Customer Education in the Software Space w/ Dave Darrington and Adam Avramescu

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This is a podcast episode titled, Customer Education in the Software Space w/ Dave Darrington and Adam Avramescu. The summary for this episode is: <p>This week, Dave Darrington and Adam Avramescu of CELab joins us to discuss Customer Education in the Software Space.</p><p><br></p><p>If you want to join the discussion with thousands of other customer success leaders, join Gain Grow Retain: <a href="http://gaingrowretain.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">http://gaingrowretain.com/</a></p><p><br></p><p>This podcast is brought to you by Jay Nathan and Jeff Breunsbach...</p><p><a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/jaynathan/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Jay Nathan LinkedIn</a></p><p><a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffreybreunsbach" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Jeff Breunsbach LinkedIn</a></p><p><br></p>

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Gain, Grow, Retain Podcast.

Jeff: Welcome back to another episode of Gain, Grow, Retain. It is a lovely Friday here in Charleston, South Carolina, and it is a little tournament called The Masters that is happening. So I'm pumped. I'm excited to go watch that this weekend with kind of making my wife watch that this weekend. So we'll see how that goes for me. But I'm excited because we've got Dave and Adam here from CELab, which is a community all built around customer education. And they're really focused in the software space, similar to us, and we got the chance to meet several times and thought it would be fun to throw together an episode. So I'm going to let you both introduce yourselves real quick. So Dave, why don't we start with you? Give us the 15 second pitch on who Dave is and why we should know you.

Dave Darrington: Cool. Well, I'm Dave Darrington. I am co- host of CELab Podcast and I'm also the senior manager of customer education and outreach currently. Been around, walk a little bit with Adam here. We're doing a lot of podcasts and doing everything we can to share the world. We are sharing information with the world about customer education. Adam.

Adam: Hey, Hey Adam Avramescu. I'm also the co- host of the CELab Podcast. I lead customer education, enterprise customer education, specifically at Slack. And I also wrote the book called Customer Education, why smart companies profit by making customers smarter. So if you're a customer success person that is thinking about starting your own customer education team, or why this thing is important, please check that out.

Jeff: I love it. Well I always like to start with a fun question, try and get us a little bit outside of the business world, hopefully just for a couple of minutes. And so, maybe for both of you looking back, what was maybe like the first job that you had that you were getting paid for? Kind of thinking back to those early days, for me, I always go back to I think I was mowing lawns in my neighborhood and taking my lawn mower literally like wheeling it down the street. Didn't have any other way to get it there. Sometimes I hooked it on the back of my bike, would drive it down the street. But I'm curious, what's the first job that you had, Dave?

Dave Darrington: Well, it was a good one, actually it fits into my career today. One of the first jobs that I had that was my most meaningful one in early career was I was a tour guide for a place called Merrimack Caverns. It's about an hour ish out in St. Louis, Missouri in what they call Big Cave Country. So, it was a magical summer job. And I say that because, okay, in Missouri in the summer, it's hot, it's humid, it's miserable. You don't want to be outside. As soon as the sun comes up, you don't want to be there. I live in Seattle now. So it's a massive contrast, kind of like being in that cave where every day I'd like, " I can't wait to get into work." You walk in the door, you go down a little bit 60 degrees, it's dark. What's better for a teenager in those days? Leading four tours a day through an hour and a half. It was amazing. It was a great way to meet people and learn about the world and have fun plus keep cool.

Jeff: That's awesome. What's one of the facts that you remember about the caves?

Dave Darrington: Oh my gosh. Well, let's see, that puts me on the spot. Oh gosh. The case system there was bizarre. One of the things that I learned about it is it goes for scores of miles, like dozens of miles underneath the ground and between the city, I can't really call it a city. The town that the cave was in, it's called Stanton and Sullivan, which is where I was living at the time, there were caves you could literally crawl through that entire way, going past the city I lived in even further out to another cave called Onondaga. And people try to do this failed because most of it's underwater, but they could detect where it was. It was just amazing. I can't believe it was that deep.

Jeff: Yeah. That's wild. Adam, how about you? What was your first job that you remember getting paid for?

Adam: Gosh, nothing that exciting. But as a teenager growing up in Texas, all my early jobs were related to a frozen treats. So either frozen treats or staying cool. So I did a snow cone making as a job for a while. I worked at a marble slab creamery and then my other early jobs were all around like staying cool. So I would do like movie projection and stuff like that for a local theater on downtown main street Grapevine, Texas.

Jeff: Oh my gosh. That is awesome. I've got a team here at Higher Logic. And so we do stand ups like three times a week, just for 15 minutes, because we can't get together in person or anything. And it's your standard, " Hey, what are you working on?" But I always try and throw in a question, just try and get to know each other more and more because we're just on a Zoom call. And so that's been a good one recently. I just asked everybody for their favorite meme in our teams threads. So everyone throughout like a nice meme in there. So I'm trying to find some different ways to build some comradery and build some team in the virtual environment, which I feel like everybody can relate to right now, since we can't really see each other in person.

