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Why Customer Education is a Good Customer Success Strategy

Written by Julia Borgini

Published on October 25, 2017

Sarah Sproehnle was Cloudera Employee #20, so she's seen the company through a lot of interesting times. From when it was just a small start-up to its new IPO state, Sarah's seen it all. While initially hired to build a training organization, Sarah is now the VP of Customer Success. She brought the idea of having a formal CS department to Tom Reilly, the CEO of Cloudera, since she knew it would help the company achieve some of the overall business goals they were working on.

Tom knew it was a good idea, but when he took a look at some of Cloudera's KPIs, he realized it was even more critical. He looked at the intersection of:

  • Customers who had training,
  • The number of support calls they received (and from which customers), and
  • Customer expansion rates.

The numbers told him that they needed to increase customer adoption and one way to do that is through CE. When he heard Sarah's idea about creating a formal CS team, he knew it was the right move.

Customer Education = Customer Success

In the early days of Cloudera, customer education WAS customer success. It was a critical aspect to Cloudera's early success, but she had no insight into what happened after training. She wanted to know more about the customers' journeys afterwards, but she had no real window into that.

A formal Customer Success (CS) team gives her the directive to be able to gather together employees, colleagues, and resources to help give her the insight into her customers' behavior and journey. This is especially important for open source products to do, because many people will test drive the product without direction since it's free. Which may lead them to negative experiences with your product because the simply don't understand how to use the product to its fullest functionality. Sarah is a big believer in giving them that direction through CE programs (both free and paid) in order to generate positive customer experiences for them.  

How to use Customer Education for Customer Success

Use your CE data to spot opportunities. Sarah's CS team at Cloudera has access to over 1PB of data from customers. One petabyte! That's a lot of data, even for a tech company like Cloudera (Tom Reilly was impressed with that number). They look at everything from Hadoop and Cloudera usage, clicks, calls, etc., and then also other things related to their customers like social media profiles.

Sarah explained that the holistic view of their customers helps them pivot when situations change, such as if a Cloudera influencer at a customer leaves for another job elsewhere. Not only do they have the advanced notice that they may be getting an influx of training requests from that customer, they now have a contact at the new company and have the opportunity to generate a new sale there. 

Create certification programs to differentiate your CE programs. With a certification program based exclusively on your products and CE programs, you'll help evaluate a customer's skill level and knowledge to a baseline level, creating the standard in knowledge for that specialty. The certification recognizes the customer's mastery of the subject and is a visible way to do so. In Cloudera's case, they were starting a brand new specialty in the tech world and so had to find the best way to normalize it in the industry. Their Cloudera University and Certification program did just that.

Customers feel more at ease with your product and are more likely to continue using it if they earn a certification in your products. They are less likely to stray to other products since they are experts at using yours.

Use CE as a secondary marketing channel. At the BOCE conference in May, Sarah talked about how in the early days of Cloudera they trained a lot of people, helping shape how they used Hadoop and Cloudera. Because they had trained so many people, those learners then spoke about Cloudera to their networks, which spread the word about the company more easily than any online marketing could do. They used this word-of-mouth marketing as their main lead and revenue generator for a number of years.

Not only was the name Cloudera being spread around, it was being spread by experts and trained customers, so that it became a trusted name. People were used to hearing it from well-trained colleagues so it must be good, right?

Create customers who are less dependent on your for support. Well-trained customers need less help from your Customer and Technical Support teams, thereby decreasing your costs for those teams. These customers are more able to solve their own problems and discover new ways to use your products since they are extremely comfortable with them. They are confident enough in their own skills to troubleshoot anything on their own.

Give your customers a faster-time-to value with your products. Time-to-value is the amount of time it takes your customers to see a return on their investment in your product. When they participate in onboarding programs for your company and products, your customers see a shorter T2V rate. They're not floundering around on their own trying to discover how to use your product. You're guiding them in the best practices of it, enabling them to get comfortable with it and your CE materials. Once they have a solid foundation, they know exactly where to go if they have more questions.

Is CE leading the way for CS for your company?

As you can see, customer education can lead the way for customer success in your company as it's a multi-faceted way to create success. CE impacts so many aspects of your company, which in turn impacts customers as they move through their journey from prospect to buyer to customer to product expert.

Are you using customer education to generate more customer success? Hit the comments and let us know.


[ Webinar] Customer Education: A Self-Perpetuating Marketing Strategy for Growth

We are hosting a webinar on October 31, 2017 to talk to Adam Avramescu about some of his work on using customer education for non-customers to improving marketing and sales results. We will talk about different examples for how you can use your education content to help your marketing team. Customer education as a marketing strategy might just be your way to position your team as a strategic part of growing your company. Join the webinar and ask your questions. Get as much out of it as you can. Register now!

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