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Survey: Pandemic Spurs Significant Long-term Investment in Customer Education as Businesses Prioritize Customer Experience, Retention, and Growth

Thought Industries Announces 2021 “State of Customer Education” Report Based on More Than 200 Respondents

Videoconferencing and remote work may have stolen the headlines, but they weren’t the only business trends that emerged in response to the pandemic. B2B organizations also stepped up their investments in customer education initiatives, according to a new study—with the majority investing 30-plus percent more than pre-pandemic levels, and a whopping 30 percent launching brand new customer education programs. Looking ahead, businesses expect even more investment in external training for 2021, with nearly 60 percent planning increases in headcount and technology spend.

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The new study was released today by Thought Industries, the world’s leading B2B customer education and external training platform provider, in tandem with Claire Schooley, the former lead learning analyst at Forrester. The third-annual 2021 “State of Customer Education” report captures data and insights from more than 200 participants surveyed during January and February 2021 across a variety of industries.

Not surprisingly, 41 percent of respondents indicated that shifting in-person training to remote, virtual channels has become a priority. More importantly, 40 percent said customer education was a valuable tool to protect against customer churn, as many industries weathered austerity during 2020. All told, 97 percent say customer education impacts business revenue, from increased brand awareness to onboarding efficiency and reduced customer churn. Meanwhile, 43 percent are currently monetizing their external learning programs, with another 22 percent planning to do so later in 2021.

“Utilizing e-learning with customer education increases product and service adoption,” said industry analyst Craig Weiss, CEO of The Craig Weiss Group. “By tapping into the customer experience and extending training beyond features and onboarding, it creates happy and loyal customers.”

The survey findings come at a critical time of growth for the customer education industry, as businesses embrace virtual training for customers and partners; shift from legacy systems to modern platforms; and determine how best to improve online training content quality and experiences. Other key findings include:

  • 91 percent of customer education programs grew over the last five years, with the percent reporting “significant growth” increasing from 30 to 45 percent year-over-year.
  • As programs mature, they deliver measurable returns across the customer lifecycle, with respondents indicating product adoption (48%) and renewal rates (37%) showing the greatest measurable impact. Moreover, a subset of the respondent pool is now measuring impact on brand awareness, customer expansion, retention, net new revenue, and market share. At the same time, measurement remains a struggle for many, with 43 percent of respondents still establishing their approach.
  • 39 percent of respondents estimate that still less than a quarter of learners are getting the education they need, up from 33 percent last year. 68 percent believe they underperform on educating customers to get incrementally more value and to become product gurus and brand champions.
  • Goals for 2021 are focused on expanding learning content libraries and supporting learners post-onboarding through point-of-consumption in-application training. 65 percent are also focused on addressing the needs of more advanced users and champions to increase customer lifetime value.
  • 57 percent are expanding their content to meet the needs of advanced and expert learners, while 42 percent use new content formats to better engage those learners.

“Our research validates what we’ve seen first hand: Customer education is a fast-growing business need, and the leaders are realizing tangible business returns,” said Barry Kelly, CEO, Thought Industries. “While the pandemic clearly accelerated short and long-term investments, companies are realizing customer education goes deeper than onboarding and product adoption. It’s an engine to drive customer experience, growth, and retention. We’re seeing more maturity and monetization across the industry, though it’s still very early stages for many programs with a lot of room to grow.”

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