Dave Darrington: For sure.

Jeff: Well, I'm excited because we are going to talk through customer education and how it's become so impactful to retention, how it's been impactful for customer success to make sure that as customer success managers or customer facing roles that we're focusing with the customers on the right things. And so I would say naively kind of took over our customer team here. And one of the things that I think maybe is underrated about customer education, is you kind of sit there and think, hey, you have the products, you know what your customers are trying to achieve. You just kind of go, " Hey, we need to snapshot these different areas of the product, what you need to do in there and what's happening?" And then we just need to throw it up on a website and it seems really straightforward. It's like, hey, you have the product, you have the outcome, you just go design some quick education and you throw it up there and then you let customers go consume it. And how hard can it really be? And I will tell you, it is hard. So what is one of the first things that you guys think about education and like you said, you're recording your podcast. You're trying to make sure in your own roles right now that customer education is looked at as a strategic lever in the business. It's a way for us to make sure that we're retaining customers, that they're doing the right things with the product. So I'm curious, like what's one of the first things for you all, as you've gone into your roles that you felt like you needed to do in order to make sure that you could really go start impacting kind of retention and some of the customer success metrics that we would come to know and love?

Adam: Oh my gosh. That is such a meaty question, so many ways we can go with that. I think though I actually think about, this is how I start my book. We tend to think of customer education as this content first discipline. Where to your point, we just have to put together enough documentation or info dumps about the features of our product and then magically we're going to stuff it into our customer's brains. And then they're going to know it. And somehow that also means that by knowing it, they're going to be able to do all of it, they're going to be motivated to do it. And that is somehow going to lead to business results. And basically not just because of what we know about cognitive science, but also just what we know about our own customers and customer motivation, all of that is wrong. So in my book, I actually start this discussion, not by talking about customer education as this fluffy thing, but actually by talking about CAC LTV ratio. Because really, if we're thinking about what customer education does for the business, you are creating healthier customers who are more empowered to find more meaningful use of your product and to evangelize that within their own organizations. So you kind of have to backtrack from that. What can we do in terms of educating our customers that's going to get them to meaningful use of our product quickly and sustainably? And most of the time, that doesn't just mean putting together content. So I'll throw that out as my hoodie gambit, but there's a ton we can talk to you there.

Jeff: No, I love that point because I think the other thing that you brought in and to that point that starts to resonate with me as well is so not only thinking about kind of who is the right audience, what are they trying to accomplish, the motivating factors? But also trying to make sure that you're understanding like the business metrics of what we can actually go impact. Because I think at the end of the day, I think one of the things that we hear in our community most whether it's customer success leaders, support leaders, education leaders, everyone typically has the same challenge, which is how do I go prove to my company that I'm driving value for the business, for our business. So not only driving value for our customers, but driving value for our business. And I think to your point, Adam, one of the things that I am always trying to think about, figure out in any business when we were doing our consulting work was that question first. At the end of the day, what does success look like for this team, for this function, for this role, and you just hit the nail on the head for me, which is a couple of things come out, which is, how do we make sure that they're staying longer, that they're doing the right things in the product to achieve the things that they need to? And at the same time, how are we also looking at, I think, how we're helping expedite or speed up that curve so they're getting there faster? And faster sometimes I think people mean just, " Hey, I'm just going to put you through the same amount of content in shorter amount of time." Which to me is also kind of the wrong way of looking at that. Because really what you're trying to accomplish is the fact that, hey, we need to start looking at key moments in the customer journey and the customer life cycle about how they're using our product and make sure that we're coaching to those moments, not just coaching to the entire thing to the mass, " Hey, here's everything our product can do." Because that's where I feel like you run into things where your customers, like you said, wow, it's so big. It's so heavy. There's so much that I can go do. Now, I'm kind of stuck. I'm almost like paralyzed in a sense.

Adam: Yeah. And I want to put a pin in that Dave, I'll stop in a moment. I just want to put a pin in a couple of things there. One is the idea of moving from that kind of reactive mindset of let's plug holes in our content and our documentation and figure out what problems we can solve immediately. And that's what you're going to be doing when you first start customer education, to moving towards something that's more like a customer journey key moments, a curriculum that actually helps people get not just from zero to 60, but from 60 to 100 or whatever metaphor you want to use there. And the other that I want to put a pin in is kind of moving from that content first mindset to the customer first mindset. And that is an immediate and fundamental change in the way that you think about customer education. Dave, I'm sorry.

