Many thanks to Lama Mamedov for suggesting this topic.
We all know that onboarding customers properly is essential to long-term success. With a strong start, customers will adopt the product or service faster, they will be more successful with it, which means they will use it more and be more likely to upgrade or expand their usage, as well as become reference accounts. But what can be or should be part of onboarding programs? And what can we do to make the programs scalable?
Even well thought-out products require a bit of practice. A few online videos can be invaluable to get going. Short (< 5 minutes), task-oriented videos with a relaxed, casual feel seem to be most effective. So if you have an accounting package, try “creating a new general ledger account” as a topic for a video rather than “using the general ledger A-Z”.
Another good approach is to use live and recorded webinars depending on your volume of customers and resource availability. The benefit of a live webinar is of course the ability to ask questions from a knowledgeable individual (and also it makes it just a little easier for the support engineer asked to do a lengthy, 1:1 demo to entice the customer to join the next webinar rather than exhort him or her to check out a recording.)
A fully personalized delivery is wonderful, if you can, albeit not exactly a scalable approach. It does make sense for large or otherwise important customers.
And there’s nothing wrong with a user guide — but most people are visual learners so prefer a live demonstration. Instead of a user guide, invest in job aids or cheat sheets. They may be a better fit for most users.
It’s great to show users how to create a general ledger account, but some of the less sophisticated ones may wonder what accounts make sense to create in the first place — and some may not be entirely clear on what a general ledger is… So think wide when it comes to training. Accounting 101 may be just as important as YourProduct 101, and can be a differentiator.
Many new users follow a predictable path. First they will set up their general ledger accounts, then they will run some transactions, then they will need metrics. To guide the customers to the next likely step, In-product hints are wonderful, of course, but otherwise try timed alerts that deliver information on likely next steps. Again, the more tied to real usage the better.
A new customer may need help training and motivating its internal users to give the product a try. Working with one contact to reach dozens or hundreds of others is well worth it. You can use all the techniques above once you reach the end users to deliver training and best practices. Alternatively, provide materials and tools suitable for your contacts to use for their internal promotion.
Preplanned onboarding path
For more complex and configurable products, a full-blown onboarding path will provide structure and purpose. It can be delivered as a self-service item (so in a completely scalable manner) or, with the help on a designated coordinator. Regardless, having a checklist or blueprint will minimize confusion and allow users to get a taste for all the possibilities of the product.
An assigned onboarding coordinator
Assigning onboarding coordinators is not exactly a scalable approach but I’m always impressed by how very effective it can be.
- It’s more effective and cheaper to deliver assistance on a scheduled basis rather than having to go through the same issues in reactive mode (i.e. when the customer contacts support).
- Customers appreciate the firm and reassuring assurance that someone cares for them.
- While delivery itself is not entirely scalable, the underlying process is, and I find that coordinators become amazingly efficient at guiding customers through the choices and setup, much more so than someone who would be doing it occasionally.
- The coordinators are able to identify product glitches or difficulties that slow down the initial process and annoy customers to boot. If there is a closed loop for resolving the issues, the benefits will be long-lasting.
Onboarding coordinators are an investment, but one that should pay off in terms of quicker adoption and reduced random support cases.
A well-managed community with responsive hosts can provide benefits similar to those of a coordinator, but at a much lower cost. Consider maintaining an onboarding community dedicated to the issues of new customers. It’s usually best to go for the largest-possible audience, but let’s face it: the issues encountered during the first 30-90 may be old hat and distracting for everyone else.
Not as exciting as the other items, perhaps, but very important: new customers should be extended special care when they contact support. A simple label in the tracking system would be a good start to allow the support engineers to know that they are working with a newbie. Along with it, provide an easy way for them to flag the onboarding coordinator, if s/he exists. Such small touches in the tracking system can make a big difference in the customer’s experience.
Customers’ usage is the ultimate test of adoption. If a customer has not logged in several days, has not created new data in a week, or has never used a particular feature of the product, a check-in may be appropriate, and the check-in can be automated. Just make sure it’s not creepy! Customers dread any sign of a Big Brother approach.
What are you doing to onboard customers?
(Next month I’ll talk about ongoing customer retention programs.)