Imagine you just won a notable Fortune 500 brand as a new customer. The whole company is celebrating the win. As a young and growing company, you are incredibly proud of what this means for future customer growth. Although you believe your software can deliver on the value your sales team promised, weeks later, you begin receiving calls and emails from that new Fortune 500 customer who wants a refund for their purchase.
As your customer implementation team digs deeper into the issue, you discover the root of your problem — a confusing and incomplete customer onboarding process has led to a significant loss of confidence in your product. This gap in onboarding has allowed your customer to go weeks or even months into their purchase without experiencing any value in your product. Additionally, your team is having a difficult time organizing and scaling your client onboarding process to more than just a handful of customers at a time.
This may be a fictional company, but it's a scenario experienced by many software companies who haven’t invested in a consistent software implementation process. Whether you call it an onboarding process, signup flow, free trial, etc.— the mechanics of your process to get customers to value as quickly as possible matter, and matter a lot.
If you haven’t dialed your software implementation process, then this article is for you.
What is software implementation?
A software implementation process refers to the configuration and integration of a new product into a business workflow. Part of software implementation also includes training and activating new end users in the product or service offering.
The complexity of software implementation may vary depending on the product, the business size, or the requirements the new customer has to achieve success. For example, an enterprise-grade customer success platform requires integration with various data sources (product usage data, CRM fields, client onboarding notes, etc.) to have a clear 360-degree view of the customer. Configuring these workflows in the customer success platform often requires a software implementation plan, an implementation process manager, and weeks (sometimes months) to ensure the customer expectations from the sale are met.
Other software implementation processes are done within the product itself in a more self-serve fashion. Typically these products are built with in-app tutorials to assist a first-time user in understanding how the product works. This type of implementation process may only take a few minutes or a few days, but the principles of helping a user achieve first-time value in the product still apply.
Why is successful software implementation critical?
Companies often invest thousands of hours and multiple teams to manage software implementation plans. As a result, there is a huge cost associated with a failed software implementation. According to a study by Security Magazine, unsuccessful software projects accounted for $2.08 trillion across the US in 2020.
Your company’s software implementation process can make or break your reputation and thus your ability to grow revenue. A well-executed software implementation plan can also be the foundation of a rapidly growing customer base. We’ve outlined the main benefits your team can experience through improved software implementation and customer onboarding experience.
Benefits of Improved Customer Onboarding
Higher customer satisfaction
Customers are not going to waste time on a product they aren’t completely happy with. If satisfaction is high early in their product experience, then they are more likely to stay. If satisfaction is low during their onboarding experience, the customer will often pull the plug before more resources are put into something that won’t work out. Customer satisfaction is a measurement of how well your products match a customer’s expectations, and those expectations are never clearer than in the days following their purchase.
Satisfaction also helps build customer loyalty and strengthens your brand. This loyalty equals repeat business and revenue. Having a robust and straightforward onboarding process allows customers to use your product to its total capacity as quickly as possible.
A satisfied customer is more likely to renew or buy additional features from your business. The probability of sales from existing customers is around 65%, compared to the probability of sales from new customers, which is only about 13%.
Suppose a disproportionate amount of your customers walk out the door during onboarding. In that case, you are left with a much smaller opportunity for upselling from your number one source of new revenue — existing customers.
Improved customer experience
There are many methods to create a seamless onboarding experience. For longer implementations, clear project plans accompanied by an onboarding specialist can help a new customer reach important milestones until the product is set up and users are trained and ready. For lower touch onboarding, methods such as tutorials, step-by-step guides, videos, or a knowledge base on your website can help a customer self-onboard.
Whatever method you deploy to onboard customers, know that their experience from sign up to first success in your product will determine the rest of the relationship. Focus on excellent customer service and implementation processes, and your business will see long-term rewards.
More referrals and word-of-mouth marketing
When a customer has found a product that has solved their problems and increased their quality of life, they’ll want to tell others about it. Happy customers are the best form of PR because they will vouch for you by sharing your product with the people they trust.
Just look at some of the leading SaaS brands, like HubSpot. Even at $1B in ARR, 33% of their new customers still came through word-of-mouth. Their number one free source of marketing!
