Customer training is becoming increasingly important for organizations across all industries and of all sizes. In some cases, it’s about getting customers onboarded and up to speed with a product as quickly and efficiently as possible. After all, the more comfortable people are using the products and the more confident they feel about the value they’re getting, the less likely they’ll be on a first-name basis with your in-house support teams. And that usually means they’ll become happy and loyal repeat buyers. In other cases, the training priority may be less about productivity and more about safety and compliance. For example, companies that manufacture heavy construction equipment may need to provide additional training to equip people to use it in real-world and sometimes stressful settings.
Yet as diverse as customer education programs can be, there’s one thing they all have in common: change.
How, when, and where organizations train their customers is evolving and moving into digital spaces. There’s no doubt that the pandemic has become an accelerator for digitization. According to research by McKinsey & Company, 36% of all customer interactions happened digitally in July 2019. By July 2020, that rate had climbed to 58%. Making customer education programs digital, at least in part, can help make them more cost effective, scalable, and flexible. Plus, it can help make the programs and your organization more resilient overall by equipping you to respond quickly to change and giving you a platform you can use to connect with customers virtually anywhere. If that wasn’t true two years ago, it certainly is now.
The reality is that customer training is no longer an added benefit. Rather, it’s a strategic pillar of your business and a driver of customer engagement, adoption, and success.
Here, we look at the trends impacting customer training today and explore the most impactful actions your organization can take to spur growth in customer education.
4 Trends That Are Changing the Face of Customer Training
1. The Rise of Remote Work
Remote work has been growing in popularity for a number of years, but in 2020 organizations went from planning for it to having to implement it virtually overnight. According to data from the Pew Research Center, prior to the pandemic, only 20% of workers in the U.S. who said their job responsibilities could be done remotely were working from home all or most of the time. By December 2020, that figure shot up to 71%. Of the 2,300 people surveyed for Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work report, 46% said their company plans to allow remote work permanently going forward.
These workplace shifts have ripples across the board, including when it comes to customer education programs. Keep in mind that your customers are employees too, so where and how they work impacts where and how you train them. If an organization’s employee base becomes more global, for example, the product and service training your organization provides will need to scale to match.
There are lots of benefits associated with making the switch to remote work and learning models. The top three highlighted in Buffer’s research are being able to have more flexible schedules, being able to work from almost anywhere, and not having to travel. Yet there are challenges too, including creating an effective balance, dealing with distractions, feeling isolated, and grappling with burnout.
So, while it’s important to find ways to digitize customer education programs, organizations also need to be intentional about how they ask audiences to engage with them. That could involve using both synchronous and asynchronous training to reduce the amount of time people are spending on live calls while giving them the ability to access on-demand content when it’s convenient for them. It could also mean safely hosting in-person gatherings to augment virtual training and give people opportunities to connect. Your approach will vary depending on the needs of your business and customers.
2. The Evolution of Customer Expectations
Customers’ expectations are changing both as more services become available online and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, Accenture released a major study that surveyed more than 25,000 consumers across 22 countries and 14 industries. Its goal was to get a better sense of how the pandemic had influenced habits and preferences. What they found was that 50% of respondents could be described as Reimagined Consumers—people who said the pandemic had led them to rethink their personal purpose and focus. Thirty-three percent were considered Evolving Consumers, while only 17% were Traditional (or unchanged) Consumers.
Reimagined Consumers could become an important audience based solely on the companies they choose to support—those that are empathetic and innovative ones. By and large, Reimagined Consumers favor companies that are responsive to their needs. Seventy-two percent of Reimagined Consumers surveyed said they expected organizations to understand and address how their needs evolve during times of change. Reimagined Consumers are also the most likely to stay with businesses that adapted for the better during the pandemic, while also being the most likely to switch if companies revert to their pre-pandemic ways.
Education programs may be important later in the customer lifecycle, but they can play an important role in providing ease and convenience while building trust and reputation, both of which are becoming important motivators for customers.
3. The Accelerated Pace of Digitization
Over the past two years, digitization has sped up at a stunning rate across all industries. According to a McKinsey Global Survey of executives, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digitization of customer interactions alone by at least three years, and the creation of virtual product and service offerings by at least seven. Business leaders don’t see these trends reversing anytime soon either, with 62% saying that changing customer needs and expectations would stick throughout and after recovery.
These shifts have two implications. The first is that people are more comfortable using digital technologies. In a survey from Twilio of more than 2,500 enterprise decision-makers from around the world, 98% of respondents said that video communication with customers was the channel that had accelerated faster than any other during the pandemic. Eighty-seven percent also agree that going forward, engaging with customers digitally will be critical to their continued success.
Secondly, whatever tools or platforms organizations use, they need to be able to update and iterate training materials fast to keep up with the pace of innovation and meet customers’ needs. According to McKinsey & Company’s research, implementing online services accelerated on average by a factor of 27, shrinking from an expected 585 days to an actual 21.9 days.
