Customer education is a vital part of the customer experience7 min read

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The idea to build Channacademy as an education hub for Channable customers originated at the end of 2018. Before that we did in-person training in major cities for a whole day,” said Floyd van Zoelen, Knowledge Specialist at the company. Entering the German market, they considered taking their staff on a bus to Berlin to train new customers. This was not scalable.

With Channacademy, ““What we try to do there is educate our customers on everything we have to offer – different functionalities, different features – and make it easier for them to get started, or if they’re looking for a new feature to make it easy for them to learn about it and start using it successfully,” said van Zoelen.

“We offer a tool for advertisers of all kinds – it could be e-commerce, HR companies, travel agencies – for them to advertise much easier on all sorts of platforms; Amazon, eBay, Google Ads, Google Shopping, whatever. We automate it for them, basically. You import your product information into our system, and from there we export it to any number of platforms – I think we’re somewhere around the 2,500 mark.”

Building an online customer education hub

Channacademy is online, of course, self-serve and free to Channable users who access it through the Channable website. “Assignments have to be done in our tool, because you have to practice,” explained van Zoelen.

The content, including basic and advanced courses, is created by Channable. But Channacademy isn’t built on Channable. “We were looking for a platform that could support us in this, and at one point we even had the idea of building it ourselves. We had a long list of requirements – we needed to add videos, assignments, quizzes and get feedback easily. There was a long-term vision of a badge or certificate. We just started shopping and we found Northpass which pretty much ticked all the boxes.”

It was important to Channable to be able to work independently in the Northpass platform, uploading content and tweaking design rather than sending content to Northpass to upload. “We do it all internally which creates a nice flow.”

From the original idea grew discussions about what the content should look like. The first four courses were launched in June 2020. Time from conception to launch is highly variable with Northpass customers because it is so dependent on the pace at which content is developed. Launching a few months into the COVID era was a “nice coincidence,” as van Zoelen put it, in-person training being out of the question.

“We have over 2,000 activated users and a lot of positive feedback on it. Off the top of my head, we have a 65% completion rate, which is really good.”

Customer education is a strategic must for customer-centric businesses

“We’re focused on building the software platform that enables companies to build their own branded, customized customer education programs,” said Steve Cornwell, founder and CEO at Northpass. “Customer education is a strategy that can be employed to ensure that a customer-centric organization is able to connect with their customers from very early on in the awareness process, all the way through the purchasing decision to an ongoing relationship – making sure that they’re educated on the brand, product and services, and also industry practices as a whole.”

Cornwell was reflecting on the role of customer education in the overall customer experience. “There are two big parts,” he said. “One is about the company and their product, but also about the broader industry and how the customer can succeed within the overall domain. For example, Shopify, a Northpass customer is very invested in teaching their merchants – their customers, essentially – on how to use Shopify’s tools and products, but also on how to be a successful merchant online. “Everything from how to do good marketing, to how to source good product, to how to do their taxes the right way. All these things are independent of Shopify’s technology, but they’re all in the interests of educating the customers on how to succeed.”

A void in the market

The idea for what became Northpass occurred to Cornwell around 2013 when he was working for a SaaS company. The education necessary for channel partners and customers to understand and use the company’s product was conducted through field training — effectively, the same problem as Channable . Looking for a digital alternative, Cornwell found many “wonderful” learning management systems, but they were all internal-facing.

“They all catered to the HR buyer – internal compliance training, sales training. But they didn’t offer what I was looking for in order to make education customer-facing. They didn’t allow me to create education as a product. They didn’t allow for external distribution and integration into CRM and marketing systems. There was a real void in the market.”

When the company he was working for was acquired, Cornwell saw an opportunity to act on his vision. Northpass was launched in 2015.

“We think effective customer education is ultimately about bringing genuinely useful information to the right audience, when and where they need it most,” he said. “Our software provides a suite of tools and delivery mediums to make that possible. Self-paced online courses is one medium we provide, but we also provide assessments, certifications, instructor-led training facilitation and all different types of content. Our customers can create two main ways of educating. One is by building a central academy where people can self-serve and discover. The other is a more pro-active push mechanism, where they’re delivering very pointed, targeted content to people along their journey with that company.”

Customer education meets CRM

Data about a customer’s progress through proprietary learning courses says a lot about customer health, satisfaction and engagement. “By pushing learning data into the CRM records, it gives the business a more complete view,” he said. It also enriches the CRM, allowing workflows to be built off the data. For example, when a deal closes the customer can be sent automatic onboarding information for the education hub, and when they complete an assignment or course, that information is sent back to the CRM.

Central to this strategy is the Northpass/HubSpot CRM integration announced last month. “We think that, historically, customer education has really been pioneered by large organizations that have considerable resources they can put behind these programs. We see an enormous opportunity to bring customer education to the masses. We know that initiatives pick up steam when marketing gets ownership – that makes HubSpot so instrumental. They own the marketer, they own the mid- and small-size businesses. We think the HubSpot/Northpass partnership has the opportunity finally to make customer education accessible to companies of all sizes.”

How Channacademy is performing

Van Zoelen offered some specifics on Channacademy’s performance with Channable customers.

“In terms of engagement with Channable, we see that users that finished a Basic or Expert course engage with our product 145% more often compared to users that do not use Channacademy yet. For advanced learners, this is as high as 166%. When looking at the level of complexity of our features, we see that Channacademy learners that finished an Expert course use our most complex feature — the PPC tool — an amazing 210% more often.”

Cornwell wants that success to spread. “I hope that within two years we can be serving thousands of HubSpot customers, all running their own version of HubSpot Academy, running it on the Northpass platform, fully integrated with the HubSpot CRM.”

About The Author

Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space.

He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020.

Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.

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