We believe customer training is one of the most untapped keys to unlocking bottom-line business results—from increased client retention to improved profitability. Even more, we contend most companies today cannot afford to ignore customer training any longer. We’ll use this piece to show you how we arrive at these bold conclusions, leveraging real-life examples and recent data.
About customer relationships
First and foremost, we assume that if you are reading this, the need for investment in customer relationship management overall goes without saying. There has always been much ado about customer relationships, and for good reason. Companies—including Mindflash—are introducing senior management roles with “customer success” titles. Others are ramping up loyalty programs. And yet, the Call Center Executive Report indicated that 68 percent of businesses planned to increase their customer management spending last year alone. But customer training has remained a largely untapped frontier in driving revenue and bolstering retention—items on the agenda of every C-suite executive we know.
Recent research from Brandon Hall shows us that slightly more than half (54 percent) of organizations are doing some sort of training for customers or even business partners. This gives us some early clues of what works and what doesn’t in maximizing business outcomes. It also begs the question: what of the other (approximately) half of the business population? The common barriers to entry we hear often are lack of time, lack of budget, and lack of knowledge of resources available to get the customer and partner training process started.
Bluebeam’s customer training story
Certainly these were factors at play when Pasadena, California-based Bluebeam Software, which develops and sells software for PDF creation, editing, and collaboration, sought a solution to more effectively train its customers—their resellers and distributors. Realizing that the best way to sell a product is to effectively show it, the company has long invested in training for its resellers across the country so they can become influential and knowledgeable product experts.
The problem was, as Bluebeam grew, live training sessions and even hour-long webinars were increasingly hard to schedule among the large number of resellers. Salespeople often couldn’t find time to travel and the hour-long training-call requests were becoming difficult to schedule. Additionally, there weren’t always enough demonstration meeting rooms to accommodate the training in a timely fashion.
So in 2011, Bluebeam sought out an on-demand training platform aimed at its resellers and distributors, eventually implementing the Mindflash solution because of the on-demand platform and the built-in reporting functionality.
Two key customer-training moments
As Bluebeam quickly discovered, your customers want to hear from you when you deliver quality information that will maximize their results using your solution and ultimately make their work lives easier. In fact, we believe companies should communicate with their customers and partners early and often, and specifically during two key moments:
- When they first adopt your product or service. Seasoned HR professionals often say they can predict the tenure of a new employee by examining their first weeks on the job. If the onboarding process is done, and done right, new employees feel immediately valued and engaged, propelling productivity from the start. If not—if they show up and no business cards are ordered and their computer isn’t ready—they will likely re-think their decision. The same goes for your customers. They may have gone through a lengthy selection process before landing on your solution or have fought through budget hurdles. Their experience with the platform immediately after signing on is critical to their long-term retention.
The same certainly holds for resellers and distributors. For Bluebeam, the company’s goal was to get their reseller partners excited to go through the training. So the company decided to approach its new online learning program primarily through video content, and segmented the content across three levels of expertise. Tier 1 training is a crash course overview consisting of “everything you need to know to sell the product.” Tier 2 of their online program provides information on applying the software into distinct industry verticals based upon their common workflows, while Tier 3 delivers an in-depth training on how to use the software so that they have the skills to demonstrate the product. Equipping customers and partners with in-depth knowledge when they see the substantial benefits is critical to their early adoption and complete integration of your solution in their ongoing business practices.
- When there are key updates to share. While it is incredibly important to engage your customers during the adoption of your products and services, it is imperative to continue the education and engagement for long-term customer retention. Your training program is an extension of your company building a relationship with your customer, a key piece to customer retention. For Bluebeam, the company issues a new major version of their solution every year, which includes powerful new features for their customers. Bluebeam revises their training program each year to demonstrate the new features and discuss the key selling points of the recent release to reengage their customers on an annual basis. Bluebeam has even created a Refresher Tier within their online training program so that those who have completed the training in the past can see what is new without completing the entire training all over again. This prompts partners to take another look at the solution each year, keeps the solution top-of-mind, and continues to provide valuable information to make partners’ jobs easier.
