Businesses, across most industries, have an average customer retention rate of less than 20%. If you've ever canceled a subscription or opted out of a product after clicking around, you've more than likely contributed to customer churn.
What separates the products you still buy from the complicated and confusing ones you've dropped? Likely lots of factors. But the customer onboarding process — or lack thereof — probably contributed to your final decision.
As the person in charge of customer success for your organization, you know that your product is all kinds of awesome. You know that your company would be making money hand over fist with a mere 5% uptick in customer retention rates. But unfortunately, you're struggling to get the customer buy-in you need.
Of course, high customer churn doesn't have to be a normal part of doing business. You can show your customers how to transform their lives and their businesses with your product.
Do you want to retain more customers and make more money without making any sweeping changes? You'll want to grab a pen and paper, prepare a beverage, and get comfortable for this. Read on to learn how you can satisfy more customers with customer onboarding.
What Does Customer Onboarding Mean?
Imagine you're coming in from lunch when your boss pulls you aside and says, "I'm trying to sell the execs on this whole customer onboarding thing but they're a bit confused about what customer onboarding even is. I've only got a few minutes here, but can you give me a one-sentence definition?".
What do you say?
Customer onboarding is an iterative process with multiple moving parts. Your email marketing, your sign-up forms, and your backend are just a few of the pieces involved with customer onboarding.
In basic terms, however, the phrase "customer onboarding" refers to the steps you take to get people comfortable with using your product. It can allow you to solve people's problems right away while subtly letting them know that your product can quite literally fix their issues.
And when you look at it that way, it's easy to see why "customer retention" and "customer onboarding" are often mentioned in the same breath.
Why Customer Onboarding Is Important
Many businesses talk a big game about becoming customer-centric. Even so, however, becoming a customer-focused organization doesn't stop at adding more features and packages to your product — you have to help people understand how your product will solve all of their problems and then some.
Customer onboarding is often touted as the answer to customer retention issues. But is it really worth the effort of creating a whole new business process? We've got a list of three key reasons why the answer to that question is, "Yes!".
1. You Can Make a Fantastic First Impression
They say that in person-to-person interactions, 93% of a first impression comes from nonverbal cues. At this point, you've probably heard the phrase, "You only get one chance to make a good first impression.". But when most of that impression has nothing to do with what you say, it pays to think about your overall presentation when you've got someone to impress.
Believe it or not, first impressions work in a similar way for businesses. Your team won't be able to market away a reputation for overcomplicating workflows, for example. And even when you're a pioneer on the market, there's nothing worse than seeing ex-customers complain about issues your product has already solved.
When you've purchased a software subscription or a product, the company with extensive tutorials and walkthroughs has likely come off as professional, knowledgable, and in touch with customer concerns. These are all qualities that you want in a service provider. Meanwhile, unless the UI was pretty darn customer-friendly, companies that threw you into the deep end likely left a slightly worse impression.
Customer onboarding is one way that you can UX your way to a brand-enhancing first impression.
2. You Can Standardize Your Process
Have you ever purchased a product that was super inconsistent from week to week?
Maybe the alternate barista at your coffee shop has a bad habit of making your morning latte taste bitter. Maybe the shoppers at your grocery store have a bad habit of either selecting the perfect fruit or filling your bags with overripe avocados.
Regardless of the reasons why these inconsistencies are happening, however, there's a fact that's hard to deny:
This lack of reliability doesn't just look unprofessional — it makes you less likely to recommend the place to your friends.
Consistent brand presentation can increase revenue by as much as 23%. But when your customer success team has varying levels of seniority and product knowledge, not every customer will have the same walkthrough experience. A full-scale customer onboarding process will make it possible for you to standardize the user experience.
3. You Can Boost Your Bottom Line
Let's say your product has launched a new set of features. You've put together custom packages and you've implemented feedback from every focus group you can book a meeting with.
Now it's time to answer the age-old question:
Who can you sell this to?
According to the numbers, you have a 5% to 20% chance of convincing a new user to give you a try. Meanwhile, your chance of selling to existing customers shoots all the way up to between 60% and 70%.
And that's not all.
Those pre-existing customers will often spend 31% more than their brand-new counterparts. Plus, they're also more willing to test out new products.
By every metric, existing customers are a sales team's dream prospect list. But there's a catch:
They have to be happy with your product. They need to be seeing the results they want on a daily basis.
Customer onboarding makes it possible for you to show people that your company isn't selling subscriptions with buzzwords and hype. Why? Because you're helping them see that your product is the real deal.
