Blog Post

A Complete Guide to Customer Product Training

Erin Balsa
August 22, 2023
December 27, 2023
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Unlike most articles on customer product training, we’re not going to tell you that training your customers is a must in every situation. Sometimes training is a must; other times it’s not.  

As Sean Barry, Director of Product Engagement at Mediabrands, says, “Some products don’t need training. A delicious Honeycrisp apple is pretty self-explanatory to customers. But other types of products aren’t as simple.”

If you’re reading this article, you’ve likely identified a need to develop a customer product training initiative. But maybe you’re not sure where to start, or maybe you’re looking to apply or deepen your existing knowledge. Either way, this guide will help.

Keep reading to learn:

The basics of customer product training

How training speeds up time to value

Which stakeholders should be involved

Must-haves before you start building the training

How to identify what customers need to learn

Training needs analysis

What it looks like in practice (examples)

Systems for ongoing analysis

How to deliver the right content to the right learner at the right time

Types of product training

Types of customer education content

Which content is best for your initiative

How to sequence product training content

Metrics to track to ensure success

The Benefits of Customer Product Training

If you take nothing else away from this guide, let it be this: the better your customers understand your product or service and how to use it, the more value they’ll receive. 

Customer product training can provide immense benefits—both to you and your customers. 

Benefits of customer training include:

  • More engaged customers
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Higher customer retention rates
  • Revenue growth (from advocacy and expansion)
  • Faster time to value for customers
  • Builds customer loyalty

Customer product training helps you engage customers and decreases customer churn in the long run—but not all companies get this right.

4 must-haves before you start building the training

Before you get started, make sure you have the following:

1. A business goal

“Above all else, you need to identify a clear and valid purpose before building training,” Barry says. “Start with identifying the purpose, then define the best solution, and identify how you’ll know whether you achieved your goal.”

Ask yourself the following questions to get clear on desired outcomes:

  • What outcomes do you want your customers to achieve? 
  • What outcomes do you want your business to achieve?
  • Which outcomes can be supported by education?

2. A nearly complete feature set

As mentioned above, our education team collaborated tightly with product and product marketing while building our new gamification feature. That said, in order to build product training, the product feature must be at least 85% complete as product training typically includes live demonstrations, video walk-throughs, and product screenshots. 

3. A test audience

Just as you’d roll out a new product feature to a beta audience, you should roll out your product training to a small group of trusted stakeholders before releasing it to all of your customers. 

As an example, when we were building our gamification workshop, we delivered an early version of it to a group of employees. We shared slides, resources, and a rough sketch of what we were building; this helped us to spot how best to teach the material while also enabling Customer Success—so they’d be ready to support clients when questions come up.

4. Alignment on what deliverables should look like 

Engineers might think they’re making a small product update, but in reality, the update might require major documentation updates or a major change management effort. 

Likewise, it’s best to get the team aligned around what product education will look like so everyone has time to prepare for and plan their piece of the puzzle. 

How to Identify What Customers Need to Learn

It’s time to start a customer product training initiative when there’s a knowledge or skill gap standing in the way of customers unlocking your product’s full value. 

But HOW do you know exactly what your customers need to learn? First, conduct a training needs analysis, and then create systems for ongoing analysis.

Training needs analysis

The first step is a training needs analysis—a systematic process for determining and addressing needs, or “gaps,” between a current state and a desired state.  

Of course, learners don’t exist in a vacuum; they exist within a business context. Workplace instructional designers must uncover the “sweet” spot between:

  • Business goals (what the business wants to achieve)
  • Performance needs (what learners must gain to perform at the desired level)
  • Learner needs (what learners want to get out of the learning experience)

To do this effectively, you’ll need to define audience parameters. Because the ultimate goal of customer education is to deliver the right content to the right learner at the right time. 

Your mission here is to define audience segments and learner personas:

  • Audience segment: A group of learners with common characteristics (“customers of Product A” or “internal customer success team”)
  • Learner persona: A prototype of learners within an audience segment that share common characteristics such as training goals, job responsibilities, or skill level 

This way you’re not just building a generic product training, you’re building personalized learning journeys for each unique learner group. Think about it: Would you rather sign up for a general online training about a platform you use? Or a personalized training for people with your job title who have a similar problem to yours?

Once you’ve identified your audience segments and learner personas, you can finish your training needs analysis. 

Systems for ongoing analysis

You also need systems for ongoing analysis so your training stays relevant. Some places to pull learnings from include:

Barry adds that you need systems in place that answer the following questions: 

  • What are the most common support requests from customers? 
  • Which common support requests have solutions that customers can perform independently?
  • Which customer success strategies have the strongest impact on how customers use your products? 
  • How does customer engagement change over time? 
  • What else changes throughout the customer journey?
  • What resources do customers use to become more familiar with your products? 
  • How do they access product resources? 
  • How does customer product usage change after leveraging these resources?
  • Which customer groups have the most proven success with your products? What makes those groups unique? Are they more skilled or knowledgeable in a specific area? Could training help elevate your entire customer base to the same level

Barry adds, “One question that underlies all of these: When does a deeper understanding help customers unlock greater success with your products?”

How to Deliver the Right Content to the Right Learner at the Right Time

As we said earlier, the ultimate goal of customer education is to deliver the right content to the right learner at the right time. 

