COVID-19 was a sink or swim moment for many companies.
The choices were simple: dive headlong into a decade’s worth of digital transformation, or go out of business.
As a result, much of the evaluation, investment, and rollout of virtual training technology in 2020 was rushed, limited in scope, and poorly planned.
Today, not much has changed. It’s still “sink or swim” in the age of customer experiences. Businesses must take a step back, evaluate their software investments, and rework their implementations. This isn’t simply a matter of optimization.
Studies show that 80% of customers believe that the experience a company provides is just as important as its products or services. Another 67% have indicated that their standards for what constitutes a good experience are higher than before the pandemic. And for 90% of customers, businesses are failing at onboarding.
How to maximize customer training investment
Intelligent, strategic investment in customer training is crucial to remaining competitive in the upcoming year. That begins with knowing what you need, why you need it, and who you need it for. And it culminates in leveraging that understanding to find and deploy the right technology.
The optimal process for achieving this can be broken down into twelve distinct components. Read on to learn more about the different phases and components.
1. Define your core business objectives
What specific business objectives is your company striving to meet?
This will provide the basis for your entire strategy. By identifying both your short- and long-term goals, you’ll have a more tangible framework to inform your selection criteria. This will steer you in the right direction by narrowing your focus, ensuring you ask the right questions and look for the right tools.
2. Identify your training technology requirements
What are you trying to accomplish with your training?
With your business objectives front of mind, write down your training objectives. The idea is to ensure that each training objective supports one or more business objectives. You’ll want to go much deeper than the surface level.
Outline your desired outcomes, criteria for success, and the metrics by which you will measure and report progress. Examples include percentage increase in the number of users joining a program, reduced time to competency/proficiency, and customer satisfaction. Outline how each of these goals fits within your business’s wider objectives. Greater engagement, for instance, leads to increased retention.
3. Adopt the right mindset
Do your teams have the right mindset to provide experience-driven training?
It can be easy to get bogged down in features and functionality, but what’s more important is to find a customer training solution that helps you achieve your goals. Keep this in mind, and remember that technology is not a goal in and of itself; it’s merely a tool.
Would introducing AR/VR tech into your customer training experience really improve the experience, or would you be better served focusing on accessible and consistent content?
Skip the hype, ignore the bells and whistles, and focus on the specific value each solution provides in the context of your unique use case. Doing so will allow you to proceed with far greater focus and more effectively direct your customer training budget.
4. Determine who will benefit – and how
Who stands to benefit most from the technology?
To help you further pin down your training objectives, think about your users. Think about things like, who they are, what their pain points are, and what they are trying to accomplish.
For instance, if you leverage virtual training solutions for your customers, their pain points around scheduling issues or a lack of access to hands-on training will be handled head-on. Reaching out to your customers to discover what they would benefit from the most is ultimately your best bet. Surveys can be immensely beneficial, and provide insights you might otherwise overlook.
5. Identify potential tools
What does the ideal platform look like?
By now, you’ve developed a general understanding of both the virtual training landscape and your business’s specific requirements. Now it’s time to find solutions that might fit the bill. Given how many different vendors and technologies there are to choose from, this is often easier said than done.
The following process will help you navigate this overwhelming selection:
Start with a list of must-have features and functions. Then, create a shortlist with technologies and vendors that appear to hit the mark. Next, create a “kill list“. Using that kill list, eliminate any solutions that don’t make the cut. Be as uncompromising as possible. Last, dig deeper into each potential candidate, writing down strengths and weaknesses, including, but not limited to: features, benefits, price, integrations, implementation efforts, support options, and longevity.
6. Align tech and business objectives
How does your technology achieve business outcomes?
Look at each of the deep dives composed in step five, and align each one to your business objectives. For each vendor, create a checklist of business and training objectives. Then give each solution a score out of 10. You now have a visual asset that identifies which technologies are best suited to your requirements (and which can be safely eliminated).
7. Think about “fit”
Is your product the right fit for a customer’s needs?
Just because a solution is a good fit on paper, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to integrate it effectively.
There could be a cultural issue. Your business’ brand and how customers experience it might not align with the vendor’s. You simply might not have the necessary infrastructure in place to support the technology.
Some organizations may be unable to make full use of innovations such as artificial intelligence. In such instances, AI investment with the goal of achieving an immediate return is fruitless.
8. Think about the long term
How will your solution continue to provide value over the long term?
If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that change management and future-proofing are essential. Agility, scalability, and flexibility are the foundations of business continuity and long-term success. Bear this in mind where your shortlist is concerned.
Think about how each proposed solution will scale, adapt, and grow with your training organization. It’s not unusual for businesses to establish strategies that look three, five, and 10 years into the future, and to analyze them with what-if scenarios. It makes sense to do this for your training technology investment as well.
9. Look at ratings and reviews
What are people saying about your solution?
You wouldn’t purchase a product on Amazon without looking at the reviews; you shouldn’t make a business decision without doing so, either. In many ways, ratings and reviews comprise some of the most insightful research at your disposal. They allow you to look behind the curtain raised by sales and marketing and see the true value of what you’re being offered.
You have several avenues to pursue here:
- Industry publications
- Review sites
- Contacting the vendor directly for a reference
You’d do well to use all three.
10. Don’t overly rely on benchmarks
Are you putting too much stock in your benchmarks?
There is no such thing as a silver bullet in the business sector. Different technologies will produce different outcomes for different organizations in different industries. As such, while benchmarking can be a valuable comparative evaluation tool, it does not account for the characteristics and requirements that are unique to your business.
11. Get stakeholder buy-in
Do you have buy-in from the right stakeholders?
You’ve found the perfect customer training software, and you’ve drafted a budget. Now for the hard part and the final hurdle. You need to convince key stakeholders – particularly organizational leadership – that your budget is justified.
While you must always focus on how technology supports your core business objectives, you should also tailor your approach based on who you’re presenting to:
- CEO: Business objectives. What is the overall value of this investment?
- CIO/CTO: Integrations and implementation. How does this investment augment our existing infrastructure?
- CFO: Financial benefits. How will this investment impact our bottom line?
- CMO/Sales: How will this affect the customer experience? What impact will this have on the sales cycle?
- CHRO: How will this support employee experiences, personal development, and internal training/onboarding?
12. Plan how to measure success
What does success look like for you?
Last but not least, once you’ve chosen and deployed your technology, it’s time to think about your key performance indicators. Technology investment is not a one-off initiative. It’s an ongoing process – one that requires navigation of adoption and implementation in the short term.
Create regular reports with key metrics around applicable engagement factors such as attendance, session times, drop-off rates, time to proficiency, etc. Present these to key stakeholders, and regularly follow-up on your implementation to determine if there’s anything you could be doing better.
Tip: For more guidance, download the State of Virtual Training Technology report to learn the trends impacting customer training and the tactics you need to find the right tech for your organization.