Many products and services are complex to use; sophisticated software applications are just one example of highly specialized products with a steep, steep learning curve. That’s where e-learning or digital training comes in. It can take many forms: self-directed online courses (many commercial learning software packages are on the market), videos, podcasts, and webinars being the prime examples.
Salesforce.com is an outstanding example. The company offers a robust and highly customizable digital customer relationship management solution that’s widely used in a number of industries. Together with the actual product, Salesforce has developed training and certification courses—88 of them at present time—targeted at different cohorts of their core customer base: end-users, administrators, developers, and consultants. Courses can be delivered in person, on-demand, or in “virtual classrooms,” very extensive training offerings
Companies such as IBM and SAP have created online communities for their clients that are in part targeted at training. In these forums, customers help other customers in peer discussions
Clearly, the first and foremost benefit of training is helping customers use a company’s product to its full advantage, and in a way that’s tailored to their specific needs. Digital training can also significantly reduce customer service costs. A well-monitored training program can also become a feedback loop that aids product development as trainers or data reveals where customers are experiencing problems. Finally, this post-sales customer touchpoint can help up or cross-sell additional products or services.
Online training is obviously not for products that are simple to use. An enterprise software package, yes. A toothbrush? Not so much. And although online training can greatly help reduce customer support costs, it will not completely eliminate the need for support.
A community is a microsite that’s part of a larger organization’s or brand’s web presence. Communities come in two flavors: company-focused and user/consumer-focused. An example of the former is Microsoft’s Channel 9, an ongoing collection of videos of “the people behind the products.”
In “The Channel 9 Doctrine,” the company states explicitly that, “Channel 9 is not a marketing tool, not a PR tool, not a lead generation tool,” but rather a place where the company can “learn by listening.” Although the site is primarily video-focused, it also features blogs, a feedback forum, a Twitter presence, and more
Consumer-focused community sites invite participation from the outside: from buyers, users, prospects, and enthusiasts. Autotrader, for example, has a community for that subset of its clientele that’s enthusiastic about classic and vintage cars. Members can share tips, advice, and opinions, take polls, and post photos of their rides. In a sense, it’s a social network for classic car enthusiasts.
Brands, products, or services around which there’s passion, dedication, and engagement make up the user base. This might include brands with an enormous fan base (Apple); popular activities in which people are deeply involved (baby and child care, pets, autos, cooking, and recipes); health and wellness (dieting, vegetarianism, exercise), or more complex B2B issues, such as using complex technology offerings.
A community is no place to sell. As stated previously, it’s not for commodities or products and services about which customers aren’t somewhat passionate. Most of the solid consumer-oriented topics are already “taken,” which means extra thought and creativity will have to be invested into newer communities to really attract a loyal user base