If you have any kind of subscription-based service, then simply making sales is no guarantee of success. Your company’s viability hinges on what comes after contracts have been signed or accounts have been opened: and that’s your customer onboarding.
What is customer onboarding?
Customer onboarding, or user onboarding, is the process your customers go through when they first sign up for your product or service. Onboarding can be manual, automated, or even a mixture of both. Acquire’s Senior Customer Success Manager and experienced Customer Success Consultant, Queen Joseph, defines onboarding from the customer success perspective:
"Customer onboarding is a series of tasks and events that both customer and customer success teams should go through to set up the product and get the customer to [learn how to] use the product."
This includes activities like figuring out what customers want to achieve with your product, implementation, and training.
Don’t take onboarding lightly
The customer onboarding process is most commonly seen in B2B SaaS companies. Or at least, that’s where it started – now more and more organizations realize the value of offering a unique onboarding experience. And that’s because customer onboarding done right can have significant short-term and long-term gains.
In the short term, good customer onboarding can increase metrics like:
- Product/user adoption
In the long term, customer onboarding sets the tone for the whole user journey and experience and can therefore:
- Increase customer loyalty
- Reduce customer churn
- Improve customer referrals
- Increase customer satisfaction
Customer onboarding can even affect sales: according to research, 63 percent of customers say that the onboarding they’re likely to receive is an important consideration in their purchase decision in the first place.
Also, 86 percent of people say they’d be more likely to stay loyal to a business that invests in onboarding content after they’ve bought. And the whole customer experience itself (part of which is onboarding) is getting more and more important: 67 percent say their standards for good experiences are now higher than ever.
The numbers have spoken: companies need to offer positive customer experiences and properly onboarding users is a big part of that.
So, to help you level up your own process, we present the secrets of good customer onboarding.
First, who owns customer onboarding?
If your user onboarding isn’t up to scratch, your relationship with your customer can easily go downhill. That’s why companies need dedicated customer success teams to take responsibility for the process. If a company is in the early stages, and are yet to build this team, customer onboarding can instead be owned by the executive team, account managers, or other team members, like customer support. But after a certain point, customer success or support teams should be the only ones involved in onboarding.
It’s also important to put proper effort into your onboarding. Once a customer signs up, or pays up, or starts using the product, it’s easy to become complacent in the belief that they’ll discover the true value of your product on their own. But that doesn’t always happen.
Make sure your entire team understands their responsibilities post-sale. Salespeople may need to plan a proper handoff to the customer success team. Or, set the right expectations themselves from the start. And, customer success may need to proactively anticipate any issues that might come up.
Plan ahead to make sure you set your company (and customers) up for success.
Be on the customer’s side: Send them a welcome message
Once the customer has signed up for your product, a series of internal processes will be set in motion. But, while the cogs are turning in preparation for your customer onboarding, make sure you don’t leave them hanging.
A popular way to welcome customers is by sending welcome messages. This ensures the relationship with your customers starts off on the right foot and makes them feel good about choosing you. Here’s an example template, sent by the customer success manager who will own the account:
Welcome to Acme! Thank you for choosing us as your inbound marketing platform. We’re committed to helping companies like yours grow their audience and expand their marketing channels.
I’m Sally and I will serve as your point of contact while you learn how to use our product. My job is to make sure you get full value out of your purchase.
To get started, take a look at our short FAQ and Get Started guide. I will be following up soon to set up a call so we can discuss your goals and train your team to use our platform to the fullest.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or +123456789 for any questions you have, no matter how small.
Sometimes, depending on your business model, you may send a generic welcome email first to help customers explore your product – especially if your product is targeted toward users rather than companies. Here’s an example:
Prepare for kickoff
According to Queen Joseph, onboarding starts when the sales team hands off the customer to the customer success team – after the customer has gone through the sales funnel and signed the contract.
“Once it leaves the sales team,” she adds, “the account will be assigned to a specific customer success manager based on set criteria, like the number of licenses or the contract value.”
But, exactly how each account is handed off can make a real difference. If the sales team hasn’t gathered the right information, or set the right expectations, or failed to share the relevant information with the customer success team, there will be issues down the line. Joseph explains:
"The handoff helps us prepare on how to manage a customer. Every customer coming through the pipeline is different – their needs are different, their expectations are different, their use case is different. So, if we don’t have a clear understanding of what and why they purchased, it makes it hard for us to help them achieve the success they want."
Therefore, the sales handoff should center around sharing of information. This could be in a spreadsheet or some other form of documentation. You can talk to the relevant salesperson to better understand the use case. If the person who purchased isn’t the end user, they might not even be in the kickoff call and so will have to rely on their team to tell them whether the product has been a success or not. In this case, you’ll need to dive deep into how business goals can be achieved through the customer’s use of your product.
