What we're talking about 

This is about informing your customers how to effectively use your product or service, before and after they make a purchase. Though the scale and depth of it will differ depending on what you sell, you're aiming to create a bespoke and considered strategy for first enticing and then educating customers. It's particularly important if you're selling something technical that people won't intuitively know how to get the best out of.

A customer education program is a way of standardizing what you communicate and how you do it. It accounts for each stage of the customer life cycle, and it's relevant to both customers and those within your business that interact with them – think customer success teams, or any roles involving retention or upselling. 

Why it's important 

It may be obvious, but it's worth reiterating: people need to know how to use whatever it is you're selling. And, if you're offering something new and disruptive, it's especially important to play an active role in guiding people. Accurate and accessible customer education is key. 

An excellent customer education program has major business benefits, from driving sales and increasing brand awareness to improving customer satisfaction and retention and, of course, how much customers use your product. It'll also drastically reduce customer issues and queries – and, in turn, the resources you need to invest in solving them. A 2021 survey by research and advisory company Forrester and training platform Thought Industries found that 74% of respondents viewed customer education as important, very important or extremely important to their business' revenue. 

Things to note 

Customer education can take many forms. This is an area that's always evolving – your approach to it should be as innovative as your product or service itself. Options include written instructions, infographics, interactive courses, quizzes, case studies, tutorial videos, product tours, in-store sessions or instructor-led training. Do you need your training to be super scalable? Do you want it to be online or offline? Questions like these will help you land on the right format. For B2B products especially, landing on a strategy will require a broad onboarding meeting with a lot of different stakeholder input. If you're planning to scale quickly, you'll have to standardize the process ASAP.

Think about the entire user journey. Customer education requires taking a step back and understanding the stages that someone goes through when using your product. These broadly fall into: pre-purchase (finding out about your product and mulling over whether to buy it), conversion (buying it), onboarding (starting to use it), retention (remaining engaged) and expansion (upgrading, buying more from you or becoming a brand advocate). You'll need to decide how you'll educate customers and the info you need to convey at each stage. If you have multiple products, you'll need to consider the different user journeys – if the ultimate goal is brand advocacy, for example, there'll likely be multiple paths to get there.  

Don't forget to educate the educators. To create savvy and engaged customers, you'll also need to train certain employees and other stakeholders. That applies on a broad level across your business, but specific team members will play a more active role in educating the public. The training they'll need to get there will be more in-depth than the content you present to customers. 

… and don't be boring. This means presenting your content concisely and dynamically, but it also means sharing info only when necessary. Given attention spans and the demands on people's time, you need to make sure your content is compelling and you get people up and running quickly.

How to create your customer education strategy

1. Analyze the current situation. If you're formalizing this process after you've started selling, perform an audit of i) the educational content you already have (it might be repurposed later on), and ii) what your customers are saying about the post-purchase experience. Read customer reviews, consider frequent issues and queries that come up, and speak to customers directly if you're able to. 

2. Establish the information you need to get across. Combine these findings with your knowledge about how your product or service works. Compile a list of everything you need to convey. Categories might include the purpose of your product or service, key features, benefits, use cases and answers to FAQs.

3. Identify key touchpoints. Now format this list of information across a timeline of a typical user journey – match the info with when it needs to be delivered. There'll be some things your customers need to know immediately, and others that come later on.

4. Set broader goals. Set objectives (tied to positive business outcomes) beyond education. Pick one or two measurable goals, ensuring they're consistent with overall company aims. Those might be freeing up time for team members, increasing sales renewals, upselling more successfully or increasing customer loyalty via their net promoter score (NPS)

5. Consider the resources available to you. Your existing educational content is one resource, but you'll likely need more to build out your program. Work out how much budget you can allocate – will you do this in-house or can you work with third parties to create videos, for example? Assess your time limitations, too – is there a knowledge hurdle that needs to be solved ASAP? Decide who in your team will be responsible.

6. Think about your customers' learning styles. Considering who your customers are, land on the learning spaces and styles that will suit them best. How much time will they be willing to spend learning? How much will visual elements aid their learning? What tone of voice is appropriate? Will they value one-on-one guidance? Will interacting with other customers help? Look at competitor materials and see what can be improved upon or where they're lacking.

7. Choose your medium. Considering the options available to you, settle on your chosen medium or mediums. A mixture might make sense: eg, if you're selling makeup, you may opt for video, text and through employees, by showcasing tutorials on YouTube, including instructions on the packaging and running demos in-store. 

8. Consider adding a layer of engagement. Your research should indicate how to keep people interested once they're engaged. This can range from making it humorous,  gamification (eg, quizzes or rewards), personalizing it or simply sending reminders. 

9. Build it. Based on the info you need to convey (and when), the resources you have available and the experiences that would work best for your customers, begin building your program. Create a timeline for the different elements you need to produce and delegate it to the right people. 

10. Prepare for it to evolve. Set a regular cadence to review your program and make the necessary updates. A broad review might take place annually; updates might be more ad hoc, as your product or service changes.

Key takeaways 

• Customer education hinges on providing people with the information they need to use your product or service successfully. The platforms, techniques and tools out there make it much more exciting than it used to be. 

• Creating a standardized, scalable program will have big benefits for your business, from increasing customer retention to reducing the demands on your customer service team.  

• Your team will ultimately deliver your customer education – so, consider how their training and incentives become embedded in your business as you grow.  

Learn more 

Perspective. Training platform Thought Industries has a great blog on all things customer education. Here's its view on why product training is the best way to expand the customer life cycle. 

Example. Everyone wants to learn a language, but very few people follow through after an initial burst of interest. Read about how education app Duolingo tackles that problem with its customer onboarding process. 

Tool. You may want to consider a so-called learning management system – such as Skilljar, SAP Litmos or LearnUpon

A version of this article was published in the Courier Workshop newsletter. For more deep dives into essential business concepts, sign up here.

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