Episode 44 – Chip Ramsey – Start with Science

August 25, 2020

In this episode we talk with Chip Ramsey – Founder and CEO of Intellum and one of the early pioneers in our field with the first ever platform for Customer Education.  We talk about the transition to creating a great platform and how Chip says to “start with science” to make amazing material that helps both your customers and your business.

Many Customer Education Professionals may know Intellum as the platform that powers incredible customer and partner education and customer experience programs such as Facebook Blueprint, Google Academy for Ads, Google Retail Training, Twitter Flight School and most recently have acquired Appitierre, who make the Evolve rapid-dev content tool.

Transitioning to Customer Education from Internal Enablement

Chip’s early ventures into education originated in the Compliance arena (in the United States, organizations such as OSHA focus on this).  With fields such as manufacturing, people can easily get hurt when they don’t have access to quality educational material.  In the late 90s, Chip realized that he could:

  • Use the Internet to train people
  • Train people affordably
  • Make consistently high quality materials

With customer-facing products you realize that you don’t have a captive audience.  This starts increasing the scope of development pretty quickly.  It requires taking a broad audience and personalizing a catalog, making certain things public and searchable, but also gating certain elements.

Even more, with a customer-facing platform there’s naturally more focus on the consumer experience.  A customer opts-in to the experience so it has to be in some way pleasurable, but we also want that experience to be just as high quality for the employee.  Everyone deserves a better experience.

State of Customer Education

Fast-forward to today.  20 years later – Customer Education and the world are in a very different place.  The cloud is normal and expected and we’re now living in 2020 where COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire world.  The nature of doing Customer Education is very different and many businesses have moved their programs online.  So what’s the state of customer education today?

The Peloton Concept

A key with Customer Education is to help people to transition from physical to virtual.  This started before the pandemic, but we’re seeing it more throughout the market.

One amazing example of where we’re headed is demonstrated by Peloton.  In their world, both Live and Content co-exists and excels at manifesting  year-round relationships with their customers.  They are adding content, and adding value at all times.  Which brings us to a key point: Be a trusted destination for your customers to master certain knowledge or skills.  Peloton excels because you feel like you’re part of something when it’s live!  On-demand feels just as good!

Another example lies with creating virtual conferences for people. Gainsight did an amazing job with Pulse (Pulse Everywhere), scaling up to 18,000+ people.   Intellum has scaled to even 100k people.  Virtual is different, but people get to take part in the event.  They are still connecting socially.  Adobe, VMWare, Zoom, and many others are having meaningful interactions with people.

With such new virtual engagements, we’ve challenged a lot of assumptions about what could or should be done.  We’re starting to see results that nobody would have expected pre-COVID.  It’s a real moment for helping people improve their collaboration.  As Chip notes: “In some ways this is perhaps inevitable.  I don’t know if we go back from here.  I think it accelerated trends that have taken a while to manifest.”

“In some ways this is perhaps inevitable.  I don’t know if we go back from here.  I think it accelerated trends that have taken a while to manifest.”

Thinking more broadly – let’s consider K-12 education. Teachers who know what they’re doing in the classroom are struggling to transition to online.  Students are checked out and don’t know what to do.  If you start with science, our hypothesis here is that educators didn’t know how to transition to a Virtual world.

Start with Science

But in this, we see the trend that Learning science has become more of a thing.  Intellum has focused on taking the science and making it accessible to people through work with establishments such as MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and more.   

Education as a whole has been unscientific, meaning that we haven’t invested the same kind of rigor that we should, and instead often rely on our gut. There’s a real opportunity with Customer Education to create experiences that have repeatable outcomes if you start with science:

“Start with Science, and then try to bake that into your process.  A data-driven methodology of continuous improvement.  Put that in place and challenge yourself to improve it over time.  What actually works?  Let’s do Learning Engineering and build that into the product.”

It’s exciting times, but interesting that it’s shocking that it’s just now that this is getting traction.  We do have some ideas as to what our Learning Science research is telling us that works:

  • Length of content
  • The way that content presented

For instance, flow is extremely important.  Here we should focus on breaking content up into smaller experiences (one page per concept), providing for a Single-Scroll experience.  The key here is Chunking, not necessarily true microlearning.  With these concepts, completion rates with the same kind of content are way up.

Focus on the fundamentals 

Content is the most important thing – the technology we use to deliver it is worthless without the content.  Good content, however, requires solid communications, good writing, and an aptitude for clearly teaching someone in a way that’s sticky.

We’re often so focused on a feature, a button, or something – that we lose the message.  The content is the most important thing – accompanying a “start with science” approach.

The most skilled content developers are some of the best writers.  It takes a lot of effort to turn good thinking into good writing.  So a key point for aspiring leaders is to work on improving your writing.

Changing Beliefs

“Learning is an inherent good” is a phrase we hear frequently. It has the capability to transform society in a really positive way, but it’s important to focus on value you’re generating.

Vicky Kennedy – formerly of Amazon and now Intellum’s VP of Content Strategy – talks a lot about how this content isn’t marketing.  This is education and we need to provide value to them in their lives and careers – focus on making sure we’re fulfilling that promise.

That inherent good doesn’t do anything if it doesn’t get the reach it requires – how does this connect with the audience, how do we bring to the market, what business problems does this educational material solve?  

We also should make sure we focus on personas.  Very often, Instructional Designers skip this and focus on the content, the features, etc.  

Intellum’s Customers

Transitioning Live Events to Virtual

So much Customer outreach is virtual – lots of organizations want to personalize user journeys.  Segmenting content and experiences has become more important now that we have one central platform to host a virtual experience.  Initially, it was against our instinct to start segmenting the platform, but it’s a trend.

This necessitates the need to strike a balance:  You want to avoid overwhelming participants so they don’t bounce out of the experience. 

Content Management at Scale 

The more you start segmenting, the challenge of managing the scale or magnitude of the experience is a challenge.  Large companies with huge staff can make up for this via brute force, but systems – particularly learning management systems – need to be more efficient, accessible to more people, and easier to consume.

Making this easier for other companies to do this affordably and easily is crucial.  This isn’t really content management, but including some aspects of Content Management systems, such as versioning right inside the platform and incorporating into the software best practices, help Customer Education.   

Localization is also a huge challenge.  Approaches such as providing an API to aid translation really helps to automate this massive task.  

Another trend:  Consolidation.  Consolidating different types of information into one platform so users know where to go to find material helps everyone to find what they need, when they need it most.  That might mean consolidating your help (support), education, and other resources all in one place to meet a customer’s education needs.

CEO to CEO Advice

“The Internet is the greatest learning tool that’s ever been invented.”

There’s so much opportunity to make positive change by making education more accessible, efficient, organized, and differentiated.  That’s one of the biggest opportunities today – to leverage these tools, add value to students.

It all boils down to thinking about the learner, the individual, and catering to them.  If you’re doing that for your customer, they’re getting more value out of your tool.  They’re more loyal, happier, and you have better customers and better results.

We’re in an age where education and learning are becoming increasingly democratized.  That makes the experience far more important than where it was a few years ago.

In Episode 41 we covered a report which Intellum and Forrester partnered to create (click here for that episode). The Forrester report validated the increasing prominence of Customer Education as a field (even before COVID).  We want leaders to see and connect value all the way through. It’s crucial for us in Customer Education to measure what is happening and connect that engagement measurement back to the value you’re adding for the user and the business. 

The Forrester report proves the upside.  With revenue increases of 6% and average retention increase by 7%, the Forrester report validates the upside of Customer Education to everyone.

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