5 Steps to Becoming a Master of Customer Onboarding

Donna Weber
Sep 9, 2019 9:43:04 AM

Reduce customer churn with strategic customer onboarding

When you sell a product, you don't simply open the gates and tell customers to come and get it. It's not enough to hope customers know where to go. It's not their job to figure that out. You direct the process with a prescriptive approach to guiding customers to their goals.

This process includes important ways to engage customers and guide them to success. Onboarding is so critical that McKinsey says it's the most important part of the customer journey. In fact, poor onboarding is the biggest cause of customer churn, resulting in nearly 25 percent of all churned reasons.

Here are five steps you can take to become a master of onboarding.

Step #1: Let Customers Show You What’s Important

While companies build onboarding programs and customer enablement content with the best of intentions -- to make their customers have access to all the rich functionality their products provide -- they often forget to take the one step that makes a big difference in customer success: They fail to talk to customers first.

Only by talking with people who use your product will you find out what they're doing with it and what they need and want to be better at.

Step #2: Focus on the Critical Onboarding Activities First

When I consult with a new company on their onboarding efforts, I start with an assessment. I interview not just internal teams but also customers to find out what's working and what's not. (Customers are the best source for these insights.) From there, I present my findings and work with company leaders to determine what the priorities ought to be to onboard and enable customers.

You can do the same. The goal is to figure out what -- of the multitude of customer onboarding activities that are needed -- to tackle first, based on what you've learned in your customer conversations.

Step #3: Agree-upon the Onboarding Journey

Everybody involved in customer success within your organization must guide customers along the same agreed-upon journey with the same milestones and deliverables. The customer should know -- just as you do -- what comes next in the implementation.

There are no questions about timing, and people with various roles in your company understand where they fit in the overall scheme.

Step #4: Designate an Onboarding Conductor

During this agreed upon journey you need a conductor for your orchestra. Everyone may be playing their separate instruments, but somebody must choose the music and lead the teams through their parts.

The Customer Success Manager as conductor can guide customers through onboarding but that doesn't mean they play every instrument.

Step #5: Plan for the Future

One question to answer is whether you're onboarding a customer or a customer’s users. These activities are different.

Onboarding a Customer

An entire organization or a unit within a company -- is typically customized before implementation. This is the phase in onboarding where you and your customer agree on milestones and goals related to implementing specific features of the product and reaching certain milestones.

It's also where you lay out plans for bringing in new users (near-term), helping existing users stay on top of product updates (mid-term) and onboarding newly hired or acquired users to your product who join the account in the future, after the initial training stage has ended (long-term).

Onboarding Users

This always includes training and sometimes includes change management -- helping them prepare for and accept revisions in how they work. By some estimates, you can expect 30 percent turnover of your users every year. As a result, onboarding of new users is a continual need, and you'll need a strategy to address that.

Orchestrated customer onboarding should also take into consideration how to onboard users in different phases of the customer lifecycle. As they mature in the use of your product, you onboard them to new uses of your product, in which they gain ever-greater value.

But the bottom line is that onboarding activities for your customers never truly end.

Happy Customers vs. Enabled Customers

Well-tuned onboarding leads to what I call "customer enablement," getting customers to adopt your products quickly and efficiently and enable more usage.

I'm fond of saying that enablement is even more valuable to you than customer happiness. The thing is, most companies pursue customer happiness. But it's a bad sign when customers leave you alone in the first month. Rather than meaning they're happy with you, it more likely means customers don't know where to begin finding value in your product. And you’ve lost a month.

And the moment they're not finding value, they will look for a solution to their problems from some other provider. Enabled customers, on the other hand, are quickly engaged and invested, which makes it harder for them to walk away.

Learn the tips, tricks, insights, and avoidable traps of customer onboarding in Thought Industries' new white paper, "Secrets to Great Customer Onboarding and Education." 

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