7 ways to transform your Customer Onboarding process

Learn some of the best practices to take your customer onboarding game to a whole new level!
December 5, 2022
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Aswinchandar M

Your customers are most vulnerable during the post-sale onboarding period. It’s the first time they get a taste of what it’s like to work with your team; it’s a time when they are constantly judging, thin-slicing, and evaluating your team. This means there’s a great opportunity for you to nail those initial impressions to ensure a trustworthy and long-lasting relationship.

We’ve compiled a list of seven critical ways in which you can level up your customer onboarding process.

1. Ensure a seamless handoff from Sales to CS/Onboarding

A flawless handoff from Sales to CS/Onboarding helps you get off on the right foot with customers. It establishes the tone for the rest of the onboarding journey and shows customers that you have understood their needs, problems, and use cases well. Your customers shouldn’t have to repeat what they’ve already said during the sales process.

Here are some healthy practices to follow:

  1. Make sure handoff discussions get everyone aligned on what success means to the customer, and how it will be measured. Understand the goals and motivations of each influencer who contributed to the purchasing decision.
  2. Ensure complete knowledge transfer through documentation that includes templates, checklists, sales pitches, any value-selling frameworks used, etc. Go beyond the customer’s definition of success and include details of the industry, the company, key stakeholders, their sentiments, and potential obstacles or risks.
  3. To keep the momentum going after the sales process, handoffs shouldn’t take too long. Documentation and systems around them can make this much faster but a call with the CSM once the sale is closed makes the transition much smoother. On that note, introduce the CSM as early as possible. This CSM must ideally be the single point of contact for all the activities a customer would go through during the onboarding/implementation phase.

2. Get quick wins by immediately showcasing value

To successfully onboard a customer means to help them realize value from your product - based on what you set out to accomplish with your initial rollout.

When a customer buys your software, there's an expected value or ROI - which should justify the money, time, and energy that goes behind the initiative. So your onboarding is successful when the customer has realized that value or is clearly on a path to realize it.

This is also why time-to-value and time-to-first-value are key metrics that companies track for their customer onboarding teams. You want teams to understand that their goal isn't the "time to go live," but rather to track how long it took to get the customer to that moment when they've realized value from your product. Qualifying what the first value looks like is a way to ensure there's some value unlocked and the project is headed in the right direction.

Another metric to track for this is 30-60-90 day ROI. It helps us all to actively track the right metrics and be on the same page about the value realized by the customer.

How else does value orientation help during onboarding?

  • It helps keep the scoping conversations (implementation scope) focused on the agreed-upon value and ROI numbers. For instance, if the customer wants an integration, you could ask yourself if it would help you achieve the first ROI goal. If it doesn't, then you don't do it.
  • Teams know their job is to deliver value and help the customer see the value. They become more proactive and intentional when it comes to communicating about the value delivered.

  • It helps ensure that teams take the effort to measure the actual value itself - using pre/post metrics influenced by your product, $$ value ROI, etc. When it's time for your marketing team to do a case study, you already know how the customer derives the most value and the $$ value ROI for them.

  • Customer success teams that take over the account have an easier time after the onboarding, as the customer is already set up to be successful with your product.

3. Track how your customers are feeling at every turn

When you ask your Onboarding Specialist how things are going with a critical account, they usually tell you everything is under control.

But four days before the planned go-live, you get an escalation from the customer. They were promised that things would happen on time, but now they're told it would take three more weeks to complete the requested integrations. Your team kept assuring them all this while, only to have been told otherwise at the last minute. Does this sound familiar?

Here's another example. A customer pings you three weeks into the onboarding to share that they don't have confidence in your team's ability to execute on this implementation. They sort of have been unhappy ever since kickoff. The training thus far has also been sloppy, and they sense a lack of preparation.

So, how do you catch these tricky situations earlier? How do you ensure that your customers are always on the same page and aren’t caught off guard?

