Dr. Kaliym A. Islam

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The Challenges Demonstrating ROI for Customer Education Programs

Calculating the business impact of customer education programs has proven to be a difficult task for the individuals overseeing this function. Contemporary research suggest that the current methodologies used to provide evidence of the business impact of all educational programs are lacking. In one study Griffin (2012) asserted that the contemporary approaches to training measurement fail to meet the needs of business stakeholders.

Bersin (2010) captured the spirit of this shortcoming in a 2010 study on modern measurement that concluded that training measurement initiatives needed to expand. Brotherton (2011) took the sentiment a step further. This researcher cited feedback from senior training executives who stated that the training industry as a whole lacks a measurement methodology that ties financial outcomes to learning engagements.

When those programs are delivered to customers, the measures of financial outcomes include higher customer satisfaction, improved quality performance, increased profitability, more customer trust, and higher client loyalty (Arvanitis, 2010; Kau & Jayaraman, 2012). An additional challenge faced by the individuals who oversee customer educationprograms, is that the popular approaches for measuring training impact are geared toward employee based training and development programs, not customer education programs (Noe, 2010). Researchers support this perspective by pointing out that virtually all training evaluation approaches in use today are some modified version of the Kirkpatrick four-level approach (Rajeev, Madan & Jayaraman, 2009). In this model, level one evaluates how employees respond to the training. Level 2, measures how much knowledge employees took away from the training. Level 3 evaluates the extent to which this new knowledge changes the behavior of the employee, and Level 4, measures the degree to which the training created meets the desired results for the organization as a whole (Kirkpatrick, 1996).

Some experts argue that the Kirkpatrick methodology lacks a formal approach for measuring customer loyalty, which is one variable that the literature frequently recognizes as the rationale for delivering customer education programs. The literature also suggests that the Kirkpatrick approach involves implicit assumptions that were only useful in simple instructional designs and short-term endpoints (Yardley & Dornan, 2012).

There are some scholars who make the case that level four of the Kirkpatrick method is appropriate for demonstrating the business impact of customer education programs, and that when applied correctly the Kirkpatrick model captures the impact that training has on business results. Examples include Tripathi and Chaurasia (2014) who assert that the Kirkpatrick model can capture the business impact of customer education programs when the process is reversed and begins with level four, results, and concludes with level one, reaction. ROI experts Philips and Phillips (2009) also advocated for the Kirkpatrick approach, with the caveat that it was not always necessary to measure return on investment.

Methodology aside, the desire for proof on the part of corporate executives creates an imperative for the individuals responsible for delivering customer education programs to demonstrate the relationship between customer education and customer loyalty. When they don’t their programs are subject to budget cuts (Lee, Kelley & Blackman, 2012).

In my next video I’ll take a look at why customer education is so prevalent today.