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My husband was attempting to mow the lawn the other day and after a minute or two of running, the lawnmower shut off. After a few attempts and the mower continuing to shut off, he came inside the house and Googled the problem by entering the lawnmower brand and model number and asking why it kept shutting off when fully charged. It turned out that some lever needed to be in a certain position, and it was not. We all use Google to get answers to our “how to” questions and it serves as the perfect example of a performance support tool.

So then, what is in-product performance support? Is it the same thing as in-application guidance? Is it the same thing as electronic performance support? Terminology makes things murky so let’s start with some baseline definitions, with “performance support” serving as the overarching definition and all others being a form of it.


Why In-Product Performance Support

Those who have been in the learning arena for several years are likely familiar with the concept of performance support. The element of it that may be new is the “in-product” aspect. There are a number of reasons why in-product performance support (IPPS) makes sense and I’ll talk about it from two perspectives: (1) the education services perspective and (2) the business perspective.

Education Services Perspective

There are many good reasons why education organizations should consider providing IPPS. Below is a discussion of three of those reasons. For more detail and in-depth information regarding in-product performance support, don’t miss my session at TSIA Interact, The X Factor: Using In-Product Performance Support to Drive Product Adoption.

#1 – IPPS Bridges the Gap Between Formal and Informal Learning

In learning circles, it is common knowledge that about 70% of what is learned is forgotten in one to two days, as shown in the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. Learning must be reinforced, reviewed, or applied, if it is going to be remembered.

How many times have we all paused when trying to recall something that we learned in a recently completed course? It happens to all of us. In-product performance support provides contextual help and guidance when important information, especially procedural information, cannot be recalled.

ebbinghaus forgetting curve

#2 – IPPS Provides Another Route to Market

2021 Education Services Benchmark Survey data indicates that attach rates are 13% for customer training organizations. This means that when a net new product is sold, training is attached only 13% of the time.

Another way of looking at it is that 87% of the time training is NOT included, at the time a net new product is sold. For this reason, education organizations must cultivate other routes to market. The diagram below shows potential routes, in no particular order. In-product performance support is one of those routes.

routes to market

#3 – IPPS Enables a Frictionless Customer Experience

The latest buzzword in the XaaS world is “frictionless.” A frictionless customer experience means that as a company, you make it as easy as possible for a customer to buy and use your products.

The sooner a product is used successfully, the sooner the user has what is referred to as the “aha moment.” This is the moment when a customer first derives value. Therefore, a frictionless customer experience ostensibly results in accelerated time to value.

In-product performance support can help with a frictionless customer experience because a user gets immediate help and guidance while in the product. Time is not wasted tracking down a co-worker to help or waiting on the other end of a phone line for an agent in the support organization to assist.

Business Perspective

Just as there are numerous reasons to implement in-product performance support from an Education Services (ES) perspective, the same is true from a business perspective. A reason common to both is a frictionless customer experience.

Clearly, anything that expedites product onboarding, enables a customer to get up and running more quickly, and accelerates time to first value is worth implementing. Below are a couple more reasons why in-product performance support is important to your company.

#1 - It Reduces Call Volume into Support

In essence, in-product performance support gives users the ability to answer their own “how-to” questions and thus avoid placing a call into a support organization. In this way, a performance support tool or platform provides users self-service capability.

Data from my TSIA colleague Laura Fay, VP Research, XaaS Product Management, indicates that 43% of product management organizations build in some type of contextual, in-application guidance or help. Other self-service tools built into the product, as shown below, include intelligent search, at 57%, and assisted support, at 42%. Assisted support includes things like live chat or a chat bot.
frictionless experiences

Additional data from another TSIA colleague, Dave Baca, Director Research, Support Services, shows that the median value for self-service case deflection is 30%, with “self-service deflection” defined as follows: The rate that self-service resources and/or content eliminate a customer’s need for live agent assistance.

self deflection rate

#2 – It Provides the Most Recent Information

In a XaaS business model, software updates and revisions are continuous and frequent. This can easily result in aggravation for a user if the interface or process used yesterday is not the same today. In-product performance support provides the guidance users need to navigate product changes more easily, thus promoting a more positive product experience overall.

