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COVID amplified the digital shortcomings of many companies and the functions within them, including education services. Many education organizations have been providing digital content for years, in the form of e-Learning and virtual instructor-led training. However, there were a reasonable number whose portfolio included only instructor-led training – not a digital training offer in sight. To their credit, most education organizations responded promptly and within months brought digital offers to market.
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Digital transformation, however, does not end with digital content. It truly is just the beginning. Intertwined with digital transformation is the digital customer experience and it is this aspect on which this blog will focus, particularly as it applies to the following:
  • Purchasability: How easy is it for a customer to digitally purchase training?
  • Findability: How easy is it for learners to find the training content they need, or to find answers to questions they have when using the education website or learning portal?
  • Communicability: How easy is it for customers to communicate with the training organization during their digital experience?
Let’s start with a definition of digital customer experience, as provided by Sitecore, a digital experience software company.

The term digital customer experience refers to the sum total of all the online interactions a customer has with your brand. It may start with your company website but could also include apps, chat bots, social media, and any other channels where the touchpoint is virtual.

Sitecore

Below are some examples differentiating digital content from digital experience. While there is certainly cross-over between the two lists, the main point is that there are many things to consider, beyond digital content, when assessing digital transformation within the customer training organization.
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A word that is coming up more frequently in conjunction with customer experience is “frictionless.” A frictionless digital customer experience means that you make it easy for a customer to do business with you and you are constantly refining the experience by identifying where friction exists in the customer journey, and removing it. To evaluate your customers’ digital experience with your organization, and the degree to which it is frictionless, assess it using the following three variables:
  1. Success: Was the customer able to complete the task?
  2. Effort: Was the process smooth and easy?
  3. Emotion: Did the customer come away feeling good?
If success is low, effort is high, and emotion is negative – these are indicators of friction and typically result in a poor digital experience. The next step, as mentioned, is to remove the source(s) of friction. 
 

Purchasability

As cited earlier, purchasability is the ease with which customers can purchase education offers online. So, if your organization does not have e-Commerce, then the cards are already stacked against you when assessing your organization’s digital customer experience. To illustrate the concept of purchasability and friction, let’s take a look at an example. To set the stage, I randomly went to various education services websites to “test” the online buying experience.

The below example is garnered from one of my random visits.

Step 1

The screen capture below shows a course I randomly selected to attend. Please note, that information has been redacted to maintain vendor anonymity. A brief description of the course is provided as well as the price and a register link.
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Step 2

Upon clicking “Register” the “Item added to cart” pop-up appeared, as shown in the following screen capture. So far so good. Step 3 however, is where things fall apart.
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Step 3

I clicked on “Go to Cart” to complete my purchase and received the information shown below. As with step one, the information has been redacted to maintain anonymity. Please note the message in purple. It says, “Sorry, you cannot purchase the XXX – Virtual Classroom with a credit card.” I am then instructed to contact the provider for more information.
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So, let’s assess this digital purchasing experience in the context of the three variables mentioned earlier: success, effort, and emotion.
  1. Success: Was I successful in making a purchase? NO!
  2. Effort: Was the experience low effort? NO! I am left wondering why I was sent to a shopping cart to make an online purchase, when in fact this course cannot be purchased with a credit card. The second failure in this experience is the statement "contact us for more information" yet no contact information is provided. So, now the burden is on me to hunt down the education services phone number or email address. Effort on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being low effort and 10 being high effort, is a 10. Frankly, at this point, I’m done. It is incumbent upon the provider of this course to include contact information, not on me the consumer, to have to find it.
  3. Emotion: How am I feeling emotionally about this buying experience? Pretty negative.  

Keep in mind that consumers are more likely to share a negative experience with others than they are to share a positive experience, as stated by Statista.com (Chart: More Likely to Vent Than to Recommend? | Statista).

Findability

Findability is becoming an issue not just for education organizations, but for entire companies. Siloed data and information means that customers have to go to numerous sites within a company to find what they need. While this larger problem certainly speaks to your company’s digital customer experience overall, we will focus on findability as it pertains to the education services organization.  

Data provided by Michael Hendron, PhD, in his article, The Findability Solution, shows that only 50% of the time do customers find what they are looking for during a site search, not a good omen.  

In only 50% of site searches do customers typically find what they are looking for.

While Hendon’s data is relative to online shopping, I use it as a proxy for the ease that learners can find the content they need, when they need it, particularly online content. While online content itself has moved to nugget-sized, task-level blocks of learning, the reality for most customer training organizations is that content is not findable at a task level.

During TSIA’s recent webinar, Digital Strategy: So Much More Just Than Digital Content, the following polling question was asked: “Using Google as an example, if a learner typed “how do I do…” in the search field within the education services e-Learning portal, what content would be displayed?”

The graphic below shows the results from the webinar poll. At 34%, the results look pretty favorable for "Course, Module and Task" level content being served up from search. However, if taken collectively, those who do not provide content at a task level total 66%.
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So, let’s review this lack of functionality as it applies to e-Learning. While most online content is now provided at a nugget level, search functionality is incapable of providing a discrete nugget of learning in 66% of education organizations who participated in the poll. What good does it do you to have nugget-sized content if no one can find it?
 
