How to Create Successful Customer Education Content Fast with Dave Derington

How to Create Successful Customer Education Content Fast with Dave Derington

What’s the secret to creating great customer education content, fast?

If you create content, you might get swept up striving for perfection. But when it comes to customer education content, this should be one of the last things on your mind.

Dave Derington is the Senior Manager of Outreach’scustomer education program and believes that customer education doesn’t have to be perfect – it just has to be helpful. He shares a faster way to create fun and relatable customer education content and explains why you should leave the idea of perfection behind.

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

Dave is passionate about educating customers about software products, particularly SaaS products for any organization or business. He also co-hosts a podcast where he shares more of his thoughts on customer education (aptly named CELab – Customer Education Laboratories).

You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…

What is customer education?

For Dave, customer education is all about scale and “getting information about how to use a product, not just how, but why.” Think about it this way, if you are trying to explain or introduce a new product to someone, what do you need to communicate to get them to both understand and successfully use it? In this respect, customer education is closely tied to customer success.

“I want you as a customer to be happy with the product that you bought because we’re in a subscription economy. That means if you say to me, ‘Dave, I can’t use this thing’. I fail.”

In industries like SaaS, things move quickly. If your customer isn’t instantly getting value from the product, they may quickly move on to the next thing. But SaaS companies turn out products fast too. So, customer education teams are adept at using rapid, agile methodologies to get knowledge into their customer’s hands as quickly as possible. This way, customers can become unstuck, find value, and continue using the product.

Before the pandemic, educating customers about a product may have involved in-person training classes. But today, customer education content looks very different. Now, organizations prefer accessible, on-demand content that quickly enables and empowers their customers to use the products.

Why speed is critical for customer education

Dave believes most people who’ve gone through high school and college are already trained to be educators. He says that exposure to classroom learning, homework, and tests, trains you to apply these skills within an organization. Consider how often your organization uses slideshow presentations, similar to a lecture, to share information. We’re taught this is how you communicate, but not everyone learns this way.

When it comes to creating customer education content, you might introduce methodologies through tried-and-tested adult learning theory and canonical instructional design. However, these are long-form practices and often take a long time for the customer to absorb.

"COVID-19 has proved that on demand, virtual learning is hot." Dave Derington

If you need to get your product out fast, you’ll also need to quickly create content that educates your customers about how to use it. So, where do you start? Many people begin building the content with everything in mind. They want to show and tell what every button and click can do. But this slows down the process. Trying to be too comprehensive isn’t conducive to creating quick, useful content.

Dave suggests that in these speedy scenarios, you have to “apply a completely different and more agile approach”. You need to be comfortable with a lack of perfection.

How to get comfortable with imperfection

Dave refers to himself as a “recovering perfectionist” and even calls this attitude his superpower. But why should you let go of perfectionism? Dave uses a “time boxing” approach.

Say you’re working on a project and you have a deadline of one month. You may want to spend that entire month working towards a perfect project. But is that the best and most efficient use of your time?  

Dave notes that while aspiring to perfection can be a good driver, it shouldn’t be the focus. The first step is creating the content. You can always come back and refine your content later. So, to prioritize creation, Dave suggests setting yourself a “brutal” time goal. Ask yourself how fast you could get your content together. Then, set yourself a time limit and aim to get your task or project finished within that timeframe.

This idea of speed-creation prioritizes fun and functionality, and comes from Dave’s experience with Global Game Jam, a video-game building event that takes place over just one weekend. With this type of content creation, the point isn’t to get the game as perfect as possible – it’s to create something tangible and entertaining, fast.

“This encapsulates what we do with software as a service in the most brutal way, because you’re trying to put something together using all these different media types ­– storytelling, video animation, system stuff, technology – all for somebody to enjoy. If you can do that in a weekend, and you get the core of it together, you did exactly what we do in customer education.”

How to give customers the education content they need

To create helpful customer education content, you should consider what they need to learn first. Dave suggests approaching it from the customer’s perspective. They don’t necessarily need to understand what every bell and whistle does, but first-time product users will always need to understand the whats, whys, and the hows. If you can teach your customers these fundamentals, it’s likely that they’ll figure out the rest by themselves.

Use customer education content to show people a roadmap or a pathway through the product. Customers can then apply these core concepts to progress from their initial learning to their desired result. Dave stresses that your priority for customer education content should be creating short training that gets to the point, talks about use cases, and helps the customer practically.

"Think about the pain of the customer first and let that drive you." Dave Derington

Dave notes that if you start with speed, mistakes can happen. But it’s easier to fix small imperfections than greater systemic problems with your customer education content. The silver lining is that these errors often pave the way for development once the company has grown.

How to create customer education content – fast

Dave shared some of his preferred methods for creating customer education content without the extended time frame. First, find out what your customers’ pain points are and what you need to teach them. Then, use one of these content creation strategies:

  1. Hit record: without scripting anything, record yourself talking through the subject. This could be audio-only or video. This type of content is quick to create, but it might not be that useful for the customer in its raw form. Dave advises editing the content down to cut out anything irrelevant and make it easier to consume.
  2. Write a script: script out all of the main points (it could even be a few bullets), to ensure you cover the necessary information. Once you’ve recorded your content, it should need little to no editing before you can start sharing it.
  3. Create microcontent: if you’ve already created long-form content using the methods above, the next step is to chop it up into bite-size chunks. This way, you can save time by repurposing your existing content and still provide valuable information to your customers. In fact, Dave recommends drip-feeding your audience small chunks of information to reinforce their learning.

But for Dave, the secret to speed is less is more. In his final thoughts, Dave reflected on why the most important factor to creating content quickly is focusing solely on the customer’s needs.

“You’ve got to think about the context of what people using your product or services actually need. If they don’t need to know all of the functionality, get rid of it. Cut it out. Be brutal about it. Get it down to the core brass tacks, the things you really need to know.”

To learn more about creating content that helps your customers, head over to the TechSmith Academy! We have plenty of courses and resources to help you produce high-quality, helpful content quickly – even if you’re just getting started. Here’s a short course to get you going: Making a Video Tutorial for Beginners.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

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