Blog Post

What is Customer Education? A Beginner’s Guide

Robyn Hazelton
August 24, 2021
July 10, 2023
Customer education guide

Here’s the truth: Companies have gotten very good at selling potential outcomes, but most companies are still not very good at teaching customers how to achieve those outcomes. 

We surveyed 445 workplace education professionals and found that 60% of respondents agree that “We are good at selling the dream to our prospective customers, but not good at helping our paying customers achieve their desired outcomes.”

Customer education statistic shows that 60% of learning professionals believe companies need to get better at helping paying customers achieve their desired outcomes

This disconnect leads directly to churn. When a customer perceives that it is not getting the outcomes that it purchased, the customer starts looking for a new solution. 

Enter customer education—the process of developing a formalized education initiative to help customers realize the true value of a product or service. 

When a customer education program is executed correctly, Forrester data shows that a company can expect to see:

  • 18% increase in revenue
  • 22% increase in retention
  • 34% improvement in customer satisfaction scores

Need more proof that customer education is worth your time? One study of 502 decision makers involved in workplace education revealed that 59% of companies with formalized education initiatives saw improved customer retention.

59% of companies with formalized education initiatives saw improved customer retention

As the creators of the customer education platform, Intellum knows a thing or two about executing a successful customer education initiative that drives these kinds of business results. But we also know that companies just starting a customer education journey are often left with more questions than answers. 

Due to popular demand, we’ve created this guide to cut through the noise and answer the most commonly asked questions:

What is Customer Education? 

The term customer education refers to the process of teaching an individual customer how to achieve a specific outcome.

Think of a company that sells a product or service that solves a common problem or addresses a particular need. A customer with that problem or need buys the product or service. The company onboards the new customer and teaches them how to use the product or service to successfully solve their problem or address their need. 

Because the company consistently engages the customer with educational content that is engineered to help the user achieve the desired outcome, the customer recognizes the value of the product or service. 

As a result, the customer renews or buys more products or services. That’s customer education in a nutshell.

Like other online educational initiatives, customer education programs typically weave an outcome-based curriculum from a wide range of formal learning content (like eLearning courseware) and informal content (like blog posts and videos).

Sometimes the content is self-paced and sometimes it’s directed or instructor-led. Content can be presented through live or on-demand experiences. 

Side note: If you’re curious to see real world examples of customer education in action, please read on. We share examples in the next section!

The goal of customer education is to better educate the individual user or customer and then scale that successful education across the entire customer base to achieve specific business outcomes like improved customer retention, increases in product adoption or utilization, or increases in revenue through cross-selling or upselling.

Who is Customer Education for?

A formalized customer education initiative is ideally suited for companies and organizations with:

  • Complicated products or services that change or update frequently 
  • A large customer or user base
  • A wide range of personas, with unique learning objectives and needs

As for the audience, the education process follows the customer lifecycle and most successful customer education initiatives begin at the prospecting stage. While customer education should not be confused with marketing, educating potential customers and influencers on things like industry best practices, innovation, and how your product fits into the market are all viable ways to engage an audience.

Once a company has become a customer, the focus typically shifts to onboarding and the educational experiences that prepare customers to think critically about how, when, and why to use specific features and attributes to achieve the desired outcomes. 

As an example, check out Google Skillshop, a customer education academy offering online product training and certifications for individuals who want to learn how to use Google products to their full potential. 

Twitter Flight School is another example to help you wrap your head around what customer education actually looks like in practice.

Screenshot of Twitter Flight School, an eLearning academy for Twitter users and paying customers
Editor's note: Both Google Skillshop and Twitter Flight School were built using the Intellum LMS (learning management system)!

Some forward-thinking companies are even experimenting with the role of education in the off-boarding process and using education initiative data to predict at-risk customers and churn.

In many instances, the term “customer education” is a bit of a misnomer. To successfully educate your entire customer base, you often have to consider educating your partners and your customer-facing employees when building a plan to achieve broader business goals and objectives like improvements in customer retention, product utilization, and revenue. The strategic act of educating multiple audiences in the workplace is known as organizational education.

