Customer Education Systems – Best of Best

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Grids. No not the one that went down for the state of Texas, that’s a whole different type of grid. I’m referring to every analyst/consulting site that uses “Grids” in whatever format – design wise to identify top systems is this or that category. And yes, I do the same thing (that’s changing for 2021 aka formally the T-Grid).

For the last few years, I’ve rated the top B2B/B2C learning systems, via a ranking list during my yearly best award systems. A post here and post there.

Never though as a grid.

I’m not sure why people love grids. I admit half the time when I look at a few from the larger name entities, I can’t figure out how that vendor got to that part of that grid, what in the heck does that mean, and why is that vendor who isn’t even a learning system, appearing in that section of the grid over there?

Grids are confusing. The methodology for some of these grids equally can be quite obtuse. It’s a factor of course, when someone says, “hey your grid results are not like ABZF analyst firm’s grid, and then blah blah.” It’s enough to make me want to grow my hair out (you thought tear hair out, sorry, length rules).

So long Grid, Hello Bracket

I went total bracket here. Think hoop bracket or soccer bracket or a bracket of your favorite colors that you want Crayola to make, that type of bracket.

I identified what I saw are the top 16 Learning Systems that play in the customer education market and used a methodology to confirm how/why they were a “group of 16”. Next, I broke them into four “grid regions” – take that Grids – and created actual locations as though they would appear at those places.

Opening Round

You will notice the “grey boxes” – this is where folks – like you – could have made your own selections and submit them to me, sort of “fantasy Customer Education System thing”. Anyway, each time a system moved (i.e. defeated their competitor) then the bracket would change.

The “grid” term means nothing here. Initially I had listed as “groups”, then thought of something clever, but went “nah” and just did “grid” – since I am tired of seeing them. I’m sure there is a word for this, I have no idea and I am too lazy to look it up on the net.

I was amazed at the number of learning systems that are seen as “customer education” systems on the net on various sites, who are not actually that strong in the customer education market (the original term is customer training). Then there were those who were right on the cusp of being in the 16, and thus, if there was sort of a “play in” angle, they would have been there.

How the Customer Education market works

In order to get a better idea when it came to “who’s in”, it would be wise to explain how the customer education market works. There are two types of learning systems here (discussed previously in the where the LMS market is heading, i.e. Group 1 and Group 3).

  1. Customer Education – Heavy Focus – They will take employees, but these are the hardcore, G1C I noted in the previous blog. Customer education/partner training is their key target here. In the 16 above – Thought Industries, Intellum, Eurekos, and Learndot are those vendors.
  2. The others are combo, that is to say, they play in employees and customers, thus they may be 50% employees and 50% customers – i.e. SkillJar or a higher percentage of employees compared to say 30% customers – but they still push on that idea that the system can handle both segments. The ones folks are most familiar within the bracket are SkillJar – they push heavy on customer education, so the split was a surprise, Docebo – they push the ‘talent’ angle and equally will spin customer education – noted as extended enterprise in some areas, Absorb, Talent LMS and Cornerstone Learning (which plays more on the employee side of the house, but they have plenty of customer education clients too). On the bracket, you will notice Cornerstone LS ( I see Cornerstone Learning + Develop as the combo here, so I just refer to it as LS, Cornerstone does not).

In the combo group – vendors such as Knowledge Anywhere and BlueVolt aren’t as well known, but KA has a very solid system for customer education, including e-commerce and multi-tenants. It is streamlined a bit, but that doesn’t eliminate it, just a different twist. BlueVolt plays big time in the trade services space, which is why, not everyone has heard of them, but they do quite a bit in customer education for that market. BTW, they were the first vendor to offer gamification tied to reward credits to redeem.

Agylia has a lot of features for the customer market, but messaging I believe has always been a challenge as it relates to getting a bigger share of this group. Fuse on the other hand, is starting to push more (they have plenty of customer education clients) into the customer space, and with a whole new set of features – some of which – okay a couple are quite rare – they are poised.

Brightspace by D2L is a definite wildcard here. They have every feature you would need to land the customer education market. They do solid in the association space (which is member education, and follows similar principles to the customer education angle) and continue to improve. Again, messaging issue here.

Eurekos is the new riser in the space. Once focused on edtech, now driving into the customer space (i.e. customer education, B2B/B2C). With a slew of new features and functionality coming out in the next few months, and an attitude of “oh, you want that? Sure, we can do it”, it is a system poised to break thru. In a way they remind me of Docebo (when no one heard of them and they were starting out) – sort of this different fresh look and vibe.

