Build Better Customer Relationships With These 6 Online Course Ideas
Educating your customers can make them more loyal. Here’s why.
When most people think of customer service, here’s what usually comes to mind:
- Accessibility: being easily available on multiple channels (email, chat, etc)
- Helpfulness: hosting webinars, video chats, phone calls, in-person meetings, etc.
- Customer rewards: offering swag, hand-written cards, discount codes, etc.
But for those who work in customer service (or more closely to it), you know there’s more to it than being available “24/7” and sending a sticker in the mail every now and then.
Great customer service involves deep empathy for your customer’s needs and pain points, strong onboarding practices, and high-quality content, most of which are often delivered in the form of emails, product copy, phone calls, live chats, and even physical mail.
But are you leaving customer engagement opportunities on the table? Is there another avenue you could explore for building long-lasting customer relationships?
Using online courses to build strong customer relationships
Take a moment to think about the best teacher you’ve ever had.
Likely, the person you’re thinking of was kind, offered helpful guidance, constructive criticism, and supported you in ways that helped you learn and achieve.
When I think about my favorite teacher, a college professor who taught my “History and Systems of Psychology” class comes to mind. While he was gentle and kind, he also explained abstract concepts in ways that helped me gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter, while teaching me how to apply the methods to my own life. I still think about him often and reach out every now and then to see how he’s doing.
This type of memorable bond is not limited to a classroom setting, and if you can successfully create a similar relationship between you and your customers, it’ll pay off in more ways than one.
Here’s how offering online courses can be beneficial to you and your customers:
- Consistent engagement: funneling new customers into a helpful online course that keeps them consistently engaged for a set period of time can encourage them to become active (vs passive) members of your community.
- Form deeper connections: whether delivered through video or email, an online course allows your customers to get to know you and vice versa. Your customers will begin to pick up on your personality, language nuances, and all of the other things that help us get to know, trust, and become attached to another person.
- Discover valuable insights: an educational setting (no matter where it happens) is a natural space for questions and answers. Even if your customers never ask YOU a question, this is your chance to ask them questions about their challenges and pain points, so you can come up with solutions that help them.
- Higher levels of customer success: by sharing knowledge and advice that can help your customers achieve great things, you’re setting yourself up for some excellent testimonials and case studies that can help you get more customers in the future.
- Reducing customer effort: according to Harvard Business Review (and this article from Groove), the #1 driver of customer loyalty is “reducing customer effort” (which basically means making your customer’s lives easier). By using an online course to teach something valuable or make a challenging process simpler, you’ll earn your customer’s trust and loyalty.
Okay, so you’re convinced you need to add an online course into your customer relationship strategy, but how are you going to do it?
6 online courses ideas for building strong customer relationships
While there are any number of ways you could use online courses to build stronger customer relationships, below are 6 ideas for how you can get started.
An on-boarding course is a great tool for educating new customers and getting them to actively engage with you (and your product) right off the bat.
At Podia, we have the Solopreneur Starter Kit, which is a free online course for new customers.
The course is a collection of videos, articles, and tutorials that’s meant to help anyone who’s new to Podia figure out how to use the product and get set up. We walk them through simple things like how to upload their products, but also more complicated things, like video production guides for their own online courses.
While customers can enroll at any time, we also deliver the highlights from each section of the course through a drip email campaign that’s automatically sent out over the course of the customer’s first month with us.
Consider creating something similar for your customers where you not only teach and guide them, but get them using your product at an early (and critical) phase of your relationship.
An online course with an “end goal” is a great way to help customers achieve something in a condensed period of time.
And the best part? When your customers get to the end of your course, they’ll associate your brand with their sense of achievement, and will likely credit you when sharing their story of success.
For example, at Podia we offer 10-day Product Bootcamp, a “goal-specific” email course that’s free and delivered via email over 10 days.
The goal behind the email course is to get product creators to create and launch their next online course or digital download within 10 days, which not only benefits them, but us too, as it gives creators a reason to use Podia in an immediate and long-term capacity.
For your customers, think about the one thing you want them to do (for us, that’s getting a customer to upload and sell a digital product), then come up with a course that gets them to do that one thing (and quickly).
