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Zayd Badwan

Vice President, Enterprise, Uplimit

Scaling Outcomes in Customer Education: Reflections from a conversation with Databricks’ Rochana Golani

May 13th, 2024
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The scope of customer education has expanded dramatically over the past decade. Programs that once focused primarily on onboarding new customers now touch every part of the customer lifecycle. Companies like Cisco and Salesforce have invested in sweeping certification programs that teach skills like computer networking and marketing automation alongside platform-specific knowledge. Many of these programs are aimed not just at current professionals, but at students who represent the next generation of technology users—Amazon has committed $12 million to AI scholarships for high school students, and Unity offers free training content for high school classrooms.

In this new landscape, customer education teams have an unprecedented opportunity to drive business impact. But scaling customer education to reach millions of learners with varying levels of product and technical knowledge is also a huge challenge. At Uplimit, we’re working with leading data and AI companies like Databricks to find creative solutions for delivering effective customer education at scale. I recently hosted a roundtable with Rochana Golani, VP of Learning and Enablement at Databricks, to discuss best practices in this space, and came away with four principles I recommend all companies keep in mind:

  1. Consider customer education investments across the customer lifecycle. Customer education can impact everything from product awareness, to sales pipeline, to retention and evangelism and beyond—make sure to design your approach to tap into benefits at every stage.
  2. Use AI to support iteration and impact. AI has tremendous potential to boost efficiency in content creation, increase learner engagement, and personalize the learning experience to meet unique learner needs.
  3. Embrace a blended learning approach. Combining the scale of asynchronous learning with targeted, high-impact moments of live engagement will allow you to drive meaningful outcomes at scale.
  4. Don’t skimp on hands-on learning. Opportunities to practice skills and concepts hands-on are essential to keeping learners engaged and preparing them to use the product in a way that generates value.

Keep reading for a deeper dive into each principle, or get in touch for more info about Uplimit’s customer education solutions!

Consider customer education investments across the customer lifecycle

The impact of customer education has traditionally been measured in terms of lower-funnel metrics such as training completion rate and customer retention. But as the scope of customer education programs evolves, there is real opportunity for customer education to move meaningful metrics across the customer lifecycle.

Rochana spoke directly to this transition during our conversation. “With the evolution of SaaS products, customer enablement is now everywhere in the lifecycle of a customer, and it has a broader mission,” she explains. “It’s not just something that directly drives revenue. It can be a leading indicator for revenue and for the success of the company. And when it’s seen that way it can be more of an investment center.”

Customer education can generate awareness and get prospects excited about your product. It’s key to successful onboarding and implementation. And, it can create evangelists who bring your product with them from company to company. Few other initiatives have such a wide scope of impact.

Embrace a blended learning approach.

Most customer education programs start with a high-touch, one-to-few model—an account manager offering customized training for a handful of top accounts, for example. This approach can deliver outstanding results for the first few customers. However, as the customer base grows, synchronous small-group learning becomes untenable, and many businesses pivot to rely primarily on asynchronous training. This scales easily, but almost always at the cost of impact, as learners struggle to stay engaged and motivated. Training enrollment may grow exponentially, but completion and activation metrics suffer.

The solution is an approach that blends the scale of asynchronous learning with targeted, high-impact moments of live engagement. Rochana describes how she arrived at this approach at Databricks.

“We started with traditional instructor-led training,” she explains, “and then we very quickly realized, with the pace at which the platform was growing, we can’t just train people 15, 20, 30 at a time. So we tried self-paced, which got a ton of people enrolled, but then no one really did anything with the training. We didn’t even know if they were developing skills.”

“For training to work, we needed to find a blend of these worlds. We needed to be able to get the most out of the instructor at key moments, for learners to be engaged and nurtured in the platform, but in a way that scales. That’s what made Uplimit the perfect thing to add to our portfolio. We couldn’t have done it with self-paced alone, or instructor-led alone, or even both of those things separately. We needed the blended model.”

Don’t skimp on hands-on learning.

Guided hands-on projects are often one of the first things to go when customer education shifts to a scaled, asynchronous model. But hands-on learning is critical to achieving customer education goals. Opportunities to practice skills and concepts are essential to keeping learners engaged, and even if a learner completes a self-paced training program, they won’t be prepared to use the product in a way that generates value. Rochana has seen this throughout her decades-long career.

“Everywhere I’ve worked, across all the programs I’ve built, the first thing I invest in is a good hands-on labs platform,” she says. “I strongly believe that no matter what you’re learning, practice makes perfect. Skill development takes time and repetition. So you have to be deliberate about investing in hands-on training and thinking about scale and reliability from the beginning.”

A blended learning model is especially important when it comes to facilitating hands-on projects at scale. In a fully asynchronous model, most learners will understandably abandon a project if they get stuck and have nowhere to turn for support. In a blended model, they can connect with instructors, teaching assistants, and peers for guidance and encouragement. Often, just knowing someone is available and invested in their success can provide the motivation a learner needs to keep trying.

Use AI to support iteration and impact.

The current pace of technological change makes customer education more challenging than ever. Product features are updated on a near-daily basis, and even foundational concepts and best practices are constantly shifting. But technology is also making it easier to develop fluid, personalized education content, and it has the potential to dramatically accelerate the pace of learning. This is especially true when it comes to AI.

AI is already improving efficiency in content creation, making it possible for companies to keep customer education content current even in a constantly changing technology landscape. In the short term, this looks like accelerating individual elements of the content creation workflow—Rochana’s team, for example, is focused on investing in AI to jump-start curriculum development and implementation. In the long term, AI-powered learning systems could dynamically create and update interactive content to reflect product changes and respond to learner needs in real-time.

AI is also poised to transform learner engagement and motivation at scale. At Uplimit, we’re already seeing positive results from AI-generated hints and “nudges” at key moments in our courses, such as when a learner falls behind in completing a project. We’re working on expanding the scope of these interactions and making them even more personalized—ultimately, we believe AI will be key not just to providing subject matter support, but to delivering the encouragement and accountability learners need to move through the content successfully.

As software tools continue to increase in complexity, customer education will play a more and more critical role in business success. Simply scaling the reach of education programs isn’t enough—to drive product adoption and long-term growth, leaders in this space need to scale their impact. That will require a new approach that focuses on top-level business metrics, embraces blended hands-on learning, and leverages AI to move fast while continuously improving outcomes.

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