A few months back, I got offered an opportunity to create a new suite of training courses for an organization I like a lot. I would have owned the entire process, from planning to evaluation, and I would have had content producers to help me realise my ideas. These courses would have been my baby, and I would have had complete creative control over them.
Five years ago, a project like this would have been a dream.
But I turned that opportunity down. Why?
Creating learning content has always been my bread and butter, whether we’re talking training courses, written pieces, videos or any other type of content online or offline. I’m good at explaining complex things in simple ways, and building fun learning that gets as close as I can to helping people retain and use the information I give them.
However, as time has gone on, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that a lot of the learning content I have produced is not very good.
When I say “not very good”, I don’t mean badly written. Or lacking good ideas, or being boring. I am confident in my skills as a content producer, and I know from the user experience surveys I do that my content is almost always received very positively.
“Not very good” means that it’s learning content that is created in service of a messy web of different organizational needs, some that align with customer needs, some not. It gets pushed out into a huge heap of other content, under the assumption that users who have totally different priorities and ways of seeing the world will naturally find it.
I just don’t think my content isn’t having the impact that I hope for.
And sadly for that learning project I was offered to lead, because of an organizational lack of understanding about customer needs, I don’t believe that it ever would have delivered the impact and value that customers seek.
There’s something about strongly connecting to the customer’s journey, and really interrogating whether you’re making it easy for them to find what they want at the time of need, that I think I’ve lost track of a bit.
But shouldn’t needs analysis prevent that?
Yes, it should. But for your standard ID or L&D professional, there are often cultural and contextual factors at work which can get in the way of designing a great training intervention or piece of learning content to fit a clear need.
For example, here are some scenarios I’ve been asked to design learning content in various job roles and consultancy positions in the past, where it really wasn’t the right thing to do:
- When the hiring process failed, an individual was hired who lacks the right attitude or competencies for the role at a very deep level, and I have been asked to “train the right stuff into them” when those things are fairly impossible to train.
- When someone needs to make a client happier, and the decision is made that throwing training content at them is the best way to do this so they feel like we are being attentive.
- When we have sold training as a service, and training hours need to be used somehow regardless of whether they are actually needed.
- When someone wants to improve team morale, the decision is made to send them on a training course, and the content of training doesn’t really matter as the training session is treated as a break away from normal work.
- When someone wants to use training content as a piece of marketing material to collect leads, instead of using training to help people learn.
- When we create learning content that then gets thrown into an obscure folder in the corner of a file system never to be looked at again.
- When there is no desire organizationally to analyse whether a learning project was successful, so real evaluation never happens, and the project is assumed to be a success just on account of it having been completed.
- When someone else has a fixed idea about how to complete a training initiative, and no amount of appealing to needs analysis and effective design can convince them that their idea might need modification.
In each of these situations I’ve done as much as I could to try and change things, with varying degrees of success. And it’s a real shame when I haven’t been able to affect that change.
Issues like this are dispiriting and take me away from what I love in my work – creating things which truly help customers. Issues like this only serve to waste time, create busy-work, stroke egos, reject accountability.
The more I develop as a professional, the more I realise that having customer centricity as a central part of organizational culture is the factor that dictates whether these kinds of problems become endemic or not.
Real customer centricity
“Organizations often convince themselves that their work is better than it is. They reinforce their unconscious incompetence. Some do this with language, for example, calling themselves “customer centric”. But what does that really mean? There’s no official measure of, or licence for, customer centricity. It’s just a label any organization can apply to itself at any time, without changing the quality of anything. And corporations, which are profit centric, are at best a balance between generating profits and satisfying customer needs.”Scott Berkun, How Design Makes The World
I have worked with and in organizations that I believe are truly customer centric. The difference is that consideration of customer needs is central to decision making. Everything starts and ends with the customer, and people at all levels of the organization have a good understanding of what customers need.
And these organizations are naturally successful because of it. There’s no need to have product or shareholder or market focus as a primary concern, since all of that success naturally follows from true customer focus.
I’ve always been so passionate about Customer Experience (CX) work because CX processes provide the structure to get that customer understanding. In that sense, I strongly believe that deep, iterative and publicly-discussed CX processes are central to organizational success.
A new move
I’m thrilled to say that I am moving onto a new content-focused role with a fantastic company that I think will help me develop my work in all these ways that are important to me. I will be working within an entire Customer Journeys team, which makes me impossibly excited.
I’m looking forward to not just curating content, but also applying my information architecture skills and doing a lot of listening to customers to inform content that’s useful and easily accessible at the moment of need.
As time has gone on, as technology has got more complex, and as products have developed, an increasing mountain of content produced to try to make it easier for customers to understand how to achieve an action or solve a problem has just ended up making things more difficult.
I can’t wait to re-assess the content mountain, use the customer journey as my north star, and take some fresh approaches to making a positive impact in the lives of customers.