The Need for a Customer Education Program in 2021 and Beyond

Barry Kelly

“A good Customer Education program lifts a heavy burden off the customer success team’s shoulders by automating and scaling a lot of the “wash, rinse, repeat” work of customer onboarding and day to day support,” says Barry Kelly, CEO of Thought Industries, in an exclusive interview with EnterpriseTalk.


ET Bureau: How important is Customer Education in today’s data-driven purchasing journey?

Barry Kelly: Especially if your business operates in the subscription economy, having a strong Customer Education program can be a critical advantage. With more substitutes available in many market niches, often coupled with lower barriers to switching vendors, vigilance against churn has become a necessity. Good Customer Education helps organizations outperform at each step in the customer lifecycle, from winning new business to decreasing time to value, to building long term loyalty, and advocacy. We see our clients using Customer Education to positively impact brand awareness, sales conversion, adoption, customer expansion, and retention.

Our 2021 State of Customer Education survey found that 57% of Customer Education programs are currently measuring benefits in many of these above areas and 97% of them attribute revenue gains to Customer Education. Any tool that decreases time to value and guards against churn can be a game-changer, especially in competitive markets or in times of financial uncertainty, and that is what we’re seeing Customer Education programs provide, and why we expect it to continue to see massive uptake across industries.

ET Bureau: Can Customer Education programs generate revenue directly?

Barry Kelly: Absolutely. We seem to be reaching a tipping point where revenue generation is the rule rather than the exception. There are a range of models for doing this, from subscription models to credits to fee-based custom engagements to paid certification programs. It’s really a question of which best supports your business and the type of customers and learners you’re serving.

In our experience, once a program begins monetizing there’s a much easier business case for additional investment in a larger, more specialized team that can then deliver more value to learners. It can be a virtuous cycle. We’ve always considered monetization a powerful tool which is why we built native ecommerce integration into our platform from day one.

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ET Bureau: Do you think Customer Education reduces barriers, changes behavior, and improves the customer-facing team’s work?

Barry Kelly: A good Customer Education program lifts a heavy burden off the customer success team’s shoulders by automating and scaling a lot of the “wash, rinse, repeat” work of customer onboarding and day-to-day support. Most programs start by upping the user-friendliness of product documentation, centralizing it, and making it browsable and searchable. They’ll also start transforming one-off, customer-by-customer training, and onboarding conversations into scalable virtual offerings, which then become accessible on-demand.

All of this enables the customer success and support teams to focus their precious human-to-human time where it’s most valuable. To have conversations that address their clients’ strategic goals, and offer consultation on technical support needs that may verge on edge cases.

The impact of this shows up in our latest Customer Education survey. One-third of programs improved their satisfaction scores through customer education, while 37% improved their retention rates. So, whether you look at experience or business success, it’s clear that this is a powerful lever to pull.

ET Bureau: What is the role of content in adding value, when it comes to Customer Education programs?

Barry Kelly: One of the advantages of investing in building scalable Customer Education offerings is that they enable you to better meet your customers’ real needs — person by person. Rarely is education one-size-fits all. Rather, the format, length, and content needed tends to vary by role, by the organization, by stage of their lifecycle. A digital content strategy can help you segment what you create and fit it to the right learner in their moment of need. That’s what creates learner value, and leads to business success.

That’s why it’s essential that customer education platforms make it easy to rapidly build, deploy, and iterate on content offerings across a range of formats, often without the support of an L+D team.

ET Bureau: What has been the impact of the pandemic on the investment in Customer Education?

Barry Kelly: Simply put, the pandemic rapidly accelerated investment in Customer Education. Over 77% of the organizations we surveyed in 2021 reported that it became more important in the pandemic, with over 60% investing 30% or more in customer education in 2020 relative to 2019.

With its foundation in scalable, virtual education delivered live as well as virtually, it was a lifeboat for many organizations as all interactions went virtual. 40% of our respondents invested in digitizing their learning offerings as a result. At the same time, 30% of our respondents represented new programs founded in the pandemic, which is a meaningful jump from the 8% we saw building new programs in 2019.

At the same time, I think a lot of organizations recognized the full power of customer education in the last year. 41% now consider it a key strategy to combat churn, especially when facing market headwinds.

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ET Bureau: What are you most excited about for customer education training in 2021 and beyond?

Barry Kelly: After the investment increases of 2020 and early 2021, I think we’re going to see many organizations rapidly maturing their programs. We learn from the organizations we partner with every day, and increasingly we’re seeing them set up education for advanced practitioners, and offers geared to educate the market or to build lifetime advocates. We’re also seeing increasing sophistication in how programs build out fee-based offerings, and expect to see more of that in the year ahead especially given how many organizations are prioritizing monetization right now.

Barry Kelly is the CEO of Thought Industries. He is an external training champion, marketer, and digital learning innovator. His career has focused on supporting businesses to deliver impactful training experiences that increase customer lifetime value.

Prior to Thought Industries, Barry was the Vice President of Technology and Product Development at America’s Test Kitchen. In this role, he created, executed and maintained the digital product strategy and served on the senior management team.

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Prangya Pandab is an Associate Editor with OnDot Media. She is a seasoned journalist with almost seven years of experience in the business news sector. Before joining ODM, she was a journalist with CNBC-TV18 for four years. She also had a brief stint with an infrastructure finance company working for their communications and branding vertical.