Why L&D Must Get the Customer Relationship Right

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As I described in my previous blog (Why L&D’s Customer Is Not The Learner), L&D’s customer can range from internal departments like Marketing, who may sponsor and pay for specific training to be distributed, to employees searching for just-in-time information at the moment of need. Just as the customer varies, the type of relationship varies. Without the right relationship, L&D’s success is limited.

Customer relationships fall into four categories: Strategic Partnership, Vendor, Broker, and Self Service. These relationships range from high-touch personal interactions to low-touch technology aided interactions. This is separate from learning delivery methods which can also be personal or technology aided.


Strategic Partnership is a high level consulting relationship. It includes a future focus, shared business goals, and joint planning. These lead to more formal needs analysis, more detailed learning roadmap and predefined measurements. Both L&D and the customer have decision making-power in shaping the objectives, experiences, and desired business outcomes.

Partnership Example:

  • Customer: VP of Customer Service.
  • Request: We want to improve customer satisfaction scores by 2% next year.
  • Action: Research, plan, design, development and implement a customer service initiative.
  • High Touch Level: Consistent and ongoing personal interaction with VP over an extended period of time.

Vendor focuses on execution by developing, sourcing and/or delivering the learning based on defined requirements of the requester.

Vendor Example:

  • Customer: VP of Human Resources
  • Request: We need compliance training on the new health care regulation by the end of the quarter.
  • Action: Develop e-learning model based on the new regulation requirements.
  • Medium Touch Level: Initial personal meeting with minimal additional interaction necessary.

Broker focuses on connecting information and learning experiences between creators and consumers. Mark Vickers, Sr Analyst at Bersin by Deloitte says, “Content brokers collaborate with external vendors and internal developers to make sure that the content is relevant, timely, and deployed in a way that supports the online learning strategy.”

Broker Example:

  • Customer: Service Technician
  • Request: Technician posts a question to the internal community forum asking about product troubleshooting for a service call the next day.
  • Action: Community moderator answers the question with a link to a troubleshooting guide created by Product Development.
  • Medium Touch Level: Intermittent interactions and responses as needed from learning moderator.

Self Service focuses on learning at the moment of need through automation. This requires more work to set up as well as consistent monitoring to ensure learning is available when and where needed.

Self Service Example:

  • Customer: Sales Rep
  • Request: Sales rep clicks [request] a link in the point of sales system to find additional information about extended warranty information for the customer.
  • Action: None
  • Low Touch Level: No human interaction required at this moment.

Relationship misalignment frustrates both customers and L&D, limiting success for both parties. Relationship alignment energizes people and accelerates success for both parties. This is why it is so important for L&D to get the relationship right.

Related Reading: The Learning Model Canvas, The Top 5 Business Learning Models, Why L&D’s Customer Is Not The Learner.

What examples can you provide? How does this match up with your experience as a Learning Professional? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.