Why customer onboarding is tough - war room stories

Jeff tells us why we feel onboarding is challenging and how it can be made simple.
March 17, 2022
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In this session at Propel22, Jeff Kushmerek from Infinite Renewals recollected some ‘war room stories’ from his journey with many companies. Some were from when he was leading and setting up professional services teams, and some were from when he was consulting. Jeff also spoke about why onboarding is tricky and presented some practical tips to help us understand what might be going wrong.

Here are key takeaways from the session.

An essential part of the process is about finding what works and what doesn't work with your onboarding and implementations. 

The metrics that matter

Customer churn is a big problem. But, the slightest uptick with improvements in your process will help things out a lot more. And as a sort of pre-emptive thing, you should try and hold on to your customers after you sign them. 

Although implementation and onboarding can be hard work, it can be hard work that you enjoy. Soon afterward, you are going to be getting gratifying things. You ended this great stage of knowing everything you need to know about your company; how it works, how all the teams work together, how the product works, etc. You can be a real benefit to the sales team, and you're not going to slow deals down.

War room stories

STORY #1 - Projects never end

The problem

The company Jeff was advising had a 30-day promised implementation period. One of their implementations was delayed by eight months, and the customer was unhappy. They had canceled their contract with the next vendor, and this company had gone through the presales, saying yes to everything. 

The product was sold as white-labeled and customizable. The CEO in the sales cycle had promised features without any scoping. There wasn't a professional services team to build features, so dependency grew on the development team. The development team didn't want to build custom features. The product team reported to the development team and was instructed that this was not a priority. The customer was frustrated because they had no insight into what was happening.

The Fix

  1. Held an internal stakeholder meeting, including the CEO and product development, to get all teams internally aligned
  2. The development team was allocated to work on features that were signed up for on this feature level.
  3. Hired a project manager to decouple CSM from feature development. 
  4. Stakeholder meeting with the customer.
  5. Do not be rude to the people on our team. They have one goal, and they're trying to get you to go live on our product, and they cannot control development. 
  6. Agreed to MVP features needed for launching and shutting down old vendor
  7. Agreed to a launch date that everyone could be comfortable with. 
  8. Agreed to no more talking about the past

Moral of the story: The fixes worked. Although this was a bit of a reunion recovery trip, the key is to be transparent and upfront. Get comfortable with the process and then move from there. 

STORY #2: O' Customers, where art thou?

The problem

The new customer had skipped the kickoff meeting. They were a no-show for 2 out of the four weekly meetings. And now, their 30-day kickoff suddenly extends to 60. They hadn't sent their files over, and they hadn't given the tech resources needed for implementation.

The fix

  1. Scheduled a meeting with the stakeholder and the salesperson. 
  2. Let the customer know that the Implementation Specialist rolls off in 2 weeks. 
  3. Agreed to extend implementation with no fee if all dependencies are sent and have identified tech resources.

Why is customer onboarding important?

  1. There's no convincing required when it comes to the phrase that retention starts in implementation. It is your first crucial step in the relationship. Onboarding allows for that chance to make a great first impression
  2. Sometimes your customers have limited resources, but they need your product to launch. And you've got to be able to help them out. That's why it's so important.
  3. The better a customer is onboarded, the more successful they will be with your solution.
  4. The faster you can get customers onboarded, the better the time to value you can provide customers.
  5. Domain expertise throughout the team gives the customer better confidence in your product.

The post-sale issues

It's not like anybody has the onboarding whisper. [P.S. Jeff might be one of the few talented people to have that onboarding whisper because he is super resourceful! ;)] These issues are standard. It happens in every company. 

Common SaaS startup symptoms for post-sale issues include:

  1. Long time to value
  2. No strategy for expanding the account after successful onboarding
  3. Constantly fire-fighting escalations from your new customers
  4. Never launching a customer in a repeatable fashion
  5. No internal standardized processes and tools
  6. Leaving 'money on the table,' not charging for customer services
  7. High CSM burnout rate
  8. Poor handoffs and transitions after the initial sale

Why can customer onboarding be challenging?

  1. Improper sales handoff
  2. CS is not involved in presales
  3. Wrong or unqualified customer fit
  4. Joint success plan not agreed to at the inception
  5. Product roadmap dependencies in contract
  6. Customers with no sense of urgency
  7. Executives saying, 'just get it done.'
  8. Team members are onboarding customers differently
  9. Teams are understaffed 

How do we get ourselves out of this mess?

Drawing parallels to food eating habits and simple analogies, Jeff explained how to get all our mess in order and make onboarding right.

1. Have a defined, repeatable process - keep iterating until you get it right.

2. Have separate roles for implementation, support, and ops instead of having your CSMs do everything. This will not slow you down,  it will help you scale better and faster. 

3. Have a separate support department - having a dedicated support department helps you keep track of tickets being raised and resolved. 

4. Get Sales to involve CS in the pre-sales phase

5. Consider charging for your implementations

6. Segment your customers and use different touches for segments. A bonus tip here: you can't scale by providing everybody white-glove treatment. You need to have some distinction in saying that these are the people who will be getting a white-glove treatment, while here are some others who need a high-touch treatment of sorts.

Customer success as part of the company’s success fabric

Jeff concluded the session with three tips on how to improve your customer onboarding and reduce churn.

  1. Reduce customer churn with a better CS engagement model
  2. Reduce churn with a better CS journey
  3. Use the right artifacts and tools for all sale segments

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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