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Building a customer community on the Brightspace platform during COVID-19

  • 5 Min Read

You need to go back to the late 1980s or early 1990s—to the beginnings of computer-based training—to see a trend in the speed and adoption of online learning like the one we have today. So many organizations are going virtual—unfortunately, not by choice but in response to a global pandemic.

PartsSource is only one of countless organizations that had to unexpectedly and quickly pivot in early 2020—and this was especially important for us because our customers, some of the largest healthcare providers in the United States, were on the front lines of that battle to keep the coronavirus contained.

In my previous post, I discussed the plan our team created for the launch of the PartsSource Community, our online customer training and collaboration tool built on the Brightspace platform.

When COVID-19 hit the U.S. in March 2020, that carefully detailed plan had to be put aside. Our customers suddenly had a very different set of needs than those we anticipated weeks or even days before. The content we had so strategically planned and meticulously created was now a low priority for our customers.

Fortunately, the Brightspace platform provided us with the flexibility to move quickly, and move quickly we did. We needed to find a way to best reach our customers during an emergency, and then we needed to think about the types of resources they now needed.

Content was the most critical issue for us. Simply put, we had nothing ready to help our customers deal with a global pandemic; we had built our content strategy around onboarding new users to our platform. Suddenly, we had established customers looking to us for immediate guidance on things like the latest Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announcements or equipment recommendations for an anticipated spike of hospital admissions.

Originally, the PartsSource Community was built to cater to a very specific subset of our customers—our enterprise customers, members of our PartsSource Pro managed service program. Now we needed to find a way to reach all our customers—even those not already part of the community, even our smallest customers—because the resources we were providing could literally mean the difference between life and death for some patients.

A change of plans

The first thing we did was meet with our leadership team to discuss the need to be agile. We were in unchartered territory, and we didn’t have the luxury of time for a large number of reviews and approvals or to test whether the resources we were creating and the methods we were employing would resonate with our customers. We told them we were going to try a lot of things, and we knew some would work and others would not. And we told them that when something didn’t work, we’d move quickly on to something else.

To their credit, our leadership team was completely onboard. They gave us the freedom and flexibility to be proactive and to provide customers with what they needed most.

We soon realized many of the vendors we work with to supply parts and equipment to our customers as well as to professional organizations, healthcare advocacy groups, and government agencies were already creating a lot of great content that we could curate for our users. So that became our primary job—it became less about what we could create for our customers and more about removing from them the stress, time, and effort of finding relevant resources.

Curating resources for the community

We created a COVID-19 page using a course in the Brightspace platform that all users were automatically registered for to house all the resources we were curating. We created a navigation widget across the top of the page to leverage some of D2L’s out-of-the-box functionality, such as discussion forums to allow our customers to collaborate in real time, and system widgets, such as the Announcements widget, to provide easy-to-create timely updates to our customers. This allowed us to provide a custom experience without a great deal of development time or resources.

Early in the pandemic, there was so much news coming out every day. We wanted to help our customers cut down on the noise and focus on the news that would have the most impact on them. We decided to curate news stories from a small number of industry publications that we felt would have the biggest impact on our customers. Using a Lesson page in the New Content Experience, we created a page that included a link and a short blurb about each story we selected.

Despite the fact that the Brightspace’s platform built-in editor made it easy to update this page while still making it look and feel like our brand, it was time-consuming to review all of these news sources and post articles on a daily basis—and our reporting indicated that this content wasn’t getting a great deal of traction among our customers. So once the news started to slow down in April, we pivoted and devoted our resources elsewhere.

One of the things our leadership team challenged us with was to incorporate a social component of our COVID-19 resources so our customers could collaborate and ask questions of one another. We leveraged D2L’s Discussion tool to give them a place to connect with people outside their own organizations to share ideas. I saw this as an important avenue to help drive equity in healthcare during the pandemic; clinical engineers at smaller regional or rural hospitals had a direct conduit to pick the brains of their peers at some of the larger, nationally renowned healthcare institutions we worked with.

We also launched a blog series that allowed our in-house experts to quickly communicate directly with our customers. Blogging was not part of our original content strategy, but with the success we’ve seen to date, we’re now planning to expand the series. Our blog entries were created using custom HTML (hypertext markup language) templates from D2L that made it easy to embed links in other materials and incorporate elements of the PartsSource brand.

While we started by providing links to our own resources—reference guides, case studies, and white papers we created in-house—we soon started sharing curated resources from our partners and other organizations. It wasn’t long before our customers expressed an interest in sharing the resources they created themselves in response to the pandemic with their peers in the HTM (healthcare technology management) community. We were able to collect and share real-life examples of business continuity plans and preventive maintenance policies. Some hospitals’ clinical engineers were even using 3D printers to create parts or equipment to address new challenges and reduce risk to clinical staff, and we were able to share those design files as well.

We knew that with the Brightspace platform, we could make sharing easy for our users. We leveraged the Assignments feature as a de facto upload and file management tool. This allowed our customers to easily and securely share resources with us, and it gave our team a ready-to-use tool to track who sent us each resource and file version.

Recognizing heroes in healthcare technology management

Every May, healthcare organizations across the United States celebrate HTM Week—a weeklong celebration when clinical engineers and other HTM professionals are recognized for their contributions to patient care. We knew that 2020 had been an especially difficult year for our customers, so we wanted to do something extra special to recognize all the hard work they had done to address the pandemic.

We worked closely with our marketing team to launch our HTM Heroes campaign, which we cross-promoted within the Brightspace platform and our social media channels. We used the Activities widget to allow our users to share photos and stories about their teams; the familiar, social media-like interface allowed users from other organizations to engage, comment, and offer praise and words of encouragement to their peers.

We were so happy with the results of our HTM Heroes initiative we decided to extend it beyond HTM Week to give our customers a way to have some fun and recognize each other for the hard work they do each and every day.

As we moved away from the early days of the pandemic, we needed to be able to measure how effective some of these efforts had been. In the next installment, you’ll learn how we are leveraging the data and reporting tools available in the Brightspace platform to help drive our decision making.