Jay Nathan is the Chief Customer Officer at Higher Logic. In 2020, he co-founded Gain Grow Retain, a community for customer success leaders. Here, he talks about how to get Customer Onboarding right.
Higher Logic is an online community for CS professionals around the globe. It is aimed at creating an ever-growing knowledge base to help customers scale up faster.
Can you define successful onboarding?
The customer has realized the first value of using the platform. They are trained and enabled to take their usage and adoption to the next level.
What are the ingredients of a perfect customer onboarding?
- The system is configured properly according to the highest priority business process needs;
- Users are ready to be productive with the product.
- Power users are in place that can help other users internally.
- A success plan for adoption has been created with quantifiable goals around what constitutes success. The key users are trained on how to access and utilize the resources that are available to them from our company, user community, support desk, knowledge base, customer success manager, and
- Other programs are meant to provide ongoing elements of engagement and support.
What are the KPIs and metrics you track for onboarding?
- Time to value
- CSAT rating of Onboarding process
- For us, we also monitor product engagement, and customers do not leave their “Launch Success Manager” until usage has reached a minimum threshold as indicated by our in-product analytics.
Should onboarding be different for different customers? What are the best practices & suggestions that you’d have for the same?
Yes, but not custom to EACH customer. There should be prescriptive onboarding options that fit the use cases, organization size, and complexity of each customer. That said, one of the tenets of SaaS is prescriptive and scalable solutions. The onboarding options should be tailored to the specifics of the markets and segments of customers you serve.
A best practice that our onboarding team has implemented is to map out the process step by step in an activity diagram. They segmented our customers based on the size (e.g. number of employees, customer’s annual top-line revenue, etc.) as well as the use cases and integration needs they have. They looked for the most common scenarios across each segment and bundled them into an onboarding “package.” Those packages included implementation timelines, cost differences, and deliverables, and we set them up as options in the sales opportunity management system (and CPQ platform).
Finally, and most importantly, we spent time enabling our sales team to position each package relative to the customers’ needs. A close collaboration between customer success teams and sales enablement is critical to ensure alignment in customer expectations.
What happens if customer onboarding goes wrong?
In my experience, poor onboarding is a top driver of churn. In some cases, it can even cause early termination by a customer.
Top 5 mistakes that you have seen/made
For larger customers, invest in true project management that can help manage expectations, drive schedules, and delivery across multiple resources. They should work toward a customer success plan that’s jointly developed with the customer. In most SaaS companies, these PMs should also be armed with product knowledge.
For smaller customers in a high-velocity setting, ignoring usage levels can be perilous. Don’t just “check the box” and complete the implementation of a product. We must ensure that the product is being gainfully utilized by the customer. Success plans can work with smaller customers as well, but they should be survey-driven or built right into the product.
How do you know that you’re off track?
Listen to the customer, what signals are they sending. Also, track the timeline and hours spent on each customer. Look for outliers in the data.
Automated vs Remote vs In person onboarding? Which one do you prefer and why?
Depending on the product how much onboarding can be automated, but in general, we must automate the time-consuming, complex, or error-prone parts of the implementation. If you have a low-cost product that you sell at high volumes, then in-product automated onboarding can be helpful.
For larger enterprise-style onboarding, in person is great, speeds up the project, and helps to solidify the business relationship with the customer. That said, it can be time-consuming and intrusive, especially in our new reality of remote and virtual work.
When should you start customer onboarding? (Pre-sales / Post Sales)
There are often tasks that can begin before a sale is made. These include data collection, provisioning, initial configurations, etc. You’ll want to ensure that the deal is at a stage where it is highly likely to close, however, offering to start onboarding ahead of the deal can be a good way to gauge the deal likelihood and advance the state of an opportunity.
Any tips on a handoff from sales to the onboarding team?
Build a relationship between onboarding teams and sales, ensure that the onboarding team gets a chance to review larger, more complex deals. Ensure that customer business drivers are captured in writing during the sales process and that data is tracked in the CRM along with the opportunity record. Pick 5-10 key questions that are critical to know about every customer, ensure it’s part of the sales process to document the answers to those questions (again, the relationship between CS, Sales, and Sales enablement is critical)
Do you have different strategies for different segments of customers?
Yes, see above.
When & how escalations should work?
Empower the team to answer escalations. Depends on the type of escalation. If it’s around expectations set during the sales cycle, it’s not uncommon for the sales rep to be brought back into the discussion.
Who should be responsible for customer onboarding?
Why should (the team you selected in the previous question) be held responsible for onboarding?
Depends on the nature of the product. In many enterprise SaaS companies, onboarding should be a specialized function. At the end of the day, there should be an owner of onboarding accountable for the success and metrics of the overall customer onboarding program. If nobody owns accountability for it, it will likely not be a strong focus for the business and will eventually become a problem that needs to be solved instead of an opportunity to be exploited.
What are the strategies you deploy for customer onboarding?
See answers above.
Can customer onboarding be automated?
Yes, see answers above, given the right product circumstances. That being said, a little live engagement with a customer can go a long way toward driving customer loyalty and onboarding success. Even if there are one-to-many onboarding sessions where a product expert can provide live support for the onboarding process, human engagement can go a long way. Depends on the price point and complexity of the product.
Tips for leaders while setting up the onboarding process.
Always be critical of the process. Provide a standardized way to track customer onboarding projects and the key milestones dates, checkpoints and deliverables involved. Analyze this data and never stop improving it. Talk with the team and listen to their biggest pain points, then go solve them. Improving the effectiveness and efficiency of your entire onboarding team by just a few percentage points can make a huge difference in customer experience and employee retention. These things lead to increases in customer advocacy, loyalty, retention, and expansion.