Implementation Stories

How quality customer education enhances value delivery

Brittany Lockwood, CSM at Dealpath, walks us through her experiences and learnings from her CS and CE journey
July 14, 2021
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In this session of Implementation Stories, our guest Brittany Lockwood, CSM at Dealpath, a real estate tech company, walks us through her experiences and learnings from her CS and CE journey over the last six years. 

Brittany started her Customer Success journey in 2015 with TalentBin, an HR-tech company, where her team was responsible for onboarding and training. She then moved on to handling Customer Enablement and Customer Success at Beamery, a platform focused on recruiting. In her first year, she focused on CS and moved on to enablement and education in her second year. Brittany is passionate about helping her customers find value, especially through quality education and training.

In the rest of this article, we share the key takeaways from her session—with a few additional inputs from the members of the Preflight community. 

The crux of customer education

CSMs can get caught up in how well they know the product and focus only on its features. Brittany shared that her biggest learning has been the importance of focusing on value for the customer, even in training. All aspects of the training should tie back to customers, their experience, perspective, and what they do. 

Another way to look at this, Brittany suggests, is to run training such that it focuses on what people need to do to be successful, not just what they need to know. Or focusing on the why and not just the what or how. Sharing an example from her work at Dealpath, she spoke about the ‘Report’ feature in their product. While covering this aspect during training, focus on what her customers need to do, i.e., report how many deals they evaluated, and not how, i.e., how to build a report, delivers a more compelling message. She ensures that her training sessions flow like a conversation, with open-ended questions, not just a product navigation session or a talk-through of product features. 

A couple of practices Brittany recommends are:  

  1. Asking customers/participants about a real-life example of something they would want to accomplish with the platform 
  2. Asking customers to share their screens during training sessions

Conducting effective one-to-many training sessions 

Since the training at Dealpath happens after implementation, Brittany makes sure she knows, beforehand, exactly who is on the call and how they will be using the product to make it effective. She also recommends having the customer PM on the training call as having someone from the customer side explaining the ‘why’ is helpful. 

Brittany recommends: 

  1. Deploying the school teacher tactic of asking people to introduce themselves and calling out their names during the session ensures attention and engagement
  2. Having more than one trainer/speaker: Brittany usually has someone from the customer team join her in the training delivery. She has portions in the presentation in another color for them and makes sure to share the training outline with them beforehand

Organizing customized training

At Dealpath, training varies based on whom the training is for (which sector they’re in, the kind of deals they work with, etc.) and the group size. A dedicated discovery call with the opportunity to dig deep and ask open-ended questions helps customize training. These calls are focused on understanding how they currently do things and what is most important to them. This helps the Dealpath team narrow down the parts of their platform their training sessions should focus on. For instance, if in the discovery call, the team realizes that the two things most important to the customer are collaboration or reporting, they would focus their training on the centralized communication functionality of their product instead of, say, the file-sharing one. Brittany relies on knowing the minimum the customers need to know to get started to customize training more effectively. 

Self-serve training

Brittany stressed the importance of a) making it easy for users to get to the self-service resources, and b) educating them on how to get there and use them.  

For video training, she recommends a self-serve model with short-form content that customers can self-pace and consume. Another practice she follows is sharing a link to the resources or knowledge-base when customers ask questions already addressed in the resources. 

Creating your first 15 training videos

Communicating training progress to customer stakeholders

Brittany shared her experience at Beamery, where they used the data on those who have completed the training (as reported by the Thinkific platform they used) and cross-referenced that against product usage. This was because training on product adoption and usage is more useful to the leadership than just training completion data. 

The team at Dealpath tracks customer usage mostly for internal tracking, and so they know what to focus on. In a few cases, they use it to talk to customers, especially related to adopting certain features that are low on usage but high on the potential to benefit customers. 

While on the topic of training progress, Brittany stressed the importance of holding customers responsible for change management since merely buying technology doesn’t create processes; customers need to have a process ready that covers how they plan to introduce new technology, run training, and drive usage. She added that many companies get this right by doing the groundwork in advance, informing end-users about upcoming implementations a month in advance, and explaining the reasons for the change, thereby setting the ground for product adoption and usage. 

Customer plans that lay down these change management practices, such as announcement emails for upcoming product implementations, training schedules, user login creation, setting up training reminders, etc., go a long way in ensuring the training is effective. 

Handling product updates and training 

At Dealpath, Brittany’s team changes their video content only if the change is huge enough to impact the way people would be using the system, not for basic UI or design changes. However, they make sure to update the support articles even for all changes, big and small, so that their knowledge base is always up-to-date.