Open LMS – Is the full Moodle customized system here, and companies due use Open LMS for their customer education/partner training. Open can do pretty much anything you need/ask for, and it wouldn’t make sense to leave them out, just because they build off of open source and take it to a whole different level.

EdCast – this is more towards their XP version and not Spark. XP offers a bit more, and to turn EdCast into customer education aka extended enterprise you need to purchase a “Customer Academy” and then something else (on top of that). If you want to use EdCast as your payment processor – you can, they do charge a point of sales fee (just as authorize.net would as well). The minus for them is the whole custom domain scene, which IMO is very important.

They are not the only customer education system, that either charges an outrageous price for white label custom domains OR in the case of some of the others up there, doesn’t even offer it. The way to get around it of course is to do URL masking.

Methodology

Well, as you can see I gave sort of a high level for each system, but what I looked at, regardless if they were combo or not, were the following

  • UI/UX – When you purchase a system for your extended enterprise aka customer education, you have one shot to bring those folks not only in, but get them coming back – which is what you want. These are consumers, just like you and me. They look at websites. Ask yourself, how many times have you bought a product or even thought about it, when the website looked dated or just plain awful? When you go house or flat hunting, how many times do you buy the one with dirty floors, or scuff marks, or they left the food out? Exactly.

The UI for customer segment should be great on both sides, front and back-end, but that isn’t always the case. Docebo has a very nice front-end for example, but the Admin side while fine, needs an update. Thought Industries has a wonderful front-end for learners, and the back-end is slick too.

Regardless, the system must be able to have different looks for each tenet aka portal aka child (parent-child, where you are the parent and then if you have say ClientX and they want to be on the system, they become the child OR your product that you sell to professionals wants a different look than the one for consumer grade). The more options the better – and it played an important role here for more so than a learning path – which they all do.

  • E-Commerce – Either it comes with it today, or it is coming soon – and they can integrate today with a vendor such as Course Merchant or similar. It doesn’t have to be course merchant, there are other e-commerce 3rd party that can do a deep integration (i.e. white label and it looks like the system). Having a Shopify app is a plus, but it is not a full deep integration in the way, course merchant is for example. The more e-commerce features you had, the better. Some offer Virtual Wallets. VAT appears.
  • API integrations with other e-commerce sites or m-commerce. Again, Shopify and some of their competitors. API integrations with sites for e-mail marketing, newsletters, CRMs (beyond just Salesforce), sales enablement platforms (if so desired, but not common), online accounting software such as Quickbooks, Bill.com, Waveapps (my personal fav). In other words, creating a customer education ecosystem. I mean it can be done for employees, so why not the customer side of the house?
  • Features that are essential for an extended enterprise (aka customer education/partner training). For example, is content curation a must here? Today, no. But if you are a combo, then yes you need it, and thus those heavy on the customer ed side, will need it too. Thus, it played a tiny role. One form of content curation is this ability where you can scan the web, and curate content that automatically appears in your learning system based on certain options you select – free that is. Only a small fraction of vendors actually build this, most go third party – and that vendor who does the best job is Anders Pink. One of the vendors in the grid tells their prospects that their AI scrubs the net and brings back all this content. No, it doesn’t. It’s Anders Pink.
  • A.I. – Either you have it now, or it is coming.
  • Metrics and Reporting showing items such as how much has been generated (prefer by content type, and content name – but most haven’t gotten there yet), other types of sales data, usage that goes beyond “views”, which is worthless, unless your learning system is a search engine. If you offer segmentation that was a huge plus. Data visualization is relevant here. Some folks want a BI integration which is fine, but to be successful in customer ed you do not have to have a BI tool. I should add that for customers you can give them your content for free or have them pay or do some combo aspect.
  • PaaS capabilities – Platform As A Service. It is fair to argue that an LMS is really a PaaS, but I’m not here to discuss this, I looked at it from the standpoint of deep integration options. Maybe a system offers online proctoring thru a deep integration compared to say SSO.

Combining it all, I then came up with a point system and assigned points based on the above and some intanglibles, so that the perfect score would be 100.

When I did the matchups, I matched the systems up using that scaling process, and the output of points dedicated to the final results.

Not A Factor

None factor – 3rd party marketplaces. Look I am a strong supporter of providing personal and professional development to your customers as a value-add and differentiator compared to a competitor. With COVID and thus the world as we recover from COVID-19, giving back and taking care of your customer is a nice win here. If they share this content with their family, partners, spouses, others in the home – what’s the downside to you? I see only the upside.

That said, the systems that play heavy on the customer ed side lack the amount of content versus a combo. So despite what I would love to see, it didn’t play a role.

