The Ultimate Guide to Customer Education

Everything you need to know about the most impactful customer training method for companies today.

 

Building a customer education function is one of the top strategies for successful software companies today.

The benefits to customers and the organization are profound.

However, with the CE function being fairly new, finding resources, employees, and playbooks to model your program after are still somewhat limited.

That's why we developed this guide; to be a resource for organizations and education leaders to get an overview of everything you need to know about customer education.

Everything you'll find in this guide:


 

What is Customer Education?

A definition:

Customer education is a strategic initiative by organizations designed to educate customers in service of improving top and bottom-line business metrics.

Customer Education is sometimes referred to as:

  • Customer Training
  • Customer Academy
  • CE or CEd for short (Customer Education)
  • Corporate Academy (although, this is often used when a customer education program evolves to educate more than just customers and can educate the industry, partners, or employees too)

Also, because the industry is so new, you'll see many varied definitions floating around. While the words are different, they're similar in nature.

To help round out understanding, we've included a few additional definitions below:

Northpass (LMS) definition of Customer Education:

From a high level, customer education is a strategy you can use to improve the customer experience, product engagement, retention, churn, and more through educational resources.

LearnWorlds (LMS) definition of Customer Education:

Customer education is any purposeful and organized learning activity designed to impart attitudes, knowledge, or skills to customers by a business or industry.

Skilljar (LMS) definition of Customer Education:

Customer Education is content designed to onboard, engage, and retain your new and existing customers that's delivered in a programmatic fashion via in-person and on-demand channels.

Intellum (LMS) definition of Customer Education:

the process of teaching an individual customer how to achieve a specific outcome.

Customer.Education definition of Customer Education:

Customer Education is the discipline of teaching customers how to use and find value from products. 


 

Benefits of Customer Education

There is a myriad of benefits to investing in a Customer Education program.

The most prominent being, it has a profound impact on a business' top-line metrics.

Top-line metrics are the metrics that executives and senior leaders care about most, and what they consider when weighing the options of what to put valuable company dollars to.

Understanding how a customer education program can generate revenue, increase retention, or upsell or cross-sell software can make the difference between making an investment in the program or not.

The numbers of why formalized education matters:

Forrester quantified the impact on an organization when there is a formalized customer education program. They found the following results:

  • 6.2% increase in revenue
  • 7.4% increase in customer retention
  • 7.1% increase in lifetime value
  • 11.6% increase in customer satisfaction
customer education benefits

Ultimately, companies that choose to educate the market and set it up skillfully can expect the following benefits:

  • Increase in product adoption
  • Increase in time-to-value
  • Increase in cross-sell/upsell
  • Increase logo ratio for CSMs (improved ROI for CSMs)
  • Increase in sales velocity or time-to-close
  • Increase in conference and user group attendance and community engagement
  • Increase in the number of users who provide crucial software feedback
  • Increase in company promoters and customers. Your successful customers convert into promoters for your business which act as a megaphone spreading the word of what's possible with your software, resulting in more leads and customers.

As Mailchimp says in their piece on customer education.

It may be obvious, but it's worth reiterating: people need to know how to use whatever it is you're selling. And, if you're offering something new and disruptive, it's especially important to play an active role in guiding people. Accurate and accessible customer education is key. 

And while everything above simply focuses on helping your customers to better understand and use your software, the bigger picture of where your education program could go when it's a well-oiled, effective machine is profound.

The value can extend beyond customers and travel into other areas of the business.

When your customer education program is effective at getting it's intended results, it makes sense to begin using the same education to educate new hires and partners, so that everyone has the same unified message and ability to succeed.

Beyond that, when you've optimized your content creation and update processes, you're likely ready to widen your focus and leverage those same processes for industry or market education.

 

How to know if you should invest in Customer Education?

A common question we get when having calls with companies looking to build a customer education program, is "How do we know if we should invest in customer education?"

There are a lot of inputs we consider, but if we boil down some of the basics, you might be particularly well-suited for customer education if you have any of the following:

  • A methodology or framework to follow that requires users to update old ways of thinking or working to get value from your software
  • A complex product
  • A large customer base, or high-volume sales process, with the goal of increasing success through educational experiences
  • Software apps or products that are frequently updated that have a medium to a significant impact on user functionality or workflow
  • A suite of products that become more powerful when used together (signaling opportunities for upselling and cross-sell)
  • Software where there is frequently new Users or Point of Contact
  • An abnormally large number of support requests and tickets

Some additional questions to consider before investing company time, resources, and budget in a customer academy:

  • What are your organization's 1-year or 5-year goals? And how can formalizing a Customer Education program help you to achieve these?
  • What does success look like for you in your first year, the second year, and beyond?
  • Do you have resources to support this initiative?
  • Are you prepared to make this work?


 

Metrics to Measure Your Customer Education Program Sucess

When done right, a CE program can be an essential component of a company's overall success.

The key to success is identifying the individual metrics for the customer education program, and how those impact the departmental-level goals, as well as the business' goals.

For example, while course completion rates matter to a CE program leader, it only really matters if those go on to have some sort of larger impact like those who complete, adopt the product at a greater rate, and retain longer.

customer education metrics

Measuring the right areas and having this information in a highly visible location like your company's internal wiki and other communication channels will make it simple to educate the company on your team's impact on your department and business goals.

Check out this blog if you'd like to see a full list of potential metrics for your program, department, or company that your CE program could impact.


 

7 Pillars to Successful Customer Education Programs

In our cumulative 22+ years of experience meeting with many leaders of Customer Education programs, we've seen that there is one factor that separates the successful from the rest, and it's related to how they operate their program.

We've taken the seven pillars to successful programs that will help you run your program like a well-oiled machine.

The 7 Customer Education Pillars are:

  1. Program Leadership
  2. Program Management
  3. Stakeholder Management
  4. Content
  5. Tech Stack
  6. Learner Growth
  7. Support & Community

Each of these pillars is a unique function, skillset, and potentially even role that is required for your customer education program's success.

You can read more about each of the 7 Customer Education Pillars here.

 

Training Formats for Customer Education

Education and training can take many forms.

What they can be comprised of:

  • Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT): webinars, virtual workshops,
  • Instructor-Led Training (ILT): in-person workshops, courses, seminars
  • On-demand video trainings: one-off videos, classes, courses, certifications
  • Knowledge databases for self-service
  • One-sheeters or one-page overviews
  • Assessments: quizzes, knowledge checks, proctored exams, certification exams


 

Structure of Customer Education Team

There are no hard and fast rules to building out a Customer Education team.

In fact, in Thought Industries', The State of Customer Education they found that CE is a relatively new function, with 30% of the teams surveyed being new within the last 12 months.

Beyond being a new function, there are also a lot of ways a CE team could support the goals of the business which would ultimately determine the makeup of the team, like where it sits within an organization, the team's skills, and

There are a lot of various inputs to consider. Many of the important considerations we've included below:

As we said above, there's no perfect formula. However, we've compiled a list of LMS companies and thought leaders within the space to provide additional insights on the topic.

Learning-Outcomes suggestion:

If your team is focused on scaling, the breakdown below (provided by Learning-Outcomes) might be helpful.

learning outcomes | scale CE team graphic

SkillJar's suggestion:

Skilljar's ideal team structure:

"While bigger programs might have an individual inhabiting each of these roles, it is just as common for one or more team members to wear multiple hats. As Hannah Anderson, one of Skilljar’s Implementation Managers explains, “the key is not necessarily having a large team, but a team with the skills to fill each of these roles to successfully build and scale your program.”
skilljar customer education team structure


 

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