How to Create a Killer Customer Onboarding Process
When you get right down to it, the customer onboarding process is a surprisingly high-stakes affair. If you roll out a fantastic process that gets results for your clients, you've got loyal customers for life who are prepared to buy from you more often. Get this wrong, however, and people will be confused and unsure about what they're signing up for.
Fortunately, we've put together a step-by-step guide that will show you exactly what needs to be done to give customers the most seamless and well-designed onboarding of their lives. Here's what you need to know about creating a customer onboarding process from scratch:
1. Find Out What Your Customers Want
Marketers, businesspeople, and humans, in general, have a bad habit of making assumptions.
Sometimes it's an issue of projection and thinking, "If I was in this person's shoes, I would want X.". Other times, the issue is that you know too much about your product. And as a result, you're skipping stages and under-emphasizing the details that mean everything to your customers.
In your non-working life, acquaintances who spend all their time making assumptions about you are often the last people you want to spend time with.
First of all, because it's annoying to have someone questioning your every move. And second, because when these people are wrong, as they often are, they're not able to give you what you need in a friendship — which, in this case, is pleasant companionship.
You don't want your company to be the professional version of the third-tier acquaintance who assumes too much and asks too little. You'll be compromising your ability to give people what they're looking for.
Think about it.
There are lots of reasons why someone might purchase a subscription to a SaaS bookkeeping service.
Maybe they're running a startup and can't afford a full-time bookkeeper. Perhaps they want to spend less time balancing the books and more time growing their companies.
If the marketing team assumes that it's one thing when really it's another, the whole customer onboarding process will be negatively affected. For this reason, you'll want to look at surveys, review customer engagement metrics, and gather as much firsthand information as you can. Don't guess or think you know your customers — make sure you fully understand what they want from your product.
2. Map Out Your Process
Okay. So at this point, you've learned a few important details from your customers.
You know their pain points. You know their end goal. And, if you've done your research well, you understand exactly what your customers need to know about using your product to help them achieve their goals.
Great work. Now it's time to start putting together the high-level strategy that will take you from "Contact customer service if you have questions." to "This is how you can use our product to do X.".
Most customer onboarding processes can be broken down into a few general categories:
- Troubleshooting and documentation
We'll go over each of these in turn.
1. Making Sense of the Sign-up Process
A lot of companies make the mistake of thinking that the customer onboarding process is for customers only. Or, to put it another way, they don't start their onboarding process until after the customer has pulled out their credit card and made a payment.
But this strategy overlooks a basic fact:
Lifelong memberships begin with the sign-up page.
Do your landing pages scream about the benefits of your product from the rooftops? Is your sign-up process frictionless and intuitive?
The exact details will depend on your space. If you're a stock market broker or a bank, for instance, a longer sign-up that asks for personal information is par for the course. If your SaaS product is designed to help social media influencers schedule their posts, however, you probably don't need people's social security numbers.
Even if they're not marketing experts, people can tell when the sign-up process hasn't had a lot of thought put into it. If you want your company's client management strategy to say, "Professional, results-driven, and here for you.", don't neglect the initial sign-up process.
2. Training Your Customers
Your new customer has found your site and signed up for your service. Woo-hoo!
But for all the high hopes that this person has put into their purchase, they have no idea how to navigate your dashboard. The panel that saw your dev team high-fiving each other during happy hour reads as confusing and less intuitive than your sales letter had led people to believe.
At this stage, your organization has three choices. You can:
- Do nothing
- Dump a wall of text on customers
- Teach customers how to navigate your product
If it isn't clear, your team will want to go through Door #3.
To pull this off successfully, however, it won't be enough to give people the grand tour like a homeowner who's showing off their new place. Unlike a kitchen or bedroom, the benefits of your product will likely be less than self-explanatory.
So if you're teaching people how to add a new filter to an image, for example, you might want to add in text that says something to the effect of, "This image filter will make your image look like it was taken in the 70s. It's perfect for creating eye-catching social media posts or adding a unique flavor to your digital scrapbook. This is how you apply the filter.".
As you can see, you're not showing the customer what to do and leaving it at that. You're telling them what the feature does and how they can use it. When it comes to helping people understand the value of your product, this is a powerful approach to client training.
3. Doing Post-Training Follow-up
Think back to your high school days.
Chances are that your class had an Ivy League-bound student with incredible grades and a knack for understanding new concepts the first time they heard them. Then, you had a few people who got good grades but had to work harder for them. And then you had the folks who needed to hear the lesson a few times before it would sink in.
Maybe you bounced between these learning archetypes depending on the class.
