COVID-19’s Impact on Customer Education Programs

Skilljar recently surveyed 250-plus customer education professionals around the world to identify trends in programs goals, budgets, content formats, and resourcing.

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving seismic changes for customer education programs. To get a pulse on this shifting landscape, Skilljar recently surveyed 250-plus customer education professionals around the world to identify trends in programs goals, budgets, content formats, and resourcing.

Here are three key trends we’ve identified (you can learn more from our 2020 Customer Education Industry Benchmarks and Trends Report, which includes a special section dedicated to our COVID-19 findings):

1. Most programs serve multiple audiences.

Our original research found that the vast majority of training programs (81 percent) are serving a combination of customer, partner, prospect, and internal audiences. In fact, 64 percent of those respondents who offer external training (to customers, partners, and/or prospects) also use their programs for training internal audiences. Whether you currently serve one, two, or more audiences, now is the time to consider whether there might be other groups that would find value in your training.

We’ve seen many leading programs modifying and adapting existing content to meet the training needs of new audiences. A common scenario is customer-facing content being used to help with partner or internal support enablement. We’ve also seen some companies use training to drive industry awareness and lead generation with prospects.

2. Respondents commonly integrate their education programs with a CRM.

We’ve consistently heard from customer education professionals that tracking and demonstrating the impact of education on business outcomes is important to them. Therefore, it’s no surprise to see that 68 percent of respondents have integrated their program data with a customer relationship management (CRM) system such as Salesforce. Integrating with a CRM helps you track learner progress at the account level; correlate education consumption with business metrics such as retention, engagement, and upsell; and communicate this impact to your stakeholders.

COVID-19 has increased the importance of sharing this business impact. If you already have a CRM integration in place, make sure to clearly and regularly share updates with leadership around the impact of training. If you’re missing this integration, now is the time to get started.

3. Programs are opening access to new audiences in light of COVID-19.

We’re seeing nearly a quarter of organizations extend the reach of their programs by making some or all of their paid courses available to customers, prospects, and even to the public at large. Here are two examples of organizations that have done this (Disclaimer: OSIsoft and Zenefits are both Skilljar customers):

  • OSISoft, an operational data and intelligence software company, is offering free access to all of its virtual live classroom and online courses for interested individuals. The company also added on-demand courses with a PI System cloud environment to provide students with a hands-on learning experience that helps develop key skills remotely.
  • Zenefits, a Human Resources software provider, created a public training portal through which anyone can access Zenefits HR Office Hours and ask questions related to COVID-19 and its impact on HR-related issues. Students also can seek help clarifying rapidly changing laws and regulations.

Opening up access to educational content helps not only with customer engagement, but also generates goodwill, social impact, and brand awareness during these challenging times.

Opportunity to Demonstrate Value

The industry survey and Skilljar program data both indicate that the discipline of external education is evolving quickly, and most respondents expect it will continue to grow in significance and impact in the coming years. While the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have long-term impacts for nearly every organization, we also see this as an opportunity for education professionals to further demonstrate their teams’ value and take the lead in helping their companies and customers adapt and succeed in this New World of Work.

Sandi Linis the CEO and co-founder of Skilljar. Prior to Skilljar, she led product management teams at Amazon. She has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.