Through continuous feedback, of course!

Always poll the customer side execs and POCs for a CSAT at each key milestone in the journey. This way, even before an escalation, you will get to know if the customer isn't too thrilled with how you are delivering; you can act fast and turn the situation around.

Similarly, you can see patterns across projects and people on your team:

  1. Is a particular Customer Success Manager or Onboarding Specialist typically receiving lower ratings for their training or solutioning workshop?
  2. Is the company getting a consistent 3/5 for the kickoff meeting? Are you not impressing them at that early stage?

You can answer these questions and more by looking at your CSAT scores and analyzing them over time.

Another aspect of customer sentiment can be measured through the Customer Effort Score.

By measuring what the customer feels the level of effort is for the onboarding at every stage, we can understand which phases or steps they feel are the highest effort from their end.

Your customers may lose hope along the implementation journey if it feels like too much effort from their end or a lot of learning and work before they start seeing any value. This is when they start ghosting you; they’d probably tell their bosses or colleagues that your product setup demands too much of their time and they aren't able to get their other work done.

Send out a survey to all customers going through the implementation journey with you. Let customers score you on a 10-point scale on how complex your implementation was for them, and then collect information on what specific phases or tasks were hardest to get past.

This way, you can figure out how to make those steps easier, such as:

  • Break their tasks down into smaller pieces they can handle

  • Offer a more prescriptive approach

  • Provide help or educational content for those steps

  • Offer consulting services to bridge maturity gaps

  • Bring in partners for some parts of the implementation

  • Make it a phased implementation

Every month you can reflect on the effort scores from your customers and identify key tasks, phases, or milestones that need a revamp to make it easy for the customer.

If you want to try this out, Rocketlane has a native CSAT capability so you can survey your customers on the delivery of each key milestone in the onboarding journey!

4. Set up an accountability mechanism for customers

Get you customers to co-own your success criteria. When your product/offering is successfully implemented and delivers value, your customer wins in more ways than one. The business gets its ROI from your offering, the executive who made the purchase looks good, the functional leads involved in the implementation are up for more responsibilities and/or promotions.

If this is the case, then why should getting to that value be your responsibility alone?

Yes, your product needs to do its thing. And it is true that you are the expert and should guide the customer to get the most out of your offering.

But it is equally the customer's job to get work done on time at their end, to help you with their organizational priorities. They have to help you navigate their systems and people to successfully deploy the solution they bought. They know their people best and how to make the adoption happen.

So it makes sense to get the team leads or managers at the customer’s end to sign up for specific goals. Here are examples of the kind of goals that should make it to the list of KRAs they're measured on.

  1. Did we launch on time?

Customers should be working with you on time-to-launch, rather than against you by increasing scope. So make sure you get them aligned.

  1. Team Usage/Adoption

Team leads on the customer side know their team the best. They should co-own and drive the process with your insights and ideas. Change management and adoption need the right kind of evangelism and training, and your customers should be working shoulder to shoulder with you on these initiatives.

  1. Hitting ROI goals

Customers should also work towards making your product successful. It takes more than technology for a new solution to create value. It takes intent and thoughtfulness on the customer side to figure out how to make the most of the software they purchased.

As your customers set their OKRs for the quarter, make sure their managers are held accountable for the success of your product!

5. Establish a cadence for reflection meetings

It helps to have a regular meeting ritual to get your customer onboarding team together, review your metrics, and come prepared with an analysis to determine key initiatives you want to drive for the next quarter. Call this the Biweekly/Monthly/Quarterly Reflections Meeting based on a frequency that you think would work best.

Every team member is in charge of coming up with their list of top issues in onboarding and their top ideas to positively impact the onboarding experience for the customer and team productivity.