In the same way that your high school math teacher had to plan lessons with a broad range of student abilities in mind, your team will need to plan its customer onboarding process with the understanding that some users will need more handholding than others.
However, there's an art to following up. You don't want to be the waiter that hovers near the table as customers take their first sips of water.
Companies will take varying approaches to the training wheel phase of the customer onboarding process. Some will use extended in-app tutorials after the initial orientation. Others will find a way to trigger a follow-up email sequence that lets people know to contact a product expert for additional help.
Regardless of how you intend to approach it, you want to create a process that accommodates the needs of your customers. For this reason, the post-orientation part of the process is an essential part of successful customer onboarding.
4. Troubleshooting and Documentation
Even after you've followed up and worked hard to ensure that everyone knows what they're doing, sometimes there will be tech-related snafus that nobody can account for.
Maybe the customer's operating system turns out to be incompatible with your software. Perhaps internet speeds affect the video streaming aspects of your platform so strongly that customers need to change their settings.
Depending on how mission-critical your product is to your customers, these failure points can have catastrophic effects. So to prevent your newly subscribed client from rage quitting the platform and running straight to the competition, you'll want to have a well-established troubleshooting process.
As a general rule of thumb, there are two ways to go about this:
- Customer service tickets
- Troubleshooting documentation
Unless your customer service team is working on a 24/7 rotation, your organization will likely need to use a mixture of both.
The process of customer onboarding never stops when people are orienting themselves with your product and integrating it into their day-to-day lives. While the process should be less intense once the initial tutorials are done, you'll still want to have a set plan for dealing with additional unknowns as they come up.
2. Do an Assessment
Alright. Now that the strategic work is done, it's time to talk logistics.
This is the part where you take a look around and say, "If I had a magic wand that I could wave around to create this onboarding process, what items and resources would suddenly appear in my office?". In other words, what assets do you need to turn your customer onboarding strategy into an on-the-ground reality?
If you need to clean up your sign-up process, you might need new landing pages. If your customer-facing documentation is lacking, your technical writers and your product experts may need to have a meeting.
And once you've got your list of solutions and creative assets together, you'll still have to figure out timelines and launch sequences. For instance, rolling the new customer onboarding process out in pieces can let you test segments, take your time, and gather feedback. But if you're not replacing a pre-existing process, maybe a full-scale launch is the best way forward.
As you work your way through these issues, you'll want to resist the temptation to rush. Unlike certain kinds of marketing launches, customer onboarding processes don't need to be tinkered with continuously once they're out. However, you'll want to make sure that you're not moving too fast for your internal and external stakeholders.
3. Find Your People
If you've ever wondered how some organizations have successful launches every quarter while others struggle to get measurable results on the projects they launched last year, the difference often boils down to two things:
Ownership and communication.
Think back to some of the worst disagreements you've ever seen in professional settings. More than likely, someone failed to communicate their expectations. And in cases where production was slowed down due to internal factors, the ball was likely dropped because there was no one pushing the project along.
We talk a lot about the importance of collaboration and communication elsewhere, but for your purposes, here's the bottom line:
You'll want to make sure you've got the right people assigned to your customer onboarding project.
This process will be intensive. Your copywriting may go through multiple edits and your tech team may be faced with bugs and other issues during deployment. You may even have to outsource parts of the process.
To avoid delays and subpar results, however, you'll want to identify the tasks you need to do. Then, you'll want to get the right people on the job. You'll be surprised at what a well-coordinated team can accomplish.
4. Look for Software-Enabled Solutions
They say that 99% of companies are expected to be SaaS customers by the fourth quarter of 2021.
We can talk about how some companies over-use tech. We can talk about how some people have unrealistic expectations when it comes to SaaS products.
But none of that undermines the basic fact that companies wouldn't be paying for SaaS solutions if they didn't think the technology would work for them.
You could dump the process of customer onboarding on the shoulders of your customer success team. And if you're onboarding mega-enterprises or government departments, this may even be necessary.
For your small business and individual users, however, that level of attention is unrealistic and impossible to scale. So if you've identified any onboarding areas that can be sequenced automatically, run, don't walk, towards a tech-based solution.
5. Find Ways to Measure Your Campaigns
If your marketing team hasn't experienced this, they are probably recent graduates. No, seriously. See if you haven't witnessed this.
You come up with a brilliant marketing angle. And prospects are eating it up with a spoon. But although you've launched like gangbusters, your digital marketing team eventually starts to notice a problem:
The ads are becoming less effective over time.
Because your incredible ads manager has chosen to pull the ads in time, you're in good shape. If no one had been monitoring the campaign, however, you would have hit your saturation point.
