manage their enrollments.

The earliest LMS platforms were used in academia, government/military, and then corporate HR departments, to track courses and required trainings. But today, many LMS systems serve more modern use cases like sales enablement and — of course — Customer Education.

These LMS platforms have become both more sophisticated and more specialized. Some “extended enterprise” systems allow you to manage training for internal learners, partners, and customers. Other “customer training platforms” focus primarily on customers or other external learners. There are so many subcategories that the overall market has over 800 vendors!

But many of those vendors are clunky, hard to manage, or not friendly to customers. According to a benchmark by the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), LMS platforms continue to be among the most used, but least liked, software for Education teams.

This means that even though you’ll likely need an LMS, you’ll need to be choosy about which one you pick. You also may want to experiment before choosing an LMS. In our third episode of CELab, we debate the pros and cons of Customer LMS platforms.

What’s essential about a Customer LMS — and what can you do before you have one?

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If you had said the term “Customer Education” even a few years ago, it would have been a synonym for training. In Episode 002 of CELab, we question the role of “training” in a Customer Education program.

After all, that’s the main way that tech companies thought to educate their customers: bring them into a room (or a webinar), teach the materials, facilitate some activities, and then the customer was educated.

The Internet has changed the way we live and work, but it’s also changed the way we learn. And it doesn’t just mean taking our long training sessions and posting recordings or breaking them up into webinars. The industry is seeing a shift in the way that people look for, and use, information.

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So you’re thinking about starting a Customer Education program? Increasingly, companies are investing in Customer Education programs at an earlier stage. Sometimes these programs support the company’s Customer Success or Marketing strategies. Sometimes it’s just because they realize their employees are spending so much time training that they should devote a full-time person to do the job.

So if you’re the executive spinning up a Customer Education function, or you’re the first Customer Education person in-seat, how do you think about starting a team?

In our first episode of CELab, the Customer Education Lab, Dave Derington and Adam Avramescu explore how mature your organization needs to be before investing in Customer Education. Our perspective is that most organizations start too late, which is why companies are now investing earlier and earlier. The organizations that invest in Customer Education earlier are able to scale.

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One of the most common questions we get asked from people who are starting Customer Education programs is, “Do I need a Learning Management System?”

An LMS seems like a standard part of a Customer Education Program and it’s usually the first system to be implemented. But is it right for everyone?

Startups can’t always get the budget for it or justify the ROI. Even more established companies find that their LMS doesn’t always work for them.

Is Customer Education just Customer Training? Or is it something more?

Whether you’re scoping out your program for the first time, or consolidating separate functions into one Customer Education experience, you have to know which programs to include — and which ones to leave out.

But we think that whether you call it Customer Education, Enablement, or Education Services, you’ve got to think bigger than just training.

Welcome to the Pilot episode of CE Labs – the Customer Education Laboratory!

This podcast series is devoted to you – The Customer Education pioneers out there – to share what we, and others have learned from hard-won experiences in the trenches of fledgling SaaS companies and tech startups.  

  • Maybe you’re a member of a Customer Success team realizing that you need to invest in Customer Education — or that you have an interest in doing it yourself
  • Perhaps you’re the first Customer Education hire at a growing company
  • Maybe you’re part of the growing community of Customer Education Heroes.

In this episode we introduce ourselves and our mission and begin challenging the assertion:  “You don’t need a customer education team until your company is mature”.

You need Customer Education earlier than you think. Starting Customer Education early in a business will help you scale customer adoption and growth.