Anyone who works in customer service or technical support knows they spend much of their day answering the same few questions over and over again. Many support professionals may even say they spend “most of their day.” They are thinking
“If only we could round up all these customers and tell them about these five things, we would have half the phone calls.” That’s where the need for customer training comes in: to handle customer needs before they even become an issue.
Some support organizations focus on inquiry volumes, cost per inquiry, and balance that with call times and call quality. In this culture, reducing the number of inquiries is an ongoing priority. Of course, not all support organizations focus on efficiency metrics.
Zappos is famous for encouraging customers to call in and for customer service to spend as much time as possible with customers.
In either case, it is great service to help customers get the help they need in the form that is most effective for them. The problem with providing the right support, not matter how great the support channel, is that it is mostly reactive. Support continues to react to customer requests, which is why it seems like support is answering the same questions over and over.
The key to getting out of this continuous cycle of reacting to customer whims is to take a more proactive approach to support. Community support and knowledge bases are a step in the right direction, but even communities are largely driven by customers. Knowledge base articles and video walk-throughs are also a good step, but people only seek help from knowledge base articles and videos after they discover something they do not know how to do.
Among all of these ways an organization can provide support, email, phone, and community support, knowledge base, product walk-throughs), only one is designed to be available to people before they need support: Training.
Customer training is support before customers need it
Customer training occurs (mostly) before people know that they need help. Most often, people take a product training course in the early stages of learning a new product. At such an early stage, people do not have a full understanding of what the product can do. When training is designed well, it covers two broad topics.
First, it covers context. Effective customer training helps learners understand what the product is, what is possible, and why it is an important part of how someone gets their job done.
Once context is established, effective customer training can cover specific tasks a person will perform in the product to get that job done. Training, therefore, covers how the product works, including most common tasks and should also cover pitfalls and things to look out for.
In other words, training is proactive.
There is enormous value in offering support on a variety of levels but if you want to be proactive and head off many support questions before they occur, you should develop customer training courses targeted specifically at the inquiry types customers ask most.
Target customer training to top 10 support inquiry types
Before any effective training class is developed, there is a process that occurs (or should) to discover what training is needed. This process is called a training needs analysis. Training professionals use this technique to determine three things:
- What training is needed
- For what audience
- How the training should be designed
Whenever I have needed to create a training course for customers or for employees who support customers, I went to the support team. Support organizations are the motherlode of data for a training needs analysis. I listened to phone calls, I read through customer emails, I interviewed support engineers, and I read the call-type reports. If you do this, you can easily identify the top reasons customers contact your organization for help, and then you know exactly what customer training is needed because you want to target training at those reasons people call.
In my experience, there are four broad reasons people call for support. Here is a list of those examples. A customer cannot perform some action because:
- The feature does not exist in the product.
- There was an error message.
- Someone does not know how or otherwise does not know whether an action can be performed.
- Someone cannot remember how to perform an action.
In the above examples, some do not require training as a solution and others do.
For example, number one can be solved with a change to the product, assuming there is no suitable workaround and the software company makes a decision to add the feature. But training will not help. Example two is a legitimate reason to call support. Training is not usually a solution to this problem unless the user is causing the error by using the tool incorrectly.
Numbers three and four are examples of call reasons that can be solved by training or good documentation or both. Training and documentation can both be used to help customers remember how to perform certain actions, know whether such an action can be performed in a product, and how to find the procedure in the documentation.
Customer training frees up support engineers to have high value conversations with customers
Support professionals are highly skilled in people skills and/or the technical skill of the product or service they are supporting. The best thing you can do for them is create a work environment in which they can spend most of their time helping customers on challenging issues rather than on the mundane, repeat issues that are so common. While you will not be able to eliminate all of these types of calls, if you are proactive, and help customers learn to help themselves, you can get the most value out of your support teams as possible.
Bill Cushard, head of content at ServiceRocket, covers the intersection of learning, enterprise software adoption, and customer success. Bill is passionate about helping early stage enterprise software companies build and run strategic training businesses. Follow him on Twitter @billcush.