What is Customer Education and why should Customer Success teams care?

A brief from the San Francisco Customer Success MeetUp

Sumeru Chatterjee
Aug 13, 2018 · 7 min read

Is “customer education” just the latest buzzword for Client Success Managers ?

What is it? Does the idea have merit? Can any company incorporate it, or do you have to be a hyper-growth Silicon Valley startup?

The Bay Area Customer Success MeetUp got together last month to discuss just these questions at the Clearbit HQ in San Francisco. And invited some of the customer education leaders to fill in the gaps.

The Panel

Adam Avramescu — Head of Customer Education, Checkr

Alessandra Marinetti — Director of Customer Education, Box

Kristen Swanson — Chief of Staff, Customer Experience, Slack

The meetup was hosted by Junan Pang, the Director of Customer Success at Optimizely

The Customer Education panelists

The Burning Questions


What is Customer Education?

It’s probably easier to start with what CE (CEd) is not. CEd is not the tasks (of writing documentation, making training etc). That would be like saying Customer Success is making quarterly calls.

AA: Customer Education is a set of programs, that help your other customer success processes scale. Customer education drives:

  • Driving adoption through training
  • Reducing friction through documentation
  • Connecting users through community, certification etc

KS: Have you ever seen your users actually use the product and thought “wait, wait please don’t click that button”? If only you could fill this tiny gap for the user, they would be so much better off! Customer Education is filling that small gap at scale

The customer education panel in action. Image credit: Gordan Mak

🎩 💰

Why did your company decide to invest in Customer Education?

KS— Education has been at the core of the Slack product. It comes from the very top and you can see it across the product itself. A formalized CEd function started about a year, running some beta programs to see what people gravitate towards and really scaling those.

AA — The impetus for CEd is when do you get to a point where your Customer Success Managers (CSMs) can’t close the gap by sheer numbers and force. Somewhere between series A-C, between 70 to 300 people. We can’t continue to hire people to support customers linearly, so we look for efficiencies.

AM — When I was at LinkedIn, the impetus was the same. Product teams say the product is “so easy to use!” That’s not what we were hearing or seeing from customers. So it was natural for the CS team to decide to invest in education.

How customers really feel about your product

🙋🏼 ‍🙆🏼‍

What does a great Customer Education team look like?

AM — Depends on your strategy. Might want to invest on trainers or technology (for example, a Learning Management System) depending on what training strategy you take. What is more important is how you measure success.

AA — The art of Customer Education is basically three things — Development, Delivery & Measurement. This will help decide how you hire and grow your team, although starting with a generalist is usually best.

  • Design (Instructional) is about taking the most important info from CSMs and turning it into concise, repeatable content
  • Delivery is about getting that content to clients via trainers or technology in a way that is both high value but also scalable
  • Measurement — This is critical, and something people often ignore or overlook because they think it’s too hard. Start simple. I started with discoverability (how easy is my content to find?) and value (did they upvote/downvote, how did they rate?). From there you can get fancier

KS — If you’re just starting a CE function, find the one “tricky wicket” for your clients and try and remove it. Feel energized, build it and see how it sticks.

🌈 ⚡️

How does CEd interact with other client facing teams like CS?

AA — How many of you have CSMs that answer repetitive questions from clients? Or do implementation training every single time with every new client? CEd can help scale that. This does a few things:

  • CSMs get time back to have more strategic conversations
  • Increases brand value, clients feel like they can trust the company, becomes driver of Life Time Value
  • Helps customers develop better habits

KS — I think of CE as jet fuel for CSMs. Anything we can do to help you build relationships better, faster. For example, if you find that your CSMs spend a lot of time

Your CSMs after customer education

🔮 📈

What about Sales and Marketing?

KS: As customers move from free to paid product, the more mature they are in the usage, the more likely they are to say, “yes, let’s invest in this thing”. It’s natural for sales and marketing teams to get behind education efforts.

AA — Once you can move past product training and really focus on job training , that’s when you can move past managing accounts to really having lifelong champions. Look at Hubspot and Trailhead, they are industry focused training programs and they generate a ton of leads for the product. Some other advice:

  • Arm your sales reps with the exact value of your training programs — they can use it as a sales differentiator
  • Make sure sales knows how to sell your training services once you have those

🧙🏼 ⌛️

Do you prioritize time from Customer Success, Support and other subject matter experts to give time to CEd?

KS — At Slack, the Customer Experience team is embedded in the Product team, so we know first if the product is about to change. Then we can take that and say, how does this relate to our client’s jobs and how should it impact training and education?

AM — We have incorporated subject matter experts into our customer education team through our consulting division. This ensures we don’t have to go asking for time and have the best knowledge in-house.

📖 🏃🏽

How can Customer Success make a move towards Customer Education?

AM — It really is simple. Ask yourself how educating your customers can help your team and go make a pitch.

AA: I’m going to highlight three things:

i) You don’t have the right to have Customer Education until you’ve figured out a success metric you think you can move

ii) Figure out how to scale you — record yourself doing a training, try a webinar, do things that make you uncomfortable

iii) Learn about Instructional Design principles and adult learning. This will help you in many aspects of life

🧠 👑

What advice do you have for CS leaders who are thinking about starting CE functions?

If you don’t have a program today, focus on the major pain points for your CSMs and ask if better client education can help with those. Focus on small wins first, test ideas, collect data and feedback. Iterate from there.

Your CS team at scale

Audience Questions

Q: Slack has customer education built into the product? How can we convince our product teams to do the same?

Designers are your friends. So is Product Marketing. Approach conversations from a user experience angle and always use the phrase “Design Thinking” as much as possible (just kidding)

Q: What are some resources to discuss Customer Education?

There’s a slack channel called Customer Education Heroes where folks in the business are constantly chatting about the latest and greatest online. Here’s a free invite!

If you’re looking to join a more formal organization, CEdMA is one of them, they also have conferences.

Q: How do you convince enterprise customers that they don’t need custom?

Put a price tag on it. Challenge customers on why they think they need custom training. If the really feel like they have bespoke needs, feel free to let them pay for bespoke solutions.

What it means for you

If you work for a company that cares about it’s customers and want to see them thrive, education is a great strategy. If you don’t have a formal team around it, that’s ok — test out some ideas and see how it goes!

How to get started

💬 Join the global community @ CustomerEducation.org to take the conversation online

🙌🏽 Join the Bay Area physical meetup here to connect with peers

📚 Read Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen, a great introduction to adult learning design

🚀 Study the Enterprise Software Training Maturity Model by Service Rocket

⚗️ Go out and test new ideas!

What are your thoughts on Customer Education and it’s role in companies? Let me know!👇🏽 👏🏽

Sumeru Chatterjee

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In the intersection of finance, technology and design