As its usage has grown exponentially in the past decade and a half, the Internet has notably changed people’s lives in at least two ways: in terms of how they learn and how they shop. In the latter instance, an entire industry — customer relationship management (CRM) — has sprung up around managing every aspect of customers’ virtual interactions with businesses, from initial interest to point of sale.
Although learning leaders might not think CRM would apply to their own online development and performance support programs, the truth is that many of its concepts can work in these initiatives just as well. After all, in the parlance of corporate education, learners are considered to be “customers.” Here are just a few ways in which CRM can and should align to e-learning.
• User-Friendly: Most CRM systems emphasize a very aesthetically pleasing and easy-to-comprehend interface. Things such as color scheme and dynamic pages take on new significance in this sphere.
Perhaps the most important aspect of being user-friendly, though, is accessibility. Quick navigability is the key here: Instructional designers with Web proficiency should build sites in such a way that the most essential data points should either be on the home page or have prominently displayed links or menu options there. Also, a search function can be very useful. The idea is to make data as easy to find as possible and keep the number of clicks needed to access information to a minimum.
• Analytical: Almost every touch point where there is interaction between learners and a development program represents some form of opportunity to gather data on their experience. By gathering information about their needs, wants, issues and complaints, you can make sure that e-learning is a conduit to critical information instead of a barrier to it.
Also, when tracking the user experience, many varieties of information are gathered. Skilled CRM professionals can perform customer data interchange (CDI) to blend these different streams of information. This allows them to better understand exactly what affects users’ decisions and to make improvements to retain current customers as well as attract new ones.
• Modular: In online retail — especially in the current “long tail” market — there are more things to sell than ever before. These cover all kinds of categories, from old baseball cards to designer clothing and high-end electronics. And in some cases, the commercial activity involves millions of buyers and sellers. For these Web sites to work, each item bought and sold must have its own easy-to-find page that can be created and taken down in a timely fashion.
Similarly, there are so many things knowledge workers need to know within their area of expertise — as well as many areas of expertise — and the nature of these can change rapidly. Because of this, online offerings must be similarly modular in nature. This means having a dynamic e-learning system that can be quickly changed to roll out numerous amounts of new courses and discontinue outdated ones.
• Integrated: Despite CRM’s extreme modularity in design, all of the elements should conform to certain standards to ensure consistent experiences for the user. Companies seek to integrate touch points, processes and any other forms of contact for the purposes of customer experience management (CEM), which is aimed at influencing their opinion of the system. That, in turn, affects their action and behavior in the marketplace.
By positively influencing learners’ interactions with online systems, you can get them engaged with the content and encourage them to return frequently for important information and performance support. In this way, the solution will be set up to have a real impact.