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Why Your Customer Success Campaign Needs Customer Education

Written by Sarah E. Brown

Published on September 10, 2014

As SaaS companies, we now have access to in-depth analytics relating to customer health through customer success analytics platforms. We can now predict churn and renewal events through analytics like product usage, support usage, and more, depending on the platform you choose and which KPIs matter most for your company.

Metrics are only useful to the extent that they empower us to help our customers, prevent churn and increase renewal events. Until recently, the so-called “actions” recommended by analytics platform experts and industry publications have been described in vague terms. See Forrester's recent report, “Measuring Customer Health to Drive the Right Conversations,” which addresses the importance of measuring customer health in order to take action, but says nothing about what “take action” actually means.

When you ask yourself, “What do I do when data indicates my customer is about to churn?” and, “How do I prevent customers from earning a low customer health score in the first place?” the most frequent answer is customer education.

Why is it essential to build education into the fabric of your customer success strategy? Here’s three reasons:

1. The skills customers need aren’t taught in school. It’s up to you to teach them.

Increasingly, the onus is on you to teach your customers how to successfully use your products. The skills that are required for earning an MBA or other undergraduate or graduate degree often differ from those required to succeed at using SaaS products.

Each customer comes to your product with varying levels of prior education, experience, and skill. If you don’t address this with tailored education out of the gate, they will struggle to be successful.

For instance, at Get Satisfaction, not all companies truly understand the education elements involved in how to successfully manage a community. They understand that they need someone to manage their community, but do not always ensure that they get the resources they need. If a company gets an entry-level person (usually straight out of college) to run it, the problem is that person doesn't know anything about how to create community: how to moderate disputes, how to engage people, how sow the seeds for a healthy community. These are all essential elements to a healthy and engaged community. At Get Satisfaction, they realize that education is a key element of community that not everyone is set up for on their own. That's why Get Satisfaction takes great care to education customers to teach them how to successfully run a community.

CSMs need to help provide this education in a scalable way. They also need to go into it assuming that each customer will need some education to become a power user. Each customer may need varying levels of learning guidance, but each will need education at some point. It's better to establish that learning path from the start in a proactive manner, rather than as a reactive measure when a customers is having troubles. This helps set them up for better success from the very start. If you don’t, you’ll find your CSM team quickly outstretched and under-resourced as they try to play ad hoc education catch up.

2. Onboarding is just the beginning of the learning process, and there’s only so much you can teach in-product.

Onboarding expert Samuel Hulick suggests customer success teams need to educate at every stage of the customer journey. “I wouldn’t say onboarding stops and customer education starts,” said Hulick. “When there’s a gap between where your customer is operating and where ideally they could be, filling that knowledge and behavior is crucial.”

Product basics are just the beginning of what you’ll need to teach your customer. Ideally, you’ll teach your customers to become skillful users. HootSuite University trains their teams to become “ninjas,” which is their way of describing product experts. Customers need to be regularly shown and taught new product features. Sending an e-mail with a quick description of the new feature(s) or a link to reach out to the support department won’t cut it. Do you really want to spend all of your time individually teaching customers when they inevitably get stuck?

2. Low customer healths scores are often preventable through customer education.

When a customer health score is low, it is more often than not a result of insufficient customer education. Why? Because if you haven’t created a customer education component to your success campaigns, you’re forced into a constant reactionary role. Once the score is low, and customers are on the verge of churn, CSMs essentially have no choice but to react through a phone call, email, or resource-intensive 1:1 meeting. That’s not sustainable, and is a large reason why success campaigns fail.

Customer success, executed correctly, should be fundamentally proactive. In contrast, customer service is usually focused primarily on reactive support. In the case of customer success, a “defense” really is a good offense. Customer education allows you to proactively deliver learning to your customers before an issue becomes a critical barrier for them and they’re at risk of churn.

Final thoughts

If you don’t teach your customers how to be successful using your software out of the gate, and continue to deliver education throughout their lifecycle, you are missing a key best practice that makes a major dent in churn. More and more SaaS companies are recognizing the critical importance of customer education, many even establishing dedicated customer education manager (CEM) roles and teams. In case you missed it, Lincoln Murphy shared some great great ideas on when an education breakout role or department should occur.

We’d love to continue this conversation in the comments. How does your team incorporate education into your success campaigns?

Originally published Sep 10, 2014 8:48:00 PM, updated Mar 2, 2015