Usage of In-Product Performance Support Tools/Platforms

2021 Education Services Benchmark Survey data shows that usage of IPPS is a minority practice for education organizations, as shown in the chart below.

performance support

Other data provided by XaaS Product Management shows that the most common entity providing IPPS is the product management organization. This is a missed opportunity for Education Services organizations because IPPS provides a great way for Education Services to build awareness of more in-depth, formal training, such as classroom and virtual instructor-led delivery, online learning, certification opportunities, and so on.

Remember, the learning provided via in-product options tends to be informal and therefore is insufficient to truly “train” someone on how to effectively use a product. IPPS is good for “point-in-time” learning to enable completion of an immediate task. What IPPS does not do is provide linkage between all the discrete tasks, so that a learner ends up with a comprehensive picture of the product. For this reason, in-product performance support IS NOT a replacement for formal training, but is in addition to it.

There are any number of in-product performance support tools and platforms. This blog will not discuss them, but will address two different approaches to in-product performance support, (1) a learning focus and (2) a non-learning focus, meaning that the focus originates from some focus other than learning.

A difference that I noticed when looking at platforms is that those that originate from a learning focus provide access to more learning. Meaning, that in addition to the in-product guidance provided, there are numerous other learning resources referenced so that a user can pursue more in-depth learning, if desired. This is shown in an example in the upcoming Learning Focus section.

In contrast, those tools and platforms originating from a non-learning focus tend to provide performance support only, and do not seem to provide access to other learning assets. Below, each approach is described briefly.

Learning Focus

A platform called uPerform, from a company named Ancile, falls into the learning focus category. The screenshot shown below, found on Google Images, shows a screen, framed in blue, that says Create Purchase Order. To the right, framed in orange, is contextual help, based on the task to be completed – creating a purchase order.

At the top, you’ll notice it says Overview, followed by Criteria and Helpful Hints. Beneath the Helpful Hints it says Procedure. When the user clicks on the icon of the computer screen in Step 1, Create Purchase Order instructions appear.

purchase order

The following screenshot shows additional resources, in the orange framed box, available to the user. An example of one of the resources is the second item listed, Exercise. So, if a user wants to practice the Create Purchase Order task offline, he or she can download an exercise. Included in the download is a link to a virtual lab environment. It is via these additional resources that the education organization has the ability to provide learning paths, or outlines of full courses, or mention modules that may reside in a subscription-based library.

This additional formal learning content is fee-based and provides in-depth learning opportunities for a user. As the image below may be difficult to read the five options listed in the orange framed box are, (1) Cue Card, (2) Exercise, (3) Quick Reference Step, (4) Simulation, and (5) Work Instruction.

enter descriptive alt text here

A learning focus approach to in-product performance support includes additional resources for the user and enables in-depth learning, not just on the task at hand, but about workflows before and after the task, thereby providing a more complete picture of product functionality.

Only basic guidance is provided in-product. The skills and knowledge required to truly use a product proficiently and efficiently are acquired by leveraging formal learning, which sits outside of the in-product experience.

A great TSIA Education Services member example of a learning focused performance support platform is SAP’s Enable Now. The Enable Now platform was designed and built in-house, using SAP products. Be sure to attend my session, The X Factor: Using In-Product Performance Support to Drive Product Adoption, at the upcoming TSIA Interact conference, to learn more about SAP’s Enable Now platform and the stellar results their education organization is achieving, with in-product performance support.

Non-Learning Focus

Those tools and platforms that originate from a non-learning focus, provide guidance that tends to be limited to step-by-step instructions, without much additional information provided beyond the step-by-step. When reviewing these platforms, I did not for example, see pointers to other, more in-depth, learning content. The intent of performance support is to bridge the gap between formal and informal learning and vice versa. I saw little if any reference to formal learning in those platforms originating from a non-learning focus.

Below is a screenshot of one such example, taken from Google Images. If you compare it to the uPerform screenshots, it is not difficult to see that the learning focus platform provides more information, goes beyond simple instructions, and provides other learning options for which users can avail themselves.

product services information

Getting Started

Many education organizations begin using in-product performance support tools after a product is built. So, it is certainly possible to add it to existing products. In a perfect world however, IPPS is implemented as the product is being built. This is truly a collaborative effort in which education services, product management, the user interface team, product marketing, and others should be engaged.

The benefits of IPPS, above and beyond fostering learning, are many, not the least of which are enhancing the customer experience, reducing call volume into support, and driving product adoption.

Be sure to join me at TSIA Interact to learn more about how your customers and the customer training organization can reap the rewards of in-product performance support.

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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.

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