Maximizing the Customer Experience for Training Organizations

September 27, 2016 | Don Field
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The Odd Hours Problem

It's Thursday, before 3:00 am. Your alarm clock rings. Within minutes, you're up and ready to attend the fourth day of your live online training class starting at 3:00 am. Your security software class, which includes a mix of lecture and hands-on labs, will continue until 11:00 am. After that, you'll get a few hours of work done before doing this all over again for the last day of class on Friday.

True story! That was the experience for one of the delegates in our AlienVault USM for Security Engineers training class not too long ago. He's based on the east coast of the USA. Though we offer classes in the Eastern US time zone, he chose to take our live online class in Central European Time. Why? He's the only security engineer at his organization. He needed the training, but couldn't afford to be away from his normal duties during regular office hours for a full week.

As it happens, that delegate reported that he had a great experience in the class. So why is this a problem? If we looked only at the scores on the post-class evaluations, we could have seen his high scores and just moved on. However, that would have represented a lost opportunity to listen, learn, and improve what we offer. Instead, we took this as a challenge. Because of our focus on continuously improving the customer experience, we wanted to see if there was a way to let our delegates get a good night’s sleep!

Our Customer Experience Journey

Organizations have now recognized the need to be disciplined and systematic in driving change to improve the customer experience. We all know how to do a "diving catch" to save an individual customer's situation. In addition to that, we need organized approaches that make the next customer more likely to encounter positive experiences with our products, services, partners, and employees.

At AlienVault, we've applied these principles in many areas, including our training business. Using this customer’s story as an example, here’s how we approach the process of learning from our customers to improve.

1. Measure, Listen, and Observe

We measure satisfaction with our training classes in the typical ways. That includes asking customers if they're "likely to recommend" our class. Most are, but not all. We reach out to those who had a less positive experience when we can, often learning things that we can do better.

In addition to measuring (what are the class scores?) and listening (what were the student comments? what did the instructor say about the class?), we have learned to dig deeper. We ask questions and follow up with all those involved (including the delegate, the instructor, and the salesperson) to see if there are important lessons learned from asking “Why?”

2. Find the Root Cause

I spoke to the salesperson who sold the training seat to our east coast delegate. He said that the customer's schedule of 3:00 am classes wasn't typical, but the issue is very common. He said that he's sometimes unable to include a training seat with a new sale, even when he knows that it would be in the customer's interest to take the training, only because the customer can't devote an entire work week to training. I talked to others in sales who confirmed this feedback.

We know that our product is broad and comprehensive, so a security engineer needs the full class. We can’t compromise on content. Instead, we have to be creative in delivery.

Putting this together, we concluded that we'd found our root cause issue. Our customers who need training need all 5 days, but many don't have the time to attend a traditional 5-day class in normal working hours. My team and I concluded that we can improve the customer experience--with our product, and with our training--if we can find a way to accommodate this need.

3. Fix the Root Cause

Leaders in the training industry have come up with many ways to deal with issues similar to these. We investigated a few. For example, one option is to shorten the class by turning part of the class content into self-paced learning. For this class, we decided it's not ideal for us due to the rapid pace of change for security products such as ours.

Ultimately, we decided to allow our customers to take our class in two parts. Customers can now attend the first two days of the class one week, and the final three days of the class in a subsequent week. Our sales team told us that this would resonate well with customers. It looks like they were right. After introducing this a few weeks ago, we've already seen some sales enabled by this option, and some customers taking the class in this new way. Does this solve the problem? We don’t know yet. We'll carefully monitor these “split week” delegates to see if this delivery method works.

This may seem like a simple change, but it involved many operational steps. We diligently evaluated how to adjust everything to make this work. We evaluated the class flow, the content, the registration process, our training partners, our labs, and our post class evaluations, and modified as necessary.

In the end, we're very pleased that we'll be able to accommodate more of our customers who need our training class. Nevertheless, we consider this just a start. I expect that we'll find additional ways to make learning our products more flexible in the future.

4. Keep Measuring, Listening, and Observing

Put simply, this work is never done. We already know of additional areas we want to improve. We'll keep measuring and listening. And, of equal importance, we'll keep observing. Our customers are giving us extremely valuable information when they give us feedback, and also when they demonstrate their needs via their actions. As training leaders, it's up to us to put that information to good use to maximize the customer experience.

About the Author

Don Field is a member of the Executive Council of the Computer Education Management Association (CEdMA). He wrote this article for the CEdMA blog. He would welcome any feedback you may have.  You can reach Don and his team at [email protected].

Don Field

About the Author: Don Field
Don Field is Vice President of Customer Experience at AlienVault. He leads the company's training, certification, documentation, and professional services functions. Previously, Don held leadership positions in learning services at Microsoft, 3Com, and Cisco. At the start of his high tech career, Don held various product marketing and product management positions at Apple. He began his career selling securities for a major Wall Street bank.
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