A month back I had the fortune of being asked to present to CEdMA, an association of senior training managers in large IT companies who have the responsibility for training up their organisations’ customers in their various products. It was clear from their discussion that the market was changing:
- Customers are demanding shorter courses.
- Customers are demanding more online delivery.
- Customers are becoming more savvy about the fact that large-scale knowledge dumps in the classroom don’t work.
- Customers are turning to lower-cost, third-party providers.
It seems unlikely that IT companies will be able to rely in the future on the classroom as their main delivery medium. Ironic as it may seem, IT companies could do with a dose of their own medicine and start to embrace 21st century culture. The IT customer training of the future could look very different:
- Learning and support materials could be (and already are in some cases) provided online free of charge to customers as a gesture of goodwill. It’s becoming ever harder to sell content anyway.
- Online communities for customers can work alongside the free content to encourage dialogue and help build customer loyalty.
- Specialist topics can be covered by webinars. These will dramatically reduce the indirect costs for customers of live training and could be revenue earners.
- Top dollar can be charged for short, face-to-face workshops which fill in the gaps and meet customer-specific needs.
- And some additional revenue can be generated by bespoke, value-added services (skills audits, evaluation and other consultancy).
It’s true that this bundle of services will earn the IT companies much less from customer training than they might have achieved in the glory days of the classroom. But those days have gone and half-full classes must now be costing more than they earn. Where the new IT customer training will score is in the enormous benefits that can be achieved in terms of customer loyalty. And in the end, these are IT companies after all, not training providers, and their priority is to keep hold of their customers so they can continue to sell to them in the long term.