If your company, business, association and firm are one of the hundreds of thousands places out there that provide customer training, this post is for you. Whether you offer it for free as a benefit for them purchasing your product/service/membership, and so forth, or you charge them, attracting, attaining and growing the base is crucial.
Not only that, but it will resolve and solve for that matter a lot of challenges, issues and even worries on the part of each and every one of them – i.e. your customer base.
Some folks like to refer to customer training as customer education. I personally, am not a fan of the “customer education”. Customer training is a more apropos term because you are doing exactly that – training them on how to use your product, your service, even utilize your membership benefits, which for many professional and trade associations involves training.
There are folks out there, right now, who are providing employee and customer training. Or they are about to. Perhaps you have been hired or been asked to develop a successful customer training program and while you have experience on the ILT side of the house, the whole e-learning angle is another matter.
I’ve been there
I went from a blended training angle, including paper (ugh) to an e-learning one which delivered success at every company, I went to, including a trade association.
At a couple of places, it was employee on one side of the house, customers on the other. I’ve been in the B2B/B2C space, whereas you are providing training to employees of your clients. And equally, providing training to your customers who bought your product.
I’ve experienced the free route and the paid route. The reason I bring all this up, is because it is always better to be in the trenches than spouting theories or ideas without ever experiencing it first hand.
From a fee-based approach, I generated over $500,000 USD in less than nine months for a company. Turned multiple training departments from the red to the black, with significant and on-going cash flow. All through e-learning. On the free based version, I built programs that sustained and grew usage for our LMS and our courses we provided.
Thus, along the way in this post, I am going to present you with some best practices, approaches that worked for me, and will work for you.
The term back in the day was simply providing customer training. Nowadays, the term is customer onboarding. Don’t worry, in the end, it is the same thing. That said, it is not the same as employee on-boarding, that is an important part of the equation. You must change your modality, your process (so you cannot follow your methodology for employee training or L&D for customers).
Before you onboard the customer
Peyton has just bought your software product. A suite in fact. He now is a customer of yours. Peyton though needs to learn how to use the software. Because you know that the majority of people just jump right into the software and wing it, and then get frustrated when something doesn’t work or they get stuck, you want to head it off at the start, before Peyton just stops using the software and goes elsewhere.
Let’s assume that in this scenario, you provide free training as a perk/benefit for people buying your software.
While you can offer F2F technical training, the cost, travel and thus takeaway time from the person working at their location are negatives.
Plus, you have no idea on what interests Peyton – i.e. where his focus is going to be with the product. He may be only interested in parts of the software and not the entire solution. His speed of learning style is not the same as the instructor’s pace. And so on.
Thus, you recognize the best solution is online learning aka e-learning. Thankfully you have already built a series of courses showing your software in a show me-let me do it approach that is fully interactive and engaging. It looks like your software. It has the ability for the customer to mimic what they would be able to do in the software itself.
It has a Table of Contents (a must by the way). And you are fine with having the customer bounce around the course, so you do not lock it down.
There is nothing worse than a course which has only back and forward buttons. Or a course that is a three minute video where I watch it, or if I move it forward is still a straight video. That is not allowing me to focus on what I want to know and or learn. That is a video. Ideal for Netflix, not online training.
What I listed above are needed, before you even have someone access your LMS. And should be done the moment they buy the product. Maybe you have only one course ready to go, and that is totally acceptable. Because this is a constant build and development cycle.
Onboarding the Customer
There are two approaches when it comes to onboarding the customer. One is for free, the other is Fee.
- Reach out the customer via a welcome e-mail and/or letter letting them know about the online learning courses i.e. training they will be receiving as a benefit for buying the product. The letter states that the e-learning courses are 100% free.
If you are going to charge them, you will still send them a welcome letter – think thank you, with a soft sell on the types of online courses and webinars available to them. You do not want to be pushy. You must make clear what are the benefits and value to the customer, on the e-learning.
- For the free aspect, the angle of the letter/e-mail is equally explaining the pluses for e-learning and how it will help them achieve success with the product. Just saying, you have access to our online courses is not enough. Nor showing the product – by title courses they have access too. Remember adult learners want to know WIFM, so – “In our introductory course, you will learn how to blah blah blah.”
- Regardless if it is free or not, you will need to explain how to access the course, how to start taking the course, and how they can move around the course, without going in a step by step approach. Remember that most people are going to see an online course and automatically think it is similar to F2F. You must change that perspective.
There are ways to do this “intro – how to access the course, etc.” The best way nowadays is to send them a link or links to video courses which is you or whomever showing them how to access the course, move around the course and so forth.
You will also need to show them a video on how to access your LMS, move around and so on. Too many people just focus on the course or courses and ignore the fact that this person is going to go into their LMS (i.e. yours), and select the courses of interest.
If it is fee-based, you need to show them how to use the LMS to buy the course or courses, where the courses appear and how to start to take them.
Some folks just point to HELP and leave them to figure it out. Do not do this. With the growth of chatbots, and with some vendors planning to include them (a mistake IMO), frustration can be expected. Frustration means calls. Calls means money – i.e. cost to you. And headaches, especially if it is a constant type of call. Best way to avoid it – provide them training on how to access the course, navigate and yes, how to use the LMS.
Do not assume that every customer knows how to use an LMS or is even familiar with online learning. Overwhelmingly they do not.
Another route you can take – if you do not want to go straight to video (like some bad movies), is to offer a walkthrough schedule. Walkthroughs are were a group of customers or one customer (say in a B2B angle) go on online to a schedule – calendar and select one of the times/dates that is available for an online walkthrough.
