Episode 43 – Mailbag – Part 2 – Where Does Customer Education Belong?

August 5, 2020

Part 2 of our Customer Education Mailbag episode continues the conversation with our listeners.  How do Content Developers become more self-sufficient with their LMS? How many people can we expect to join a new program? Where does Customer Education Belong? Listen in to find out!

This podcast and website are not about our opinions and perspectives.  We focus on our community of Customer Education professionals.  All of us are learning and growing from the experiences we have helping learners understand our products, particularly for Software-as-a-Services companies where that product is – quite literally – changing under our feet.

If you have a question, email us at learn@customer.education!

Gordon Mak

“Do you have any tips to enable IDs and Content Developers to be self-sufficient in refreshing content in the LMS without being dependent on the LMS admin or take LMS admin training? I ask this because Covid-19 has forced many companies to leverage cloud storage services, and to store their course content like SCORM and video files in the cloud. Wouldn’t it be nice if updated course content files didn’t need to be re-uploaded into the LMS manually? I would love to hear if anyone has found a reliable solution.”

Many customer Learning Management Systems now provide roles that aren’t the equivalent of a full Administrator, but rather focused on content management.  For example, you can assign certain courses to individuals and allow them to upload/modify their own content, but an Administrator still needs to publish.

If you’re using a separate cloud-based CMS for video (like Wistia) or SCORM (like Articulate’s cloud products), it’s possible that the way some Learning Management Systems embed content, you could swap out the core assets in their respective systems without touching the LMS. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen super elegant solutions for this kind of problem.

We would point out that when we bring up “Admin Training” that triggers a bit of concern.  Most well-designed LMS products are simple to pick up.  At most, you can do some social learning with peers – such as an internal doc that explains your process.

But then again, do you want many people mucking about in your system?  The more people you introduce, the more potential there is for someone to make an error.  

Alex Forbes

“Alex Forbes, Thought Industries. Based on our State of Customer Education report, when launching a customer education program for the first time, what percent of learners should they expect to join?”

Note to Readers:  We Episode 39 of the CELab Podcast summarizes Thought's Industries' State of the Customer Education report.  Check it, and other episodes out for a clear picture of where Customer Education is in 2020!

Well … It depends!

If we go back to the TSIA report on the State of Education Services: 2020, which surveys more mature organizations, even those organizations have the opportunity to drive better adoption of their learning. The average from that report was 37% of accounts consume training, and 31% of the addressable users in an account consume training.

Even with some benchmarks, we typically don’t set percentage goals for training uptake in this manner. Usually this type of metric is better to baseline with your actual numbers, and set goals to improve from that baseline.

Going a bit further – and this may sound contentious – who cares? The saying, “If you build it, they won’t come” is relevant here.  

Ultimately, we have more work to do just than to deliver content. If you’re building a program for the first time, what you do beyond just building that content influences the outcome. What’s your market?  Who are the personas using your product?  What do they need?  What do they want?  If you can answer these questions, it’s likely that you’ll have high adoption rates!

Daniel Quick

“Hi this is Daniel Quick, I’m a former guest on your show and I have a question. Where do you think Customer Education best fits within an organization?”

The most common places that Customer Education teams are found are:

  • Customer Success
  • Professional Services (which sometimes sits in CS) 
  • Marketing 
  • and Product

Each of these come with their one unique pros and cons.  Let’s break each of these down individually.

Does Customer Education Belong in Customer Success?

By far, the most common one in SaaS is probably Customer Success. 

Pros

The goals of Customer Success (CS) and ways that it functions are compatible with Customer Education. 

Specifically, Customer Education serves to scale the work that Customer Success Managers do. CS also typically has the most access to customers, which is helpful for getting feedback and building with the customer in mind. Additionally, many CS orgs are fairly cross-functional. 

Cons

Often, the challenge that Customer Education professionals face with CS orgs is that they used to do your job!  In early-phase organizations, CSMs quite often wear a lot of hats, with Education being one of them.

The thing about this is that educating your customers feels good.  It is good and it’s often quite difficult to let go of something that helps people … even when there’s a better way.

We all know how hard it is to let go of something that feels good – and it feels good to help people, right?  So to you, the Customer Education professional, you may feel like you’re “turning an aircraft carrier with a rowboat”.  It’s hard to make this kind of change, particularly if your leadership does not understand or support you.

You can, however, combat this by integrating yourselves and showing – with time saved the team as well as the value to the customer.

You can also engage them and give your CSMs credit – even have them help build the program.  It takes time and discipline, but it’s worth it.

Does Customer Education Belong in Services?

Larger orgs usually place Customer Education within their Services organization. Education Services were common even before modern Customer Education, and it’s where a lot of programs go when they “grow up” and run on a P&L. 

Pros

Services can be particularly helpful for your revenue-driving programs, and even certifications which are usually paid, and many programs run training subscriptions including content libraries, as premium offerings. 

Additionally, Customer Education teams which find themselves within a Services organization are often integrated or very close to their Subject Matter Experts.  For very technical products, this is a gift as it means a swivel-chair moment can get quick answer to even the most complex questions.

Cons

The constraint, especially for smaller companies, is that you’re constantly figuring out how to accommodate customer work or go out and sell more, which can deprioritize your more scalable or cross-functional work.

In Services we often get laser-focused with on-boarding our customers. Onboarding may be fantastic, but what happens after a customer is transitioned to a CSM?  On-boarding isn’t the only part of the equation. You also must ally yourselves closely with the Customer Success org, Support, or other teams to ensure that you’re meeting the lifecycle needs of your customers.  Education is an ongoing process.

Does Customer Education Belong in Marketing?

We’ve seen and uptick in Customer Education teams finding a home within the Marketing organization. This is more common for non-software companies, however, not exclusively. Dave Derington’s team at Azuqua was in Marketing – and it was an amazing experience.

Pros 

Face it – Marketing teams often have budget, meaning that you have more runway to experiment and 

This can also work well when the product is less complex but the market is more complex, or if you’re defining a category and really have to focus on educating the market. 

Cons

The downside is that you’ll often be held against demand generation goals instead of things that may help customers mature over time.

Does Customer Education Belong in Product?

Product is becoming more common too. 

Pros

Being placed in Product is especially helpful for businesses wherein driving in-product education is most important. In a way you will be similar to a growth Product Manager.  Being a part of the Product team also means that you’re at the source.  You’ll understand how the product works from the inside.

Cons

A potential con here is that developers often don’t take much joy in writing documentation.  They want to write code or make things!  That means it may be harder to get at the actual Use Cases from the customer perspective.  For larger organizations, you may be further removed from your customers. 

So … Where Does Customer Education Belong Then?

We want to leave this article with a challenge: Think hard about “where we belong”.  

Ultimately, we think that Customer Education should have “a seat at the table”.  Perhaps this is an audacious claim, but we could argue that Education is Eating the World in a sense.  Very much like Marketing, Customer Education influences the customer.  Done well, it’s part of your product itself.

For now (as of August 2020), we think Customer Success is the best position for you to grow.  Even mature companies could benefit from a Customer Education function, but just like various Customer Success teams, you should be one of the first!

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