Connecting Your Customers to Online Business Training

Last week, I floated the idea that offering links to training “partners” is good business for you and good value for your customers. Which training partners you choose depends on the kind of business you’re in, so I’ve separated the biz-biz from the tech-biz audiences. This week, we’ll explore the options for broader-appeal business training; next week, we’ll focus on technical certification training.

On the principle that an informed customer is more likely to be a satisfied customer, think about the background knowledge people should ideally have to recognize the obvious (to you) superiority of your product or service. Potential customers will be grateful for a quick, introductory course in “how this kind of product works.” You’ll have to do some research to find sites that offer general category courses. University business and professional schools offer online courses, and your industry’s association may have developed (or may sponsor) some as well.

Online Entrepreneurial Education

Online, try Fast Company’s learning focus pages to begin your search for general entrepreneurial education if your customer base includes owners/managers of new B2B organizations, assuming they’re organized and there’s more than one person to organize. (Come to think of it, the more short-handed and disorganized they are, the more they need training.)

Forbes offers its opinion of the best training providers on the web. Although the majority of the courses from these training shops offer software user and techie training, there are notable exceptions. Element K provides courses in business management (for example, on productivity, project management, management skills, and workplace safety) and in a variety of technical skills. (At the Element K site, follow the Course Catalog link on the left to display the course listing in a frame on the right. I’m sorry that I couldn’t give you a link directly to it.)

Kaplan College offers the broadest spectrum of online courses: nursing, law, paralegal studies, criminal justice (my favorite oxymoron), and business as well as IT. Pick your own clients’ closest niche. DigitalThink (Forbes’ favorite, not mine) offers courses in e-business, IT management, and Internet literacy and some free “sampler” excerpts from its full-length courses in analyzing financial statements, e-commerce fundamentals, and sales skills.

Educating Customers to Use Your Products

Once visitors have become customers, you want them to use your product effectively and easily. You don’t want them to feel stupid or blame your product for their misuse of it.

First, of course, your own site has to give customers instructions for using your specific products or services. Beyond that, though, users may need advanced how-to courses on a variety of topics relating to your product category:

  • Safe use of the equipment

  • Sophisticated or nonstandard use of the tools
  • Practice in complex projects
  • Measuring bottom-line effect of your (or any other) service

You already have information concerning topics your customers need: ask your customer service reps about the questions they keep getting.

Once you’ve decided what kinds of training affiliates you want to offer and you’ve researched available courses, put on your “picky, picky, picky” attitude, and apply a few basic principles in choosing your partners. Even the best information can be undermined by poor presentation or packaging. Take a few sample courses from different vendors for a test drive. Here’s what to look for:

  • Web-based training in which the pages and activities load fast over a standard modem

  • Computer-based training courses that download in a reasonable period and walk you clearly through the install and start-up steps
  • Video courses that download the video quickly, use standard video viewers, and give clear directions for installation and use
  • An instructional “voice” (audio or print) that does what good teachers do — gives hints and helpful feedback, depending upon whether the user makes a mistake or an “A”
  • Course structure that builds logically from basic to advanced and that reinforces new concepts or skills with several practice exercises

Keep in mind that the courses you recommend to your customers may do double duty as company-paid perks for your employees. If they’re working with you, they’re already smart and want nothing more than to get smarter, right? Besides (as I was unable to convince one of my own dear — and now former — clients last month), the way you treat your employees directly affects the way they treat your customers. Imagine the effect on your bottom line when your customer service reps recommend to clients a course that they’ve taken themselves. Empathy and profit!

I’ve used up my word limit. I could go on, and next week I will.

Recess: If it’s later than 10:00 a.m., you need to take a break. Play with tools to revise your job description or make smarter mistakes. Dash to communicate in code. Or make a face (no, not at your boss). If you need coaching, you know where to find me.

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