Customer education focuses on equipping your customers with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.
It’s a process of knowledge transfer that begins with onboarding and continues throughout customers’ lifespan, providing value to them along the way.
There are all kinds of reasons why customer education makes sense in B2B:
- It allows you to reduce overhead by automating onboarding with a one to many approach.
- It gives you the opportunity to proactively avoid common issues that cause support calls.
- It empowers your customers to be more effective in reaching their own business targets.
- Most importantly, it means customers are more likely to remain loyal to your enterprise.
With an education program in place, buyers will understand that you offer unique value unlikely to be matched by your market rivals. When education is effective, it creates internal champions and “power users” who understand your solutions well – and wouldn’t want to go elsewhere.
However, starting a customer education program may seem like a daunting task.
If you’re involved in content marketing – or inbound marketing in a more general sense – then you already understand some key elements of educating your customers.
You’ll need to develop helpful, informative content for them. Then, you’ll have to monitor how that content is used and troubleshoot gaps based on observed activity.
Although those are core elements of customer education, there’s more to it ... much more.
You might ask why it’s vital to have a customer education program if you’re already able to provide training to customers on demand. The simple answer is that having a program in place is the key to being proactive rather than reactive.
- A reactive solution will have you developing ad-hoc, one-time answers to inquiries.
- A proactive program lets you comprehensively address common training problems.
How can you get there? Let’s review the first steps in architecting a customer education strategy.
1. Identify the Central Goal of Your Customer Education Program
Although we mentioned onboarding above, automating educational customer touchpoints is only one of the potential advantages of customer education. For a strategy that’s successful and cohesive, you need to start by clarifying what your main goals are.
If a program has more than three major goals, some will always end up taking a back seat.
So, what can educating customers do for you?
There are several possibilities:
- Provide additional sales or revenue focused around training products.
- Reduce help desk calls that customers make to your support division.
- Lessen the time your services team spends on training your customers.
- Improve total product usage and feature usage on your B2B solution.
- Increase renewal rates and upsells (higher tiers and more features).
- Generate better customer outcomes traceable directly to the product.
Remember that customer education picks up where your marketing leaves off. You don’t want to weigh down your education strategy with a general responsibility for informing prospects or qualifying leads.
Instead, zoom in on KPIs related to lifetime customer value.
2. Examine Your Product’s Post-Sales Ecosystem
Needs analysis in customer education starts with support. In general, support is the main point of contact for customers who aren’t getting the desired value out of their purchase.
In some cases, B2B enterprises provide a dedicated support manager to each customer. If this is how you roll, you’ll always want to loop these folks in for needs analysis, too.
Most customer support calls come in just four flavors:
- The user encountered an error message within the product.
- The user doesn’t know how to perform a desired action.
- The user forgot how to perform the action they wanted.
- The user wants a feature that doesn’t exist in the product.
Of these, three out of four can be handled with additional customer education. Wow!
Support teams will be able to tell you what specific errors are being generated and what features provoke confusion in your users. While changing and adding features is often the the long-term solution, helping customers feel confident with the product can raise satisfaction overnight.
If you have a SaaS platform or similar solution and receive detailed in-app feedback, comb over that as well to get deeper insights.
Features used frequently are typically the most helpful and/or most intuitive. When a feature is widely avoided, that signals questions in need of answers.
3. Dig Into Customer Renewal Feedback
Securing renewals is an essential part of a healthy SaaS business.
That’s especially true for those who don’t make money on a customer for the first few years!
Without a customer education program in place, customers usually drift away from a product over time. The information you provided at onboarding becomes outdated, and more new hires enter the company, diluting the number of people who feel truly comfortable with the offering.
In fact, a lot of organizations have it perfectly backwards from here: They rely on the hope customers will develop their own internal knowledge groups – maybe even attend a branded conference – and make a dedicated effort to stay abreast of changes.
If you’re the top industry leader, with little competition, this may happen.
For the most part, though, knowledge drift suppresses use of your product. That, in turn, makes it far more likely that once-satisfied customers will look for an alternative.
With a customer education program, you’re giving an incentive to stay loyal – higher productivity. Without one, you’re relying on the fact that switching is a hassle.
When customers decline to renew, organizations generally collect some feedback. Ask yourself:
- What reasons have customers given for failing to renew?
- What warning signs predict that a customer won’t renew?
- What reasons have customers given for choosing to renew?
If the answers to these questions aren’t clear, you need mechanisms for more granular feedback. While longer, more insightful surveys are helpful, it’s not always easy to get former customers to sit down and fill them out. The best approach is regular check-ins with current customers.
While some customers might think of feedback requests as a hassle, many will be glad to have their voice heard before small problems become big ones. That’s especially true if you make concrete changes based on the experiences customers have shared with you.
4. Prioritize and Validate Your Findings
Sometimes, providing concrete and discoverable answers to just four or five questions eliminates half your support calls. Other times, you might find that you need to cover a variety of broad topics in some detail before you’ll make a dent in customers’ needs.
Whatever the case, it’s time to get together around the table and hash out:
- What are the most common questions we need to educate current customers about?
- What are the most pressing questions that will have the biggest impact on customers?
- What is the best way to deliver customer education content to our current user base?
- What knowledge resources do we have right now that can get us started on content?
From here, your content team can collaborate with your tech team to develop new materials focused on your existing customers. Video content and interactive walkthroughs are two content types especially suited for customer education.
Soon, your new strategy will give your customers the background they need to love your product, not just tolerate it!