Each walkthrough covers a series of topics or a topic as related to the course. In our scenario, your initial walkthrough will cover navigation of the course, going non-linear and the benefits of doing so, and so on. You can include – and honestly should – how to use the LMS. You thought must make folks aware that within this group, customers can ask questions but be aware that others will hear those questions.
There is a tendency to assume, well it is online, so everyone can sign up. Do not do this. Limit the number of people who can sign up for your walkthrough. I recommend no more than 12. Think this way, how many times will you need to stop and answer if there are 50 folks on that call.
You can record the calls i.e. including the video recording and post them online for folks to access OR even send the customer (even those who attended) a link for them to go back and review.
Again, some folks put the walkthrough recordings right into their LMS. Uh, if I wasn’t in attendance, how would I know how to access and navigate the course? I always would send a link to my completed walkthrough including some best practices – and why online learning is superior (without saying that) to F2F training. And before you e-mail or post a comment telling me that isn’t true. It is. And there is research to back it up.
- Call the customer – as a follow up to see if they have any questions. Give them a few days. This is a “thank you”, “any questions.” If you really want to make an impression, send them a follow-up for attending the walkthrough with a snail mail letter (i.e. postal) handwritten card with your signature on it. Not an auto-stamp or junk mail spam letter.
When your customers access the LMS to take the courses, monitor it. See who is going on and comparing that to the folks who went thru the walkthrough or accessed (if you can collect that data) your training videos on how to navigate, etc. Even if you cannot do the latter option, monitor where people go in the course. What areas are they focusing on? How often are they going into that area or chapter or topic? What is being used and what is not? Look for trends. Do not though make rash decisions.
Within a couple of months, you will start to see those trends. If you see a lot of people going into Chapter six – “How to create macros,” – then a light bulb should go off in your head and you should create a mini course on how to create macros in your software.
If you are able to see specific pages within the chapter (i.e. data wise), you can zero in again on the gap and build a course around it.
Continue to provide a calendar for your walkthroughs. You can expand it when you add a new course or courses. And of course, you will continue to show folks how to use the course/LMS, i.e. do not rely on them figuring it out.
In addition, start to compile a list of questions and answers – based on the calls your support folks receive, even if it is by e-mail or whatever means you are using. By doing this, you will reduce call volume. This is where you can do it – i.e. place it in your system via a FAQ or Knowledge Base. Realize that HELP to some people – turns them off. As in, they do not want to access HELP, because it implies to them, they need help, and a lot of people avoid HELP for that reason – there are lots of people who perceive that is a bad thing.
So go Knowledge Base.
I would send a monthly Best Practices newsletter to our customers including Common Questions and Answers. I would include prizes – i.e. drawings at various intervals.
Testimonials? You bet. Remember you want people to access the courses, and use them – ongoing. You want your customers to see the “wow” angle too. Not everyone will, but those sitting on the fence, will see that Mark from Tampa who has never used the software, has been able to save time, etc. by doing so.
So yes, you must include a marketing component to your e-learning, and ongoing at that.
Especially if you are going fee-based. In the fee-based approach, up-sell, up-sell is your best buddy. Soft sale though is required. Bundling is very important, if you can do it. You can go subscription too, depending on how many courses you have. Maybe you have an LEP too, so you give your customer – when they buy the courses, access to your LEP for free. You will make up the cost difference, with your pricing.
If you charge, do not go outrageous on the cost. I always went Blue Ocean, and was profitable within a three months. I was able to pay off what our web conferencing was, in less than eight weeks, especially when I could schedule multiple sessions at the same time – some web conferencing products offer that. Even when it wasn’t doable, you could schedule a few webinars a month to offset the cost.
People love to see discounts and bonuses – i.e. buy two courses and receive for free – your own personal mentor/coach; access to hundreds of course on various topics of interest and a personal dinner with me. (Kidding on the last part, unless uh, you have a major ego and then, go for it)
If your system offers a coaching/mentoring piece include that in your customer training on your software product. Again, show folks how to access and use it. Make sure your mentors/coaches actually show up, answer questions and so forth. This data can be identified if your system has an LRS or if the LMS tracks such information (the number who do is minimal).
Send an important document
What are the minimum requirements they need to access the courses and the LMS? IE8?
Does the system work with Chrome and Firefox and if yes, what is the minimum version they need?
Do they need Adobe Acrobat or a PDF program? If yes, include a direct link. Do they need to turn off their popup blocker? Do they need to know where to go to – i.e. Login to the LMS? Give them a direct link.
In other words, do not assume people know where to go, what to download and/or what they have on their system.
Try to avoid a lot of video. Bandwidth varies and when I see an e-learning course with a lot of video, I cringe. Trust me when I tell you this, but people will buy your product – from around the world. Go to Australia and see how bad the connections are! UK? Ugh in some locations. The states? Mixed bag and in urban areas such as Boston, watch out.
Even with Wi-Fi speeds will vary depending on your home and/or apartment. How far a person is from the hub plays a role too. Remember that the majority of your customers will access out of the workplace.
If you have an on/off synch mobile app that comes with the LMS you bought – explain to folks how to download it and use it. Anything to help is crucial.
While I focused on software training, each of the steps and statements above will work with any product/solution and so forth.
Getting your customers to take the online courses is not easy.
Having them buy-in will be a challenge.
So you must show them the benefits and explain the value.
If you succeed in that,
Your company will
Reap the benefits,
Regardless if it is free