The other day, I found myself falling down the rabbit hole that is YouTube. It’s amazing how one simple search for an online video can lead to 15 or 20 — or more — minutes wasted meandering.
This time, while looking for information about a software program, I detoured to click on some of the funny videos people have posted about tech support.
I started thinking about the connection between education — in this case product knowledge — and how we ultimately rate our experience with something new or different. As a consumer, I definitely place a higher value on technology when I am given easy access to the knowledge I need to use it properly, efficiently and to my benefit.
A few years back, the founders of software company 37Signals published the book Rework, a manifesto of sorts describing “a better, easier way to succeed in business.” Authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, best known for developing the open-source computer-programming framework Ruby on Rails and Basecamp project management software, compiled 88 succinct lessons aimed primarily at Internet-based startups and budding entrepreneurs.
Not all of their wisdom resonated with everyone, and some of their rules seemed merely iconoclastic rather than insightful or inspiring. But one section struck a chord. In describing better ways to differentiate themselves, Fried and Hansson encouraged businesses to out-teach the competition.
“Teaching probably isn’t something your competitors are even thinking about. Most businesses focus on selling or servicing, but teaching never even occurs to them,” they wrote. “Teach and you’ll form a bond. … They’ll trust you more. They’ll respect you more.”
Gone are the days when corporate learning functions could focus only on employees. Today, top-performing organizations extend learning to the community of customers, suppliers, distributors, resellers or franchisees. Educating these external audiences represents a significant opportunity to outmaneuver and outperform the competition.
The payoffs include building loyalty, increasing cross-sell and up-sell percentages, boosting product adoption and customer retention rates and improving overall customer satisfaction. According to studies by research and advisory company Bersin by Deloitte, companies “delivering knowledge, information, training and education to an audience beyond employees” average 25 percent annual growth.
Likewise, in an earlier study, Aberdeen Group found that organizations focused exclusively on training employees saw a 5 percent increase in revenue per employee. Organizations with formal learning programs for both customers and business partners, on the other hand, saw nearly double the revenue increase — 9 percent — per employee year over year. Aberdeen’s findings indicate one of the best ways for an organization to be successful is by educating all stakeholders, including customers, about the value of new products or changes in processes or strategies.
External training makes competitive sense for any company that provides a technical product or service, but they aren’t the only organizations that stand to benefit. In many industries, professional development programs on everything from regulatory compliance to company-specific procedures and skills can be directed to an extended enterprise of learners.
Here at Chief Learning Officer magazine, we place a high priority on teaching, too. Our focus is on serving as a source of content and context, where ideas are examined, innovations are analyzed and hard data is delivered along with thought leadership. That focus extends far beyond the pages of this magazine.
I urge you to take advantage of all the teaching moments we offer.
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It’s always time well spent with a clear payoff: learning important lessons that can be applied directly to delivering effective workforce development.
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