Search and findability are still largely based on monolithic content development practices, and for this reason, tagging and indexing occurs at the monolithic level, thus resulting in a course title when searching for a discrete task. Let’s rank the digital customer experience for task-level content findability based on the 66% who said they do not have task-level search capability.
  1. Success: Can a learner successfully find the task-level content wanted? Probably not.
  2. Effort: Is the experience low effort? Not likely. If search results provide course title only, it is then up to the learner to scroll through the course content to find the nugget of content in which the learner is interested. In all likelihood, the learner will probably stop searching before finding what they want.
  3. Emotion: What is the emotion about this experience? The learner is likely feeling frustrated because he or she can’t find what they want, which increases the probability that the learner will bother a co-worker, or perhaps call the help desk to get the information needed. Moreover, if access to e-Learning is via a subscription, then the learner is paying for a bad experience, which potentially increases dissatisfaction.

So, what to do? If your Learning Management System (LMS) is the inhibiting factor (I often hear from members that their LMS is the culprit for lack of findability), then go find a search engine that can do the searching that your LMS can’t. 

The solution is analytics-based or cognitive search, which indexes all of your content and returns very specific results—including the exact location of the needed nugget of content within a large document, such as a course, or a smaller element like a learning module or chapter. 

In fact, going back to the beginning of this section, I had mentioned that findability is a company-wide issue. With that in mind, intelligent or cognitive search provides capabilities that go well beyond searching for content on customer training webpages.

Communicability

How easy is it for customers or prospects to communicate with your education services organization during their digital experience? Like our purchasability example, if you merely suggest “contact us” and no contact information is provided, then clearly you are missing the mark.

In talking with Vele Galovski, VP, Support and Field Services Research, TSIA, he mentions the importance of multi-channel communication and provides the following definition: “Customer assistance provided across more than two channels, enabling businesses to meet customers on their level.”      

While the definition above is relative to customer assistance in a support environment, the same principle applies. Multi-channel means more than two channels of communication. In a digital environment, customers should be given multiple ways to communicate with your education organization. 

During the Digital Strategy webinar referenced earlier, another polling question was asked about the communication options provided by education organizations. The graph below shows the percentage of respondents that use five of the more common communication types. 

While the polling results for multi-channel provision are close, the percentage of education organizations using two or fewer forms of communication is greater than those using three or more, at 55% and 45%, respectively. 

As poll respondents were asked to “select all that apply,” the total percentage is greater than 100%. For the 45% using three or more communication types, the most popular combination, as exhibited in the data, is email, web self-service, and phone.
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So, how can customer training organizations include multi-channel communication in their digital customer experience? To answer that question, let’s look at a TSIA Education Services member, SAP. 

The graphic below is from the SAP Training and Adoption website. Most pages I viewed had either the "Contact Us" icon (circled in orange in the graphic) or a blue "Chat Now" button. 

Clicking on the "Contact Us" icon brings up the image to which the orange arrow points. Upon viewing, you can see that four communication options are provided:
  1. Call us at – provides a toll-free phone number for use in the U.S. and below the 800-number listing it says, see our complete list of local country numbers.  
  2. Call offline – an option in which you leave your information and someone in education calls you.
  3. Chat now – provides a personal digital assistant, otherwise known as a chat bot.  
  4. Contact us – an email option to provide comments, ask questions, or offer feedback.
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From the web page shown above, I selected "Chat Now" and up popped a screen with topics, as shown below in Graphic 1. As can be seen, the listings in Graphic 1 are broad in nature. I went ahead and selected "Self-Paced Learning with SAP Learning Hub", as shown in Graphic 2. Upon selecting self-paced learning, the listings are more specific.  

For the purposes of continuing, I selected "How can I practice on a live SAP system?" As shown in Graphic 3, I am given a description of something called "SAP Live Access". It tells me that "Live Access" is available in a learning subscription, which includes "10 hours of SAP Live Access" time.

I proceeded through the chat and at the end a feedback screen appeared asking me to rate my experience, as shown below in Graphic 4.

All-in-all the chat bot was pretty thorough and while I was only testing the experience, I found it easy to use.
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Call to Action  

Once you've finished reading this blog, I would like you to go to your education organization’s website, pretend you are a customer, and make an honest assessment of your organization’s website: 
  • How would you rate the overall digital customer experience in the context of success, effort and emotion? 
  • Do you make it easy for customers to buy from you?  
  • Do you make it easy for customers to find task-level training?
  • Do you provide customers with multi-channel communication options?  
If your experience is like mine, based on randomly selecting numerous websites to explore, and you are honest with yourself, I’m guessing most of you will rate the digital customer experience low and answer “no” to my questions.  

The digital customer experience is about so much more than digital content. For more information about Education Services and how membership can help you solve your most pressing business challenges, contact us today!
 
 
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Maria Manning-Chapman

About Author Maria Manning-Chapman

Maria Manning-Chapman, is the distinguished vice president of education services research for TSIA. She has more than 25 years of education experience in the high-technology industry. Maria is well versed in the dynamics of running an education services business and has held leadership positions in operations, virtual learning, business development, curriculum development, delivery, and partner management over the course of her career.

Maria's favorite topics to discuss