Places

I picked places that I have been to or loved, and in one case who gets the short end of the stick in their own country.

El Paso is my hometown. I wear more UTEP gear than the other universities I attended and received degrees from. London is a fantastic place, St.Petersburg is a must- the hermitage is just WOW, Egypt is one of my favorite places to visit and see, Mexico City is just magical – and a must for anyone IMO. Perth – never been there, but I found a lot of people in Australia see it as being out in the “sticks” and a bunch of country bumpkins. I know folks who grew up and live in Australia on the “gold coast” – that is over there in Victoria and NSW and have never been to Perth. Then again, they have never been to Canberra or Alice Springs, so there’s that too.

Whos’ not in and why

SAP Litmos – Yes they are a combo system, but they are left out, because I feel as though they are in a ‘rut’.  The administration side needs a revamp, and the metrics – data visualization wise seriously needs an investment. Metrics for customer education wasn’t really there and overall, while they have some nice features such as the video skills validation piece, the customer education side seems to be secondary (IMO).  A shame really, because there are items that I like about the system, but updates are needed!

Raven360 – Customer education-focused system, more so than a combo, and definitely right on the edge, this would be the call in – Raven360 vs Open LMS.  Super close.  In a year from now, a top 16, maybe top 10 system – depending on what they do in the next six months. 

Adobe Captivate Prime – Not a strong customer education platform IMO. Not a top 16, nor top 20 IMO.

SumTotal – They have clients using them for the extended enterprise, but this is a system strongly on the employee side of the house.  Plus they pitch themselves as a TDP, although they are missing a few items, anyway, nope, not listed. 

LearnUpon – Personally I like the system, but while they play in B2B/B2C and are a combo, they just are not a top 16.  Top 20? Sure.  Top 16? No.

The Final 16 Systems (Click on their name, to visit their web site)

Round Two

An early-round upset with Eurekos topping SkillJar. This was a result of a couple of key factors a) Feature-wise it was pretty close, although Eurekos’s what do you need and we will do attitude raised above. I also liked that the system is committed to the customer education market as the key far more so than SkillJar, who again, as of my analysis was a combo system. When a system’s focus is one on a specific segment, then you will start to see that in how they build out and develop it, I am seeing this more with Eurekos each and every time. SkillJar is a good system, lots to like – hence the #3, but in this match-up, Eurekos just came out slightly ahead.

Scores

  • Thought Industries 94 Talent LMS 74
  • Learndot 85 Cornerstone Learning 84
  • Absorb LMS 88 Brightspace by D2L 79
  • Eurekos 89 SkillJar 86
  • Intellum 93 Open LMS 73
  • Fuse 83 Agylia 76
  • Docebo 90 Knowledge Anywhere 81
  • EdCast 92 Blue Volt 77

In each point round, there were .5, which was rounded up

Round Three

The big matchups featured EdCast against Docebo and Absorb against the upstart Eurekos.

Docebo is tough. Boy, a good system indeed. But, two major drawbacks that EdCast exploited in the match-up, first – administration side. Sluggish with almost an afterthought in terms of what is their aim here, when the learning side UI/UX does a far better job. Metrics – Reporting is a tad underwhelming and needs a revamp. If you go to the individual learner profile it has a nice fresh metrics piece. The system itself? Let’s just say “brick” when you play hoops comes to mind. EdCast XP on the other hand, far better analytics and data visualization (not including Domo – which is a metric monster but an add-on). Administration UI/UX is far better too. Both systems are combo systems, and neither at the 5,000 and up user base are inexpensive. Customer Education-wise they are neck and neck, but if you are willing to pay the extra for customer academy (frankly I think it should be free, but uh whatever), and the extra for the other parts then EdCast leads out. If you choose not to, and want to use EdCast as an extended enterprise you can, I mean they come with e-commerce (extra fee though) and they offer multi-tenants and will do a custom domain. Docebo comes with e-commerce (I haven’t seen their newest pricing – since the launch of Learning System, but prior to when they had various pricing packages, at lower ones it was a fee, at “Growth” I believe it was included). White label is doable. The breaker for me again was that admin side, and then when you compare functionality – NexGen – EdCast crushes it. That was more than enough for them to pass Docebo in the end. Oh, did I mention the administration side?

