Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
It blows my mind when companies question whether they can afford to launch robust customer education programs. With the demonstrated returns in customer loyalty and satisfaction, how can they afford not to?
Consider this: Research indicates consumers are 131% more likely to buy from a brand after they engage with early-stage educational content. Meanwhile, 70% of customers in this study say understanding how to use products and services is important to winning their business.
The fact is, customer education programs are important differentiators for nearly any business. And this holds especially true in a tight economy when customer retention should be one of every company’s top priorities.
I’ve helped launch customer education programs at multiple companies and seen firsthand the explosive impact these programs can have on customer retention, referrals and satisfaction. The best part is that most companies have many (if not most) of the resources and tools they need to get started.
Related: The Power of Educating Your Customer Base
Customer education 101: More than a user’s guide
Customer education goes far beyond teaching how to use a product or service: It’s about creating a space for true learning that helps your customers become successful.
Look at companies like HubSpot and Hootsuite — both are excellent examples of organizations that have leveraged customer education to their advantage. HubSpot offers hundreds of short courses and over two dozen certifications in marketing, sales and web design through Hubspot Academy. Similarly, Hootsuite offers a range of social media courses, training and certification programs. Not only are they teaching customers how to use their platform more effectively, but they’re also helping them upskill when it comes to social media management more broadly.
It should be said customer education doesn’t have to mean online certifications or courses. In fact, we’ve recently implemented a customer accelerator program for creators that relies heavily on a mentorship-based approach. It’s also not just software companies recognizing customer education’s benefits. I work with an avid “Cricutter” (the digital cutting machines for crafting) and can attest to how inspired she is by their robust customer education portal. The program has harnessed the power of community and peer-to-peer learning, helping propel full-blown Cricut influencers who share their own best practices and tips with users.
While distinct, all of these approaches share something in common: They help make customers smarter and more knowledgeable, leading to numerous benefits and long-term value for both customers and companies alike.
Related: Your Startup’s Most Important Investment Is Customer Education
The perks of educated customers
Customer education offers clear value to customers, but it also yields significant bottom-line benefits that are especially attractive in a down economy.
First and foremost, customer education increases customer satisfaction. In a recent wyzowl survey, 55% of respondents said they’d returned a product because they didn’t fully understand how to use it. Imagine if my Cricutter colleague had no community to turn to for inspiration — learning the machine’s capabilities or coming up with projects would be a tougher, lonelier experience. Instead, she is engaged in a community of like-minded, crafty peers.
That improved onboarding experience leads to increased customer loyalty, which translates to lower churn and higher lifetime customer value. In that same survey, nearly 9 in 10 respondents said they’d be likelier to stay loyal to a business that welcomes and educates them after buying their product or service. When customers feel valued and understood, they are more likely to become repeat customers and recommend your products or services to others. That’s a big deal, as research shows acquiring a new customer can cost 5-25% more than retaining an existing customer.
Internally, customer education helps companies better understand customer journeys and identify new opportunities for products and services. They can gain real-time insights into what customers need by paying attention to common questions and popular educational content.
Related: 3 Essentials for Building a Loyal Customer Base
How to get started? Use what you already have.
One of the biggest misperceptions about creating a successful customer education program is that it has to involve high costs or allocating new resources. The reality? Most companies should have nearly everything they need to start.
First, identify gaps in your customer journey so you can address them with education. Talk with your customer success teams to discover the pain points and bottlenecks in your onboarding strategy. Where are customers dropping out or getting frustrated?
Once you identify your gaps, target the specific points along the customer journey where educational programming can help.
To build customer education materials, you want to understand why your customers buy your products or services. I like the “Jobs To Be Done” framework, which assumes that people don’t buy products or services, they “hire” them to solve a problem or reach a goal.
Leverage existing content such as help articles, webinars, blogs and other onboarding materials, filling in gaps and repurposing the information in bite-sized lessons in different formats. Create content that’s accessible and suitable for a variety of learning styles.
Create a program that is easy to follow and is mapped directly to the customer success journey. Use gamification to encourage them along the way. I came across this recently when designing a series of tutorials for course creators. We were inclined to start with the basics but quickly learned that our customers gravitated toward more advanced lessons and themes. This insight into our users also allowed us to tailor educational content offering real value.
Foster a learning community where customers can interact, teach and learn from each other. Thriving learning communities can also be a great resource to help companies understand their customers and needs.
But most importantly, any customer education effort must be grounded in your own listening and learning. An educational program is only useful if it’s responsive to real customer feedback. Don’t waste time and effort creating content you feel customers should want instead of discovering what they do want.
The overarching motivation for launching educational content should be to help customers succeed. Educated customers are savvy consumers. They understand what they want and will reward companies that help them achieve their goals.