7 Customer Onboarding Best Practices

Customer onboarding best practices

Onboarding is defined as the actions your company takes after a customer signs up to use your product. These actions are crucial to customer success, as they will set the tone for your client-brand relationship moving forward. A successful onboarding experience can lay the foundation for a loyal lifetime buyer, while a negative experience can push your new customer directly into the hands of a competitor. With the capabilities of today’s customer success platforms, it has become much easier to provide an excellent onboarding experience. 

By utilizing certain customer onboarding best practices in your enterprise, you can ensure that your clients successfully learn to use your product, see its value for their business, and start on the right path toward high lifetime value.

The Three Stages of Onboarding 

As the first step in the customer journey, onboarding is centered around educating your new client on how to properly use your product and access its features. Typically, onboarding breaks down into 3 common stages:

1. New Customer Welcome 

This stage entails thanking your customer for their purchase and directing the next steps in the process. Essential actions can include introducing the next person of contact and previewing the phases to come or including a digital onboarding message offering next steps or in-app guidance. During this stage, a successful handoff from your sales team to your customer success team is vital. To accomplish this, the CS team needs a holistic view of the customer, with data from a variety of sources, to ensure that the goals in the implementation timeline align with the client’s business needs and the CS team has the full context of where your customer is at. For example, your CS team should know if a client is part of a paid account so that CSMs can adjust messaging accordingly and promote the appropriate benefits.

2. Expectation Setting

Informed by the handover from sales to CS, onboarding focuses on establishing first value and building a plan to achieve the rest of the client’s objectives as they move forward. By establishing first value during onboarding, the client quickly sees the benefit of your product, potentially reducing churn during this critical phase. 

During onboarding, it is also important to outline client needs and desired outcomes. Building on this information, you can introduce the key performance indicators that will be tracked to measure effective implementation. 

3. Training

Once expectations are set, the actual training can begin. To make sure that your customers are able to experience the value of the product as soon as possible, it is important that this stage is both brief and easy to follow. CS teams should curate training information around the client’s established needs, communicating how the product will specifically work toward benefitting their business, and implementing KPIs. 

Self-guided training’s messaging, style, and format should be reviewed regularly for effectiveness. If clients are not meeting onboarding goals in a timely manner, new processes and messages might be necessary to help clients reach value more quickly. Alternative processes might include an interactive space for customers to ask questions or a community forum with linked resources. 

Towards the end of training, soliciting feedback from the client on their experience is another valuable action, as it can help you find weak points in the process as well as inform you on how the client is feeling about the product so far. 

Note that in order for your customers to experience value quickly, it is important for administrators to be trained as well. Customer representatives who work behind the scenes control the platform—it is critical they know how to manipulate the system and create new elements. 

7 Customer Onboarding Best Practices to Set Clients Up for Success

To make the most of the different onboarding stages and ensure a positive experience, use these best practices:

1. Create a Holistic View of Your Customer

Creating a holistic view of your customer will give you the context and breadth needed to make data-driven decisions. Make sure everyone in your organization has access to vital data by storing all the pieces of customer information in one place—a customer data platform (CDP). CDPs ensure that you have a 360 view of your customer by tracking:

  • Product usage
  • Contract and transactional data
  • Support tickets and status updates
  • All logged interactions a customer has had with your entire organization
  • Demographic and behavioral data
  • Customer feedback such as customer survey responses and satisfaction scores from various survey tools. 

2. Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

KPIs help gauge how effective your onboarding process is at producing customer satisfaction. Created and tracked within the CDP, these metrics provide a view into how onboarding is currently impacting customer relationships and illustrate where there is room for improvement 

Some of the most common onboarding KPIs include:

  • Activation Rate: One of the most important metrics for software as a service (SaaS)  providers, this KPI measures how actively customers are using your products after purchase. Onboarding revolves around teaching customers how to integrate your product into their workflow. Activation rates reflect whether this has been achieved or not.
  • Post Onboarding Net Promoter Score or Customer Satisfaction: These metrics demonstrate how likely a customer is to recommend your product or how satisfied they are with your onboarding process. Administered periodically throughout the customer journey, by logging these scores at the end of onboarding you can start to understand how successful the process was.
  • Average Days in Onboarding: How much time does it take on average for customers to finish onboarding. This is where you can help to track the overall impact of your process enhancements to understand if it is helping to reduce time to value.  
  • Revenue Delayed in Onboarding: This metric helps you to understand how much revenue is on the line and affected by a roadblock in your onboarding process.
  • Accounts in Onboarding by Stage: This is another way to help track how your customers are progressing and where specifically they may be held up. This can help you as you work on iterations.