By this point, you’ve identified which learner personas you need to train—and what exactly they need to learn. But what KIND of customer education content would be most effective? And does it matter what order you deliver it in? Oh, and speaking of delivery, what delivery channels or platforms are best?

Let’s tackle this section in chunks:

  1. Different types of product training
  2. Different types of customer education content 
  3. How to sequence product training content 
  4. Delivery channels and platforms

Different types of product training 

Like Barry says, you can categorize the “what” of customer training into buckets:

Bucket one: Training on the product itself

  • Benefits of the product, key functions and outputs, use cases
  • How to use the product, standard approaches, best practices
  • Advanced features and techniques

Bucket two: Training on related topics

  • Prerequisite knowledge to put the product in context
  • Persona-specific concepts, specialized skills
  • Required background or inputs for product success

Bucket three: Training on how to solve problems

  • Understanding product resources and how/when to leverage them
  • How to evaluate one’s own effectiveness with the product
  • Troubleshooting strategies, how to fix things independently

A lot of times these buckets blend together. For example, you might need to give context for a feature. Adult learners want to know: Why is this important? Why does this matter to me?

Types of customer education content

There are two primary types of educational content within an organization:

Formal or curriculum-based content: Outcome-driven education that builds conceptual understanding and teaches specific competencies.

Just-in-time or reference material content: Education that enables customers to get the answers they need—in their moment of need—without reaching out for help. 

  • Help center articles
  • How-to tutorials
  • Product glossaries 
  • FAQ pages

Additionally, workplace social learning supports knowledge gain and learner engagement.

Highly successful customer education programs, and product training initiatives, use a blend of both curriculum-based content and reference material content.

Likewise, a blend of content types is needed as well. You might share educational blog posts on social media or share a white paper with a client via email to deepen learner understanding. 

Barry’s favorite types of learning media are in-app education or custom web apps. 

“I love designing solutions that have a functional purpose, solutions that people can utilize rather than just consume,” he says. “It can be something simple like a checklist that serves as a job aid, or something more advanced like a web app that enhances some aspect of your product while also performing a training function. Other formats are great for delivering information and building skills, but I get most excited when I can create dual-purpose learning/operational tools.”

Which Content is Best for Your Initiative

Barry suggests thinking about this in terms of Bloom’s taxonomy (see graphic below).

“Media formats that strictly deliver information (i.e., words, pictures, or videos) are better suited for lower levels in the pyramid,” Barry says. “For instance, if the purpose is for people to follow the procedural steps in completing a task, a text-based help article is often enough. If the product has some significant visual aspect, images will help. If it’s visual and it morphs and changes in front of your eyes: video. If instead, the purpose is to develop higher order thinking (i.e., drawing conclusions, synthesizing information to make decisions, creating things), it’s not enough for people to passively receive information. They need to explore and practice new concepts in order to develop these skills. In these cases, interactive modules or discussions will be more effective.

When we designed a recent internal product training for Intellum employees, we prioritized application of learning over remembering knowledge. Instead of using a quiz as a final assessment, we had them build their own Intellum site.

How to Sequence Product Training Content

How you sequence your content and training assets depends on two things:

  1. The customer’s prior knowledge
  2. The product’s complexity level

Sequencing content by customer prior knowledge

Let’s say I’m building an Intellum Essentials curriculum for our eLearning academy. I might create three short learning paths so that the course is modular and flexible. This gives learners’ choice; they can dive in where they want. 

Additionally, you can let learners test out of some or all of the training. In this case, if a customer had prior experience using an LMS, they could test out of the first learning path. 

Sequencing content by product complexity

Is there any prerequisite knowledge required to use the product? For example, say you’re training customers to use your new AI tool, and users are expected to know how to do basic editing. 

If a learner group does not have that prerequisite knowledge, you can include links to a knowledge base or a short video resource before they dive into the training course.

Alternatively, you can sequence course modules so that prerequisite skills training is served up before product-specific training. 

Deeper learning: Explore Webflow’s Webflow 101 course, in which modules on basics like HTML and CSS are presented before learners take the intro to Webflow module.

Metrics to Track How Effective Customer Training Is

Think beyond completion rates. For product training, aim to capture product metrics and then draw connections to training. 

On an individual level, you want to know whether someone is seeing success with the product, and to what extent training contributed to that success. 

“You can start with comparing trained and untrained users by adoption, usage, time to key events, support requests,” Barry says.

Other common product training metrics include:

  • Cost to administer training
  • Customer lifetime value (LTV)
  • Login frequency
  • Users per account
  • Customer churn rate

Deeper learning: Read 5 ways to measure customer training ROI.

Building a Successful Customer Training Program is Important and Exciting Work

Barry’s been doing product training for nearly a decade, and says it’s interesting how much this craft has evolved. We agree—and we also love that he calls product training a craft. To us, a craft is something that’s lovingly made with a skillful touch.

“I’ve watched product training go from a relatively obscure concept to something much more common and recognized,” Barry says. “It’s more integrated into various aspects of the business and there’s a lot of innovation happening as a result.”

About the Author

Headshot of Erin Belsa
Erin Balsa
Founder at Haus of Bold
Erin Balsa has built and led high-performing content teams at two Inc. 5000 companies, and now runs Haus of Bold, a content marketing consultancy. Erin's insights are regularly featured in publications like the American Marketing Association and Content Marketing Institute. She hosts The Notorious Thought Leader podcast and writes Leading Thoughts, a monthly newsletter about thought leadership and marketing.