Often, you’ll need to gather additional information before the kickoff call by identifying what’s missing from the sales handoff. “We send a questionnaire (or onboarding form) to the customer,” says Joseph, “to ask questions that weren’t asked during the sales process.”
The questions on the onboarding form, she adds, might vary depending on the customer and your product, but some examples include:
- Who will be responsible for the implementation on the customer side?
- What are the steps needed to implement the product? (e.g. a data migration perhaps)
- What product are they currently using?
- What’s their workflow now?
Do the kickoff call
This call is a vital part of the customer onboarding process. Participants in the call will usually be the key stakeholders, and often end users from the customer side. During the call, you’ll generally discuss:
- The steps that are needed to get the customer’s account set up and any setup details.
- How you’re going to help them, and how they’re going to help you.
- Their business goals and their use case.
- The possible timeline.
"[During the kickoff meeting], you want to know three key things: one, the use case of the customer, two, why they’re using the product, and three, what they want to achieve. For example, a customer might use Acquire to interact with potential prospects on their website – that’s the use case. The why is to generate sales, but the ultimate goal is to generate a certain number of conversions by the end of the year."
Note that the call participants may have different goals themselves. For example, in the Acquire Platform, customer support agents will use the main functionalities of the product (the end users), but the leaders will look at the analytics and data to see if their agents are achieving their targets. So, you need to address both sides.
“There are two buy-ins we need,” says Joseph. “Make sure the employees like the product and can do their job with it, and make sure the key stakeholders are achieving their goals with the metrics they’re looking at.”
Also, don’t forget the timeline: it’s useful to discuss exactly when each phase will happen. Some milestones may be tentative, but they will help you move the onboarding process along.
Ace the implementation and training phase
This phase might require technical work that’s specific to the product you’re selling. For example, Acquire customers may take the code of Acquire Chat Widget, upload it on their website and test it in a test environment.
The length of this process can vary depending on the complexity of the product setup and the customer’s infrastructure, as well as any technical issues that may occur. If customers want extra elements on their setup (e.g. integrations and APIs, custom reporting), this phase may get longer and more complicated.
“I usually tell customers to give themselves at least a week before they go live,” says Joseph, “to have enough time to do the configuration, customization, and testing they want. That way if any issues arise during this period, we will have time to troubleshoot and resolve before going live.”
While you’re setting up the platform, you should also plan for training. There are two different types to consider: Admin training (admins are the people who have unrestricted access to the platform – in Acquire, for instance, they’ll set up chatbots and triggers and view account analytics) and end user training. The admin training should probably come first, since they’re the ones who will manage the implementation (like the testing of the code we mentioned).
Then, a few days before going live, you can train the end users so that they’re training is fresh in their minds when they need it most .
For both types of training, using video is a good idea. According to research, when asked how they feel companies could improve their onboarding, 69 percent of people said that more video should be used. So, whether it’s a video capturing tool (like Loom) or a live video training (via Zoom), make sure you use the visual element to your advantage.
Don’t forget your knowledge base
No matter how much you train users, there will always be issues or questions that come up. That’s why it’s useful to have a comprehensive knowledge base to act as a self-service tool for customers. Whether before or after the product goes live, end users and admins can use your knowledge base articles to navigate the product.
Want a well-designed and easy-to-set-up knowledge base? Request a demo to see how Acquire can help you.
So, your customer is set up and running. Good job – but it’s not over yet. Customer success teams should always be on the lookout for issues that are creeping up. For example, you may notice a customer isn’t meeting one of the goals that were set.
“A customer might have wanted to have a 4.5 out of 5 customer satisfaction, but they’re averaging 3.5,” says Joseph. "We may reach out to them and see what could be the problem, and look at the feedback that they’re getting from customers.”
It’s important to do proactive outreach and exchange insights about what’s working and what’s not. Think NPS or CSATs – these could give you invaluable information.
There might also be unforeseen challenges involved in the process, either before or after onboarding. Joseph mentions that some buyers ghost the customer success team and that may be for various reasons (e.g. they run into too many bugs or they may have internal changes going on). They may also want something that you can’t deliver because there’s a limitation in the product itself.
Some challenges can be resolved early on by discussing them in the sales process and the kickoff call.
So, make sure you anticipate these challenges and understand what the customer’s exact expectations are. There also needs to be a proper process for documenting interactions with the customers. That way, if organizational changes happen, the new team members can easily pick up where the others left off (customer success teams use specific software tools for account documentation and notes such as ChurnZero or Salesforce).
In general, try to think ahead and be upfront about the onboarding process. Managing expectations and helping customers meet them is at the core of effective customer onboarding.