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Customer Education Should Not Lead with Product. Lead with This Instead.
November 23, 2022

Designing customer education to help customers achieve results opens up a whole new world of possibilities.


We should not base our customer education mission on teaching product features to customers. We know this. Yet, expediency often wins the day and dictates that we have features that customers need to learn, so let’s just teach them that. Easy. And it’s not just expediency that drives this decision. The instructional design process, by definition, asks the question, “What do we need to teach customers about our product?” Or “What do our customers need to learn?” These are self-centered questions. We should ask instead, “What results are our customers after?” Or “What is our customer trying to accomplish?

The second two questions are terrifying because of what the answers might be and where they might lead us: To design customer training on topics beyond the product entirely. Or worse (for us), to create no training at all.

Designing customer education to help customers achieve results opens up a wide spectrum of possibilities that go way beyond our narrow focus on feature training. I argue that focusing on teaching the product first is doing our customers and our companies a disservice.

Customer Success and Product Management Ask Different Questions

Professionals in fields from customer success to product management with far more expertise than I, are shouting from the rooftops, “Ask different questions!”

Here are two examples.

  1. Just the other day, I was listening to the CELab podcast, hosted by Adam Avramescu, VP Customer Education at Personio and Dave Derington, Director, Customer Education at ServiceRocket. Lincoln Murphy of Sixteen Ventures and customer success thought leader, was their guest.

As Murphy suggested, the mistake we make in customer education is leading with product training. Instead, we should ask what result the customer is after and then try to help the customer learn how to do that.

  1. The same phenomenon is found in product management. Melissa Perri calls it the build trap. We assume (wrongly) that we should build features that customers want. So we build, build, build and wonder why customers are never satisfied with what the product can do. Perri offers a strategy for “escaping” the build trap (the name of her book), which is to start with finding out what goals the customer is trying to achieve. Then help customers achieve those goals. That vastly changes how a product management team decides what to build.

Value Proposition Design: Escape the Instructional Design Trap

Customer education teams have the same problem that Murphy and Perri talk about. We lead with products and ignore customer needs.

We can relate.

A product release comes out. We create training on the product release.

A new module is launched. So we create training for the new module.

It’s the build trap applied to customer education. Maybe I’ll call it the instructional design trap.

Instructional design, by definition, starts with the premise that we need to figure out what instruction the learner needs. So we build instructions on product features. However, this perspective lacks a basic understanding of our customer needs.

Just as Melissa Perri offers a solution to the product build trap, and Lincoln Murphy offers a solution to the customer success product adoption trap, customer education teams need a solution to the instructional design trap.

Our customer needs go way beyond using our features. In fact, none of our customers have goals or OKRs set to use our product more. Our customers have jobs to do. Improvements to make. Risks to reduce or avoid. Instructional design does not address customer needs in the context of jobs, gains, and pains.

Value proposition design does.

Asking the Right Questions Is Key to Value Proposition Design

According to the creator of value proposition design, Alex Osterwalder, value proposition design "helps you tackle a core challenge of every business — creating compelling products and services customers want to buy.” Everyone reading this blog post wants to create “compelling customer training courses that customers want to buy. So then why not add value proposition design to your instructional design process?

In fact, we could replace both the “analyze” and “design” steps of the ADDIE (analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate) instructional design model with value proposition design. Doing this will immediately help you become more customer focused because you still start thinking about creating value for customers, not instruction.

This shift seems like a subtle difference, but it’s a massive transformation in a world in which you need to persuade customers that they can acquire value from your training products.

My ask to you is to learn more about value proposition design and then use it when you design your next customer training course.

How elearning Design Experts Use Value Propositions

If you are interested in learning more about value proposition design and customer education, visit our website.

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