Who thinks you're customer-centric? You or your customers?

How to turn the spotlight on your customers and deliver a superior customer experience, truly.
March 21, 2022
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Donna Weber, the customer onboarding expert, delivered an enlightening session at Propel22.

Her session was focused on enabling you to:

  1. Articulate the costs of focusing on your product, churn, and siloed customer-facing teams
  2. Identify the ‘trough of disillusionment’ and how to avoid it
  3. Drive customers to value quickly with her Orchestrated Onboarding Framework
  4. Deliver transformation for your team customers

Quoting a research study by Bain & Company, Donna elaborated that 80% of CEOs believe they deliver a superior customer experience, while in reality, only 8% of customers agree! So, there's this big delivery gap that exists. And it's not because business leaders fail to recognize how important customers are. It's just that everyone has their spotlight more focused on internal things today. 

And even though customer success has gained significant momentum over the last several years. Most companies—big and small, startups and enterprises—have CS teams now, but with the spotlight often turned internally. And when the spotlight is shining internally, it means that the customers are left in the shadows. Now, this glaring blind spot is that the customer and teams are just fixated on internal challenges. 

So, what are these internal challenges?


There are these silos where you are more focused on metrics, such as how much you’ve engaged with your customers, how many meetings you have had, churn analysis, etc. And while looking at different teams, each of them is more occupied with what they are singularly dealing with: the product team might be highly focused on the product, the support teams might be looking at the support queues and how many tickets have been resolved or how long the ticket resolution time takes, etc. Meanwhile, the service teams might be looking at utilization rates or bench time, and the onboarding teams might be looking at how long it takes to deploy the product.

The problem here is that most of these teams have existed long before customer success teams, and they are thus more accustomed to operating in silos and are used to looking at these specific metrics. 

However, this needs to start changing. 

All those metrics, such as utilization, rates, support queue, resolution time, etc., are essential, but this needs to start changing. Everyone is to start looking at them through the lens of the customer.

The Snowflake Syndrome

The snowflake syndrome refers to the phase where you treat every new customer as a special snowflake, and you end up in trouble fast. All that new revenue that sales and marketing teams work so hard to bring in gets eaten up by the time you take to do something special for every new customer. For instance, if the sales team were to treat every new prospect as a special snowflake and the implementation teams end up spending all this time trying to make the product fit all the special promises made to the customer, you will land in deep trouble.

The Trough of Disillusionment

Donna says customers are falling into this trough of disillusionment. Referring to the trough as a valley of despair, she compared it to the Gartner Hype cycle, where you have an innovation and a new technology that gets people really excited, and when it fails to deliver initially, it disappoints users and early adopters. But eventually, it gets back on track. 

The same happens when sales reps sell your products. There's this high expectation, the deal is closed, and then, especially when you have long and delayed deployments, your customers fall into this trough of disillusionment. Because they're just sitting there in the dark, wondering when all their dreams will be fulfilled. Weaving it beautifully into what Ed Powers shared about the neuroscience of onboarding, Donna explained that as your customers start off with these horrible experiences, it becomes really hard to win back their love. 

When you have this failure to launch because of special snowflakes and the trough of disillusionment, you experience churn. According to  a research on the causes of churn, 23% of respondents said it was due to poor onboarding, 16% said weak relationship building was the cause, while 14% said it was due to poor customer service. But all that counts as onboarding comes to 53%, meaning onboarding is the leading cause of churn. 

Touching upon the Customer Onboarding Maturity model, Donna explained the four stages. Are you in the reacting stage where every customer is a special snowflake? Or are you running around with your hair on fire? Are you putting band-aids or plasters on problems? Or have you matured from that, and you're more in a performing stage where you have processes and consistency that lets you handle the way you work with customers? Are you scaling and maybe leveraging technology or playbooks to have too many approaches? Or are you optimizing where you can show a correlation between the way customers are onboarded and how it's driving the vital business numbers like renewals, expansion, etc.? 

Now, sometimes you might be on the cusp, between phases. You might just be coming out of the reacting phase or just starting the performing one. And sometimes, you might be scaling or performing, and things are going really well. Then you release a new product, acquire a company, or suddenly get some investment. This throws you back into reacting because you have a wave of new customers coming at you. 

And therefore, it's always good to know where you are. You're not going to jump from reacting to optimizing overnight, but it helps you to know that this is the next level of maturity. 

Turning the spotlight on the customer

Customers are the core of your financial stability. They're the core to your higher profits, the core to renewals, the core to your team's success, and their success is what drives your success. The reality is that 100% of your customers need to be onboarded. Whether that's a digital touch or a high touch, it doesn't matter; 100% of your customers need to be onboarded for you to be successful.

Emphasizing the statement that onboarding is greater than implementation, Donna continued to share some of her invaluable insights on onboarding. The value that we provide customers is not just about deploying our products; it needs to be more significant. 

