How to implement a successful customer training program

You’ve got a great product or some really useful information, and you want to add value by giving your customers training opportunities. That’s a fantastic way to differentiate yourself from competitors and delight customers.

customer training

But if you’re serious about providing useful training that’s as professional as the rest of your customer-facing services, you must approach it like a learning pro.

Here are five things to consider when setting up a customer training program.

1. Establish program goals

Before thinking about anything else, establish what you’ll use as a success marker for your new training initiatives. What can’t your customers do now that your training will enable them to do? It’s not enough to answer that question with a statement like, “We need customers to use our product more effectively.” That’s too broad, and it would be difficult to prove if you succeeded.

A better goal would be “to enable customers to use feature X of our product.” Defining smaller objectives at this level helps in several ways:

  • It forces you to think about what your or your customers’ needs really are (as opposed to a broad blanket statement that’s hard to work with).
  • It begins to expose what you need to tell/show customers and what they need to know/do to improve.
  • It’s easier to evaluate whether you accomplished each of these small steps after training—for example, by providing customers with a simulation they must successfully complete, by passing an online quiz or by seeing a downward trend in support requests on that topic.
  • It exposes a possible program structure; each objective could form one module or one section within a larger module.
  • It enables you to prioritize which training objective to tackle first, which ones will be the easiest or hardest to address and which ones your customers will appreciate most.

2. Choose the right technology

There are two pieces of your elearning deployment puzzle to carefully consider:

  • Content authoring tool
  • Learning Management System (LMS)

The content authoring tool is the software that allows you to create the elearning courses your customers engage with. There are eight things to ask before deciding on an authoring tool:

  • Is it easy to use? A tool that non tech-savvy staff can use enables you to get more learning titles to market more quickly.
  • Does it provide flexibility and control? You want a product that allows you to easily apply your brand colors and logo.
  • Can I collaborate with team members within the tool? Reviewer and tester communication is more efficient when it happens asynchronously in the authoring tool. This is far better than relying on email or other external communications.
  • Can I create mobile-ready elearning? Mobile learning is important. It’s no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have. More and more customers will expect access to your content via mobile devices.
  • Is content easy to maintain and publish? Content that’s incorrect or out of date is no good to clients. You must be able to quickly and easily update content and get it out to customers.
  • Can I localize content for overseas markets? If multiple languages are necessary for your customers’ courses, you’ll need a product that supports this feature with a minimum effort.
  • Does it come with prebuilt themes and interactions? Pre-built themes and interactions optimize development times and lessen the need for specialized developers.
  • Can I extract analytic data? Understanding how customers interact with your courses gives you the insight to better meet their needs.

Your LMS is the software portal through which customers access your courses. All LMSs have similar basics. For example, they create course content catalogues and manage customer access logins.

LMSs differ in how they achieve these basics and what extras they provide. Some features that vendors might provide that make their LMSs a good fit with your organization (and differentiate them from others) include:

  • eCommerce functionality
  • The ability to easily apply branding to the LMS and create sub-branded customer portals
  • Custom email or push notifications sent to customers when certain events occur
  • Flexible learner and content grouping features—for example, you could create customer groups and easily manage them or organize libraries of content titles and make them available only to select customer groups
  • Sophisticated activity reporting
  • Inbuilt gamification mechanisms, like points badges and leaderboards

The right LMS for your organization is the one that best matches your (and your customers’) needs and workflows.

3. Create useful and engaging learning

How well customers engage with your training determines its success.

The biggest success driver will likely be whether the training effectively meets customers’ needs. If customers don’t think your training is useful, nothing you do will make them feel it’s a good value.

Assuming your training does address a real customer need, there are extra things you can do to further engage customers and provide a more effective learning experience. Here are four examples:

  • Scenario-based learning is a technique that engages customers through an immersive training experience modelled on real-life scenarios rather than a theoretical knowledge dump.
  • Providing bite-sized learning nuggets (a small elearning event that focuses on a specific topic and takes between 1 and 15 minutes to complete) gives customers a flexible way to access specific information. This can be especially useful for time-poor customers or those in distracting environments. An excellent example is the JJCV Eye Care Practitioners This Johnson & Johnson course contains numerous accredited 10-minute nuggets, each allowing time-poor eye care professionals to accumulate the Continuing Education and Training (CET) points necessary for their ongoing professional registration.
  • Mobile-friendly elearning events can be especially useful for customers on the move or those who don’t have ready access to desktop computers. The Utility Warehouse rolled out training to its 46,000 distributors, over 30% of whom only had access to a mix of mobile and tablet computers.
  • Gamified learning experiences engage and boost a customer’s intrinsic motivation levels through a variety of game mechanics, like points, leaderboards and badges.

Doing these things well and creating the most engaging learning experiences can set you apart from competitors and keep customers coming back for more.

4. Deliver training to customers at the right time

It’s important to provide training to customers in the ways that are most useful to them. For example, which of the following will your customers find useful?

  • Training is provided before they use your products or services.
  • Training is provided on demand, immediately prior to the customer using a feature of your service or product—i.e., Just-In-Time (JIT).
  • Hints or push messages are triggered in your software products that point the customer to training when they’re stuck—for example, if the customer is spending a long time on a certain feature or using it incorrectly.
  • Customers are pulled to the training (directed to support pages) when necessary.
  • Training is pushed to them (i.e., hints, tips or videos sent by email).
  • The training is embedded inside your software or service portal rather than a separate website or LMS.

The correct answer may be one or a combination of these models. The important thing is that the training is convenient and easy to access. You may need to pilot some training delivery models or interview a cross-section of customers to decide which will work best in your environment.

5. Track and improve

Training programs aren’t static. The best ones evolve and continually improve. Watching how customers access and interact with your training and evaluating how effective it is informs how you can make it better.

Consider the following activities:

  • Use analytics embedded in your software to see how customers use your products; for example, are they getting stuck in certain spots? Or are they navigating to screens/features in unusual patterns?
  • Review your support requests to see where training could be created or improved.
  • Measure customer satisfaction to determine if users have real or perceived training needs.
  • Directly ask customers what their training pain points are.

Findings from this kind of research will point you to where you can direct your next training efforts.

Related: Stay on top of the latest elearning ideas, trends and technologies by subscribing to the Elucidat weekly newsletter.

In conclusion

There’s much more to implementing a meaningful customer training program than putting a few PDFs on a website. But if you do it well, it can really make you stand out from competitors.

As you’ve seen here, the best way to achieve a good result is to think carefully about what training you’re going to provide, how you’re going to deliver it and how you’ll evaluate it to make future releases even better.

Steve Penfold

Steve Penfold

Steve Penfold is Customer Success Director at Elucidat. He helps large companies and training providers speed up and simplify their elearning authorin
Steve Penfold
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