What is education services? It sounds like a trick question, but is it? The role and nature of education services (ES) organizations has been morphing over the past few years. However, one consistent element is that education services, or whatever name your company gives to a similar organization, is responsible for customer-facing training. Additionally, 82% of ES functions train channel partners and 75% provide technical training for internal employees, most commonly Sales, Pre-Sales, and Professional Services personnel.While this describes the common audiences that ES organizations serve, it doesn’t answer the question, which really boils down to the charter of education services. Is it adoption? Is it enablement? Is it revenue? Is it customer success? While there are many things an ES organization can be, I’d venture to say that it is in fact all of these things, which is probably why many education organizations are going through an identity crisis.
How Education Services Has Evolved Over the Years
Going back in the time machine, the role of established education services organizations was fairly clear—it functioned as a revenue generating P&L. TSIA’s Education Services Benchmark Survey data shows that in 2010, 60% of education organizations said that revenue was the primary objective. Now, almost eight years later, that percentage is down to 20% and adoption and customer satisfaction are on the rise, at 41%, and 23%, respectively. Eight years ago, adoption, at 10%, was barely on the radar screen and customer satisfaction, at 0%, was an afterthought, at best.
Another interesting piece of data is related to the education services business model. In 2012, when the business model question was introduced into the Education Services Benchmark Survey, 73% of ES organizations said that revenue/P&L was the primary business model. In 2017, 64% cited revenue/P&L as the primary business model. The graph below shows the percentage of ES organizations selecting the stated business model for 2012, as compared to 2017. While there has been a bit of a shift in business model, it is not nearly as dramatic as the shift in education services objective. What this means for education organizations is that while adoption and customer satisfaction are now the mantras, education functions are still expected to produce revenue. The paradigm shift however, is that if an ES organization focuses on adoption and CSAT, the revenue will follow, versus the “old days,” when it was revenue for the sake of revenue.
So, what has caused these changes over the years? In a word, XaaS. I guess that’s really a letter and three words: x-as-a-service (XaaS). So, in the context of XaaS, let’s answer the question, “What is education services?”
Is Education Services About Adoption?
Yes. Without a doubt, education is about driving product adoption, and truly is the reason an education organization should exist. Customers buy products for a reason, and getting them to use those products is paramount. Education is a lynch pin in driving product usage (adoption). A TSIA Quick Poll Survey, conducted in late 2016, in which almost 2,800 learners participated, shows that trained customers say the following, after attending training:
- I use the product more frequently.
- I use more features and functions of the product.
- I am able to work more independently.
The following graph shows the percentage response for each of the three statements in the above list. Using the product more, using more product features and functions, and working more independently are all measures of product adoption. In a subscription economy, product adoption is king because it is a key indicator in subscription renewal, and subscription renewal is the lifeblood of any XaaS model. So, yes, education services is about adoption.
Is Education Services About Enablement?
Yes, education services is about enablement. However, the problem with the word “enablement” is that there is a tendency to equate it with free training. Most education organizations I talk to that are having “enablement” discussions with executive management, centering on whether training content should be free or fee-based. While the dictionary definition of “enable” simply says, “To provide with the means or opportunity,” we could say that training enables—or provides the means or opportunity—for people to learn how to use the product, use more features/functions of the product, and to work more independently.
Enablement does not mean that all content must be free. In fact, data indicates that most education organizations have a mixed model in which about 25% of content is free and 75% is fee-based, as shown in the following diagram.
While free training is a valid way to expose a customer to the education services organization, an ideal learning path is composed of both free and fee-based content. One of the best ways to provide free learning opportunities is via social and collaboration tools. You can provide learners with chat rooms, forums, and blogs, or even start a Facebook page for a certification community. You can also use LinkedIn to post brief videos or other learning tidbits. These are all great ways for reaching not only customers, but prospects as well. So yes, education services is about enablement.
Is Education Services About Revenue?
