When it comes to scaling your business, customer and partner training should be at the forefront of your mind. Your company can have the greatest product or service around but it won’t matter if the learning curve is so steep that adoption is difficult.
Once upon a time, writing an absurdly large manual, coupled with a week-long, on-site seminar was the way customer and partner training was conducted. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to easily understand why this method is ineffective, difficult to scale and prohibitively expensive.
Providing adequate training for your partners and customers is the first line of defense against lost business and it has been shown time and time again to reduce churn. Today’s next-gen enterprises are taking new approaches to increase knowledge retention and cut down on the time it takes for customers and partners to become familiar with their product. Webinars, consulting sessions, and seminars are all popular choices but more and more companies are turning to Learning Management Systems (LMS).
At first glance, these platforms may seem to have all the bells and whistles your organization needs but, in truth, an LMS may not always be the best fit for information that needs to be shared with an external audience.
A Bit About Learning Management Systems (LMS)
LMS have a long history of being used for higher education and was built with students in mind, rather than customers. Most systems are designed to be used internally to deliver training modules to the users and while they do provide tracking and quizzing capabilities, it can make things for your customers difficult for a number of reasons.
Your Customers Are Not Your Students
LMS was instrumental in bringing the offline college experience online and allowed instructors to digitize courses, course catalogs, and other instructor-led materials. But “time is money” and with ever-shortening attention spans, businesses no longer have the wherewithal to handle long, complicated training sessions before the product becomes useful to them.
In an increasingly online world, people have turned to platforms like YouTube when they need to learn a new skill or want help with a certain product feature. Instead of wasting time to search for the appropriate training module, people can simply search for what they need, click to watch the content, and get on with their day.
Long Implementation Times
Implementing an LMS at your organization comes with a significant investment in cost, time and potential disruption to your organization. Assuming you already have the resources available, an LMS can take 6-12 months to implement. You’ll have to account for:
- Project management
- Systems integration
If you don’t already have content, curriculum structures, evaluations, assessments, and competencies available, you’ll need to spend extra time putting all that information together. Designing a course alone can take up to six weeks or longer, adding additional stress and down-time in your organization.
Not only will you need to assign specific team members to take on extra work, but those people may end up wearing many different hats, which can lead to burnout and wear down engagement. It’s very likely that you may need to hire additional help, adding extra cost to the tab.
Poor User Experience
Even if you do get through the implementation process with your LMS, there’s a high probability that your hurdles won’t end there. According to a study by Brandon Hall Group, only 33% of LMS users say they’re satisfied with their current system, and “poor user experience” is cited as the biggest reason why.
The problem is so widespread, it’s been estimated by Capterra that “as many as 80% of LMS implementations fail because leadership doesn’t make UX their top priority when evaluating systems.”
A few ways LMS usually comes up short in the user-experience area include:
- Nightmare navigation
- Lack of personalization
- Inaccurate labeling and tagging
- Annoying pop-ups
- 15+ clicks before you can start learning
- Video not supported natively
- Complicated SCORM training requires multiple toolchains
Of all these UX issues, there is one, in particular, that should be singled out if you’re considering LMS for partner and customer training; There have been many reports of these platforms being difficult to update with new content, which means you’d be training customers and partners on outdated features and information. Ouch!
Subpar Mobile Experience
There’s no doubt that mobile devices touch every single part of our daily life. The average person spends 2 hours and 51 minutes per day on their mobile device. Since mobile has surpassed desktop as the primary way to access the internet and 89% of that time is spent on apps, it’s critical that your content be optimized for smartphones. If it’s not, your end-user experience will suffer and create additional barriers to adoption.
Not only do many LMS lack dedicated mobile apps and browser compatibility, but there are plenty of vendors still using fixed and fluid mobile layouts instead of responsive ones which allow information to be wrapped and scaled based on a user’s screen size (Hot tip: if you’re reading this on your mobile device, you’re seeing an example of a responsive layout).
What customers and partners need in an on-the-go, globally-connected world is the ability to access knowledge from their phone at a time that’s convenient for them. Mobile-optimized training allows content to be reached quickly and increases overall user satisfaction.
Many traditional LMS systems require users to access training from a computer in the company’s office, and only on the company’s local network making this solution a logistical nightmare for anyone outside of your organization. Some content is exclusive to your partners, some is for the public. As such, it’s important that you can send information to certain individuals or groups using an access control feature–one many LMS don’t have.
Even if these systems allowed you to share information with your partners and customers, the chances that the information would be properly secured is pretty low. High-profile data breaches and confidentiality leaks have become the new norm and many LMS lack even the most basic of security protocols.