The customer success bowtie

On the left is the buyer journey. And on the right is the customer journey. On the sales funnel, where we have multitudes of leads, we qualify them and drive them down this buyer journey with the right content for the right user at the right time. This is so that we can nurture them and eventually close them. But we start with a lot, and we close with a little. 

And then the customer journey begins. That's where you have onboarding, adoption, expansion, and championing your product. And because we might close a few of those initial leads, there are such substantial expansion opportunities with our existing customers in the subscription businesses to highlight how much value Customer Success provides with the expansion of all these accounts. And when you close that initial deal, you want to make sure you're not losing the next two deals. Every time you make a sale, there are actually three sales. There's the initial sale, there's the expansion sale, and there's the referral sale. So if you don't get onboarding right, you're going to lose those additional two sales. And McKinsey shows that 50 to 80% of revenue comes from existing customers, the new customers becoming the icing on the cake even in startups.

The Orchestrated Onboarding Framework

Referring to Ed Powers's session, Donna reiterated how it is essential to build a relationship with customers right from the initial stages while delivering that value from day one.

There are six stages to it. While stages three and four, kickoff and adoption, are mostly called the onboarding stages, the two stages before are what require attention. During the kickoff, we seal the deal, dive into the technicalities, discuss data migration, customizations, etc. But before we get to that kickoff and implementation, embarking and handoff are the ones that are going to help you build trust and confidence with your customer. And when you have a relationship, customers will be on your side, even when things don't go well. So slow down and build a relationship with customers, start looking at how you're going to deliver value to your customers from day one, and not wait until your product is deployed. 

How you start to be more customer-centric

Not all customer interactions have the same importance; those first impressions are key. And that's what's going to anchor the rest of the relationship. Having customers waiting till they have a problem to contact you is no way to start a new relationship. Sometimes, the buyer might be dwelling in fear and doubt. And if you were to jump in with the technicalities, they might get overwhelmed. Alternately, begin by addressing any issues, and help them see there's a journey ahead and that you will be there with them all along the way. Show them your best practices, and let them know they're in good hands. So, building trust is the key. You bring a cognitive closure, have a clear beginning and end to the buyer journey with set milestones and paths. 

1. Drive customers to first value

We've been through this cusp of consumer revolution. And people want some better instant gratification. We sell them the dream and the sales cycle. They're sitting around for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, 120 days, or even longer. But, how can you start to drive some value even before your product is deployed?

Think of ways that will enable them to hit the ground running after deployment. So they're not sitting around waiting but are instead receiving value. Conjure up ways to help them realize the value of your offering even while it is being deployed or even during data migration, etc. 

There is a correlation between your sales cycle's length and the length of time you have to deliver value. So, if your sales cycle is three weeks, you better start delivering value in a week or two.

2. Increase transparency and communication

In a business-to-consumer world, transparency and communication are integral parts of the transaction. Similarly, there's been a colossal consumer revolution in the business-to-business world. Consumers have the power through reviews. With notifications and communication, it builds a lot of trust. And there's this huge opportunity in the business-to-business world to deliver that kind of experience to customers from day one. 

And using tools like Rocketlane helps to increase transparency and communication. We can no longer spend six months having the customers in the dark in the trough of disillusionment, waiting for the product to go live. And you can increase this transparency and communication, whether it's high, low, or tech touch.

Concluding remarks

Listen to your customers. 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. More often than not, you will find customers needing someone to guide them through the journey. Someone who is more on their team and is their partner. This will help you transform your business and help you scale. Listening to customers is the ultimate key to turning the spotlight on them.

As we turn the spotlight on customers, it's important to move from touchpoints to journeys. And when you don't create a journey, overall customer satisfaction decreases dramatically. That's probably why there's a huge delivery gap; because you think you're doing awesome. You're delivering great services. You're doing great onboarding. You've got great documentation, and you are winning awards. But, when you don't pull that into a comprehensive, cohesive, proactive customer journey, then overall satisfaction drops dramatically. 

When you partner with your customers and learn from them, you hone in on their desired outcomes and what's value for them. When you provide clear direction and guidance, everyone gets the benefits, and everyone makes more money. Start breaking down the silos and talking to your internal teams about how you can work together. Don't dwell on your technology, and make sure that you deliver impact. Make sure your customers are heroes because they bought your product. And because they're working with you, ask yourself, how will you transform your customers' business and not just go live with your product.

More resources from industry leaders and experts

  1. Propel22 recordings
  2. Implementation Stories
  3. Preflight Conversations
  4. The Launch Station - a podcast for all things customer onboarding
  5. Customer onboarding resources from Rocketlane

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Shuvedha Subramaniam
Content Marketer @ Rocketlane

Marketing analyst @ Rocketlane. An Advocate by choice and a penwoman for the love of it. When the world zips, I like to zoink. Also, being happy by being kind.

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