How to Nail & Scale Customer Onboarding

How to Nail & Scale Customer Onboarding

CustomerSuccessChat Recap

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Ask a Customer Success practitioner what is the most important priority for their team, and you'll likely hear that successfully onboarding new customers is at or near the top of the list. In most cases, the initial stage of a SaaS customer's lifecycle warrants the highest level of individual attention. But how can you be sure that each customer will achieve top-notch value quickly and land on the right path towards retention and growth? And once you nail that process, how can you make it repeatable and scale it as your customer base grows?

Our November #CustomerSuccessChat, the third in the series, was on the topic: How To Nail and Scale Customer Onboarding. Our experts — Andrew Racine, Julie Giannini, Katie Kortnie, Shannon Kluczny, and Tom Krackeler — joined fellow Customer Success practitioners and enthusiasts from among our fast-growing community to discuss challenges and best practices in the world of customer onboarding. Here's a recap of the highlights.

Our first question tackled the crucial moment when a customer has turned the corner from product adoption and implementation to genuine self-sustained usage. The experts called out the concept of a customer's "first value" and the importance of defining exactly what it entails. Shannon and Andrew mentioned the need to align goals and get client buy-in. Several chat participants pointed out that you are never "done" onboarding your customer for various reasons (new users, staff turnover, constantly evolving value of your app, etc.). But there was some consensus on treating a customer's first achievement of value as an important onboarding milestone.

Our experts emphasized that you need to ask a customer what success looks like to them — don't assume you know. As Andrew pointed out, defining the plan and timeline as well as any potential challenges in the way of achieving that main first goal are also important. Chat participant David Mitzenmacher brought up that onboarding is also a crucial time to evaluate in the rare case there isn't product-customer fit. While misalignment ideally should be identified sooner upstream, Tom agreed it's important to have a tripwire in place to identify any potential poor fits during onboarding.

This question addresses something we debate all the time at Frontleaf. (And in case you haven't seen it yet, check out our blog post on the topic!) Tom and Andrew discussed that product price points play a deciding role in that quandary. However, as Julie pointed out and Shannon echoed, it's not impossible to offer both high-touch and self-service, as companies with high MRR price points still need to make self-service resources available, and those with lower MRR could benefit from a more personalized onboarding touchpoint. Katie and Tom discussed the benefits of group calls during onboarding, and the value they offer in creating initial shared customer experience right out of the gate.

Our experts mentioned resources such as stellar knowledge bases, welcome packets, timelines, step-by-step guided support, phone support, trainings, plus how-to posts and videos. Andrew mentioned that onboarding resources may depend on the subscription level, with top tier customers getting a dedicated setup representative, live chat, video trainings and phone support. Tom pointed out that access to other customers can be a terrific resource. Shannon brought up the value of virtual and live tutorials and printable materials, and ensuring learning materials address all adult learning theory models for training. Chat participant Julie Martin asked experts to weigh in on how to tell if resources become "too much," leading to "customer overload." David Mitzenmacher suggested having a CSM create a plan so customers wouldn't be exposed to the full gamut of resources at once.

Let's acknowledge the inconvenient truth that our customers have staff turnover and bring on new users all the time. And that institutional knowledge about your application can get lost. Our experts had a lot to say about this topic. It turns out that re-onboarding may just be unavoidable, but you can prepare for it. Shannon advised developing coaches within the customer organization. Katie pointed out that daily group calls can easily scale, making room for new users to join any time. Julie acknowledged that sometimes, no matter your preparation or best intentions, a Customer Success Manager has to go the extra mile to personally make sure that new customer staff gets value from your application. Andrew brought up a different kind of tactic: invite the new users to visit your office!

The experts hit on three themes:

  • Capturing customer expectations from the sales process
  • Keeping the bonds that were developed during the sales cycle
  • Making sure the customer understands exactly what is coming next

What are the top tools of the trade for ensuring customer onboarding is effective, efficient, and scalable? We received a great list of solutions recommended by our experts:

Some of our experts also recommended processes for nailing and scaling customer onboarding. These included:

After so much discussion centered around what to do well, we asked our experts to talk about customer onboarding mistakes, especially ones that may lead to churn. The experts raised challenges such as poor communication, disconnection on customer goals, and inability to tailor processes to a customer's specific situation. Tom cautioned against directing attention away from the customer too soon after first value is achieved. David Mitzenmacher stressed the importance of breaking down cross-team silos, and Katie reminded us that good listening is a required skill for CSMs.

Our experts were all over the map on this one, so let's hear it straight from them...

Things that should be automated included: follow up emails with best practices, FAQs and Knowledge Base links, scheduling, and billing. (David Mitzenmacher pointed out that CSMs should not be conducting billing under any circumstances!) Things that shouldn't be automated: strategy planning, relationship building, and consulting.

Join us for the next #CustomerSuccessChat on Tuesday, 1/20/2015 at 9a PT / 12p ET. The topic will be: Growing Successful Customers: The Ins & Outs of Upselling.

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