Three leading business impacts
In our combined decades of experience focused on training and customer success, we’ve seen substantial bottom-line business impacts. The three most common that we observe are:
The ability to scale without the wheels falling off the bus. Optimizing business processes, training included, is critical for growing companies that need to scale both quickly and effectively. While Bluebeam offers live classroom trainings as part of its training program, since the personal touch is critical for building relationships with its partners, adopting the eLearning software brought needed flexibility to the company’s existing training program. Bluebeam can now train more people faster and more consistently while also saving staff countless hours previously spent scheduling meetings and tracking completions. And if you’ve walked the halls or worked in any growing startup or small business, time is about as valuable as gold.
Increased sales. When the online training process was successfully implemented at Bluebeam in 2011, the company used Mindflash’s eLearning software to deploy an online training system designed to help its resellers become influential and knowledgeable product experts. On average, Bluebeam partner companies with representatives who completed Tier 1 training have doubled their annual revenue for Bluebeam’s solutions. Resellers that have gone on to complete the company’s most advanced Tier 3 training experienced a 400-percent increase in product sales versus partners who have not completed any of the online training programs.
- Improved customer retention. The overwhelming majority (93 percent) of companies responding to a Training Industry survey reported that they saw increased customer satisfaction—and 88 percent reported increased customer retention—as a result of customer training. In their book Leading on the Edge of Chaos, Emmet Murphy and Mark Murphy estimate that just a two-percent increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10 percent.
How to dive into customer training
With the when and why of customer training in place, it’s time to explore how a successful program is implemented within the realities of fast-growing companies such as Mindflash, Bluebeam, and countless others. First, this is certainly not a case where any customer training is better than none. Poorly planned customer training can show you don’t have your house in order, aren’t listening to your customers’ needs, and don’t value their time. That’s why, based on the experiences of hundreds of Mindflash customers, including Bluebeam, we’re sharing key best practices to get you going:
Talk to your customers! What do they want to better understand about your product or service? Only with a good understanding of your audience can you create compelling training content for them.
Test the content ahead of time. First, send it to a beta group of subject matter experts and engaged customers. Then, improve it based on their initial comments before launching it publicly. While Bluebeam staff spent about 200 hours upfront creating the video-based trainings, the program is basically running itself with very little overhead and they are seeing the time and savings benefits only grow over time.
Plan and resource for later updates. In rapidly changing markets, training content can get outdated quickly. Investment here will ensure that your courses remain valuable and impactful to your customers. Bluebeam’s training staff has just updated the modules, which the company expects will help increase participation across the board.
Try carrots. Try sticks. Offer formal certifications, continuing professional education credits, etc. to customers completing your training. In some cases, you can require that customers pass training courses before gaining access to your phone support, or to advanced features. As an incentive, Bluebeam awards gift cards, electronics, and other prizes to resellers for completing various phases of the curriculum. That strategy has helped immensely in getting the new training program off the ground, Courdy says. “People say, ‘I can do this on my own schedule and I get a gift card afterward? That works for me.’” Bluebeam has launched a certification program for their reseller partners in 2015 to formalize the education process and give them direct benefits for their investment in the training program. Along with customer training, the new certification program has become one of the three foundational pillars that Bluebeam uses to review reseller engagement and success.
Tie training outcomes to bottom-line business results. Meaning, don’t report the total number of training hours completed to your CEO. She doesn’t care. What will get her attention (and potentially more resources for next year’s training program) are hard stats on customer satisfaction, retention and expansion rates, and support costs among trained vs. non-trained customers.
Perhaps the greatest value that comes from this level of engagement is the “stickiness” it creates with customers, often translating into hard-dollar metrics such as engagement, retention, and revenue—and making customer training an important, available, and frankly affordable strategy to gain some competitive advantage. The truth is that without effective customer training, your customers may never unlock your solution’s full value for their specific situation. And that puts both their retention and your revenue at risk.