Dave Darrington: No, actually that segues really well into what I was going to say, Adam, because Jeff, let's do this for a minute and I want to do this for your audience intentionally. Because you said something when we started this podcast that really hit me, it's at the core of customer education. And I'm going to paraphrase and you can scroll back and listen to it again. But you're really genuine and authentic when you were saying, " Hey, okay, how hard could this be? I need to get stuff together." I think this happens a lot because I hear it from my friends and my network and people that we meet every day, people who fall into this world that Adam and I are in. And to some extent, you, now that you have a team doing it. We have been kind of the rest of leadership, not even leadership, guidance, structure. Because you're coming into a field of customer success that let's go back in time, 10 years. I think we talked about this before when we talked earlier like month or so back, but this field of customer education emerged from several different things. And all of a sudden it's a category. It's its own field. It's its thing. Now it has its own rules. We can condense it down to its new concepts. Customer education has kind of come out of that similar and emergent patterns. And the people that have fallen into this are like us where, " I was in customer successful. Hey, I was a project manager for all. I've done all the things." Let's go back to your moment and hold that for a sec in our heads. How hard can this be? Hey Jane and Jim, two of my great CSMs, they're on scale team, they go out and say, " Hey, okay, this is what we want you to do. Go collect information, put it on a page, help our customers get to it, maybe do a webinar or two." I see you smiling, because I think this is how we all think about it.

Jeff: Such a common scenario.

Dave Darrington: It is, exactly. And actually it is not wrong and what you're thinking is right. And your heart and your mind are in the right place. But what Adam said before is that often comes from a place of reactivity, right, Adam?

Adam: Yeah.

Dave Darrington: And it's also not necessarily thinking about the customer first because you're kind of thinking selfishly. I'm not saying that pejoratively or anything. I'm saying, because you, in that moment in time are automatically thinking about scale because you're CMs and that's where you get stuck. Because the assumptions that you're going into this with is how hard is this? It is a lot harder than you want to think about, but it's not for the reasons that you would expect. It's more like you get into it and then you go, "Oh my God, there's all this other stuff from this other field and discipline of people who know so much more than me any day about education and learning and adult learning theory." And then there's another piece out there which is that actually doesn't work really well in our market either. We need to pivot it and think about what does work and pull that in. And we need to think from what we do, what does work and what doesn't work in traditional education. So I'll leave it there. But I'm saying that this problem is bigger than most of the market gives it credit for. And I love to go back to the podcast we did with Lincoln Murphy talking about this product-

Jeff: He was on your show too. Yeah.

Dave Darrington: Product market afterthought. I love what he said about that. That's where we start thinking about customer education, it's like, "We got to get this. We got to put this together." And then we need to go back to what Adam just said is, let's do this with intentionality. Let's think about, well, let's ask the voice of the customer. What does the customer think they need? And let's pin it on them because you know what, they're going to draw... And this is actually painful because the first time I did this and went through this exercise at the Insight, there was internal resistance because they're like, " Well, we know what our customer is thinking about," but sometimes you don't.

Jeff: Yeah. The two things that just stuck out a lot for me is that scenario you described. I feel like I've lived through that myself where it's like, " Hey, you're really smart at implementations. You know the product really well. Let's just pulling into webinars once in a while. We're just going to do that live for customers. We're going to invite them in there. And then they're going to go to the next thing. And then I'm going to go to a CSM and say, " Hey, you're really good at doing this. And our customers need to do that every once in a while. So let me throw you into a webinar." And then you've got three and it's like, " Hey, this is rolling." I literally feel like I've lived through that. As a customer, I feel like I've been through that experience where I'm like on this call and I'm like, " Wait a minute." You're really just like, I don't know, it's like very fundamental. Like you're just in the software showing me what to do. It's not helping resonate. It reminds me back of when you start thinking about going back to your college or high school, elementary, middle school days, where do you do your best learning? How do you do your best learning? And it's when you're actively doing something that is kind of furthering the agenda and making sure that you're actively engaged in doing that I think is like the big thing. We've learned that in our Gain, Grow, Retain office hours. We were kind of a side tangent story, but I think it resonates because we did our first session. We had a panel of four people and we literally were just asking the panel, " Hey, here's a question." And the panel takes it and answers. Your typical webinar. And we, similar to what you mentioned, Dave, the thing that we did is we said right after that meeting, " Hey, how do we do, what do you want next?" And the pejorative answer was, " We hate panels. I don't want to sit there and just listen to four people talk, I want to be an engaged interact." And we said, " Okay, cool. So what do we do?" The next one we came and we said, " Okay, we're throwing panels out. We have one question we're going to talk through today. And that is, what are you doing with your customers and their contracts?" Because this was all right through COVID. So I was like, what are you doing with your customers and your contracts? And then we sat back. And to your point, we started doing this melding of just trying to move the conversation from one person to another. And so we had 20 to 30, it was really easy and simple. We did the same thing. " Hey, what did you think about that?" The answer came back and said, " Hey, we like that a little bit better." So we kept doing that. And so we kept iterating because we... But what we ended up with today is this session where we actually go into small breakout rooms where people have about four or five other connections. We have one specific question that they're talking about. And what they do is they get a quick networking, " Hey, who are you?" But then it's supposed to be this kind of active learning and listening where they're, " Hey, here's my challenge with this topic that we have today, or here's what I'm working on today." And then there's collective thought that's kind of going around the room. But the reason I bring it up is that we've at least in our community, it's not necessarily a customer education, but in our community, I think we've also seen how making sure you're listening to your members, listening to your customers, understanding what are they needing and wanting in order to really get the outcome that they want to achieve. And then moving along that path and being comfortable with actually adapting things. I think that's the other thing that I was going to mention about your answer as well, Dave, where people are in that pejorative position where it's like, " Hey, we're just throwing three webinars together monthly with these people internally," but then they get scared to either stop doing those things or to change them. They just say, " Hey, we've been doing this forever, so we're going to keep doing this. So how do you get out of that cycle where it's like you said, if you're in that first stage where you're just kind of like, " Hey, I through a couple of our customer success people, what's that next step to say, " Okay, let's put a little bit more thought, let's put a little bit more rigor into this." How do you move to that next stage?