Customer onboarding is different from advertising in that your newest customers aren't going to wake up one day and say, "I wish I'd never gone through that sequence!". But even when you've planned for every foreseeable outcome, there are factors that you may find yourself overlooking.
Perhaps customers feel like they're being rushed through the process. Maybe the tutorial highlights a bunch of obscure and advanced features when your newbies would like more help with opening a new project.
Customer engagement and retention can only tell you so much. Feedback is the only way to improve for the better. To that end, you may want to eventually put out a customer onboarding survey or two.
The insights you get will be invaluable.
Customer Onboarding Best Practices
So you've been taking notes, nodding along, and rereading parts of this post for added effect. Right now, you're pretty confident that you'll walk out of next week's meeting with an action plan and a solid strategy for making customer onboarding a thing for your organization.
All you need is that extra bit of finesse to make you a departmental legend. We've got your back. Here's our list of customer onboarding best practices:
1. Keep It Simple
Have you ever seen a sci-fi movie that had characters using super-advanced tech to do basic things? Although having a robotic toothbrush that flosses your teeth, handles your mouthwash, and only requires you to say "Ah!" would be awesome, is that any faster than brushing your teeth the old-fashioned way? For less tech-savvy people, not really.
As you're making plans to improve your customer onboarding, you'll want to simplify things from the customer's point of view.
These folks are probably unfamiliar with the nuances of your industry. They're likely looking for a reasonably cost-effective solution to their problems.
In these circumstances, the last thing you want to do is overwhelm your users with all the tricks your product can do. If you can keep the onboarding process simple, both your incoming customers and your customer success team will be a lot happier for it.
2. Set Expectations
In sports, first-round draft picks are considered the cream of the crop. And when someone has been drafted number one, the fans don't expect a serviceable bench player — they expect to see who's franchise-caliber, or if nothing else, an all-star.
Your product doesn't have to be a silver-bullet solution for your customers to see and understand its value. But even a top-notch customer onboarding process can't overcome a marketing campaign that's sold prospects on a different sequence of events.
Here's what we mean:
Let's say your onboarding process is going to be largely self-serve. If people are signing up and expecting personalized attention from start to finish, they're going to be disappointed in the experience they get.
As you roll out your customer onboarding strategy, you'll want to make sure that customers know exactly what they're signing up for.
3. Take a Balanced Approach to Feedback
In today's world, data analytics is an essential part of making informed business decisions. As a result, it's not unusual for statistics majors and marketing enthusiasts to push for more data at all times.
While collecting as much data as possible might make sense on an intuitive level, you do have to strike a balance.
Although personalized customer rating, tracking, and feedback surveys can do a lot, you don't want people to feel so overwhelmed by information requests that they give up on the process. As a result, your data collection process will need to focus on asking the right questions at the right time.
For some businesses, this might look like waiting for a profile setup to ask a customer about their weight and height. Others may need to switch up the timing of their emails to get the results they want.
Regardless, you want your customer onboarding process to reduce friction at every turn. Don't undo your hard work by pushing too hard and being too intrusive.
What's a feature that separates friendly acquaintances from close friends? You don't have to tell your best friends that you'd like a new set of running shoes for your upcoming birthday — they've already seen how worn out and beaten up your current ones already are.
Context-embedded help is about meeting the needs of your customers before they even have a chance to think, "I wish that I had X.". And with automated processes, you can deliver that intuitive experience with ease. All you need is an open mind.
For instance, a top-notch welcome message can do a lot to get your customer onboarding on the right track. But writing a winning email is a skill. Furthermore, hiring superstar copywriters to handle every message would be cost-prohibitive for most companies.
But with a combination of customer feedback, context-embedded UX, and a comprehensive software solution, you can get tremendous results without lifting a finger. Heck, if you need a welcome message sample, we've got a list of 13 email templates you can start using today. Then all you'll have to do is load it into your email marketing software and go.
From helpful popups to chat bubbles and links, there are likely multiple automation-friendly points in your customer onboarding sequence. The more of these you can uncover, the easier it will be to turn your clients into product experts while scaling.
Build Customer Loyalty With a Top-Notch Customer Onboarding Process
You've heard of using employee onboarding to get new hires up to speed within your department, right? Well, it turns out that you can do the same thing for customers to get people using your product effectively from Day 1.
Whether you're building in-app tutorials or going for a multi-touch onboarding strategy, we can make your customer onboarding process seamless.
Our all-in-one app helps businesses market and send emails on autopilot. And we're so convinced you'll love our solution that we'll even let you try it for free. Sign up for your demo today!