In her new book, Onboarding Matters: How Successful Companies Transform New Customers Into Loyal Champions, Donna Weber offers a blueprint for delivering a world-class onboarding experience. 

This week’s newsletter features an excerpt from the book, where Donna highlights the importance of a customer enablement content strategy for customers and gives a step-by-step plan for building out this motion at your company. 

How scalable customer enablement impacts your bottom line

No matter how much your customers love them, your CSMs still shouldn’t be the ones delivering training. The 2020 Customer Onboarding Report reveals that most respondents are yearning for courses to lead customers to quick wins. They are desperate for self-paced content to scale onboarding and enablement for both new and existing users. 


At Ace Analytics, we leveraged courses, documentation, help articles, and other customer enablement offerings to expand the reach of the onboarding program and the CSM team. We plugged the right content for the right users into the right parts of their onboarding and adoption journey through a learning management system and email campaigns. The impact: well-trained customers were more likely to renew and had higher Net Promoter Scores.


Companies that hire me also find a correlation between well-trained customers and higher adoption and renewal rates. At a company that provides software for accountants, the renewal rate for trained customers is 50 percent higher than for untrained customers. At a company that provides process automation software, trained customers are over 150 percent more likely to renew, with 50 to 70 percent higher annual contract values. While this is impressive, both companies suffer from having a small percentage of customers in the well-trained category. This drives home how important it is to scale customer enablement: You have to widen your reach. Single CSMs training an individual, or even small groups of people, to use the product won’t impact your business bottom line.


When it comes to customer enablement, there’s a huge opportunity to profit from the useful approach mastered by the professionals in Customer Education. Customer Education scales Customer Success to onboard and enable your users in four ways: with a one-to many model and with offerings that are repeatable, role-based, and hands-on.

1. One-to-many model. 
While Customer Success is usually a one-to-one or a one-to-few approach, effective training is designed to be a one-to-many approach. Courses are developed for repeatable delivery, provided by many instructors, and attended by multitudes of customers. Once seld-paced courses, or tech-touch, enter the picture, the reach scales exponentially, with little to no cost for each additional person enabled. 


2. Repeatable content. Instead of having each CSM creating unique classes for individual customers, dedicate resources to design and develop repeatable content that enables customers along their lifecycle. A benefit of this approach is that customers receive a consistent experience, so the success of the learning is not dependent on the particular CSM assigned to them. 


3. Role-based. Rather than "drinking from a fire hose" to learn the whole product at once, people take the specific courses designed for their unique roles, at the appropriate points in their customer journey. A best practice is to modularize learning and to provide just-in-time enablement. 


4. Hands-on. What most CSMs call training is not actually training. A high-level product overview and demonstration as part of onboarding doesn't provide the effect it should. A more effective approach is to provide hands-on, interactive training that is specific to the work people do in your product. Interactive courses are especially important because when customers retain what they learn, they no longer lean on CSMs for training. 


Customer self-sufficiency reduces the load on both Support and CSMs, allowing all teams to manage more accounts as your company grows. The more specific, interactive, and hands-on the training, the more users retain what they learn, and the less internal teams need to continue supporting customers on basic tasks and “How-to’s.”

Building a customer enablement engine

Rather than waiting until you have a team of curriculum developers and instructors, start scaling with these simple approaches.


1. Assign a resource. Instead of directing each CSM to do their own thing to enable customers, move content development responsibilities to one or a few team members to build re-usable content. Is there someone on the team that usually jumps in to build content? If so start with them. There might be a CSM you dedicate to building content for the whole team, or assign as your first Customer Education resource. Take what they build and share it across the team. 


2. Talk to CSMs. Understand where customers need help, focusing on general use cases that can be used across multiple users. 


3. Talk to Support Agents. Review the top ten "how-to" cases logged and create simple training modules so customers can help themselves rather than log support tickets. 


4. Talk to customers. Find out what customers need to learn and how they want to learn it. 


5. Apply the 80/20 rule. When developing content, apply the Pareto Principle, or the law of the vital few. With a "less is more" approach, produce content to increase customer skills, rather than increase customer knowledge. This means you show users the main routes, or "highways," they need to reach their destination, not every possible side street. 


6. Build a few basic courses. Pick a role and a use case or two that you gathered from interviewing CSMs and Support agents. Remember to specify what users need to do in your product, not just your product features. 


7. Produce "cheap and cheerful" courses. Keep production values simple, especially if your product is constantly changing. Don't spend much time on high production quality unless you know your customers demand it. 


8. Set up a process. Help CS and Support teams explain where and how to point customers to existing, standardized courses, so they don't have to build and provide the content themselves. 


At what stage should you invest in a dedicated Customer Enablement resource? As soon as possible. Customer training and enablement are that important. If customers don’t know how to use your software, they won’t adopt it, and they won’t renew their contracts. Start simple and assign a resource to handle initial course development and delivery. Your education resources can grow as you bring in revenue. When you charge for training, which we’ll cover in the next chapter, you can invest the revenue into building the team and developing a robust training offering.


Use your Customer Success teams for what they were hired: strategic, high-value tasks, specific to each customer. Moving CSMs out of ad hoc, repeatable tutoring and coaching keeps them focused on building stellar relationships with their accounts. Building repeatable ways to onboard and enable new and existing customers means you have a greater impact with your onboarding program. Keep it simple and improve as you go. You can’t afford to wait.

A word of warning: Beware of content jungles

As you build customer onboarding and enablement content make sure you don’t create a tangled jungle that customers have to wade through to find what they need because odds are when customers struggle to find information to use your product effectively, they won’t adopt your product, get value from it, or renew. Also, a content jungle will negatively affect your company due to the added costs by employing expensive resources to fill the gaps, duplicating content, and using overlapping tools and systems. 


Avoid content jungles by coordinating your content strategy:


1. Consider forming a “content council” with representatives from every group that creates content to take inventory of customer-facing material and uncover gaps where there’s no content.


2. Rather than building every new enablement approach from scratch, curate from different teams. Curating allows you to quickly drive users to product adoption by leveraging what’s already available. When you know what needs to be conveyed to customers, then parse out who creates each deliverable and in which format. The priority is to divide and conquer, rather than replicate.


3. Build learning pathways. Show users the progression of content in context of a visual, role-based learning path, easily accessible on your website.




Big thanks to Donna for allowing us to publish this chapter. Be sure to check out the full book here.


This week's top posts



Managing Up - Lessons from Scaling Teams at Credit Karma and Lyft


An excellent, clear-eyed look at what it means to effectively manage up. Some gems from the piece: “Many professionals already know that empathy is extremely important when managing down; however, they seem to forget this lesson when it comes to managing up.” And “When faced with a difficult situation, effective upward managers package the problem in a way that makes it easy for their manager to provide help.”


Read the full post






Do SMBs Need Customer Success? 100% If You Also Have Sales Involved


Jason Lemkin, founder of Saastr, makes the case that if your product is complex enough to have a Sales team, you need Customer Success too. Onboarding a customer with “A wiki, some self-service Q+A, and a bunch of bots” is not enough.


Read the full post






10 Lessons from 10 Years in Customer Success


Brett Matthews, Customer Success Director at Salesforce, helps us level-up by condensing his experience into a list of learnings. I enjoyed reading all of his advice, and especially points #5 (“Enable Success Within Customer Success”) and #6 (“Know Where to Put Your Calories”).


Read the full post




Success Happy Hour is a weekly newsletter for Customer Success leaders. Each week we feature one digestible piece of advice or a framework from a top Success leader, along with the best resources from that week. Subscribe here.

Submit a comment