Adam: Like how do you avoid the sunk cost fallacy? We started doing this stuff. How do we actually make decisions about it? There's a name for that phenomenon. We call that the accidental customer education team. It's very, very common in CS teams who sponsor customer education in those early days. But they think of it more of an activity rather than a true function or a strategy or a team or a department or a pillar of customer success, whatever you want to call it. Part of it is being able to back out of the activities that you're doing and to start thinking about strategically, what is customer education meant to do? And therefore, how would we then prioritize our activities against it? And that sounds scary when I say it, because it probably requires a lot more thought than people are putting into it when they're just doing completely reactive activities. But this is something that you could do with a day- long offsite or a few brainstorming sessions. And you could do the following. You could say, " If I had to rank the business outcomes that we wanted to drive by educating our customers, first of all, what would that be? Do we want to increase our customer support deflection? Do we want to provide a more predictable experience to our customers during onboarding so that they can get to first value in a shorter timeline or in a more predictable way? Do we want to scale our CSMs so that they can manage more accounts during the onboarding phase?" Whatever it is. Being able to tamp down on what's actually most important to the business first will help drive some of those priorities. And will also get you out of being too beholden to specific programs or specific activities that you're already doing. So then you can form some hypotheses against that. And the hypotheses are going to be as easy as like, now, what type of customer education activities or tactics will inform that strategy? So going back to what I said a moment ago, if the issue is support deflection, if your support team is just getting hammered by the same basic customer questions over and over and over, well, you probably have some sort of issue around how you're scaling your knowledge. So now we can go look at that. We can start to form some hypotheses against why that might be happening. Is it because our most common support questions aren't documented anywhere? If so, that's a great initiative. Like let's start figuring out what those top cases are and create documentation. Is it that the documentation currently exists, but it's out of date and wrong? Okay, same thing. You can have some of your more knowledgeable folks spend some time actually filling in those documentation gaps. Does the documentation exist, but is gated so customers can't actually find it when they Google for it? Because that's actually how customers are looking for it. They're not going through your fancy support portal process that you cooked up. Well, then you can work to convince whoever it is that thought it was important to gate your contents, to ungate it, and actually make it discoverable for customers. So that's one example, and I'm using that one because it's one of the most common ones that people start with. We can talk through some other ones around onboarding or customer training or training focused on adoption. But hopefully that at least provides a little bit of a lens into, okay, if I don't have like a full time customer education leader and a fully defined strategy yet, how do I at least approach this in a way that is customer centric?

Dave Darrington: Adam, let me add on to that real quick too. You're going with the right thinking in mind. It's like, okay, now I have to think about, oka ours, goals, whatever it is, however your business define stuff is actually one of the things that I would do as well, because a lot of times, you're dealing with immediate customer pain. Like think about your support team. Oh my God, I'm getting just pounded with these calls and they're the same. And the team's frustrated because they're just the same thing. So exactly what you're saying, Adam. One of the things that I also think about is, okay, while you're doing this to get an offsite and offsites are miserable right now, because you're sitting in front of the computer for what eight hours. While that's going on, while you're actually trying to get together that fabric of people, the knowledge leaders and that understanding of what your project is, there's something else that you can do. Let's go back to your webinars. So Jeff, you were saying, okay, yeah, we do this webinar. We do it every week. Maybe do it three times a week. I've seen CS teams form a scale or a project team pretty commonly. And they do exactly this. And I've seen those teams emerge beside my team and I go, " Well, what are you doing?" We're kind of beyond that space. A webinar should be something where webinars with thought leadership. Here's the big picture, training is not the same as a webinar, but they kind of fluidly mix. So one of the things you could do is if you're in that gap and you're trying to build up to what Adam was saying, how do I measure my time to first value? That's a little hard especially if you don't have product, I'll use the word telemetry, I love it, and your adoption metrics. If you don't have that quite yet, it's not the end of the world. Think about here's one metric that all of you who are probably listening care about, your own time. You got a book of business with 50 accounts. Holy crap. I've got a business of 50 accounts. I have to care and love and nurture the unique customers. So yeah, a webinar's a great idea. Record it. Spend a little time thinking about, okay, yeah, I'm going to do this. Here's one of my favorite techniques. And I don't know, this might Adam differ a little bit from yours too, but this is when I'm in a real pinch and I come in and things are just out of control. I go, " Okay, let's get the key CSMs and maybe some professional services implementation people, the ones that know the best, and yes, let's do those webinars and let's record them quarterly." We do them once, we put them online, rebroadcast them with live Q& A, on live actually is a good service for those. But you could do it with Twitch or other platforms. Zoom too. We run the video-