4. The Impact of a Digital Transformation
A digital transformation requires the rethinking of how organizations use technology in all areas of their business, including customer engagement programs. And the need is there. Insights from McKinsey & Company suggest that by 2023, most organizations will need to build new digital businesses to remain economically viable.
Digital transformations do come with risks. Research from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimates that 70% of digital transformations fail to reach their objectives. But they can also bring significant rewards. BCG also estimated that earnings growth for digital leaders is 1.8 times higher than those that lag behind.
Embracing a digital transformation for customer education can play a big role in helping your organization stay on top of trends and drive growth. For customers who will continue to work remotely, it makes it easier for them to access training from anywhere. It can also help your organization more quickly meet your evolving needs and those of your customers. Using online learning platforms can reduce unnecessary travel, which can be appealing for health- and eco-conscious customers. Plus, it can enable you to update and roll out content more quickly as products, services, and solutions change, helping customers feel supported and making sure training keeps pace with innovation.
4 Actions You Can Take to Reshape Customer Training
1. Build a Strategy to Guide Your Organization
We can’t overemphasize the importance of strategy. It’s the source of truth that connects the pieces together—setting the framework, aligning stakeholders around common goals, and giving you benchmarks you need to hit along the way.
At a high level, there are four steps to creating and launching an effective strategy:
- Outline a vision and a purpose. In essence, your vision tells people what your organization does or aspires to do, while your purpose tells them why and can help keep teams working together to achieve the same end.
- Craft a plan. Start by understanding and articulating your organization’s practices, goals, and priorities. Then translate broad objectives into KPIs so your organization has a way to measure its progress.
- Execute your strategy. Depending on the nature and scale of what it is you’re undertaking, you may want to divide this into two phases—piloting it first in a lower-stakes environment before scaling it to your full intended audience.
- Evaluate the impact. Ultimately, you want to make sure that the strategy you have in place is one that will help your organization drive growth over the long term.
2. Understand What Your Customers Need
Adults are, by and large, needs-based learners. They seek out training when they’re doing something new or if they encounter a problem. They expect it to be relevant, and they expect it to arm them with actionable knowledge or solutions.
Creating learner personas—fictional profiles that represent the target audience for a learning program—can be valuable in helping your organization inform its approach to understanding who will be consuming the content. When you’re coming up with personas, there are a few questions you’ll want to consider:
- What goals do customers have for training? What are they looking to get out of it?
- What are their perceptions of training and continuing education programs? Think about the ones your organization offers and those that are available from competitors and through third-party providers.
- What does their typical day look like? Do they work consistent hours? Are they on their feet, at a desk, or engaging in a mix of both modes of working?
- What are the main responsibilities that are associated with their roles?
- How do they interact with peers, especially those outside their team or organization? Do they rely on in-person gatherings or are there well-established digital spaces?
- What existing knowledge and skillsets do they bring to the table?
How detailed you want to make your personas can vary. In some cases, a simple overview that includes sample titles and short descriptions will fit the bill. Other times, you may want to make personas more comprehensive—assigning names and including illustrations.
3. Monitor the Impact of Your Customer Training Programs
When it comes down to it, you want to be able to demonstrate that your customer education programs are driving meaningful results for both your organization and its customers. The metrics your organization chooses to focus on will vary depending on its needs and should be informed by your strategy. They could include:
- Customer adoption
- Customer engagement
- Customer retention and churn
- NPS scores
- User reviews
- Support tickets logged
Data points like these can help inform business decisions and future spend. Plus, they can enable your organization to better understand the value of customer education and articulate a return on investment.
4. Choose the Right Tools
There’s no doubt that technology can be a powerful enabler of organizational change. Research from McKinsey & Company suggests that during the pandemic, 72% of companies that were the first to experiment with technology also reported very effective responses to the crisis. Only 33% of companies that didn’t experiment early could say the same.
Perceptions of technology have also changed. In the 2017 version of McKinsey & Company’s digital reinvention survey, almost half of executives said the top priority for their digital strategies was cost savings. In 2020, only 10% of executives said that. More than half said they were investing in technology for the competitive advantage or refocusing their business around it.
At the same time, success with a digital transformation doesn’t come down to technology alone. It’s about bringing everything together—technology, strategy, people, and processes—to drive change for your organization and its customers.
Digitize to Drive Success with Customer Education
Each organization has its own needs when it comes to customer training. Some have to get customers ramped up and enabled so they’re happy and see the value in using them. Others must be confident that users know how to interact with products properly to keep themselves and others safe.
Yet regardless of the type of training, no organization is immune from change. People are more comfortable than ever with working remotely, and employers are taking advantage of opportunities to expand into global talent markets. That means customer training must be flexible and scalable enough to reach even geographically dispersed audiences. Customer expectations and market forces are also driving digitization and innovation at unprecedented rates. That means organizations need adaptable, resilient tools and programs that will help them stay one step ahead.
Now’s the time to make customer education your competitive advantage in a digital-first market.
Haley Wilson is a Content Marketing Manager at D2L, specializing in the corporate learning space. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Guelph as well as a Master of Arts focused in history from Wilfrid Laurier University.
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