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Trust me: Scalable customer education is not all that

Posted by Bill Cushard on Dec 2, 2016 10:20:46 AM

I know what you're thinking. Or at least I know what your management team is asking you to think and then do.

You (they) want to deliver customer education that reaches the maximum amount of customers with the minimum amount of resources. You should be able to send thousands of customers through product training with a team of one or two, right? After all, this is the age of YouTube. Of Khan Academy. Of Coursera. You should be able to create a bunch of self-paced eLearning courses and demonstration videos, hands-on lab exercises, assessments, and certification exams, and let customer take them on their own.

Wouldn't that be great?

Customers could self-select into this content and learn everything they need to know about your product, and you would not have to build a huge customer education team. In other words, you want to build and deliver scalable customer education solutions.

That would be great.

But there are a few problems with this approach:

  1. Not all customers want an all-self service training option.
  2. Creating self-paced eLearning is time consuming and costly for all the upfront work.
  3. Self-paced eLearning, especially video, is time-consuming to edit. When software changes frequently, it is easy to end up with a lot of outdated content.
  4. All that upfront work to create self-paced eLearning must be done before you can launch it to customers. What if it is not what customers want?

These problems make building a scalable customer education program, based on self-paced eLearning, risky because of the large upfront costs to develop and high cost to maintain a full offering. 

The benefits of self-paced eLearning are too tempting to pass up, but...

The benefit of having thousands of customers take your eLearning with little or not intervention from you is too tempting to pass up. Plus, the marginal cost to deliver self-paced eLearning is as close to zero because you could have thousands of customers take your eLearning at the same time with very little additional cost. 

ServiceRocket Customer Education that does not scale

If you intend to build out a customer education program based mostly on self-paced content, you must be willing to make the investment in time and resources to do the upfront work. And if you take this approach, you will also risk giving up taking an iterative approach and getting feedback from customers along the way.

Are you willing to do that?

Here is what I mean. By building self-paced eLearning, it is difficult to launch beta versions of the content because you need to deliver something that is of a fairly decent quality. So even if you take an agile and iterative approach, you need to spend a good amount of time building a course before you deliver it. 

It is scary to do all that upfront work on a course, only to find out later customers did not want it.

The alternative is to do something that is not scalable. 

That is the advice Paul Graham gives the incubator startups at Y Combinator. Do things that don't scale.

Do things that don't scale

To reduce your upfront risks of developing eLearning, the alternative, non-scalable approach is to deliver live training. There is no faster way to get feedback on the direction of a course than by teaching it live and in person. Moreover, there is no faster way to get training delivered to customers than by doing it live. 

Think about it this way, your minimal viable (training) product (MVP) could be a topic outline and a subject matter expert in a room of 12 customers who want to learn your product. At a minimum, you could easily find a product manager or customer success manager or a professional services consultant or a sales engineer to get up in front of a group of customers and walk everyone through how to use your product.

You could do that, right?

Sure, the course will not be perfect. The product manager might not be the best presenter. There may be gaps in the content. It may look a little disorganized. But, the worse the first course is, the better and more explicit feedback you will get, which you can use to improve it. Plus, you can get a course like that up on your website, sell it, and deliver it in a very short amount of time.

You can then repeat this cycle a few times and improve the course each time until you and customers are mostly happy with it.

Start with live training, then move to self-paced eLearning

Once you achieve that milestone, you can start taking that content and converting it to self-paced eLearning. Then you will have an eLearning course(s) that customers want and that covers topics customer need. 

Finally, you have two course offerings, not just one, providing customers with more choices.

Start by doing things that don't scale. 


If you are in the process of developing courses, whether for live or self-paced training, you may want to use a repeatable process for how to create courses in the most effective way possible. We wrote a guide to help simplify the process of developing courses. This guide, Ad Hoc Hell: A ServiceRocket Guide to Developing Your First Software Training Course, is a practical guide to developing training courses, no matter what method you use. This guide will help you develop better courses in less time. Download it now

 Download Ad Hoc Hell

Topics: Learning, Customer Education, LMS, Instructional Design

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Bill Cushard

Written by Bill Cushard

Bill Cushard covers the intersection of learning, software adoption, and customer success. His career has focused on helping companies adopt disruptive software through learning, change management, communications, and implementations that help people get the most out the software.

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