the trend over the past four or five years has been for the training profession to refer to itself as the learning profession. While I agree in many ways with this trend (see training vs. learning), i do believe that sometimes we get a bit too myopic in your view of the work of workplace learning. As i argued in my post on Learning Circuits Blog, We’re #3, we’re #3!, training is often not the most effective learning function in an organization. This is particularly true in the realm of customer education.
There are a number of functional groups in every organization that are involved in customer education. to keep things somewhat simple, I identify six groups in the customer education ecosystem – product development, marketing, sales, account management, training, and customer support. ideally each of these groups has direct contact with an organization’s customers. They each learn something from the customer and they each – for better or for worse – provide the customer with new information.
|group||from customer||to customer|
|development||desired functionality||insight into future products|
|marketing||market intelligence, level of interest in product, qualified leads||information about product|
|sales||criteria for purchase, pain points, purchase agreement||solutions for pain points, new product information|
|account management||additional needs, deeper business operations, integration demands||additional services, add on products, templates, best practices|
|training||needs caused by learning gaps, usage expectations||basic “how-to” use, insights into best use, certification|
|customer support||what’s not working, potential enhancements, desired new products||error correction, basic “how-to” use, integration help|
a great deal of effort has been made in most organizations to gather up the information gathered from customers. in best case situations it’s aggregated and funneled back to product development. few organizations have had success at aligning the information presented to the customer by the various groups. even fewer have an understanding that linking this content drives customer education around the use of the organization’s product in the customer’s particular business.
the relay method
Traditionally, an effort is made to hand-off product information from group to group as if there were a relay race involved. if the handoff goes well, some information about the product and/or the customer is passed along to the next group. usually with a spin on the information by the group passing it on.
often, the “hand-off is missed.” leaving the receiving group scrambling to get the information they need. they may go back up the chain to a previous group who invariably get annoyed because they thought they were done with this particular product or customer. or they go back to the customer who gets annoyed and wonders if there is anyone with any intelligence working for the company.
even when all of the hand-offs are performed well, the result can often be like the children’s game telephone. with each successive group putting their own spin on the information based upon their interaction with customers disconnects start showing up by the dozen. “i can’t tell you why they built the product that way.” “you know, that doesn’t make sense.” “let me teach you a work around that. it’s a bit of a pain, but it will work.” “no, this class doesn’t cover what the sales rep told you.” etc. etc.
About the only thing the customer is learning is how to work the call center automated phone tree and what they want to ask your competitors when the decide to drop your product.
circle the wagons
to alleviate the problems created by the relay method of communications, organizations have taken to a “circle the wagons” approach in which email inboxes overflow as everyone is expected to keep everyone else “in the loop” by sharing anything and everything they know. each group is then responsible for understanding the whole picture by piecing together all those emails and the accompanying attachments. the cob web of information is overwhelming and everyone defaults back to the same solution as used when the relay method failed. No one really knows what the customer is being told by the other groups and the customer again goes wanting.
customer education ecosystem
with the onset of web 2.0 technologies, it’s not only possible to get everyone in the organization not only singing from the same page, but it’s a reality that you can get everyone writing the same page. whether using a wiki to gather information from across
the organization and then collaboratively mold it into a unified message leveraging content and information for multiple purposes, or a customer relationship management system to track every contact with a customer regardless of what functional group, and/or a document management system to handle version control and create a unified look and feel, technology now enables everyone to have product, customer and market information on-demand.
This enables a consistent message that can be crafted to move the customer along a learning curve from initial contact, through basic usage, to power usage. once a customer is fully aware of the workings of a product and/or services available to them, they can then begin to drive real value for their organization with your products/services.
Dave Lee on 5/1/08
Good question laurie. i definitely would advocate that a customer online resource center should provide an area for customer authored content including video content. the knowledge base should accommodate all kinds of media files – text, video, audio, multimedia, etc. i’m not sure, however, that i would advocate digital chalk as the best technology to serve as the basis for that type of knowledge base. my impression is that it’s video-centric. please correct me if i’m wrong.
Jeanne Meister on 9/25/08
I enjoyed your post on customer education–one of the growing reasons I see for customer education is in the innovation area as a way for an organization to build a brand You can check out more about this on my blog at http://www.newlearningplaybook.com