Who Owns Customer Education? 

In some companies, ownership of customer education defaults to Sales or Marketing because education has been proven to drive revenue and those teams are responsible for revenue generation. In other companies, the proximity of education content to other customer-facing resources like a knowledge base ties the initiative to Customer Success (CS). 

However, our research found that customer education is most likely to be owned by the education team.

Graphic showing that the education team owns customer education at 47% of companies

Our CXO, Greg Rose has argued that customer education should be owned by Customer Success since the CS charter is to make the individual user as successful as humanly possible. For our tech clients, customer education sometimes lives with the Product team, as they are the most familiar with the users' actual needs. 

Many tenured education experts, including Vicky Kennedy, believe education is bigger than any one department and successful companies will build holistic education initiatives that span the entire organization and justify an all new function area.

While there is no right or wrong home for customer education, every successful owner has three things in common:

  • They have internal buy-in at the highest leadership level.
  • They are empowered to utilize internal and external resources when needed.
  • They have the ability to marshall cross-functional stakeholder support (because you will want to leverage marketing, learning and development, data and reporting, and technical or engineering partnerships before it’s all over).

How Do You Launch a Customer Education Program? 

Buying and implementing customer education software is one step towards launching a successful initiative, but it should not be your first step—or your last. Software alone will not deliver the kind of positive behavior change at scale that leads to real business impact. The trick to launching a successful initiative is knowing how to structure and execute a complete customer education strategy.

This process should begin by identifying the business objectives you plan to address through successfully educating customers, partners and employees. Focusing on a specific end goal (improvements in product utilization, and reductions in support tickets, for example) will allow you to hone in on the attributes of each persona that needs to be educated.

With clearly defined personas you can then develop a content strategy that is engineered to address the unique learning needs of each persona. You can develop learner acquisition and engagement strategies that not only bring the users into the learning environment the first time but keep them coming back to ensure that you are hitting your goals. 

From there you can determine what you’re going to measure to prove the impact of your education initiative, and how you are going to measure it. 

In other words, you need to adopt a learning methodology—like the Intellum Methodology™—first, and then you can choose a technology partner that supports your approach. 

TL;DR: Four Things You Need to Know About Customer Education  

It just makes sense that teaching customers, partners, and employees how to successfully use the products and services you sell will lead to big improvements in customer retention, revenue, and support costs. 

But kickstarting a customer education initiative from scratch may not be quite as intuitive. First-time and early-stage customer education owners and influencers need to know four things about customer education:

  1. How to define it: Customer education is the process of developing a formalized education initiative to help customers realize the true value of a product or service.
  2. How to determine if it’s a good fit: Customer education initiatives are ideally suited for organizations with complex products or services, and a large customer base with a range of learning needs.
  3. Who should own it: There is no right or wrong function area for customer education, per se, but successful owners always have leadership buy-in and the ability to secure needed resources and cross-functional support at critical junctures. For example, Jaclyn Anku sits on Gusto’s marketing team and lacks a formal education background, but she built an award-winning customer education program by securing executive buy-in and necessary resources.
  4. How to launch it: A successful customer education initiative addresses specific business goals and requires both a technology solution and a strategic approach to content, marketing, engagement, and measurement. 

Working through these four concepts upfront will lay the groundwork for the kind of high-performing customer education initiative that drives top-line revenue, performance, and customer retention.

Want to Learn More?

Check out some of the content we've published to help you on your customer education journey:

No matter where a client falls on the maturity model, the Intellum approach is engineered to guide them through the development, execution, and continuous improvement of a world-class education initiative. 

About the author

Robyn Hazelton headshot
Robyn Hazelton
Vice President of Marketing and Growth
Robyn is the VP of Marketing and Growth at Intellum and helps to ensure that every interaction an individual has with the brand is as awesome as possible. An experienced and trusted leader with a history of consistently impacting revenue, she's always talking about funnel management and biased toward action.
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