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Why don’t Education Services and Support Services organizations collaborate more? A Quick Poll Survey, Collaboration Between Education Services and Support Services, that I conducted in late 2020 with my TSIA colleague, Dave Baca, Director, Support Services Research, reveals that collaboration between these two organizations is not a robust practice.

Before jumping into the survey findings, let’s set the stage with a couple of important words: collaboration and synergy. While they sound the same, one is the outcome of the other. If organizations work together (collaborate) they accomplish more than they would working separately (synergy), and that is the point. Those education and support organizations that do work together have achieved some pretty remarkable results.

collaboration and synergy definitions

The reason why this relationship matters now, more than ever, is the heightened awareness that accelerating value realization helps drive product adoption. While helping customers realize value in fact requires collaboration across all functions of a company, the intent of this blog is to focus specifically on collaboration between education and support services organizations.

Four Ways to Collaborate

#1 Support Services Shares Data with Education Services

One of the easiest ways for customer training and support organizations to start collaborating is to share data. Support Services can share data with Education Services by providing access to the support ticketing system, and/or providing a monthly report of the incident (call) log. A record of the calls placed into support enables Education Services to cross-check against learning management system data, to ascertain if the customer has taken any type of training, and if so, what training has been taken and how recently.

Sadly, data sharing between Education Services and Support Services is limited, at best. During the Bridging the Gap Between Education and Support Services Organizations webinar, a polling question was posed to webinar participants. Results from that poll, as shown below, indicate that a paltry 29% of webinar participants provide education organizations with support data or provide Education Services access to the support database.

survey results 1

This is a missed opportunity for both organizations. There are many reasons why sharing data is vital. Not the least of which is the impact a customer’s inability to use the product effectively has on value realization and product adoption.

With data from support, the education organization can attack this problem by doing the following:

  • Determining the volume of calls placed by a particular individual, as well as the volume of calls placed by that individual’s company, over a given timeframe.
  • Checking LMS data to see if the individual who called support has taken any training and if so, recommending applicable refresher training. If not, then providing a learning path(s) that aligns with the subject matter of the individual’s question.
  • Identifying commonalities in the calls placed between different individuals within the same company.
  • Proposing a group training plan that addresses the identified commonalities.

Education Services can follow-up with customers via automated email marketing campaigns and/or use a non-automated approach and directly contact a specific individual/customer. The point in doing all of this is to build and strengthen skills that enable a customer to use a product more and to use it better, which ostensibly translates to reduced call volume into support. More importantly, it fosters product adoption.

#2 Education Services Shares Data with Support Services

The other side of the coin of course, is for Education Services to share data with the Support Services organization. The best way to do that is for Education Services to provide Support Services with access to the leaning management system. LMS data provides the support engineer with visibility to a caller’s training record, their degree of product knowledge, if any certifications have been obtained, and so on.

The support agent can use this information to gear the level of his or her conversation upwards, or downwards, to match the customer’s understanding of the product. So, not too simple if the customer has learned the basics, and not too complicated if they have not.

Survey results, as shown below, reveal that 58% of Quick Poll respondents said that the Support Services organization has access to the education organization’s learning management system.

survey result 2

In addition to accessing a customer’s training record, the agent can also access learning path information. Many learning paths are distinguished by job role. As a matter of conversation, a support agent is likely to ask about a caller’s role and how he or she interfaces with the product. Based on this input, the agent can make training recommendations, which leads to our third form of collaboration.

#3 Recommend Training

By default, the support organization helps build and strengthen a customer’s skills by answering the question(s) asked. However, the support agent can further facilitate skill-building by recommending applicable training during the customer conversation. Quick Poll survey results found that 62% of survey participants said “Yes” their support agents recommend training, as displayed in the graphic below.

survey result 3

As mentioned in collaboration tip #2, if a support engineer has access to learning path information, he or she can recommend a path that aligns with the caller’s job role (e.g. administrator, architect, end-user, etc.). Alternatively, if Support Services does not have access to the LMS or if training is not laid out in learning paths, Education Services should provide support personnel with a cheat sheet of training to recommend. The cheat sheet should include course/module/video titles, based on where a customer is in their product journey (new user, long-time user, etc.) and a brief description of the concepts and topics covered.

Hopefully, the cheat sheet provides enough information to enable a support agent to easily ascertain subject matter that aligns with a customer’s question(s). If such a cheat sheet cannot be provided, then minimally, the support agent should provide customers with the link to the customer training portal/webpage.

#4 Support Services Provides a Top 10 List

The provision of a “Top 10 How-To Question List” to the education organization is a key collaboration point, as it is mutually beneficial to both education and support organizations. Data shows that roughly a quarter of all incoming incidents, across all support channels, are “how-to” in nature. These calls may be occurring for a variety of reasons, some of which may be related to training content, as follows:

  • Does training content cover the questions on the Top 10 List?
  • If training content does cover the questions on the list, what about the content renders it insufficient for the customer to solve his or her problem? How can the content be made clearer, easier to apply, and/or easier to understand?
  • If training content does not exist for a Top 10 question, what content needs to be developed to fill the gap?

