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Meetup Recap: Building a Scalable Customer Education Function

Written by Bill Cushard

Published on August 20, 2015

On Thursday, August 13, I attended the Bay Area Customer Education Meetup in San Francisco, which is not surprising for two reasons. First, I have spent most of my career developing and delivering employee and customer training, so I have a passion for the topic. Second, ServiceRocket sponsored the event, so I attended to support the team. 


At the Meetup, I moderated a panel of customer education leaders in the enterprise software space. The topic for the panel focused on how to create a scalable customer education function. It is an important topic that I frequently encounter when I speak with customers and prospects and other professionals in this space.

Customer education teams are often small and at the same time have large audiences who are often distributed all over the world. Just imagine you are a one-person customer education function and you get a request to conduct product training for a large customer who has teams located in four Asian countries across three time zones. Then imagine requests like this are made for multiple customers several times per week?

How will you handling these requests? 

The answer lies in the ability for a customer education team to build a scalable function that can handle this. Who better to ask about this topic than customer education leaders who deal with these issues every day.

On the panel we had: 

Joshua_Zerkel Joshua Zerkel, Director of Worldwide Account Management and Training, Evernote
Adam Avramescu, Head of Customer Education, Optimizely

Alessandra Marinetti, Head of Customer Learning and Certification, Linkedin


Mark Halvorson, Senior Director, Creative Strategy and Video, Atlassian

I had a great time on this panel of smart and cool enterprise software professionals, and there were a few themes I thought were worth mentioning here for those who could not attend the Meetup. If you did attend the Meetup, please comment below to add to the conversation.

Should We Define Scale?

Scale is a buzz word and is often considered a vague notion with no clear definition or recommended action. However, scale is a simple concept, and the very definition can be used to guide very specific actions. The best definition I know of for scale comes from Zack Urlocker who defines it this way:

"Scale is simply the ability of a business to grow revenues faster than expenses."

Simple, right?

So what does this mean for running a scalable customer education business? One of the panelists said it this way, "There is no way I am going to be able to grow my team as fast as training requests come in."

That, my customer education friends, is how to think about scale.

In other words, the belief that one cannot just added resources at the same rate as requests comes in, forces one to think about how to deliver the right service in the right way. It forces one to think about other methodologies for creating and delivering content, and this belief drove much of the rest of the panel conversation.

Let's agree then that in order to build a scalable customer education function, we need to add resources at a slower rate than we are fielding training volume.


Scale Not All About eLearning

One theme I found extremely interesting was that eLearning was not a major topic of discussion. People love to throw around the idea of using eLearning as a means for handling high volumes of training requests. And why not? eLearning enables customer education teams to deliver learning at an almost infinite scale. But when it came to the topic of scaling a training function, the panel did not jump right too eLearning. In fact, if I remember correctly, everyone on the panel uses live training (including virtual live training) as a major part of their offering with no plans to move to a mostly self-paced eLearning delivery model.


Scale Does Not Require eLearning, But Self-Help Helps

We do not normally consider help files and knowledge bases part of customer education. We most often consider these tools more of a support function. However, when it comes to helping customers learn product features or best practices for using a product, well-written and accessible knowledge base articles can be a huge part of it.

Some on the panel talked about using "tip sheets." Another says he uses Zendesk to distribute useful resources and articles. One panelists actually has been successful getting people from the support team to help write these articles. Help files and resources can be a huge part of building a scalable customer education function. Not only can customers find these on their own, but the articles can be used as the foundation content for live training courses, which is just another way to repurpose existing content allowing you to further scale. 


Small Teams Need Help from Others

If a team is not going to be able to add resources as fast as it needs to, it will need to leverage technology. But another way a training team can handle the load is to gain project-based help from people on other teams. For example, three out of four panelists talked about how they were able to obtain help from teams outside of their own for help in creating content. One training team gets help from the product team in terms of participating in the release schedule and obtaining content from release notes to make it easier to keep course content up-to-date. There were questions from the audience about how the panelists were able to gain support from other teams. There was no ideal answer to this question because each organization is different. It is best to appeal to a common goal or company value around which other teams can rally and pitch in their support.

The point of this discussion was that scaling was not all about technology. The ability to leverage subject matter experts throughout your organization to obtain particular expertise, collect content that can be repurposed, and handle spikes in demand for work, is a great way to run a scalable customer education function.

The Conversation Continues

This recap did not do full justice to the entire conversation of the panel or with the Q&A between the audience and the panelists. However, I do believe I have covered the highlights. If you attended the Meetup and would like to add your impressions, please add comments below.  

Join the Bay Area Customer Education Meetup

If you are in the business of educating customers about products and services or otherwise develop and deliver training to customers, you should join the Bay Area Customer Education Meetup. It is a great bunch. I hope to meet you at a future event. 

Join the Meetup

Originally published Aug 20, 2015 4:08:40 PM, updated Aug 20, 2015