Another tip Brittany recommends is aligning recurring meetings with all customers with product release schedules. This way, every meeting has a product update at the very least and makes it easier for CSMs to reinforce the value of these meetings. Even in cases where the update may not be immediately useful, it opens up conversations about how customers are currently using the product so CSMs can recommend any changes or adjustments in how customers are using the product.  

Building a separate Customer Education (CE) function

While this depends on business maturity, Brittany shared that getting repeated requests for certain training or video courses is a sign that it may be time to invest in a Customer Education function/resource. Having a CE role focused on developing and delivering training is a great way to free up the CSMs’ time to focus on delivering value. 

There are other benefits to focusing on CE that extend beyond Customer Success. For instance, Brittany shared how having a CE role helps build a customer education mindset across the organization. Sharing customer education content with Marketing or hosting public webinars can help lead generation and ensure that leads are already partially educated when they reach Sales, besides establishing you as an authority in the space.

Making the train-the-trainer model work

Before going ahead with a train-the-trainer approach, Brittany advocates a discovery session to understand how they currently conduct training. At Dealpath, she prefers to work with customers to do the training and working with the trainers to standardize things as much as possible. 

Measuring the impact of CE resources 

Brittany recommends ensuring that tools are set up to highlight what the leadership cares about: training translating into usage, not training completion percentages. At Dealpath, they compare usage outcomes between those who completed the training versus those who didn’t. She is quick to add that while it would be great to find a correlation between the two, not finding it doesn’t mean that training is ineffective; Customer Education, though often a leap of faith in dedicated resources, has other benefits organization at large. 

Customer Education - The Missing Link to Customer Onboarding Success

Common CS and CE hurdles and recommendations on handling them

1. Clients who prefer to use demo accounts instead of getting trained 

At Dealpath, the CS team does not hand out demo accounts. They organize live sessions and give mouse control to prospects for them to get hands-on experience. 

More importantly, Brittany recommends probing to understand the real reason for the pushback against training before accommodating their requests or rejecting them. 

She also emphasizes the need to reiterate the reasons for training, especially for highly customizable offerings, and draw attention to the fact that customers will not see how the solution exactly benefits the organization until implementation is complete.  

2. Transitions and new employees at the customer end

Brittany feels that if the CS/CE  team is confident that the customer team knows the product and its value well enough, that’s often the way to go. However, at Dealpath, the CS team also does one-off training sessions for new employees based on their capacity and workload. 

Beamery had dedicated new-user webinars (with different time slots to accommodate different time zones) designed to be live and interactive. They also had recorded training sessions and follow-up sessions to answer questions. 

3. Delays in implementation or training due to lapses at the customer end

Brittany stressed the importance of holding the customer accountable. Though they don’t use a RACI format for it, they use a task management tool as part of the implementation process to assign tasks to customers. 

Here are some other ideas that Preflight members suggested:

  1. Using workshops as a forcing function to ensure customers were holding up their end of the stick. 
  2. Ensuring that the project sponsor sets the KPIs on what their team members need to accomplish and aligning their interests with the CS/Implementation team makes implementation a success. However, Brittany stressed the need to ensure that the KPIs aren’t strictly time-based to avoid the risk of the customer team rushing through the implementation and missing/deprioritizing crucial things that could benefit them. 

4. Users skipping training calls or engaging in them

Brittany’s approach has been to stay closely connected to the project manager to understand the reasons for this and bringing the issue up in ongoing cadence calls. If employees are present on cadence calls but not on training sessions, use this as an opportunity to reinforce the value of the training further. 

The customers’ change management plans, such as email announcements, etc., have a big role to play in avoiding this. 

Four customer onboarding strategies for happy end users

Advice and recommendations for CS and CE professionals

Brittany shared the mantra that her team swears by: stay curious. Focusing on the ‘why’ and asking open-ended questions will help you in all aspects of implementation and CS. 

Before we go, here are some of Brittany’s recommendations for CS folks: 

  1. Books: Customer Education: Why Smart Companies Profit by Making Customers Smarter by Adam Avramescu
  2. Tools: Thinkific for Customer Education, and Mixpanel for User Behavior and Analytics
  3. Podcasts: CELab

We hope the discussion leaves you with some ideas for your customer education processes and journey. If you’d like to read more about other implementation stories, you can find them here, or you can check out our weekly podcast on all things customer onboarding here.

More resources

  1. Implementation Stories from Preflight
  2. Customer onboarding resources from Rocketlane
  3. The Launch Station - a podcast for all things customer onboarding

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Varun Singh
Product Evangelist @ Rocketlane

Marketer and product evangelist peeling different layers of life with constant learning. Follow me on Twitter @VarunKPSingh

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