Absorb vs Eurekos

A heart-stopping event, went down to the wire. The strategy was key here, Absorb goes combo and as of late, definitely seems more on the employee side, which is absolutely fine. After all, they are a top-five learning system. Functionality they are close to one another, but Absorb continues to hold off adding ad-hoc (it comes later this year). Big runs included the addition of Pinpoint – sweet offering, Absorb Create – their lite authoring tool, and improved metrics. For a moment, the fans (watching virtually) were screaming “A-B-S-O-R-B”, and “Dominates”. Alas, as with any run, there tends to be a stop, and that is where Eurekos pulled close and past. They too come with an authoring tool, which you can do lite or if you have an instructional designer can do a tad more tapping into the product (that said, a built-in authoring tool is never a match for say a Storyline or dominKnow or Elucidat).

Ever scored a goal from the half way point of a soccer field, hockey field, or a basketball shot from half court, then you will now the thrill of excitement.

Anyway, this has nothing to do with the battle here, just two top systems, with the newcomer for customer ed, coming out ahead, by one, okay .5.

The other two matchups, featured #1s Thought Industries (coming in ranked #1 for customer education/partner training/B2B/B2C for 2021) and Intellum (now the second best customer education system on the market, and sadly doesn’t get enough recognition as such, but that’s for another day).

TI just out duked Learndot. Not that close. Fuse gave Intellum a run for the money, err system, but Intellum is really good. Really good. And thus, in the end, Fuse couldn’t keep up.

Score Results

  • Thought Industries 94 Learndot 85
  • Eurekos 89 Absorb 88
  • Intellum 93 Fuse 83
  • EdCast 92 Docebo 90

Round Four

Sometimes it happens. The upstart gets up against the powerhouse and the upstart wins out. Other times, the powerhouse is just too powerful, strong and seasoned and the upstart loses. That’s the case here. Thought Industries is an amazing system. The multi-tenant (you get like 20 to start with – called Panoramas) and what you are able to do with each one beyond just the skin/color and logo is outstanding. Metrics are good, feature-rich system with a video skills validation including digital coaching (great for customers BTW, folks often think just employees) and scenarios – another wonder win. Thought Industries rolled in as the #2 learning system for 2021, and there is a reason behind that – they are just an awesome system. But not perfect, then again, no system is.

In the night cap, it was Intellum vs EdCast. User size wise, Intellum has a minimum number of end-users they will consider, and then a number they prefer. EdCast XP user base wise for customers, is similar in numbers for ideal, but a bit lower in the minimum. Pricing edge goes Intellum. System feature wise related to the extended enterprise segment, Intellum wins out. This is a kick-rock of a system. Learner UI/UX is good. Admin side is good too. Metrics specific for sales data for example, wow – rock city. So much potential there, that they haven’t even hit upon in the system, but what exists today alone beats out EdCast. The system doesn’t require any add-ons that you have to buy to take it to the customer education level, a plus, and the system and Intellum themselves are 100% customer education focused system. EdCast is combo.

Nevertheless, EdCast is #1 learning system for 2021 for a reason, and thus this was a matchup that was made for the internet, television, the woodpecker who enjoys the tree in front of my office, and others.

Intellum though topped out ahead. Setting up the dream match up.

Score Results

  • Thought Industries 94 Eurekos 89
  • Intellum 93 EdCast 92

Championship

Intellum vs Thought Industries

Godzilla (wasn’t it once the nice one here?) vs. King Kong. Rocky vs. Rocky II (The Sequel).

You get the point. Two outstanding systems. And it could have gone either way. Overall scoring of all the weights and points that each system accumulated based on methodology, customer education focus (both are 100%), support (both are excellent), pricing (TI has a slight edge) and what you get with everything (neck and neck), it was super close.

Thought Industries 94 Intellum 93

Bottom Line

The Best of the Best in Customer Education is Thought Industries.

For those who want more of the traditional scoring ranking here you go

  1. Thought Industries 94
  2. Intellum 93
  3. EdCast 92
  4. Docebo 90
  5. Eurekos 89
  6. Absorb 88
  7. Skilljar 86
  8. Learndot 85
  9. Cornerstone Learning 84
  10. Fuse 83
  11. Knowledge Anywhere 81
  12. Brightspace by D2L 79
  13. Blue Volt 77
  14. Agylia 76
  15. Talent LMS 74
  16. Open LMS 73

Congratulations to the winning coach – Barry Kelly of Thought Industries.

This is Craig and Spirit (Bark Bark)

Signing Off.

With a Grid to be seen,

Nevermore.

Bonus – I will be presenting a webinar on how to turn your customer education into a Profit Center – Register HERE – Session Date is April 15th at 12 p.m. ET/ 9 a.m. PT.

Bonus Two – I am starting a list of “customer education” sites that consumers can go to. These are sites for customers, so if you have a “customer education” site and want it posted, visit this page and contact me.

E-Learning 24/7

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