It all comes down to the user experience. Today, I'd like to focus on one specific part of the user experience, which is called Customer Education.
What Is Customer Education?
To get things started, please stop reading for a couple of seconds and remember the love of your life—how you met and how it started.
Do you remember that first glance? What an impression, right? You couldn’t keep it together and fell for them. You decided to find out more. You hit it off. On the one hand, they were what you wanted. On the other, they were what you didn't want but needed anyway.
If you're still together, you are lucky to be together every day. If it didn’t happen for you two, you can at least be happy that you went for it. If you hadn't taken the first step, you would have had doubts about it for quite a long time.
Let me ask you two questions: Would you have made the first step if you hadn't liked this person? And would you have been with this person if you had found out facts that are opposed to what you believe?
I guess that the answers to both are “no”.
And here we are. The very same applies to products and businesses. People can't help it—they're emotional. The first glance is the first impression. In the first half-a-second, your customers are either captivated, finding its small details interesting, or thinking it weird and hideous. That is your product's design—the UI appearance. If your product isn't pretty enough, your customers will probably leave without giving it a chance.
Want to hit it off? That's your Customer Education. It's the way you address the customers. Whether you're friendly or official, whether you provide a good old-fashioned printed book or interactive, personalized messages in your UI, you're making an impression. If these impressions are positive, your customers like your product. If they're negative, you know where it ends.
Having said that, the goal of Customer Education is to help your customers love your product. It's the Customer Education team that can create friendliness, joy, and a bit of mystery. And if you don't do this, there's always another product that will.
Why? Because It's Not the '90s Anymore
"Wait, I have created software before, and it has never been like that," you might protest. And you're right. It was during the pre-social-media and pre-subscription-economic world.
Remember the world without the Internet? When you bought a car and weren't satisfied, how could you complain? You could walk to the shop and yell at the shop assistant. And you could phone or send snail mail to the manufacturer. And if you did that, good for you, but no one other than you knew your struggle. In other words, manufacturers were on top of the producer–consumer relationship.
It was similar even ten years ago. The Internet was already here, but the situation was still very much the same. The only difference was that you could use emails to complain. But in the end, it was still one-on-one communication.
In 2017, we smile at the phrase "Web 2.0". You buy a product, you don't like it, you go online and tear the manufacturer apart. Not only does it notify a large group of other potential customers, but this large group will also probably participate in this new hate group. For the first time ever, customers are on top of the producer–consumer relationship.
The same happens if you look at it from an economics angle. In the past, customers would buy an expensive product, and that was it. The seller was happy, and there was usually little to no chance for upselling. The end. Again, the manufacturer was on top of the producer–consumer relationship. With subscription services, customers pay a smaller fee regularly. If they don't like what the producer has given them, they stop paying. You need to take care of them so that they keep paying. Once more, the positions have switched, and customers are on top of the producer–consumer relationship now.
With both changes, good Customer Education is what you need to have customers on your side. Whether it's texts, videos, or something interactive, Customer Education is content that helps your customers decide whether they like your product or not.
When Mouths Are Powerful
You can also take it from the other side, because the same thing applies even if you're not pushing standard marketing practices like ads. According to research, the most effective marketing is word of mouth (WOM).
"92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising. [...] 64% of marketing executives indicated that they believe word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing."
But will your friends recommend a product to you if they aren't satisfied? Hell, no. And it's similar with B2B.
"91% of B2B purchasers said that their buying decisions were influenced by WOM."
With good Customer Education, you can make your product better. In addition, if you find a few potholes in your UX, you can save the situation immediately with pleasant materials until developers get to fix the issue.
How Can I Start?
It's not always true that any material is better than nothing. With no materials, customers might think, "They don't care about me." With bad materials, though, customers may think, "They don't care about me, and they think I'm an idiot." So don't start with Customer Education by writing whatever comes to your mind.
Customer Education isn't about quantity at all. It's always about quality, as you want to answer customers' needs as specifically as you can. That's because:
Short Is Better
Customers don't want to follow long training courses or read long articles.
Two reasons: First, their time is expensive. People today don't have time to explore lots of content. All information must be available in a matter of minutes or, better yet, seconds.
Second, they get bored easily and quickly. You need to create content that will interest your target customers. Are they developers? Shorter texts with code examples describing the principles could be the best. Are they not really tech-savvy users? Try videos or something interactive.
From this point of view, your goal is to cover the topics that your customers are interested in. So the more (specific) content, the merrier your customers, right?
More Is Just More, Not Less
More content might mean merrier customers if you're successful in making the content organized and searchable. It's your loss, though, because you don't want to spend a fortune on updating already-existing materials.
This applies to everything you produce. Texts, images, videos, anything. The more content you create, the more work you bring on yourself in the future. Your developers update a feature, and all screenshots and videos will have to be redone. That takes lots of time.
From this point of view, your goal is to create only as much content as is really necessary.
The Concept Is Your Savior
Therefore, before you start creating any materials, try to think about the overall concept. This part is really similar to planning a product or feature. Look at the problems through your customers' eyes, validate it with them, and think about how it all comes together.
Customer Education can be divided into multiple subcategories. Specific divisions should always emerge from your product area and customer needs. There's not a magical division that always works. However, the main three topics usually are:
- Showing your customers that your product brings them value—that's partly Customer Education, partly marketing
- Teaching your customers how to use your product properly
- Offering solutions to problems your customers have
A nice idea is also the participation of more teams or departments. That brings different points of view and different approaches to problems, and it can generally bring better coverage of customers' issues.
A typical mistake, though, is having too many channels through which you address your customers. Always try to keep them under control. If you cannot count the number of channels on one hand, your customers probably don't know all your channels and don't know where to look for materials. Therefore, one of the current trends is having Customer Education materials in an all-in-one portal.
Maybe you expected a solution to Customer Education from reading this blog post. Unfortunately, that’s not what I can give you in just one article. Unlike features, as I mentioned before, Customer Education is not something you can ever be done with. Even if you have the best content, you can always improve it, and with every product change, you will have to make some changes.
If you're interested, we can go deeper next time about some good and bad practices, what the current trends are, and why documentation isn't usually what your customers want.
Do you have any experience with the topics and ideas I've raised? Share them with me in the comments section below. I would love to hear from you.