A customer-centric framework for onboarding

A five-point customer onboarding framework to put the spotlight on the people who matter the most: your customers!
October 7, 2022
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It's one thing to say you're a customer-centric organization, but it's quite another to be one. Customer centricity, especially during onboarding, begins with the realization that your organization's success depends entirely on how much value your customers realize from your offering. Your business goals will take care of themselves if you focus on delivering what was promised to your customer when making the sale. 

Customer onboarding is the most crucial stage in the customer lifecycle and will determine whether a customer will remain loyal to your brand for life or will eventually churn. 

Good customer onboarding is all about establishing a working relationship with your customers - from the moment they make the purchase to when the training wheels come off, and they can use your product without your assistance. 

To nail this journey, you need a framework that helps you know what matters most to customers. Based on years of running onboarding projects for a vast customer pool spanning multiple industries of varying sizes, we've put together a five-point framework for customer-centric onboarding. We believe you will be truly customer-centric by investing all your efforts in these five dimensions. 

1. Transparency 

The first step towards building trust and credibility with your customers is transparency. When you open up your onboarding process to your customers and give them a thorough view into the journey ahead with a comprehensive plan, you're setting the right expectations in the customers’ minds. It will become obvious to them that you care for their success. Think about it. They took a leap of faith, paid a good amount of money, and chose you over your competitors. It's your job to give them the reassurance and comfort they seek. And the best way to go about it is to ensure your customer onboarding process is as transparent as possible. Transparency is also a great way to break the ice. Once they know what to expect, they are less likely to go ballistic when something slips or goes wrong since they will be able to see the whole picture. 

Here are a few areas you can consider being transparent:

  1. Project plan along with the various phases, milestones, and tasks under each phase. If you can go a step further and assign people responsible for each phase/task, it'll go a long way in ensuring clarity and confidence in your customer's eyes. 
  2. Status of the current onboarding projects - completed phases, progress made on every individual phase and task of the project, delayed items, and the cause for those delays. You can go a step further and push these updates automatically to customers so that they’re always in the know, even without you stepping in.  
  3. Estimated timelines for every phase and task - items ahead of time, delayed, and new timelines for the delayed items
  4. What's on the customer's plate - bringing attention to the tasks assigned to the customers will ensure timely completion from their side. Even these updates can be automated to save you time. 

2. Professionalism 

Do you ever find out too late that a customer is running many weeks late on their onboarding and is losing confidence in your product? By the fourth week or so, the delays have snowballed into one big mess, and the executive sponsor on the customer side now believes you haven't been proactive enough. Sound relatable?

So how do we ensure we aren't letting things slip and maintain the highest level of professionalism?

Being a pro at customer onboarding can be achieved in many ways, but the most effective and fail-proof approach is to run weekly onboarding standup meetings with your internal team. This weekly meeting will be a forcing function to ensure you're on top of things. 

Get all your team members in CS and Onboarding to determine the status of every customer onboarding project. For each project, you should have the answers to the following questions:

  1. Is it on track or delayed?
  2. How is the customer sentiment? (If you're not measuring how your customer is feeling at the end of each phase/milestone, make it a top priority to do so)
  3. How is the customer engaging with your product and team?
  4. Are there any internal dependencies?
  5. Any blockers or risks?
  6. Is the customer live with your offering?
  7. Is the customer acknowledging value yet?
  8. Are we sending regular updates?

You can run through the projects with delays, blockers, negative sentiment, low engagement, etc., and ask the team to discuss their plan for the week on those accounts.

Thinking about these aspects would help teams stay on top of all these dimensions for every account and would result in them strategizing their key next steps with customers. It also provides an avenue to identify patterns across customers and to brainstorm as a team - about solutions to top problems/scenarios.

This ensures you are reducing the time to value, and you will come across as a professional in your customers' minds. 

3. Ease of Onboarding 

If customers find your onboarding process challenging, either due to complex implementation or because the customer may not have the maturity required to use your product, you may be setting yourself up for failure. 

Your customers may lose hope along the implementation journey if it feels like too much effort from their end or if there's a lot of learning before they start seeing any value. This is when they start ghosting you and 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.

If you hear that the customer "got busy with other priorities," one of your takeaways should be that they couldn't multi-task and take your implementation to completion because it was too much effort.

Why is a high-effort implementation bad?