Jeff: It has kind of that like simulive type functionality.

Dave Darrington: Right. So why I say this is to compliment what Adam's saying is that, gosh, there's a really great quote I love. You know what was about the world was education or, well, gosh, our customer success is like a race between education and disaster. What I mean by that is-

Jeff: Who said that?

Dave Darrington: Yeah, I made it up. I urbanized it from another quote. But the concept is, we're in a race for our lives. We are trying to educate customers, the floor is lava. It's changing underneath us. Literally flowing, things are changing. The understanding is changing. So by doing those little webinars periodically, let's say, we'll do them on a four week, once a month, webinar, four weeks, webinar, four weeks. Every time we come back, you know what we do? We pull up the deck, " This change, this change. This UI is different." Put that recording on a page. That's a mock academy. Keep doing that until you can go, " Now I hired Adam," and Adam will actually start to structure this the way we could, but you're hedging your bets.

Jeff: Yeah. A couple of things that hit me as you both were talking, one is this concept too of do it once, let's scale. Yes, as much as we want to be doing these things live and interacting with as many customers possible, it's just the sheer economics of a business. Like we can't as much as I would love to do one- on- one training with every single customer, that model just doesn't exist in the world that we're going to be in.

Adam: Jeff, can I pick on that for a moment though?

Jeff: Yeah. Go for it.

Adam: I feel like I need to jump in on that one, because what you just said is actually super telling. What we would like to do is train customers one- on- one. And this is actually one of the biggest myths that I see in the customer education and customer success. The idea that, we have this enterprise customer, they need this custom white glove, one-on- one synchronous live training. I need to show up at their office. I need to train them that way. Which is sometimes true, but is just as often not true. And if you are building a program that is predicated on the fact that your CSM needs to have synchronous face time, spend a bunch of time doing what they think are like tailored white glove activities, but is not actually meeting the needs of your customer. We hear just as often an enterprise customer will look at that and say, " That's great. Do you want to come hang out with us, or what are you going to do for the rest of our team? What are you going to do for all the people who are in different time zones? What are you going to do for all the people who are distributed in different offices? Our whole team doesn't have time to come spend an hour with you learning about the basics of the product. Do you have anything scalable that we can use to actually form our own learning plans?" So, I can't emphasize enough how important it is to kind of like disabuse ourselves with the notion that training must be this one- to- one white glove bespoke the thing, and that's the optimal option. And anything else we're doing is sacrificing the primacy of that option. It's just not true.

Jeff: Yeah. Well, and it goes in the other facet of customer success too. Like when you start thinking about it and I think this actually kind of lends itself as you start thinking about how communities are on this rise over the last year, because of where we are is the fact that at the end of the day, really probably the number one question that we get in customer success is customer success leaders are what are my peers doing? Like to your point, generally what's starting to happen, at least in my mind is, the one- on- one is a great, just in terms of a relationship building, we need to have a QBR, we need to have an EBR. Like we've got these moments with customers. But by and large, I'm starting to start looking at this and I kind of cringe when people say, " Hey, what's your tech touch strategy with your customers?" Or, " Hey, what's your digital strategy?" But really what starts to happen is, how do you start bringing your customers together and being a really good connector? How do you start really bringing them together and saying, " Hey, you all are trying to solve a very similar thing. And how do we help you all connect with one another?" Because again, I think there's so much that we can do as a vendor. And I use that word specifically because at the end of the day, we are a vendor. As much as you want to say, " Hey, we're going to go develop a relationship with the customer. Hey, we're going to have a one- to-one human to human relationship." That's great, but they're always going to see us as the vendor. And so when you can start connecting customers to a customer, and then that is another way that I've seen how education can scale too. There is the record at one scale, there's the academy, there's the things that we can do in order to put together curriculums and things like that. Then there is this whole other side that I think is largely untapped for a lot of customers. A lot of companies out there when you start thinking about how they can learn peer to peer, " Hey, here's an example in the wild that I've done and executed in that I can share with you how I did this," or" Hey, I see yourself you're with that problem. How can I help you solve?" And so I think people largely also don't think about how education leaders can also be helping to shape maybe a community or shaping this other side of the organization where it's like, " Hey, we need to bring customers together to learn with each other," and learning doesn't necessarily just mean a specific format of you're watching a webinar or you're watching some on- demand training or taking a quiz. This is also learning when you start thinking about community and scaling.