If we go back to skill-building, the Top 10 How-To Question List is a cornerstone to improving skills. The list is a roadmap of sorts that clearly calls out where folks most frequently lack the skills to successfully use the product.

This is feedback that should be given to the content development function on a quarterly basis. Content cannot be improved if content developers do not know that existing content does not address the how-to question, or if it does, that the content is insufficient, in some way.

A Top 10 How-To Question List provides just the feedback that the content development function needs. The opportunity this presents is that by addressing deficient or missing content, future calls into support can be deflected, assuming that the customer takes the training.

It seems that providing a Top 10 List would be a relatively easy thing to do, but based on the data, apparently it isn’t. As shown below, only 25% of survey participants indicated that they provide the ES organization/content development function, with such a list. This is a major miss for both Support Services and Education Services.

survey result 4

Why Collaboration Matters

Collaboration matters because of the four-way win:

1) The customer wins.

2) Support Services wins.

3) Education Services wins.

4) The company wins.

The example below, from a TSIA Education Services member, encapsulates the four-way win. For brevity, I'll provide a brief description of what the member did, and the outcomes achieved. For full details, please refer to the TSIA member-only report, The Perfect Partnership – Education Services and Support Services: A Case Study Featuring Mentor Graphics, a Siemens Company.

A few years ago, the Education Services organization at Mentor Graphics decided to blow up their e-learning and start over. In doing so, they shifted primarily to a video format. This reinvention of their e-learning included integrating the learning platform, called Learning Center, with the support platform, called Support Center. Voice to text was used to “translate” all video to text and this information was loaded to the support knowledge base and tagged.

When customers go to the self-service mechanism in Support Center and type a question, a keyword search brings up applicable On-Demand Training (ODT) that the customer can use to solve their problem.

The orange oval in the Support Center View below, shows the how-to question submitted: “How do I migrate pin labels when I use Library Migrator to migrate symbol?” The orange rectangles show two applicable learning libraries that contain content relevant to the question asked. Note that next to the library listing it says, Activate Free Trial. While training content is fee-based, a free trial offer is available, thus allowing a customer who has not purchased an ODT subscription to access content for a limited time. To access content beyond the trial expiration date, the customer must purchase an ODT subscription.

Support Center View

support center view

When the customer clicks on Activate Free Trial, he or she is seamlessly transported to the Learning Center. The assets displayed in the Learning Center, shown below, come from sources across the company: support, marketing, product management, research, education services, etc.

As the graphic might be hard to read, the items listed under the orange oval, Lab Guides and Reference Materials, include ODT lab guides and documentation. The items listed under the green oval, Related Material, include datasheets, blogs, ODT videos and other company videos and whitepapers. The items listed under the purple circle, Other Discover Edition Chapters, list extended learning options that are applicable.

Learning Center View

learning center view

The results of Mentor Graphics’ efforts have been significant. The inclusion of training assets in the search function of the self-service portal and the provision of access to training content via a free trial resulted in a 58% increase in case deflection rate. That’s a huge win for Support Services. As a result of exposure to training assets via integration of support and learning platforms, 40% of leads for the education organization’s ODT subscription offer come from the support organization. That’s a huge win for Education Services.

results achieved

The integration between support and learning platforms provides a great customer experience and fully enables painless self-service. That’s a huge win for the customer. And finally, a customer that is now able to use the product more and use the product better, both hallmarks of product adoption, is a huge win for the company.

Further evidence that demonstrates the importance of collaboration between training and support organizations is shown below, in the Impact of Trained Customers on Call Volume pie chart. At 70%, most organizations, whether customer training or support, do not track the impact of training on call volume into the support organization. The good news, however, is that for those that do, 23% indicate that call volume is lower for trained customers.

survey result 5

This impact metric is useful to both customer training and support organizations and is perhaps the ultimate demonstration of collaboration, as it requires extensive data from both sides of the house. While compiling the data initially may take some time, once a process is in place and it is repeatable, both organizations reap the benefit.

This Mentor Graphics example, along with the 23% that indicate call volume into support is lower for a trained customer, is testimony that working together works and when it does, synergy can be achieved.

Summary

Education and Support Services Collaboration Checklist

There is a lot of low-hanging fruit upon which education and support organizations can act. The checklist below provides suggestions for getting started. While most of these suggestions are covered in this blog, a couple in the Education & Support Services column are not. For more details, please refer to the webinar mentioned earlier, Bridging the Gap Between Education and Support Services Organizations.

suggested next steps

Now is the time for Education Services leaders to go talk to their counterparts in Support Services and for Support Services leaders to go talk to their counterparts in Education Services. Pick an item from the checklist and let the collaboration and four-way win begin!

 
 
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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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