  1. Churn: Customers may ghost you during implementation and churn
  2. Defensive CSM, slow growth: Delayed implementations lead to your team being on the back foot with the customer, slower ROI, and lower confidence in engaging more with you.
  3. Limited expansion opportunities: Even if they get through it, they negatively perceive your offering and dread engaging in such an exercise like this again. So they may not want to grow their use cases or engagement with your product.
  4. Lower NPS: If you have a low friction implementation that feels like a breeze to the customer, they will talk about it to their industry peers. You just missed an opportunity to get great word of mouth!

How do you get better at this? Measure your Customer Effort Score!

Start measuring what the customer feels the level of effort is for the onboarding, and try to understand which stages or steps they feel require the highest effort from their end.

Send out a survey to all customers going through the implementation journey with you - to collect how customers score you 1 to 10 on how complex your implementation was for them, and then 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:

  1. Breaking them down into smaller pieces they can handle
  2. Offering a more prescriptive approach
  3. Providing help or educational content for those steps
  4. Offering consulting services to bridge maturity gaps
  5. Bringing in partners for some parts of the implementation
  6. Making 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.

However, there's another side to this. 

Some customers like their vendors to show some flexibility in their delivery. 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 our recommended approach in these cases: 

  1. At the kickoff or even pre-sale stage, showcase your standard customer onboarding process. Let's say you plan a 5-6 week journey for them. Show your customer/prospect the onboarding methodology and the project plan with the key milestones and dates mentioned. As mentioned earlier, 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 input, 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, what you want to bring ahead, what you want to keep for the next iteration, etc.

4. Communication 

Communication is key to customer-centric onboarding. Having a clear communication protocol early on helps keeps things on track and creates a better experience for everyone involved. You come across as a professional team, everyone automatically becomes more accountable, and you can avoid many issues if you keep regular correspondence with your customers. Here are some essential areas your communication plan should cover:

  1. How often will you be publishing the status of the project?
  2. What gets highlighted in the status? What's the format?
  3. What is the communication that will go out to executive sponsors?
  4. How often will you have meetings? Who will be invited to them?
  5. Who will publish the meeting minutes, and where can anyone who wants to see the minutes access them?
  6. What modes will be used for async communication, and how soon can parties expect responses?

A slide in your kickoff deck that covers all of this establishes the rules and expectations for smooth team engagement. It also is a forcing function for your team to follow the communication process. While there's no correct configuration for communication and meetings, it is still crucial to establish and get on the same page about how you will run the customer onboarding.

Here's a detailed project communication plan template to help you lay down how important information will be communicated to stakeholders throughout the project duration. 

5. Customer experience 

Customer experience is all about how you build and create customer interactions from the moment someone hears about your product to login and post-purchase. You've to make your customer feel like the protagonist throughout the journey. 

To nail this, a company must create a model of what matters to customers, a graded short list of customer pain points to eliminate or fix, and opportunities to innovate as seen from the customer's perspective.

To help you offer a world-class customer experience, we've developed a solution to accelerate time to value and deliver a transparent, consistent, and delightful onboarding journey for all your customers. 

Our dedicated customer portal is a game-changer. Each customer gets access to their own simple yet powerful portal to stay on top of all their onboarding-related tasks and updates. It makes it super easy for customers to collaborate on tasks, project plans, documents, and status updates. It's a step to make your customers feel like they're part of the journey, and it goes a long way in winning their confidence. You can customize the domain, logo, and theme and deliver a pleasant experience between your portal and your brand. Every customer gets that exclusive feeling. Isn't that what good customer experience is all about?


We hope this blog helped you reflect on your customer onboarding process and identify areas where you can level up

Above all, if there’s one thing we’d like you to take away from this piece, it’s to always listen to your customers. Listening is the ultimate key to turning the spotlight on them. Find out what's working for them and what's not. Ask them what can be improved. Try making it a goal to call one customer each week.

Our State of Customer Onboarding Survey of 2022 found that over 60% of respondents used at least 4-6 tools for their customer onboarding. And while 56% reported low visibility into project progress as the primary cause for escalations, 58% believed holding customers accountable was their biggest challenge.

Rocketlane aims to change that. We strive to eliminate pain points around visibility, collaboration, productivity, consistency, and customer experience and make your onboarding process truly customer-centric. 

Book a demo with us today!

More resources

  1. How to build a customer onboarding framework
  2. The Customer Onboarding Maturity Model
  3. Richard Benavides on how Crew reinvented its SMB onboarding from high-touch to self-serve

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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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