Adam: Yeah. As our customer program evolves, customer education program, I should say, you're going to have a portfolio of different programs within there. You'll have your on demand training. You'll have your certification programs, you'll have in product education, you'll have your help doc, so on and so forth. And community is often a part of that. When I led a customer education at Optimizely, we actually had this kind of front door landing page that we called Optiverse with a federated search, where you could then search for any topic that you wanted and get directed to appropriate resources in our help center, in our academy or certifications. And then, like you mentioned, in our customer community as well. Now I do want to put one big asterisk on that for any early stage CS leader who is super excited about going and doing that, which is if you build it, they won't come. Building these programs requires an incredible commitment to staffing it. You should have a community manager who's actually going to run those programs, who's going to be responsible for keeping them active, who's going to be responsible for making sure that the content that's being generated in your community is accurate and reflects the message that your brand will want people to be talking about on there. So I can't say enough, if you're going to go down that route, community requires probably the most active maintenance of almost any of these programs. And it's one really important reason to actually be thinking about having a strategic customer education program with a leader that you staff and metrics against it.

Jeff: Yeah. Going back to the metrics piece too, I think that becomes such a key when you're starting to think about, like you said earlier, there's several use cases that we can be leaning towards or guiding with. But making sure you've got the lagging indicators of like, what are we impacting, but then how do you start backing up the truck into the leading indicators so that you can say, " Hey, these behaviors that we're doing are going to have an impact on this later down the road." But I think that's another part that you continue to see in customer success, which is, " Hey, how am I actually impacting retention? Or how am I actually impacting the revenue or ARR that we have today?" Those are lagging indicators for us. So how do we start getting these leading things that kind of lead us into that lagging indicator? Go for it, Dave.

Dave Darrington: Oh no, I was going to add into that, Jeff, is that it just popped into my head over the past few weeks the fact that while we think those are particularly challenging things to measure, it's often not as hard as you might think. You can even do that in a manual basis. But this is something that bothers me a lot that you get in and you start building a platform, you start building your data stack, if you want to get nerdy. You've got an LMS, we've got all this data coming out of it. And then you're like, " Oh, now I'm on the hook. Now I've invested. Now I'm 100K in with systems and technology and I have to actually prove my worth." And that's scary. I think that's one of the scariest things about this whole customer education world. And I'll tell you a story I just saw in a community that we participate in. One of our community members had said, " I had the most refreshing thing ever happened to me. So I'm a new customer educational leader," and I'm paraphrasing this here. " But I went to my VP and fully expecting that they're going to say, " How do you prove your ROI? How do you get all the quotes? What are you doing for us?" And I've had this moment with VPs before, and it's scary. But many of them are now saying, " You know what, we're just building this function. What's going to be important for me is that you're tracking to that." But right now, show me some of the indicators and those indicators and I'm not saying that the ones that we're just talking about. We get to lifetime value and time to first value. And what is the impact on net retention? And all of these metrics, those are big. Those usually require somebody that has a little bit more data science or ops background to bring them together. But there is something you can do pretty quick, which is I like to, oh, well, let's talk any metric if I have some data for it, like well, let me think off the top of my head. I want to do that time to first bag. That might be actually something that I can measure. You know what, I'll go into, I'm just going to pick Salesforce because that's on the top of my mind. And I look at the time, this is a practical take home. You say you have Salesforce dynamics, something like that. Look at the accounts who have just come through onboarding, brand new, not new. You haven't seen them before. And think about the training activities that you put them through and think about the companies that didn't bucket them. So these over here, they went through onboarding. It took X days. They did train. These over here were like low touch. They didn't do anything. We just got them in there and maybe see us and talk to them. And so I can tell, one did, one did not do training. What's the difference in that time? And when I did that for the first time, I could do it. I could do it on my own. I didn't need anybody else to do it in. And it was easy to get in my head. And I saw a massive difference where the number that I was looking at was for customers who went through training or did not go through training, it was typically on average, 130 days onboarding. So, those who did, and this is a real one. I'm not going to mention the company, but for those who did go through training was 100 hours saved. Now think about that. That's a massive amount of time and they came out the other end with a customer that was knowledgeable. So for you, this is and I also wanted to touch on this. We should probably touch on the tech touch concept because it brings to mind Devolcker Shard. And I think the reason that like these are simple things we can do to drive success and you don't have to do all the metrics like I've come in and said, " I want to measure this and this and this and this." Pick one, pick two, start working, add the rest, constellate them. And you'll start seeing your program actually last. And you'll start seeing like you think, " Hey, maybe I should have all the tech touch programs so my CSM don't have to do this every week." But that's not even fair because there's options in there where you kind of want to get to a dashboard concept and see where okay, for that company that took 130 hours to onboard, why, what was it? Was it a technical thing or did they really struggle? So there's all kinds of things. And I think going back to some of the things you were talking about, like metrics are hard, but the pain is also harder. We need to coach people, we need to teach people. We need to help people. Have a couple of guidance north stars to work from, and then start working towards it.