Yes, for 64% of education organizations, education is about revenue, even though there has been a 9% dip in education services organizations that identify their business models as revenue generating, as noted earlier. Many “born-in-the-cloud” companies tend to bundle training into the product subscription and as such, do not charge a fee for the content. Ostensibly, training is given away under the guise of enablement or driving adoption. A question that I am getting more often now from these cloud-based member companies is, “How can we monetize education services?” So, companies that may have started out providing free training are now trying to figure out how to charge for it. Most of TSIA’s ES members that are traditional on-premise companies transitioning to XaaS models, started with fee-based education and most continue to be fee-based, in spite of a full or partial shift by their company, to a XaaS model.
In fact, a recent TSIA Education Services survey found that 22% of education services organizations had changed their ES business model in the past year and of those that changed their model, 54% moved from cost or cost-recovery to revenue/P&L, while only 18% moved from revenue to cost or cost-recovery models. So, TSIA expects that as more XaaS companies seek to monetize education offers, that the revenue/P&L model will continue to rise. So, yes, education services is about revenue.
Is Education Services About Customer Success?
Yes, education services is about customer success. The move to XaaS models has given rise to the customer success movement. Phil Nanus, TSIA’s vice president of customer success research, suggests using the following definition of customer success, as provided by Lincoln Murphy of Sixteen Ventures.
Customer success is when customers achieve their desired outcomes, through their interactions with your company.
— Lincoln Murphy, Sixteen Ventures
For clarification, customer success is both a term, as defined above, and a function or organization. Whether your company ascribes to the principles of customer success or has formalized customer success by creating a Customer Success (CS) organization, ES plays a key role. Clearly, knowing how to use a product “enables” customer success. For full details regarding the role of education services in customer success, please refer to a previous blog post of mine, “7 Ways Education Services Fits Into Customer Success.” The list below, which is an extract from the article, describes some ways that education organizations can drive customer success and partner with CS.
- Onboarding. Education services keeps CS informed of new offers and services so that customer success managers (CSMs) can communicate this information to customers during onboarding and/or during scheduled check-in meetings, and/or ES participates directly in onboarding sessions and 60-, 90-, and 120-day calls.
- Playbook. Education services is in the customer success playbook, which is based on the customer life cycle. For example, if the customer is in a pre-deployment stage, training specific to that stage is identified and communicated to the customer. If the customer is in the post-deployment stage, applicable training for that stage is specified, and so on.
- High-value/low-value tiers. As part of the CS retention model, ES has developed different offers based on each customer tier. As an example, for a high-value-tier customer it might be recommended that students attend the XYZ course, while a low-value-tier customer is steered to a “self-service” option, such as an e-learning portal.
- Training with purchase. Education is “baked” into the initial product deal. The target value of the training included with the product is 5-10% of the value of the product deal.
- Bundled offers/partnering. A sandwich model, in which the customer receives “free” introductory training, followed by a professional services (PS) consulting engagement, and/or is followed by more training that is “fee-based.” ES continues to partner with PS, based on feedback from customer success managers (CSMs), to continue to drive customer success. The service lines recognize the revenue associated with the portion of work each delivered.
- Formal packages offered during life cycle. Customer sucess offers a fee-based “jump-start” implementation package that includes consulting and training. Other packages are available and are recommended based on the customer’s point in the journey map.
The very nature of customer success requires all service lines to get out of their silos and to work more collaboratively to ensure that customers are in fact successful. Education services is the glue between the service lines, so yes, education services is about customer success.
Whether your company’s objective is to generate education revenue, drive adoption, ensure customer success, provide enablement, or all of the above, the reality is that education is at the heart of all of these objectives. So education organizations, embrace your multiple identities because the sooner you do, the more you’ll have to offer to both your company and your customers.
About the Author
Maria Manning-Chapman is vice president of research, Education Services, for TSIA. She has more than 25 years of education experience in the high-technology industry. Maria is well versed in the dynamics of running an education services business and has held leadership positions in operations, virtual learning, business development, curriculum development, delivery, and partner management over the course of her career.