Have you ever tried to get help using a product and had the feeling that, though you’re seeing all the right things, you’re spinning your wheels?

The company has an online support center. They have a huge library of support articles. They have a searchable Q&A feature. They have support people who respond to tickets. Yet in many cases the customer is left feeling lost and frustrated.

The problem in this case — and with many companies — is that they are set up to be reactive when it comes to customer education. On the one hand, this seems to make sense. If someone asks you a question, you answer it, right?

But relying on this approach is missing a big opportunity. It’s missing the big picture context that customers are working in, it’s focused narrowly on showing customers how to use a product instead of educating them about best practices, and it’s missing a chance to demonstrate the real value a product has to offer in their specific profession or toward their business goal.

The most innovative customer success programs don’t wait until support is needed. They proactively get to know the context their customers are working in and empower them with educational opportunities.

It’s about knowing your customers

Proactive customer education is an integral part of customer success; the more engaged customers are with a product, the more likely they’ll be to continue using and valuing it. So your customer education program should do better than simply providing your customers with the appropriate knowledge to properly use your products.

You should also consistently engage customers with your product. The best way of doing that is knowing who they are, what they want, and what their pain points are in their field of work.

Ask yourself these questions about your customers:

  • What drives your customers?

  • What do they need to know to do their jobs more effectively?

  • What problems do they encounter during their workdays?

  • What information can you provide that will help them to be better at their jobs?

  • How can your product help them address their own needs?

When you know those things you’ll be able to create a customer education program that will help them solve their problems in context.

In other words, rather than telling your users: “You’ll be able to do this on the product by following these steps,” you can show them how to use your products to make their lives easier. You can demonstrate a real-world solution at work that is connected to their pain points.

Salesforce is a great example of a company that has done this. Its customer education program, Salesforce University, teaches customers how to use their product while also teaching them how to be successful professionals across departments. It’s a perfect strategy, because Salesforce is the global leader in CRM, and everyone who uses it is tied to customer relationship management in some way or another.

Because Salesforce understands what its customers want — to easily connect with their customers in a whole new way — the company perfected customer education. That’s a big reason why, in the growing universe of CRM software, Salesforce is one of the fastest growing top 10 software companies in the world.

If it’s implemented properly, proactive customer education projects, especially online, have a very good return on investment.

  1. They’re scalable.

  2. They can be leveraged to increase product usage.

  3. The more your customers use your product, the more likely they are to renew with you.

  4. They reduce your customers’ dependency on your customer support team.

The self-directed learner

The ultimate goal of every customer education program is to create self-directed customers. You want to enable customers to find the right information and to be self-sufficient in finding information and using your product.You want them to be proactive in solving their problems, and you want them to know how to ask the right questions in order to obtain answers from your company’s support team.

Self-directed customers are the holy grail for customer success teams because — if you’re doing your job well — those customers will become your champions. They know how to use your product and they’ve been successful with it. They help fellow customers in support forums. They report bugs, request features, and, most importantly, they refer new customers to a company.

Don’t worry about perfection

Building a proactive customer education program might seem daunting. It takes time to get to know your customers, and the upfront investment may seem intimidating.

The good news is, the program doesn’t have to be perfect when you get started. All you need is an iterative process; something you can refine as you move forward.

Put what you have out there, and then be receptive to the feedback you get from customers. After all, the best insight will come from them. Once you begin to receive feedback from your customers, you can improve your program over time.

About the author


Julee Ho heads up Product Marketing at SchoolKeep, a learning platform specializing in customer education. An advocate for customer success, her varied background has equipped her with unique ways to ensure customers always meet and exceed business goals. Previously she was a customer success manager at SchoolKeep, and a content developer before that. She also holds a Master’s in Instructional Design. You can find her, sharing her passions of dogs and customer success, at @juleeho10.