Measuring the ROI  /  VOI of Customer Learning

Claire Schooley
Oct 2, 2018 2:05:00 AM

Customer learning is a "value-add" that differentiates your company from the competition. This is because it's a win-win: Customers learn to use your product or service more effectively and you benefit from the revenue stream. These qualities are often considered by looking at return on investment (ROI) and value of investment (VOI), which have a well-defined connection. Unless your customers find value—their VOI—from the learning that you provide, you will not reap any financial reward—your ROI. The emphasis of this chapter is how to you can measure the ROI and VOI of learning throughout the customer lifecycle.

Why customer learning?

The vendor movement toward more in-depth customer learning experiences is relatively new. Vendors have provided some end-user "feature" training but, in general, customer training has not been a high priority of software vendors. If training is included, it's often developed toward the end of the development cycle or just before launch. This "feature" focus of training also means that the users have a very narrow product exposure and often don't understand the context and higher purpose of the software—the real reason behind why they're doing it.

Today, customers are savvier about what they need for training. Especially with subscription software, vendors have to do more than provide a product. The competition is fierce, and the goal for vendors becomes the added business value training provides to help retain and grow a long-lasting partnership with the customer.

 

What to measure in customer learning

The measurement process for external customer learning programs is very different from the measurements used for internal corporate learning. The number of people registered for a course, the number of course completions, test scores, and the number of courses in the library are important to learning and development people. But the C-Suite wants business data that indicates that customer training influences business results. They're looking for results such as:

  • Increased customer retention and higher renewal rates
  • Increased customer spend and use of more product
  • Better customer satisfaction scores
  • Improved customer engagement
  • Decrease in questions to support team

To get results in these areas, you must focus on:

  1. Understanding the needs of customers
  2. Creating or acquiring pertinent and engaging content aligned to the business
  3. Establishing an infrastructure to enable delivery
  4. Communicating learning opportunities to customers

By following these guidelines, you'll be on your way to achieving the kind of business results outlined in the embedded infographic, "The ROI of Customer Training."

Who's involved in customer learning

In some companies marketing has taken on the customer learning management role. In other companies learning and development assumes this role. No matter who leads the initiative, your chances of success increase if you assemble a coordinated team approach. Executives must commit staff and financial resources to enable this interdisciplinary team to work together.

Since customers reach many parts of the business and customers are the concern of all employees, it makes sense to gather expertise from many business units in planning for, executing, and measuring the effectiveness of customer learning. The team composition depends on your business but most likely it will include people from sales, marketing, learning and development, IT, and finance. Each unit has a role and contributes to providing learning that keeps customers coming back and wanting more.

Business unit Role in customer learning
Learning and Development Based on customer surveys, data, and L&D knowledge of adult learning, L&D creates and/or acquires content and assembles it into a variety of effective user experiences.
Sales Uses customer learning as a differentiator in making the sale. Customer success managers (CSMs) explain the opportunities and suggest appropriate learning for new, intermediate, and advanced users. Sales stays up to date on present and future learning content.
Information Technology  Assures that the customer learning technology is consumer-like in its ease-of-use, provides quick access 24x7 from any device, and supports learning in multiple formats (elearning, microlearning, social, virtual classroom, etc.).
Marketing Uses market analysis to help determine what customers want. Continually informs customers about learning events and activities and how these add to their success with the product. Emphasizes increased productivity due to high-quality content that uses a variety of formats personalized to users.
Finance  Provides data on aspects of business, such as retention rate, product adoption, and how to apply tax. Financial analysis can assist in interpreting data and suggesting other areas of data collection.

 
The customer learning team working together decides on the program goals, works through technology infrastructure (build or buy), surveys customers, collects and analyzes data, and decides how to optimize training content to get those desired ROI/VOI results.

How to measure business effectiveness

No matter what your strategy, basic measurements include:

  • Tracking revenue from your customer learning initiative year-over-year.
  • Tracking volume of use to account for the free learning provided.
  • Expenses such as technology used to provide the learning, marketing to customers, and internal, outsourced, and acquired content. Although most customer learning is online, add in the costs associated with any onsite instructor training.

Companies provide some learning for free and leverage it to move customers to fee-based training that is more in-depth and developed for different roles. For example, sales uses free training as a strategy at renewal time. The ratio of fee-to-free training is generally about 75 percent fee-based to 25 percent free.

If you are providing some free or fee-based customer learning and want to quantify results, look at comparison data between those customers who took or bought training and those that did not. Examine:

  • Accounts that renew and those that do not renew (churn rate or attrition).
  • Training data of accounts that buy more product versus the training data for those that reduce their spend.
  • Consumption level by comparing number of users who have consumed training versus number of users in the account.
  • Training conversion, the number of users who moved from free training to paid training versus number of users who used only free training.
  • Support team reduction in "how to" questions received from those trained versus those not trained.
  • Customer satisfaction data from trained versus untrained customers.
  • Number of product components used by trained customers versus underuse of product by customers not trained.
  • Shorter time to reach productivity for trained customers versus those who aren't trained.

Because the extended enterprise market of customer and partner learning is young, vendors and companies have not yet explored all that can be done with this kind of technology. The results may not be all numbers-based. Even now, some companies are looking at gaining broader value from customer training by:

  1. Using it to build community among customers and the company
  2. Becoming a trusted adviser i.e. a medical products company
  3. Creating an ecosystem i.e. users becoming proficient on the platform, then developing on the platform

Salesforce has developed and marketed training successfully using a team approach. They say that training is core to customer success with their customer relationship management product.

Internal data showed the company that customers who invested in training on an ongoing basis got 80 percent higher ROI on their Salesforce investment. Customer learning provides education throughout the ecosystem, starting with an introduction to the platform and continuing with more advanced—and more appropriate—learning as users become more familiar with the product. The outcome: Numerous customers have chosen to build solutions on the Salesforce platform.

Customer Learning Delivers Results

Although customer education is still in its early stages and company data isn't plentiful, findings from research firms shows that it's working. Even as far back as 2010 research data showed that the #1 factor in company loyalty was to reduce customer effort. This is testament to the importance of providing the right learning—easily accessible, short and to-the-point. Customer learning wins by providing additional revenue to companies, more brand-loyal customers, more use of product by customers, and an overall better customer experience.

  • As TSIA found, the average renewal rate among trained software subscribers is 92 percent vs. 80 percent for untrained customers.
  • At least 64 percent of customers use products more after they participate in elearning, virtual instructor-led training, classroom training or on-site training, Talented Learning reported.
  • Over 86 percent of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience, according to Walker's "Customers 2020, A Progress Report."
  • The leading causes of churn, according to Retently , are poor onboarding (23 percent), weak relationship building (16 percent) and poor customer service (14 percent).
  • Only 29 percent of B2B customers are fully engaged, Gallup found. The other 71 percent are ready and willing to take their business elsewhere.
  • In a Brandon Hall Group survey, more than half of companies (55 percent) reported that customer learning improves customer relations; 41 percent said it maximizes client retention; and 26 percent said it reduces client support interactions.

Remember: Customers engage in learning voluntarily. They will access the content you provide and ask for more only if they know about it and the learning offerings help them understand and use the product to increase their productivity. Learning needs to continue through the customer lifecycle, leading to a closer relationship and solid brand affinity between the customer and vendor.

About the author:

Claire Schooley, principal, Claire Schooley Consulting, and long-time Forrester analyst, specializes in workforce growth and development. She has over 25 years of experience in education and corporate human resources, focusing on learning, recruiting and performance. Contact Claire through her website or at claire@claireschooleyconsulting.com

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