Adam: Dave, you kind of mentioned here how to look at some of those lagging indicators. And I think that you could equally look at this for some of the leading indicators. So Jeff kind of mentioned earlier, how do you figure out whether to keep that webinar program or to deprecate it? And I think that in many cases here having, some light framework or a light way to be able to look at just how your stuff is doing, whether it's worth continuing to maintain or whether you need to look at it differently. So one thing that I always recommend is having some sort of discoverability and value framework and sounds complicated, really isn't. For any program that you put out there, just think about how am I going to know whether people are finding it and how am I going to know whether when they find it, it helps them? So when something like help center articles, super easy, you can look at the page views as discoverability. You could also take a look at the search term and see what people are actually looking for and they can't find, but let's keep it simple, page views. And then you've got your upvote, downvote, that's value. Did they get value from it? Similarly, let's say you're running that webinar program. How many people attend? Are you getting the types of attendance that you actually want to see? Well, that's discoverability. And then typically at the end, you're going to run a survey and that's value. Now you can start to do more and more interesting things as time goes on with those. You can for instance start to break up that webinar into smaller chunks and you can actually track drop- off. And if people are dropping off at a certain stage, then you can go figure out why are they doing that? So again, it just gives you a lot more customer feedback to be able to make decisions about what to keep, what to scrap, what to improve.

Jeff: Well done. I will throw in the proverbial, my computer died. I got thrown off the Zoom and Dave and Adam didn't miss a beat. So, that was amazing.

Dave Darrington: crosstalk.

Jeff: I bet. Right. You guys are used to talking to each other.

Adam: We kept things going once we saw you freeze, Jeff. crosstalk Either he's deep in thought. Exactly. Exactly.

Jeff: Well, one other thing, man, there's so many good, like topics that we could keep going down and like spend so much more time. But one thing that I've run up against lately and I wanted to kind of run it by you all is this idea of choice and people saying, " We need to give the customer options. They need to be able to kind of self- select what they want to do, when they want to do it." And I feel like that's a dangerous or slippery slope to go down. And so I'm curious from your perspective, when you think about what we're trying to do within our education teams, is choice a good thing for customers? Is it a bad thing? Is there like some sort of happy medium that needs to be? When you think about that concept, I'd love to just to kind of pick your brains on that for a minute.

Dave Darrington: I'll jump in real quick here. I know we don't have too long, but I hear this all the time. I see people saying, " Hey, can we just get a wizard?" And the wizard says, " Oh, well, who am I?" I'll use outreach terms. I'm a sales development rep. I'm an account exec. These are the personas that matters. You want somebody to be able to select. And even from that, maybe they need to say, I need to select from, I only have this much time to figure this stuff out, or I really want to go down this path to like learn more and become an expert. I think choice is a potential Jeff, and Adam, you could probably wrestle on this as well. That when I think one of the risks, maybe I'll channel a story. So I used to teach video game design at the university for many years, and it's an adjunct role. So this was my professor me. And one of the things I learned in that about video game design actually is a good story for education as well. One of the things that happens with choice is that if you give, and this is really clear in video games, you have an open world, shooter, Minecraft, whatever, you can do anything. You put somebody new into that environment, they're like, " I don't know what to do." And I think Adam, you've mentioned this in your book, the concept of the blank screen, where you get into an application, you could do anything you want with this application, anything. But I'm going to do one thing and you blank and you freak. So, that's just kind of human nature. So one of the things that I actually encourage you is like saying, yeah, choice does matter, but it matters more on like things like time and things like my persona, but it less matters about, I think you need to have a canonical understanding of the fundamentals of your platform, which then branch off to the choice that leads into use cases and workflows and things that mean something to me. Because you're fighting this, I'm trying to think of a new curve that I've been working on, motivation versus fluency. You want customers to be fluent in your product. They speak your language. They understand how logic works, how slack works, how outreach works. You want them to be motivated. You want them to engage with you and go, " Oh my God, okay. I got the basics. I'm fluent. I know what this thing does." And then you start leading them down the path. There's a good idea called the weening. A weenie in like editing terms is something that you will intentionally put somewhere. But I've heard this used at Walt Disney world where you come into the main castle and your fan was all excited and you see something and there's this one thing, it looks like a little bit off and it just, and it leads you down another corridor into another thing. So we're not saying we're manipulating anybody. We're structuring an experience, a learning experience that sends people down a certain pathway and gets them to value as when posed with immense choice, it will be overwhelming. And that's the last thing we want to do for our customers are coming on board and they're overwhelmed with a dozen applications that they're going to have to use in their day. That's the perils of SaaS that we've got Slack, we've got Higher Logic, we've got Outreach. We've got Airtable. We've got Monday. Good Lord, the facility that we have to have mentally though to run through this is hard. So less choice I think is better. But that branches out over time when you start to pull the reigns off and allow your customers to flourish and do what they want to do.

