Episode 42 – Customer Education Mailbag – Part 1

July 24, 2020

Early listeners will remember that we used to do a segment on the show called “Customer Education Mailbag” where we would answer a quick question at the end of the episode, usually unrelated to the main topic. 

Customer Education Mailbox

We’re finally brushing the dust off all those envelopes and open some of the letters that have been coming in. We actually asked our listeners to record their questions, so listen into this episode to hear it in their own voices!

We hope to do this periodically, so if you want to send in your questions you can contact us in our Slack Community or send us an email at learn@customer.education!

Michele Wiedemer

“Hi this is Michele Wiedemer. I’m a freelance instructional content developer based in Dallas TX, I’m wondering how you decide to design hands on activities for on-demand content, and whether to use things like hot spots or other rapid e-learning capabilities, vs. a lab environment with exercises” 

We agree hands-on activities and interactivity are really useful for driving learner retention and making courses more engaging.  But how do you approach these decisions?

Learner Effectiveness

Learner effectiveness is one frame – What outcome are you teaching to? Hot spots may be effective but lower on Bloom’s Taxonomy, identifying parts of a UI, exploratory interactivities. Lab environments with exercises are probably more effective for higher on Bloom’s Taxonomy where you’re having people complete real-world scenarios

Also think about feedback loops – hotspots only provide the prescriptive feedback you wrote into them, but lab environments provide actual and possibly unintentional feedback.

Production Cost is a Different Frame

This is a different frame. Usually it’s cheaper and quicker to build hotspot activities, especially if you have a rapid development tool or if your LMS supports them.  Lab activities are more costly; you may need a virtual lab platform, and you need to build in time to “play-test” the scenarios of interest to your customers.

Learner Investment

A learner will be in and out of most hotspot activities within a few minutes, however, labs are designed to be more intensive, usually when you’re driving deeper learning.

Linda Schwaber-Cohen

“Hi this is Linda Schwaber-Cohen calling in from Seattle WA, I work at Skilljar in Product Marketing and Customer Education. I’ve noticed that both of you tend to build training programs that are free for customers and I’m wondering why. Is that a personal choice or have you worked with executive leadership to determine your monetization strategy and make that decision?”

Click here to hear Linda on Episode 14 of the CELab Podcast!

In our past lives, we’ve typically built programs from the ground up.  But it’s important to meet our companies where they are.  

Customer Education May be Free in Early Growth Stage Companies

With Venture-funded, growth-stage companies, you’re usually driving towards healthy customer acquisition and sustainable product adoption. You care about license revenue – the product itself – more than services revenue. In most cases, the discussion about monetization strategy isn’t the first one when you’re first building the program – you’re usually solving problems like customer onboarding or support ticket deflection.

Those things are already done for free by CSMs and support agents, so you don’t necessarily want to create a paid alternative to those activities. We also want to start with scale – scalable documentation, academy, etc. that will serve the most customers. If you’re a self-service customer looking to find value in a product, you’re typically not also going to want to pay for training or services.

Customer Education Focuses More on Paid Content at Mature Startups

This starts to change as we grow.  With a better platform of free, scalable content, we can focus on creating more premium paid content. This is either defined by the effort (customization, private delivery, live courses) needed to deliver, by hard costs like vendors (certification e.g.), or by perceived value. As you add more headcount, more systems, then cost recovery enters the conversation This is nonlinear too, by this we mean that there’s no “cookie cutter” format for all companies.  Each organization is different.

Of course, there are exceptions.  Primarily, Open-source companies and agencies can typically offer private or paid training earlier in their life cycles.

Gordon Mak

“First, what is a good approach to getting an existing vendor who provides the platform that supports customer education to prioritize product updates? For example, we use an LMS that supports employees and extended enterprise, but favors product features and optimizations that support employees and not extended enterprise.”

<Speaking snarkily> Find a new LMS!

But seriously, This used to be a very common theme when most customer education teams needed to use extended enterprise LMS – primarily designed for internal learning but with external features. Some of the big players are still doing this but more and more, education teams are moving toward LMSs that are purpose-built for customer education (or have external education as the primary use case).

If you are using an extended enterprise LMS because your company wants to consolidate systems, that’s a tough situation to be in, but one approach could be to write up your requirements for customer education – from the user experience to course registration to ecommerce to APIs – often these are very different for each extended enterprise LMS.  You may want to go back to your company with these as you approach contract renewal to show the opportunity cost of sticking with the same LMS. Then use that same list to vet a customer LMS, including your current solution and other contenders.

If you’re not using an Extended Enterprise system – You have leverage.  Use it. This leverage is that there are many LMS products on the market.  We also can say that there are many LMS products that are actually great for Customer Education! Look at the market for those who can demonstrate how well they serve Customer Education teams.

A quick list of tips for an LMS Search: 

  • Find products that focus on Customer Education
  • Challenge their understanding
  • Get to know the community of LMS Vendors
  • <If you’re a vendor> Please return the favor and get active in your community!
  • Return to talk with your vendor and ask again 

Thanks to each of our peers who submitted great questions.  If you want to learn more about us, check out our About Us page.  Have a question, click here!

 Go out and educate, experiment, and find your people!

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