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How to Train Your Customers

 -  11/2/12

Offering external customers development options is an inexpensive way to boost company loyalty, reduce dependence on help desks and generate revenue.

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The learning and development industry has its hands full educating various levels of the workforce, but customers are often an employer’s largest audience.

Companies such as Apple, Werner, Drivefleet and Franklin Templeton have established initiatives to train their customers, and they’re not alone. A 2010 Aberdeen Group study of nearly 400 organizations found 51 percent of employers trained customers, and another 41 percent trained business partners such as distributors, advisers and vendors.

Research this year from Brandon Hall Group indicates 54 percent of organizations are now doing some form of extended audience training for business partners or customers. “That is a growing statistic, and considerably higher than, say, three to five years ago,” said Stacey Harris, group vice president of research and advisory services at Brandon Hall.

John Leh, vice president of sales and marketing for Meridian Knowledge Solutions, a human capital management software maker, said 30 percent of the inquiries the company gets for learning management systems are intended to train external audiences. “And about half of the remaining 70 percent of those inquires have a component for training customers or business partners.”

The Business Case for Training Customers
Companies take different approaches to training customers or business partners, but Leh said employers looking to train external audiences generally have one of four goals: trimming the time or cost for launching products, reducing dependence on help desks, building brand awareness and generating revenue.

Take Apple, for example. For $99 per year, the company’s One to One program gives new Mac customers access to an in-store tutor who will set up a Mac, help customers sync their Mac with the iCloud and create a training curriculum.

“Apple wants you to see its stores because they are an engaging environment; Apple’s tutoring program is a good marketing device,” said Claire Schooley, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. “Once the customer is talking to the employee, the employee thinks about opportunities to cross-sell.”

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