In today’s market, customer success teams are challenged with delighting the customer at every step of the journey. The modern B2B buyer has many alternatives to choose from, thus customer retention has never meant more to the sustained growth of subscription-based businesses.
We asked hundreds of customer success professionals what they are doing to improve customer experiences. Many spoke to a renewed focus on improving customer onboarding and implementation processes.
So why customer onboarding?
You only get one shot to make a first impression
It’s a cliche phrase, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Research shows that first customer interactions directly affect final customer outcomes. In fact, customers with positive experiences in the early months of a relationship weigh more heavily than they do later experiences. That means when customers have negative experiences early on, they become more susceptible to churn later in the relationship.
Customer success teams are often left with a near impossible task of retaining those who just came through a very poor customer onboarding journey. It’s true, your onboarding process matters way more than you think.
The tips below will help you improve your customer onboarding process and reduce the risk of customer churn.
1. Standardize your customer onboarding process
Most teams informally follow a series of steps when onboarding new customers. Few teams, however, have actually documented these steps in a repeatable and easy-to-follow client onboarding checklist or project plan. Lack of process documentation can lead to a poor customer experience and internal inefficiencies as new customer volume grows.
Why is it important to standardize your customer onboarding process?
As the sales team brings in more deals, your customer onboarding and implementation teams are asked to do more with less. Think about it, customer success hires (including onboarding or implementation specialists) are never 1:1 with sales hires or customers. This means your post-sale teams need to pick up efficiencies as revenue grows. Documented and repeatable onboarding plans enforce good processes and promote team accountability. They also give managers a way to measure and/or define the success of an onboarding or implementation process.
New hire onboarding will become a bottleneck as your team is asked to manage more projects and customers. With clear onboarding project plans or checklists, these new hires have a prescribed playbook they can follow that will significantly reduce the time needed to fully ramp a new team member.
Tips for creating a customer onboarding project plan
If you don’t have your onboarding process documented, start by outlining the key tasks that need to be done to launch a new customer successfully. These tasks might include things like requesting data through intake forms, configuring user roles and permissions, testing, training and more. We recommend separating your tasks into chunks of work or milestones your team and the customer need to hit. Here is a very simple example of what this might look like:
Phase I - Project Kickoff
- Schedule kickoff call
- Send a welcome email with a link to learning center materials
- Record kickoff call date in CRM along with estimated completion date
- Watch the welcome video and read the introduction training article (Customer)
Phase 2 - Data Preparation
- Upload team roles and titles form (Customer)
- Upload customer list
- Upload in flight projects and corresponding tasks
- Login to sandbox environment and review team roles and permissions (Customer)
Phase 3 - Configuration
- Create initial views and dashboards
- Create individual dashboard views, grouped by status
- Etc. etc...
From the example above, you’ll notice that some tasks need to be completed by the customer. We recommend including all the customer-facing tasks needed in your onboarding checklist so that they have a clear view of what needs to be done to go live quickly. Do not be afraid to hold your customers accountable! A documented plan will give your new customers the visibility they need to know where they stand at any given moment of onboarding.
If you don’t have any standard template or way to track your onboarding plans and tasks, start with shared documents or spreadsheets. As volume increases, more efficient tooling will become necessary to scale your onboarding process as revenue grows. Platforms such as Status provide a flexible yet robust way to organize and automate your onboarding project plans while staying integrated with your key systems like CRM.
To learn more about client onboarding checklist best practices, check out this article.
2. Nail your sales-to-implementation handoff
A poor onboarding process often stems from poor handoffs or too many handoffs. The below illustrates a common handoff experience when buying software:
- Fill out a form and meet with an outbound sales representative
- Schedule a demo with an account executive (1st handoff)
- Run a trial or proof of concept with a solutions consultant (2nd handoff)
- Buy the solution and start working with a customer onboarding specialist (3rd handoff)
- Go live on the product and get introduced to a customer success manager (4th handoff)
- Submit support tickets/feature requests to a support representative (5th handoff)
Who hasn’t been through an experience like this? In this example, the buyer has gone through four handoffs before achieving real value from the product and interacts with six different roles in total! Months have passed since the purchase date, and customer confidence and loyalty to the product are at risk.