Any quick scan of software review sites will most often credit the team they worked with in onboarding and implementation as a big reason for their overall satisfaction. Invest in your onboarding process now and win new customers as a result.
Reduced risk of customer churn
Customer churn refers to the percentage of customers that stopped using your company’s product or service over a specific time. Investing in software implementation methods is the smartest investment your team can make because you will be attacking the leading cause of customer churn - poor customer onboarding.
With happy customers from great onboarding experiences, your customer success teams will have greater success in hitting their numbers and exceeding upsell goals.
What steps should your software implementation plan include?
With the benefits of successful software implementation in plain sight, you might be wondering what steps you can include in your software implementation to successfully onboard new customers. We’ve collected insights from various implementation processes and leaders and wanted to share 4 common themes from successful customer implementation projects.
1. Create an implementation project plan
An implementation project plan (or task template) outlines the work needed to be done to successfully implement a new customer. This project plan includes milestones, tasks, task owners, due dates, and more. A well-thought out software implementation plan can be used to manage expectations with your customer and prevent the dreaded customer question of “where are we” or “what’s the status of our implementation”.
If your company sells more than one product or service, create an implementation plan for each potential product/service mix. These plans will save your team time and effort by not having to manually create a new project plan or scope with each new customer. Software implementation plans also help your team manage possible issues like delays in customer onboarding, or potential scope creep that is not outlined as part of the project plan.
For more on software implementation plans or client onboarding checklists, check out this article.
2. Assign project and task owners to drive the implementation process
A software implementation process is bound to fail if there is no clear ownership of the project and underlying tasks. Most organizations have teams that specialize in onboarding new customers. In software, these positions are most commonly those of implementation project manager, customer onboarding specialist, or project manager. This individual is responsible for the success of the implementation project and acts as the project coordinator managing communication, deadlines, and issues that come up throughout the project lifecycle.
In more complex customer onboarding projects, the project owner won’t have ownership of all the tasks in the implementation plan. Examine your implementation project plan and assign team members to various portions of the project. For example, in a more technical portion of the project, the engineering team will have ownership over tasks, while in other portions of the project, customer success might be responsible.
Implementation project plans aren’t complete without outlining and assigning ownership to the customer. Make sure your plan clearly defines what you need the customer to do in order to launch your product as quickly as possible.
Assigning clear roles and responsibilities in your implementation project plans ensures that nothing falls through the cracks and that deadlines aren’t missed.
3. Create a new user training program
A customer is not fully onboarded until the end users of the software are trained and realize value from the product. Too often, customer onboarding teams will declare success simply by completing an implementation project plan. But if that plan did not take the time to train end users, then the new customer will be at a significant risk of not achieving value in your product.
Create a training program that lives in your implementation project plan as an essential phase to your customer’s success. Successful elements of a new user training program include:
- Overview or introduction demos of the product’s basic functionality
- Step-by-step documentation of how to complete essential steps in the customer’s daily workflows
- Tailored training sessions based on customer roles and responsibilities (i.e., Admin vs. User)
- How to contact product support should any questions arise
Activating new users on your product is critical to customer onboarding. Determine which team member is best suited to own this portion of the onboarding process and seek regular feedback from your customer on what you can improve.
4. Utilize customer onboarding software to organize and accelerate your process
As your team grows and manages more software implementation projects, you will soon find the need to better organize and automate your onboarding process. Using the right software will help your team gain efficiency and allow you to minimize manual work that can prevent you from scaling your implementation process.
The right software for your team should help you organize stakeholders and communication in one place, provide reporting and visibility to customers and internal teams and automate portions of your implementation process.
Because your customer is at the center of your whole implementation plan, your software should make it easy to share updates and tasks and chat about onboarding tasks. Platforms such as Status allow customer onboarding teams to create custom-branded portals where all your implementation project details live. In these portals, your customer has a clear sight of where they are in their onboarding, what is next, and what is expected of them to launch as quickly as possible. To learn more about Status, click here.
Software implementation processes are critical to your company’s success. By understanding what benefits come from successful implementation and which themes are most common in successful software implementation plans, your team will stand above the rest when it comes to customer onboarding.