Make sure you carry data to the table from team members and systems to help quantify the ideas' impact and measure the initiatives' success. Here are some key metrics and questions to consider during your reflections meeting:

  • Feedback from the team on critical areas, phases, or onboarding tasks that are problematic

  • Effort/time taken for various tasks from the time tracking reports

  • Tasks, milestones, and phases that are most often delayed or finished on time

  • Analysis of new initiatives that were championed in the last quarter and their impact

  • Average, median, and 90th percentile of time-to-first-value across the onboardings in the quarter

  • CSAT and free-form text feedback/inputs from teams onboarded in the quarter

Use the meeting to first discuss and agree upon key problem areas, identify and plot initiatives on an "impact vs. effort" graph to ensure you pick high-impact ideas first. Finalize new initiatives that your team members want to champion in the upcoming quarter, and determine metrics that will help determine the success or failure of the new initiatives.

6. Be flexible with speed

Customers like their vendors to show some flexibility in their delivery. Customers also expect their vendors to know what they are doing, and the onboarding manager or CSM they are working with to be a seasoned expert.

This aims to tap into both elements to impress a new customer quickly and get the right initial handshake with the customer - to hold each other accountable for an on-time onboarding.

If your customer has a specific go-live date constraint or wants to do things faster, you should be able to accommodate their requirements as long as they promise to work with you with the same intensity.

Here's what we recommended:

  1. At the kickoff or even pre-sale stage, showcase your standard onboarding process. Let's say you plan a 5-6 week journey for them. Show your customer/prospect the methodology and the project plan with the key milestones and dates mentioned. It is a powerful signal to the customer about your maturity if you have a well-defined onboarding plan (as opposed to sharing a spreadsheet with a few tasks on it).
  2. Tell them this is your standard plan, but you can move things around a little or compress the journey if they have tight deadlines or availability constraints.
  3. You could move phases/milestones around to pull back the overall go-live time or a specific milestone. Typically, this may be more about going live before a specific date, which need not have all integrations, data migrations, etc., completed before that - you just need the key ones. The rest can be pushed for later on in the plan. Discuss and understand things from your customer's side as you craft the new plan.
  4. Once you have their inputs, it'd be great if you have some quick changes in your mind that you can implement right on the call. Show them an updated plan in the same meeting (or just after) to get their agreement on the process. Get all key stakeholders to agree, and call out any risks you foresee.
  5. Once they confirm, freeze your plan and hold everyone to the timeline!

The more you do this, the more you will know where you want to show flexibility, where you want to bring things ahead, what you want to keep for the next iteration, etc.

7. Adapt onboarding plans based on customer maturity

Don't take a one-size-fits-all approach to your onboarding methodology. It helps to have an acute awareness of customer maturity to build out the right onboarding plan for your customers.

It makes sense to have variations of your onboarding methodology based on the customer's state of affairs and abilities.

For instance, at Rocketlane, we sell to companies of varied sizes and stages.

So while some of them may be interested in starting afresh from a sample template even to begin moving from reactive chaos to having a plan for the customer, others may want to learn how to iterate on their existing methodology. Some may want to understand how to move from a competitor's product to yours.

Likewise, an onboarding plan that looks simple to an SMB customer may feel too shallow or make you look under-prepared to an enterprise customer. A comprehensive plan that an enterprise may love can drive an SMB customer away if they think it's overwhelming.

Actively think about patterns and customer segments - like customer size, process, and people maturity, and craft the right experience for each of them. If you need help doing this, reach out and we'll guide you - we've helped many onboarding teams in the past.

Onboarding needs a purpose-built solution

Rocketlane can help you elevate your CX by working hand-in-hand with your customers and making them accountable partners in your journey.  Even better, it ensures that your team stays motivated and on their toes, thanks to the customer sentiment/feedback collection milestones that you can build in through the platform.

If you'd like to see if Rocketlane is a good fit for you, book a demo with us today!

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Rahul Sridhar
Content Marketer @ Rocketlane

Content Marketer at Rocketlane. Former teacher turned tech writer. Occasionally dabbles in comedy and rap music.

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