The type of working relationship you can expect is based roughly on the level of problem the customer expects L&D to solve: operational, tactical, or strategic. At the operational level, L&D works at a reactionary level; the customer’s expectation is for L&D to make delivery of the training work, without regard to wider business implications. At the tactical level, L&D is expected to engage more in identifying and shaping the learning objectives and verifying the application of the training in the workflow. And at the strategic level, L&D is takes a proactive approach by expanding its insight to include performance and training’s effect on high-level business outcomes. Put another way, at the operational level, L&D proves the efficiency of the learning, at the tactical level, it proves the effectiveness of the learning, and at the strategic level, it proves the learning’s connection to a business’ competitive advantage.
The Human Element
Additionally, customer relationships can fall on a continuum based on the amount of human interaction required between L&D and the customer. A “high-touch” relationship will include extensive levels of direct cooperation, whereas “low-“ or “no-touch” relationships will have little human interaction at all, usually aided by technology-assisted automation. Though high- and low-touch approaches also appear in the actual delivery of training, in this case, we’re referring specifically to the interaction between L&D and the customer.
There are four broad categories of Customer Relationships:
Consulting – generally a strategic, high-touch, “collaborative” relationship that usually includes a future focus, shared business goals, and joint planning. Results of the relationship could include a more formal needs analysis and learning roadmap. Importantly, both the learning department and customer have decision-making power in shaping the objectives and desired outcomes.
Example: The VP of Customer Service (L&D’s customer) wants to improve customer satisfaction scores by 2% in the coming year, and is open to ideas to achieve them. L&D engages in a consistent, ongoing relationship with the VP to research, design, develop, and implement a customer service initiative.
Broker – generally a tactical, medium-touch relationship that focuses on connecting parties with relevant information and learning experiences in a timely manner. These interactions require intermittent responses through a live, learning moderator.
Example: A service technician (customer) posts a question in the internal technical forum asking for suggestions related to a recent competitive product launch. L&D monitors this forum, and its community moderator responds with a link to a troubleshooting guide created by Product Development. Direct interaction is expected by the customer, but is otherwise intermittent and as needed.
Vendor – generally an operational, low-touch relationship that requires minimal input from the designer/developer. The customer defines the learning requirements, requesting specific solutions or sources of delivery. Direct communication is still required, but the interaction is mainly in the direction of the customer to the vendor.
Example: The VP of Human Resources (customer) requests compliance training on new healthcare regulations to be complete by the end of the quarter. The customer gives L&D the updated regulations and tasks them with developing an eLearning module to train HR. Little interaction is expected or needed outside of the customer’s initial request.
Self Service – a low-touch relationship focused on technology-aided learning at the moment of need. What little customer interaction that is required mostly occurs up front, when assessing the customer’s needs.
Example: Sales reps (customer) require additional information about an extended warranty offer for their customers. They click a link in the Point of Sale system to retrieve the information. Despite having no direct interaction, they have a reasonable expectation that L&D will populate and maintain the information found on the POS system.
As I’ve mentioned before, the real value of the LMC is in starting tough conversations between L&D’s stakeholders to hash out the challenges and dependencies of a desired learning model or project. The type of relationship L&D has with its customers sets the tone for these conversations. Does the customer want a collaborative experience, or are they expecting a one-way exchange? A Strategic Partnership affords room for parties to engage in high-level direction and objectives, while a Self Service relationship will not offer no such opportunity.
Connection to the Learning Models
The level of relationship the customer has with L&D can open up (or restrict) an organization’s options for learning models. If the customer expects a low-touch/no-touch model, that may suggest Performance Support. Or if the customer wishes to have a purely operational-level relationship, that implies a Mass Distribution model. Meanwhile, a strategic, high-touch relationship opens up options for models that require deeper discussions of high-level objectives such as University or Innovation.
Establishing a clear Customer Relationship is crucial to set appropriate stakeholder expectations of the level of service and results L&D can deliver. Next week’s Saltbox Savvy will address L&D’s wider role in the business as we look at the Value Proposition portion of the LMC. If you have questions about Customer Relationships or would like more information about completing your own LMC, contact us or leave a comment below.
There will always be times when an operational-level customer relationship is all that is required, however, in general, it’s to L&D’s benefit to make a case for maintaining strategic-level relationships when possible. If an organization employs L&D only as a content developer or training delivery service, it loses out on the value a learning apparatus can add to a company. Proactive L&D units engaged early in the decision-making process are better positioned to support high-level business objectives. Be sure to communicate this when trying to gain buy-in and resources from learning stakeholders.