A subject-specific online course is an excellent way to educate your customers, while sharing your unique experience or point of view.
A subject-specific course can also be an excellent source of revenue, as Groove has shown with their premium (paid) Content Marketing Mastery course.
The course is delivered weekly for six weeks with the promise of helping students build their own content marketing plan, from their first pieces of content to a full-blown promotion strategy.
While the course is a new offering, Groove is already seeing how the course is helping deepen their customer relationships as they evolve from “help desk software advisors” to trusted content marketing mentors.
Similar to Groove’s Content Marketing Mastery course is Copyhacker’s Copy School, a course taught by founder Joanna Wiebe. The purpose of the course is to teach students how to write copy (website, email, etc) that converts.
Instead of the course, Joanna could continue supplying free, helpful content to her audience every week, but like us, she knows how valuable it will be for her to make the transition from “copy expert” to trusted copy educator and advisor.
To create something similar for your own brand, consider your (or your company's) area of expertise. Likely, you’re well-known for something (whether it’s customer service, content marketing, copywriting, etc), so don’t be afraid to leverage whatever that is into something bigger.
Like the Groove and Copyhackers examples, both brought in experts to help guide the content for their courses, which is an excellent way to give customers special access (an essential part of great customer service, as we covered earlier), while adding a level of authenticity to the course.
Once you’ve identified the topic, consider who from your community would make good partners, outline your initial thoughts for the course, then begin reaching out to potential partners to set things into motion.
Rather than a “one-off” online course, a complete library full of varied, helpful content may be something worth investing in.
For example, Hubspot offers their customers access to Hubspot Academy, a searchable content library for new and old customers alike. Within the library, Hubspot combines video courses with downloadable guides, certification opportunities, and more.
This type of offering can be an incredible value prop for new customers who not only need education, training, and step-by-step help, but for older customers who want to up their sales games or get a refresher on a specific topic.
Of course, creating a content library isn’t done overnight; to start, you’ll need some baseline videos that cover a few different topics, from getting started to learning how to do something specific.
If you don’t have any existing content to leverage, start by making some content categories that are both general (i.e. “Getting started”) and relevant (i.e. “Email marketing tutorials”) for your audience. Next, make a list of the first 3-5 videos you’ll need to get each of those categories going.
Once you’ve got your list of potential categories and courses, decide what’s feasible in terms of budget and timing, then go from there.
While training libraries are great, quick “mini classes” can be just as (if not more) effective.
Take for example this 12-minute knife skills video offered by Plated—their audience is likely busy professionals who don’t have a time for a full online course, but do have 12-minutes to spare during their lunch break or before starting dinner.
Similar to the Plated example is this mini course from MailChimp, which teaches customers how to craft an effective email marketing strategy in just over an hour.
MailChimp also offers a whole series of mini courses, which are often under an hour and feature a member from their own team (another great way of humanizing the brand and helping customers connect with real people).
Breaking down challenging concepts or processes into smaller, bite-sized online courses may be just what you need to “reduce your customer’s effort,” which as we mentioned above, is the #1 driver of customer loyalty.
To apply this idea to your own business, think about your customers and their top 5 challenges, then consider if there’s an opportunity to address their problems in the form of “mini” online courses.
Remember earlier when we mentioned that “accessibility” is an import aspect of customer service (and relationship-building as a result)?
The same can be true for providing your customers with “access” to people and ideas they may not otherwise be able to easily obtain. This is where partnering with another brand or influencer to create some type of online course could work.
To try this for your brand, start by making a list with two columns: column 1 could be the topics that are important to your customers, while column 2 could be potential partners who line up with the topics.
This exercise should not only generate some great course ideas, but also the right people who can add a level of authority, as well as help you execute.
Customer education is the new customer service
There are more ways to build strong customer relationships than offering live chat, sending “welcome” emails or free stickers in the mail.
When done well, any number of online courses can have similar (or better) results as traditional customer service tactics, so don’t shy away from it if it’s something you’re considering.
Are you currently offering your customers any online courses? Do you plan to in the future? Leave your comments below—we’d love to hear about it!