Implementation journeys can be referred to in a variety of ways. But no one on Earth would dare call it straightforward. Even if you have a world-class product on your hands, it’s still a chaos-filled, anxiety-inducing period for onboarding and CS professionals. You’re constantly putting out fires, adjusting your process as you go, and hoping that things will sort themselves out when enough time has passed. The confidence you had while selling your product’s vision to the customer? That ship sailed a long while back, baby.
If you’re an onboarding professional relating to this scenario, you’re probably wondering how one plays this game well. How do you get better at something that’s so regularly unpredictable? How do you truly level up and take your implementation game to a place where everyone involved feels a sense of peace and gives out “yo, I got this” energy?
Don't get us wrong. Checklists are helpful, sure. But something as complicated as customer onboarding with many moving parts is best conducted on a project management platform over a long spreadsheet filled with tasks.
Imagine handing your customers a 50-item checklist. Next thing you know, they're going to open multiple execution threads for each task and chase different people on their team to get things done. You'll eventually find that they make about 50-60% progress with each of these items on the checklist but cannot push anything across the finish line.
This happens because they try to get everything done simultaneously instead of focusing on one item at a time. Their focus is divided.
From all the years we've spent onboarding customers across industries and sizes, we've repeatedly seen that if you give your customers a project plan instead of a checklist, they're more likely to see them through to completion. Project plans help break down the whole laundry list of implementation tasks into more manageable chunks. It's beneficial for your internal team and customers since they only have to focus on the tasks meant for that week.
Let's recap. Why are project plans better than checklists?
Let's see what we mean by that with an example. Consider the following phases of an implementation project:
Week one: Establish the overall implementation goals and define the scope.
Week two: Complete basic setup and configurations.
Week three: Complete integrations and customizations.
Week four: Complete training.
Adopting a weekly theme helps focus your energy only on tasks tied to that theme/phase. It will help every stakeholder align on what's the priority for that week. This means you can't begin the integrations phase before completing all the setup and configuration-related tasks.
You need a separate phase dedicated to preparing for your implementation. We call this the pre-kickoff. This phase is about aligning with the customer, ensuring the right people come to your kickoff meeting, and ensuring the agenda is set for the discovery and kickoff meeting. With the right level of preparation, you can eliminate unnecessary surprises down the road. It helps you commit to the right path and understand the goals and desired outcomes well.
We're all used to the idea that finishing a bunch of tasks is equal to a job well done. But nothing could be farther away from the truth during an implementation. You can't focus your goals only on achieving a specific go-live date. You've to keep ROI and value delivered for your customer in mind at every step of the way. Those are the factors that matter the most.
During the discovery and scoping phase, ensure that your customer understands what value they will get by having a clearly-defined scope. During training, focus on the modules/features that guarantee high ROI. For migration, make sure you're prioritizing the data that matters and adds value. Ensure you bring that value orientation throughout the journey - in the plan, activities, conversations, and decision-making.
Another thing to keep in mind is prioritizing fast value delivery instead of loading all deliverables towards the end. You may not have all the integrations complete early on, but if there's some value for individuals using your software, try running with that and add those other integrations later. Don't adopt an all-or-nothing approach. Make sure you have checkpoints along the journey to showcase to the customer that you have accomplished something useful for them. These milestones will go a long way in communicating progress to the customer.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to customer onboarding. You need to understand where the customer is today, meet them there, and pull them up to the right level. If someone's at level zero, you can't try to get them all the way to level five or maximize ROI in one shot. That's setting the project up for failure. Instead, you have to be realistic about where the customer can get to with the first phase of your onboarding.
So the first value you deliver needs to be about one essential aspect. Once you do that, you will build trust. Your customers will give you the opportunity to show them all the benefits of your product as they continue on their journey.
Workshops can serve as a great way to ensure everyone's always moving ahead. And it can help your customer find time to do the tasks they need to do to finish your implementation project.
For instance, if you have a set of tasks your customer needs to complete within a week, you may sometimes find that they come to your next meeting without making much progress. And they may tell you that they had other priority items that came in the way. In situations like these, converting your activities into a one-hour workshop that you can put on their calendar creates the forcing function that helps your customer progress.
Ensure your team does over 70% of the heavy lifting in any implementation project, and your customers handle the remaining 30%. This way, the customer knows you have their back and are working to ensure their success.
It would help if you made sure customers don't feel overwhelmed at any time. If there's any integration work they need to do, either offer services or create custom guides that take out the effort of planning and solution from their side. Your implementation solution architect needs to understand their environment and give them the right steps. If there's testing to be done on the customer side, provide them with a complete guide that ensures that the testing proceeds smoothly. Codify your expertise and offer help for any phase that needs their involvement. Try and eliminate as many steps from their side as possible.
This probably applies more to mid-market and enterprise customers where the project stakeholders may not always be present on every call with your team.
Ensure that you have a cadence of meetings with the decision-makers, executors, and sponsors on the customer side. Have a steering committee in place; it will help you spotlight any problems along the way get unblocked, make quick decisions, and keep things moving fast.
It's not about how you present a picture of what's involved to the customer. If you're creating a project plan, you need to understand the high-level elements you will present to the customer as key activities on the project. If there are further details, you can add them as sub-tasks that aren't immediately overwhelming to consume. Or, they can be added as checklists, in case you don't need each of those items to be tracked with time and responsibilities assigned.
Onboarding isn't just about going live, as we mentioned before, and your project plan can also showcase that. You can tell your customers that your project plan does not end with go-live; instead, it ends with customers reaping success from your offering.
At Rocketlane, our customer onboarding projects end with "The Onboarding Day" at the customer site, especially for our larger customers where change management is more critical.
We tell them Rocketlane is about leveling up their onboarding and implementation function. Our software does part of that. It helps them impress their customers during onboarding. And it helps keep things on track. But it's not all down to just software. This motivates our customers help them adopt Rocketlane and bring some excitement around the transformation to this function.
So we essentially craft an Onboarding Day where the whole onboarding and implementation team, or customer success team, participates. They present ideas around how they can level up the onboarding journey for their customers and 'wow' them.
Some of these ideas are best executed using Rocketlane. But any transformation needs that positive energy around leveling up, and Onboarding Day does that for us. We hope you try it too!
Rocketlane, with its purpose-built customer onboarding platform, enables businesses to accelerate the time-to-value of their products, achieve faster go-lives, increase renewals and boost customer satisfaction. It brings the focus back to the customer in customer onboarding through a fully collaborative experience. Rocketlane replaces general project management, communication, and document collaboration tools with a unique, unified workspace that improves communication, collaboration, and project visibility for teams and their customers. With insights from trends and benchmarks across projects, teams can develop and optimize playbooks and best practices with continuous improvement.