Specialized needs of clients
At Productivity Point International (PPI), the focus is on serving each client’s unique needs, says Mike McIntyre, vice president of outsourcing services. For example, PPI serves client Abbott Laboratories with simulation-based training on a medical device used by healthcare workers. Teaching the course on PPI’s Knowledge Publisher platform ensures that workers are certified on the high tech equipment, making it a valuable litigation mitigation tool as well as an inexpensive delivery method, says McIntyre.
But outsourced customer training is not always an e-learning endeavor, says McIntyre. For example, he says, Hewlett Packard employs PPI to provide classroom training on products each quarter to its channel partners. “In this case, interaction between value-added resellers and technical experts is integral to the company’s success,” he says.
PPI is also emphasizing, where appropriate, the importance of offering training to prospective customers before a sale. Such activities attract buyers to products and win them over. It also helps build lasting relationships, keeps customers notified of new product updates and strategic directions, and upsells them to new capabilities.
At Intuit, a blend of classroom and e-learning meets both customer and business needs, says Rich Golem, group manager of the Accountants Training Network. While the software company continues to offer classroom training throughout the country, especially for small business owners and accountants unfamiliar with QuickBooks, Golem claims that “the most productive and accessible way to train is through e-learning.”
Says Golem: “We focus on expanding our relationships with our accountant customers. Training is a key way to do it, and realizing an e-learning platform has helped us reach our most valued customers.” Under the outsourcing partnership with Convergys, Intuit’s product experts write the course content, and turn it over to the supplier for formatting and programming into its hosted learning platform.
Some corporations offer customer training within a larger comprehensive learning outsourcing context. For example, Sun Microsystems outsources customer training worldwide to Accenture Learning as part of a larger relationship with the consulting firm. Accenture hired 125 Sun instructors and even purchased Sun’s 25 training facilities in major cities. The supplier provides administration and delivery while Sun continues to develop content.
Training outsourcing supplier Convergys Learning Solutions is serving the market with its “Customer Training For-Profit Solution,” a new suite of services designed to enable clients to build and manage a profit-generating e-learning business. Todd Clyde, Practice Lead for Convergys Learning Solutions and former vice president of product strategy for DigitalThink, views customer training as a “full life cycle” that encompasses training both before and after the sale. Convergys provides its service on an out-tasking basis around four distinct areas of specialization: business consulting, courseware development, on-demand technology, and support services.
Clyde says the customer training market represents a different buyer and “hugely different problem” than employee training. “Customer training is an extremely specialized activity that involves far more than simply developing courseware,” he says. Convergys typically begins the client relationship with
- workshops on product strategy and rollout
- analysis of the market segment and audience needs
- curriculum design
- financial analysis.
Development of courseware follows careful study of the target audience to ensure that the design meets the aptitude of the typical learner as well as such technical limitations as bandwidth, multiple desktop configurations, and localization of content. Issues involving interactive courseware, simulations, and performance support systems are also considered.
For example, he says, up-front consulting answers an important set of questions from clients: Can we make money from this? How should we price the online courses? Which products should we move online—entry level courses or the entire certification path? Should we go narrow and deep or thin and broad with the initiative? “We work through those issues with customers, develop an e-learning strategy, and show them types of returns they can expect,” says Clyde.
Technical issues often include whether to use an existing LMS that’s not designed to serve customers and employees from the same database, he says. To date, more than 20 customer training initiatives have been deployed by the Convergys unit and its DigitalThink predecessor.
When considering an outsourcing supplier to perform one or more customer training activities, it’s important to select a supplier with proven capabilities in the industry and the training-related activities of interest. Customer training is an area of specialization, after all.
For example, Raytheon Professional Services LLC, a Dallas-based training outsourcing firm, offers product support expertise among its specialties. The company collaborated for almost 10 years with a global auto manufacturer to train 300,000 dealer personnel on the sale and repair of its vehicles. It also focuses on defense, finance, government, and high tech industries.
Most important, customer training absolutely must be targeted to the needs of the individual, say experts. Because customers normally have an option of whether to learn more about a product or service, “they will only buy training because of the convenience factor,” says one training company executive. “If you fail to provide training when and where they need it, you are leaving money on the table,” he adds.
Executives at Quicken also have advice for companies considering customer training gained from practical experience: “Understand your customers and their learning needs,” says Rich Walker. “And don’t approach customer training purely from a sales perspective. Above all, listen to your customers.”
Published: October 2004