Jeff: Yeah. You said it a lot more eloquently than I would, but I think that is the thought that we've had a lot recently which is, in some cases, there needs to be a direction and emotion or a movement where you're actually guiding. Because again, like you said, if the world's their oyster, they don't know what the oyster should look like, but they don't really know what they should be thinking about or how they should be describing it. They can describe the outcome they want to achieve maybe, but then how do they go get that done in the concept and the confines of the product and, or the processes of the people that live around the product as well? And that's where I also think we didn't touch on it today, but this is like another topic that I've had a lot in my mind as well, which is the proverbial thought of, are we educating and training our customers only on our platform or are we training, educating our customers on the things that surround our platform as well? I think that customer success teams, a lot of times again, in a lot of our consulting work, we came across this where they'd be missing that angle of, " Hey, Adam is making our platform really successful by having a full- time person in place by he has these types of key processes that surround it and sure, silly about our product specifically, but it's making our product successful in the confines of that business." So that becomes information that we need to be able to share and move and make sure that customers can touch and feel as well. So I feel like that's another piece that gets lost in the shuffle.

Adam: Go ahead.

Jeff: No. I was going to say, there's so much that I think we could talk about. It's just funny, like how you think of all these tangents, these places to go. And like you said, customer education has become its own function and growth and career path inside of organizations. Because this is all stuff that needs to be figured out.

Adam: And you're right. There's so much more beyond just product documentation when you're starting to look at the possibilities of the program. Some people call what you just described category education or industry education. But I think the big takeaway that I think about there is that we're all under this conception that our customers care deeply about our products, because we care deeply about our product because we work for the companies that produce our products. We have a lot of head space for our own products and our customers don't. So a big part of customer education is actually figuring out those motivations for what would make our customer successful. And a lot of the times that isn't just learning how to use our features. That is the processes that make them better at their jobs. And similarly, it also gives us a mandate, I think, to be more prescriptive about our customer education and to help show them the path that has been what made previous customer successful versus just giving them a blank state and saying, " Hey, go for it, try everything on." I do think it's part of our roles as trusted advisors to help customers see that path and help them learn to care about our products over time by giving them more of a schema for not just how it works, but what's really going to help them get value from it.

Jeff: Yeah, man. Well, Dave and Adam, I know we're at time. And so really appreciate you all coming on. Where can people find you? Where can they find more of your stuff? This is the place, go ahead and plug yourselves. Don't be bashful, don't be shy. Where to find you.

Dave Darrington: Cool. You can find us all out on LinkedIn, for sure, and in the Twitterverse. We do have a website, it's customer. education. So really easy to find, but you'll also find CELab and that's C- E- L- A- B, in all the podcasts. We're on Spotify, Apple, all of them. So check us out there, check a couple of the episodes. This year in particular, I just want to mention that we're focusing a lot on customer success. So most of the episodes that you'll hear now going back to January are going to be strikingly relevant to your field. And actually there's a lot of this conversation. Adam.

Adam: That was a great plug, Dave. The only thing I'll add is, if you're interested in getting the customer education book, you can find it on Amazon just by searching for Customer Education.

Jeff: Awesome. Well, I'm looking forward to get this one out. I think we're going to have to record more because I've got so many more questions and things that I want to ask you all as experts about. So let's do this again.

Dave Darrington: Absolutely.

Jeff: But thank you again for not missing a beat when my computer went dark. I appreciate you guys doing that and look forward to seeing you all again here pretty soon.

Adam: Yeah. Looking forward to a part two. Thanks for having us on.

Dave Darrington: Yes. Thanks.

Jeff: Thanks guys. Appreciate it. Hey guys, thanks so much for taking the time to listen to the Gain, Grow, Retain Podcast. If you liked what you heard, please take a moment and share the podcast with your friends and colleagues and subscribe. We really appreciate it. Talk to you soon.

DESCRIPTION

This week, Dave Darrington and Adam Avramescu of CELab joins us to discuss Customer Education in the Software Space.


If you want to join the discussion with thousands of other customer success leaders, join Gain Grow Retain: http://gaingrowretain.com/


This podcast is brought to you by Jay Nathan and Jeff Breunsbach...

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