Handoffs aren’t inherently bad, but they can leave the door open for poor customer experiences if not treated carefully. Here’s what you can do to nail your handoffs and assist your customer through a great post-sale experience:
- Ensure that every step of your process enforces good note-taking. This can mean anything from the sales rep noting key factors from the sale such as plan details, nuances on timing or add-ons, implementation hours, and more. To solidify this process, teams should consider adding custom fields to CRM to encode important details so that information can easily flow through to the next team who will care for the customer. No customer wants to be asked the same questions twice.
- Prepare for critical customer conversations. For example, you may have an upcoming kickoff or checkpoint call to review implementation progress. Review important notes from previous conversations and prepare an agenda so that stakeholders know what to expect. These are simple steps but show great customer care and service habits that can win customer loyalty.
3. Properly define your customer time to value
What is time to value?
Time-to-value (TTV) can be defined as the time it takes customers to experience value in your product. The faster your time the value, the more likely your customer is to come back for more. However, TTV can be different for each business or customer onboarding process.
Improperly defining value is the first misstep. Avoid declaring client onboarding victory simply because the onboarding project plan was completed or because you handed the customer off to your success rep.
Ask yourself, “did the customer do the thing in our product that they expected from it when they purchased”? If the answer is no, then onboarding is not complete.
Tips for defining your time to value
Your team should optimize for time to value throughout the whole onboarding journey. The obvious metric to track is the days between project kickoff to onboarding completion. While this should be part of every customer onboarding metrics dashboard, there is more nuance to how TTV is defined for your team. Here are some quick tips to define your time to value:
- Spread your value moments across the whole customer journey. For example, you can have a TTV metric that is achieved within the first day or week after the sale and another a couple phases into the onboarding project. Value shouldn’t live solely at the end of an onboarding journey as a singular moment in time. You can read more about time to value at different stages here.
- Look at historical implementation data to determine common themes from successfully onboarded customers. This analysis could be a retrospective on a handful of customers, or it might be a deep dive into product usage data. From that analysis, you will notice common product actions taken by successful customers that led to early value. Those actions, and the stage at which they are taken, can now be defined as time to value metrics to overlay throughout your onboarding plan. For more on other customer onboarding metrics you should be tracking, heck out this article.
Optimize for those in-product actions and remove any barriers in your process or product that prevent customers from taking these actions.
We also recommend you read this article to help you optimize your customer onboarding process for a short time to value.
4. Give customers more visibility
Customers never like being in the dark after a purchase. There is nothing worse than a customer call or email asking “what’s next” or “what are we missing to go live”? We’ve seen how consumer brands are improving customer onboarding by doing things like SMS updates or showing the progress of a pizza order on your phone. These types of experiences foster customer trust and brand loyalty.
You don’t have to wait until you have elaborate dashboards to give your customers more visibility into your implementation projects. Achieving greater visibility in the onboarding process starts and ends with better communication.
What quick things can you add to your onboarding process today to ensure you don’t leave your customer wondering when they can go live on your product? Here are some things you can implement:
- Simple summary emails outlining the next steps and who is responsible
- A shared spreadsheet or document with your onboarding plan, task assignments, and due dates
- An implementation timeline overview that is shared with new customers, even before the sale closes
- Shared Slack or Teams channels to consistently communicate what is happening in real-time
Whatever you decide to implement today, know that any visibility is better than zero visibility. Keep your customers in the loop at all times, and their experience will be enhanced, resulting in lessened churn risk.
5. Regularly review your process and modify it as you go
There is no such thing as an evergreen process. As your team and customers change, you will constantly need to review and improve your customer onboarding process. Consider having internal quarterly reviews of the customers you onboarded and extract common themes around who was most successful and why others struggled in your new customer onboarding workflows.
Always opt to eliminate unnecessary tasks or handoffs from your process where possible. Look for trends in how your project managers perform against each other and understand why some deliver value faster than others. Examine which customers best engage with your implementation plans and show that data to sales to refine your ideal customer profile further.
With these 5 actionable tips, your team can make significant strides in providing a better customer onboarding experience and one that eliminates the risk of churn. As your sales team brings in new customers, your team can turn to software to help organize, automate, and provide visibility to the customer in the client onboarding journey.
Platforms like Status allow customer onboarding and implementation teams to standardize their onboarding plans and work in a shared customer portal with customers. If you’re looking to scale your onboarding process, try Status for free today or check out our blog for more best practices on becoming a world-class onboarding organization.