3. Set Goals

It is critical to create standardized goals during onboarding, as this ensures that you are able to measure success at scale moving forward. Tracking a customer’s progress toward these goals will show if they are meeting expectations or if proactive intervention is in order. To do this, fit your onboarding goals into these categories:

  • Time to Complete Onboarding: The onboarding period lasts until a customer can independently use the product. The quicker onboarding takes to complete, the quicker the customer experiences value.
  • Customer Progression: A granular view of the metric above, tracking a customer’s progression through onboarding shows that they are on track to finding value in a timely manner.
  • Customer Response Rate: During the onboarding process, it’s more than likely that customers will run into issues or have questions for you. Providing surveys and logging customer responses will measure how helpful you are being towards your client base, and help avoid escalation as a result. 

4. Standardize Onboarding

Before onboarding begins, it is important to have standard operating procedures in place so that everyone on your team can create a seamless experience for the customer. Elements like onboarding checklists can empower the connectivity necessary to make the process smooth and easy. It is also important to align progress-driving metrics, optimize early warning systems, and automate routine tasks—allowing you to reach customers at scale through digital communications. 

Establishing clear, easily accessible channels for issues such as tech support and billing can quickly resolve issues and prevent escalation. From the beginning, resources such as support, billing channels, community groups, and live trainings should be introduced and easily accessible. 

As customers learn how to use your product, it is important that they know who to contact at your company when confronting specific situations. Clear channels of communication will also help draw boundaries between the personnel at your company, so employees know where to appropriately direct clients needing help.

5. Communicate Value at the Right Time

With standard procedures in place, a CSM can leverage customer information to deliver a more personalized experience. Informed by tracked onboarding metrics and CDP segmentation, customer success teams can use automated communication to deliver messages to clients that are both relevant and timely.

For example, automated messages can include information directly pertinent to a client’s specific industry and intended platform use. Additionally, as customers meet the goals laid out in campaigns, periodic updates can be sent to show clients their progress. By seeing these messages, clients will witness the value of your service on a personal level and feel more engaged as a result.

6. Track Voice Of Customer (VoC) Information

Onboarding only constitutes the first step of the customer journey. To ensure that clients stay satisfied across the journey’s different stages, listening to feedback is key—that’s what Voice of Customer (VoC) engagement is all about. 

Focused on the act of requesting, gathering, and analyzing all pieces of feedback to share enterprise-wide, prioritizing VoC allows you to improve the customer experience by better understanding your clients and their needs. These pieces of feedback detail specific instances of when a customer isn’t satisfied, allowing you to work with clients to find a solution. As your customers see you responding to their feedback, loyalty will grow and lead to higher retention rates

7. Iterate

A CS platform will be outfitted with the tools necessary to monitor client progress as clients move through onboarding. Regularly checking reports and dashboards will keep you updated on the status of key KPIs and whether objectives are being met. If the customer is falling short of these goals, schedule a review session to uncover the specific challenge and find a solution. Customer success is fluid, therefore, you should always be reviewing and modifying processes and messaging as necessary.

Following Customer Onboarding Best Practices Can Set Your Clients up for Success

Delivering a well-developed onboarding experience lays the foundation for a fruitful relationship between new customers and your company. While the stakes are high during this formative stage, following customer onboarding best practices can help your new clients see the value of your work and ensure they are using the product to its fullest potential. By instituting these methods into your enterprise, you can deliver value to your customers faster and increase overall customer engagement. All of this plays a key role in helping you to develop customer advocates and drive customer-centered growth. 

You can’t afford to buy before you try. Get started for free today with Totango’s customer success platform. Start using pre-built reports and playbooks for digital onboarding to help get your customers to that ‘ah-hah’ moment faster. 


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