An example of this can be seen in the rise of videos in training: Many LMS vendors have antiquated support and are still using programs like Flash Player, which has major security flaws and can leave sensitive information more exposed to would-be attackers looking to exploit vulnerabilities. Definitely something you don’t want to risk at your organization.
In order to understand the impact your customer and partner training is having, robust analytics and reporting are essential. Most LMS are extremely limited in their ability to provide the insights leaders need: these systems might provide stats on quiz scores and number of users who completed a module, they don’t give you data that would help you understand:
- What content is being accessed
- When content is being accessed
- How often the content is accessed
- Who is viewing it and for how long
- Where additional training may be needed
Best Practices for Successful Partner and Customer Training
When you offer your partners and customers education, you’re empowering them to get the most out of your product. At the end of the day, Learning Management Systems are not designed for this use. You will be much happier if you find a solution that is focused on securely delivering training to external populations.
When considering a customer and training program, there are a few steps and best practices you should follow:
Consider Your Strategy
Think clearly about the goals of your training program and who it’s meant to serve. You’ll want to begin by collecting information from different departments: Tap into your sales, marketing and customer service teams, as they’ll likely have some intel on common customer pain points and topics they’re interested in.
It’s all well and good to have a strategy for your training program, but you’ll also need to have a clear picture of what success looks like from an analytical perspective. Measurable goals will help you accurately evaluate your training program and keep the team on track.
Create Easily Consumed Content
Like many other functions in the business enterprise (we’re looking at you, marketing), content is king. But it’s not enough to just build the content, it also needs to be compelling and engaging. Be sure to:
- Keep It Short: From course length to sentence structures, keep as much as you can brief and concise. 30 minutes should be the maximum amount of time it takes to get through a training section. If you’re able to, 3-5 minute “micro-learning” modules can be a great knowledge builder for customers who are constantly on-the-go or who are strapped for time. If you have a more complex topic to cover, consider breaking it down over several sessions.
- Add a Human Element: Whether they’re accessing training from behind a computer or via their mobile device, your customers are still human. Write content like you would express it in a formal classroom session. Keep your sessions engaging by saying no to buzzwords and telling relevant stories or anecdotes.
- Embrace Non-Traditional Content Types: According to Forrester Research, people are 75% more likely to watch a video than to read documents, emails, or web articles. And no wonder since the human brain processes video 60,000 times faster than it does text. Not only is this format more engaging for the end user, but retention levels rise to an impressive 65%.
“Non-traditional content” doesn’t need to stop at video, though. Many companies are also successfully using podcasts to engage their workforce, customers and partners. And since listening is more of a passive action than watching a video or reading, it’s much easier to do while multitasking or on-the-go.
Choose Your Solution
The solution you choose can make or break the success of your customer and partner training. As mentioned, LMS isn’t a great solution for an external-facing program so you should look for something that allows you to:
- Store content on an intuitive, interactive platform, rather than folder-based file storage
- Decide whether content should be shared with one person or multiple people and set appropriate access controls
- Share content securely, even if it’s outside of your organization
- Support multiple types of text, video, slide, and podcasting modules in one place
- Integrate the system seamlessly with your existing tech stack
- Take advantage of robust security features like SSO and encryption in transit/at rest
- Use advanced search capabilities
- Access an extensive analytics suite
CircleHD provides an all-in-one secure system that can centralize your internal resources, external customer training, and gated partner content on a singular platform. Not only does CircleHD grant you complete control over every piece of your training program, it also integrates with systems your company is likely already using such as Hubspot, Marketo, Google Analytics, and Salesforce.
Help Everyone Get With the Program
Putting together an effective customer training program is easier when you get support from other parts of your organization. You’ve already brought other teams on board to provide intel in step one, so be sure to tap into those resources for further information.
Be sure to link your training to customers and partners when they are onboarding and add links in any and success emails. Your sales and support teams can also help you identify any problem areas, which you can use to develop new content.
As with any organizational initiative, strategy should never be static. You should always be evolving to meet the needs of your audience and adjust your program to provide more value. A robust analytics suite will give you insight into what modules are most popular, what users may be struggling with and what features you may want to develop more content around.
Using a strategic approach to training can keep your partners and customers on the same page and driving results is simple. By shrugging off LMS you open your enterprise up to creating a modern customer and partner enablement program that will help you improve your product, increase satisfaction, and grow your bottom line.
Do you want to learn how CircleHD can power up your enterprise with more effective partner and customer training? We’d love to hear from you.