Required Reading: Education Isn’t Just for Kids Going Back to School
In their new book, How Leading Companies Engage, Convert, and Retain Customers, Thought Industries CEO Barry Kelly and senior vice president of learning strategies Daniel Quick assert that customer education is a strategic business function that has measurable influence on critically important business outcomes. Through a 12-step guide, they help companies define success for customers, create a customer education development plan, and pursue customer success and revenue metrics. CRM editor Leonard Klie discussed this further with Quick.
CRM: What is customer education, and what does it entail?
Quick: Customer education leverages learning strategies to drive business value, whether that’s promoting brand awareness, reducing friction, driving product adoption, or transforming customers into advocates. It involves having a deep understanding of customers and their learning needs, developing effective and engaging content and resources that address those needs, and ensuring there’s a strategy to drive resource consumption.
Everyone is saying that customers today do so much research on their own before contacting companies, so why do companies need to educate customers?
Customers are definitely doing a lot of research. In fact, Gartner finds that only 17 percent of the buying journey is actually speaking to the potential supplier; the rest of the time is researching online and off and speaking to other buyers. Why wouldn’t we want to influence what they find? We need to take ownership over what prospects are learning and create a strategy for it; otherwise, we risk that they are learning the wrong things at the wrong time.
On top of that, looking at customer education as purely a product training function limits its potential in business growth. Fundamentally, education is about helping customers succeed with our products. When done right and customers begin to see us as partners in their success, customer education becomes truly transformational.
You say customer education has measurable influence on critically important business outcomes. Can you elaborate?
There are many ways to use education to move the needle on organizational goals. Resources that streamline onboarding can deflect support tickets and speed time to value while targeted content can improve overall product adoption.
Virtual instructor-led training or webinars help us scale our customer success teams without adding head count, while courses, thought leadership content, and community forums can help create the secret sauce of brand advocacy—mastery, delight, and connection. This helps boost Net Promoter and customer satisfaction scores and increases renewals and upsells.
You offer a 12-step guide to define, measure, and increase success for customers. Can you break down these steps for us?
Our 12-step methodology breaks down into four clusters. The first four steps are about developing and implementing a strategy for customer education, to make sure we’re teaching the right things to the right people at the right time. The next four steps are about developing engaging, efficient, and effective content. Step nine covers how to drive consumption of that content. The last three steps help us understand and measure the effectiveness of learning and prove ROI.
Can you give a few examples of companies that have gotten this right?
There are so many ways to be successful with customer education, but I call out Seismic and ZoomInfo. Seismic created its university to support customers with onboarding, product education, and certifications and has since scaled it to certify hundreds of customers while returning 6,500 hours to the customer success team through self-serve content.
ZoomInfo has seen a huge impact from its university, realizing a 108 percent growth in product adoption, a 15 percent increase in renewals, and a 5 percent to 10 percent uplift in upsells.
What is the one theme you want readers to take away from this book?
I want readers to understand the advantages of an educated customer. Our best customers know how our products work and are leveraging all of the right features. An educated customer can fully tap into and realize the value of what we’re offering. As a result, they are far more likely to renew their subscriptions, buy in to new features, and become champions of our brands. With this in mind, educating customers should be a high priority for all businesses.