Often, we think of corporate online training as synonymous with employee development. Certainly, internal training is critical, especially in such learning areas as on-boarding, product training, leadership development, and closing the skills gap. But, companies are also creatively using online training to put external groups “in the know”, particularly partners/resellers/vendors and customers.
A host of benefits can be reaped by consciously providing consumer education and community building opportunities through online training. Meet your customers where they are increasingly congregating—in the cloud—and consider the following focus areas for educating your customers.
1. Leveraging Innovation Ideas
Your customers can be an objective source of inspiration for innovation ideas. Consider creating training modules which are, in effect, focus group vehicles. Introduce your customers to the product ideas you are considering through online training, and leverage embedded surveys, quizzes, social media, and mobile enablement technologies to have conversations with your customers. Or, create idea-generation contests and challenges that are communicated via online training modules.
An advantage of using online training as a vehicle for customer communication is that your LMS’ built-in reporting capabilities allow you to gather advanced customer data analytics that you may be unable to collect easily via other methods. Data such as attendance, completion rates and quiz/survey results, for example, can be used to segment your customers. You can then reach out to relevant target audiences through additional training-based conversations or other communication methods, as needed.
Online training programs can help increase collaboration, build communities, and improve relationships. For example, if you’re in the construction business, consider providing online training courses that teach people the basics of successfully engaging contractors. If you sell artisan yarn, consider providing online training courses that teach people to knit or crochet. Offer certifications or continuing education credits for courses in industries where credentials are valued. Of course, judicious use of social and mobile tools integrated with your training courses is required for online community building. Communities thrive when they are related to work of interest to the customer. And your business thrives when what you sell enhances the communities that your customers choose to inhabit.
3. Increasing Product Knowledge
Free your customers from being buried under product manuals and technical documentation. Sure, manuals are important, especially as product complexity increases. But, if customers can get useful overviews and quick start tips first—potentially through short, engaging online training—they can then delve into the manuals as needed. Targeted direction on where to look for direction can go a long way towards saving your customers time and frustration, increasing customer loyalty and retention, and reducing support instances.
4. Reducing Support Issues
Speaking of reducing support instances, an accepted premise is that customers with good product knowledge submit fewer support tickets. Is that true? Leveraging the built-in reporting capabilities of your LMS allows you to validate that premise. If trained customers are still having issues, perhaps your training itself is insufficient. Or perhaps you have an organizational or a product issue. In the case of insufficient training, map training content to top support issues, and mine data on quiz scores, learner engagement, course completion rates, etc. In the case or organizational or product issues, investigate product bugs, workflow, inter-department touch points, customer support practices, etc.
With regards to support, leveraging your LMS’s built-in reporting capabilities allows you to identify people who truly need extra help. Proactive customer outreach can reduce time to close support issues, retain customers who might otherwise abandon you for your competitors, increase customer loyalty, and identify opportunities to cross-sell products and services.
5. Spreading the Brand
Excellent customer training programs can convey a message of customer-focus, human-centeredness, and a premium on knowledge. By using video, infographics, games, contests and other engaging content vehicles, you can “train” your customers on your company’s history, mission, values, and culture. By providing interactive training in a case study format, you can help your customers determine how to leverage best practices. Also, consider partnering with other businesses to create content that helps your customers increase their productivity, similar to the partnership between Khan Academy and Bank of America to help people develop better money habits.
To Charge or Not to Charge?
There are clear benefits to providing online training to your customers. But should you charge for training? The answer, as in so many other areas of life, is, “It depends.”
It depends on your industry, what you charge for your products and services, whether customers need training to successfully use your products, and a host of other considerations. Online training can be a value-added option to set you apart from your competitors. If you can convince the customer of the value of your training (through success stats, exciting and engaging training programs, need, or ROI) it may make sense to charge for your training. On the other hand, if you sell multi-million dollar technology solutions, perhaps free, robust online training access can help you to make the sale. Or, if you’ve historically had a high number of support issues, you may choose to provide free online training until you are able to change customer perception.
Regardless of your decision to charge or not, take advantage of the opportunities afforded by training your customers well. Start small, test, get feedback, and determine if educating your customers can be a part of your business growth strategy.
How have you used online training programs—from a module or two to full-blown online universities—to engage your customers, increase loyalty and retention, and grow your business?
Gauri Reyes is a talent developer and learning leader with extensive experience in roles ranging from software management to managing the learning function in organizations. She is Principal Learning Strategist and CEO at Triple Point Advisors and Founder of the YOUth LEAD program. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.