Do your customers have the competencies required to take full advantage of your product?

A few months back I was at a conference and ended up in a conversation with a high level executive from a large education company.  We talked about the company’s multiple (and wonderful) adaptive and data-driven products and the outcomes these products were designed to produce.  The conversation became less enthusiastic when discussing when those outcomes would be realized.  While these powerful products have hundreds of thousands (some millions) of registered users, the ‘usage’ part of that is still relatively low and ‘outcomes’ are even lower.  The fear that this executive had, shared by many others, is that without seeing outcomes, customers will jump from one tool to the next—from one free trial to the next--writing off the product as failed. 

Is it the fault of the product?  Yes.  It is.  Because product developers failed to ask themselves one big question:  What competencies do my customers need to use my product to deliver the desired outcomes?   

For instance, many of today’s most powerful products use adaptive technologies to deliver personalized data about each learner.   So, in competency-speak, vendors are expecting that their customer can     implement adaptive learning approaches to meet the diverse needs of all learners. Let’s break that down into its’ components.  To effectively accomplish this, a teacher would need to be able to:

  • Analyze the theory of constructivism and the cognitive flexibility theory as they apply to adaptive learning.                                             

  • Analyze the role of the teacher in adaptive learning approaches.                  

  • Reflect on the use of adaptive learning with students with disabilities, English language learners, and students who are gifted/talented.

  • Investigate adaptive learning management systems that support P-12 classroom instruction.

As product designers, and as business development folks, companies focus only on that last item—explaining and exploring the ins and outs of their learning tools.  Yet the other parts of this key competency may very well be missing.  Is it any wonder that the outcomes are not following?          

Being honest about your customers’ competencies does not stifle innovation and creativity but rather guides vendors to create an experience where customers can be successful.  If your customers don’t have the required competencies they need, product developers have two choices: change your product to support customer competencies or build customers’ competencies to use your product.  By focusing on the skills that your customer needs to achieve the outcomes your product can deliver, you can guarantee sustained and growing usage, not just registration.