A Step-by-Step Guide to Customer Onboarding

customer onboarding

Delivering a positive customer experience gives new customers a sense of confidence that they selected the right partner for their business. It also helps bolster your odds of retaining them. However, if new customers do not understand your product or get the expected benefit from it, then they’ll leave you for your competition.

Developing an exceptional client onboarding process helps your company create that great customer experience for your buyers. From information on how to get the most from your product to maintaining a solid customer information dataset, your customer onboarding process can cover all touchpoints and strengthen your relationship with each purchaser.

This customer onboarding guide will cover essential aspects of onboarding new customers, including best practices for implementing it within your customer service process.

Overview: What is customer onboarding?

While you may have heard the term “onboarding” in relation to new employees, you may not be as familiar with customer onboarding. The intent in both contexts is similar: Make the new person feel comfortable enough to stick around by making them feel valued from the first time they interact with you.

By definition, customer onboarding is a product orientation process for new users and new customers to help maximize customer satisfaction. You can onboard customers through various tactics, such as step-by-step tutorials, support offers, and targeted content.

Why is it important to have an established customer onboarding process?

Taking a customer-centric approach to onboarding dramatically influences customer success in the long run, especially when it comes to retaining those customers. However, there are other reasons why you should develop and implement a customer onboarding process.

1. Starts new customer relationships off on the right foot

Since first impressions are everything, know that a client onboarding process that walks a first-time purchaser through the customer journey with assistance along the way tells that individual what it will be like to work with you. By onboarding a new customer with a clear and consistent process, you’ll give them the knowledge that their experience will be personal and memorable.

2. Increases customer lifetime value

The more value you demonstrate upfront, the greater the customer lifetime value you can create to sustain or even grow your revenue streams. The onboarding process can also help you understand customer needs and how they change over time. This empowers you to make necessary adjustments and keep providing an exceptional experience.

3. Transforms new users into brand advocates

For many years I’ve seen that when companies make a good impression with new users, those people spread the word. You want your business to give people the confidence to share their positive experience with friends and colleagues.

This creates loyal fans who understand the value of your product and your brand. Suddenly, you’re winning customers through word of mouth rather than through sizable investments in marketing tactics.

4. Lowers customer churn

Churn means you are losing customers. It’s vital to keep your churn rate down so you don’t have to keep spending so much to win new customers. Customer onboarding assists with customer retention by nurturing the relationship on an ongoing basis to keep the customers who fit your business model.

How to create a customer onboarding process

Now that you know what it is and why you need it, the next step is to develop and implement your own successful customer onboarding process. Here are the steps to take for user onboarding.

1. Create specific goals for customer onboarding

To create the overall program, first clarify what you want to achieve with it. Formulate specific goals that define your customer onboarding program and align these with strategic business objectives.

For example, at the very least your goals for the onboarding process should help customers understand how to use your product, make them feel confident about working with your brand, and illustrate how your offer helps them address certain needs.

I’ve known founders who set a goal that during onboarding, people learn the story of how they came up with the idea for their business. This goal helps assure that customers will get to know the brand well early on, and perhaps even stay loyal to the brand longer.

2. Establish a customer onboarding team

Your customer onboarding team should include a customer success manager who has the knowledge base to assist customers and deliver a good experience. Some of the best customer success teams I’ve seen also include a subject matter expert, an instructional designer, and a project manager.

Each member of this team plays a role in providing some aspect of the onboarding process for the product and how to help the customer understand its value. I often see smaller companies that have one or two people who wear two or more of these hats.

3. Align process to milestones and metrics

Use your existing customer interaction data to identify customer service issues that need to be addressed so that the onboarding process can cover those with staff training, if necessary. Find out why customers saw those interactions as problems, if possible. This will allow you to develop strategies to improve those areas.

Tackling touchpoints could involve a number of strategies, such as follow-up emails, calls to help customers, and a knowledge base or help desk that offers tutorials and content about product features and applications. The key is to spend time studying the data, as this will shape your personalized customer service.

4. Generate valuable learning content for customers

Based on the findings from your data, start putting together written and visual content. Consider including videos, if this format can help your customers understand your product. This is where a subject matter expert and content team can provide a wealth of expertise and guidance about constructing walk-throughs on product functionality and features.

The content may also include other aspects of the customer onboarding process, such as sending a welcome email, creating a portal with additional content, and offering a library of articles.

5. Leverage learning technology

The next step in creating your customer onboarding program often involves an instructional designer and graphic designer. All the content is now moved to a learning management system (LMS) where customers can access the content and resources you’ve developed, such as articles, videos, quizzes, and more.

6. Test and conduct a prelaunch

Before sharing this customer support platform with your audience, your customer onboarding strategy should include testing and a prelaunch event. That means troubleshooting technical issues or bugs, as well as reviewing all content for formatting, grammar, and ease of use. Taking the time to do it right is all part of effective customer onboarding.

In your test phase, you can also work with beta testers such as employees who aren’t team members, as well as longtime customers and other stakeholders. They can share their feedback before it goes live to the rest of your customers. Finally, with the help of your marketing and sales teams, a prelaunch event can help build interest in the onboarding program.

7. Implement your onboarding program

While you may always find room for improvement throughout the life cycle of the onboarding program, you have made a concerted effort to tackle many issues and are now ready to launch your new program.

8. Follow up

Regularly follow up with customers to see if they have any pain points you need to address in the customer onboarding program. During the assessment phase, you can review metrics like KPIs as well as your original goals to see if the program is doing what you intended or if changes are necessary.

7 best practices for customer onboarding

As part of building your onboarding program, try these best practices.

1. Study your customer

Learn everything there is to know about your customers, including their preferences and the obstacles that challenge them. Develop or refine user personas. That will help shape your content and approach.

2. Always focus on value

Leverage use cases to showcase the value your brand and products or services offer customers. Specific examples help them relate better to what you provide.

3. Communicate constantly

After your welcome email, your onboarding process must continue to interact with customers. Make sure they know about your tutorials, articles, and guides. Also, design and implement effective email campaigns. Ongoing customer communication will keep them engaged and loyal.

4. Make onboarding a personalized experience

Thanks to customer service software automation, you can do more to make the onboarding process more personalized for customers. Look for ways to target segments of your customer base with information that’s specifically useful to them.

5. Seek positive experiences

Every customer interaction should create a consistently positive experience. This will keep them signing on for more products or services as well as encourage them to recommend your brand to others.

6. Keep measuring results

The goal is to continually improve customer service, so continue to analyze all customer feedback and track metrics. Always look for places, like content or process, that could provide a better customer experience.

7. Celebrate milestones of all sizes

Acknowledging milestones of all sizes is a feel-good moment for team members, the company, and customers as well. Each win means another ongoing customer relationship.

Prioritize the customer experience

A well-designed customer onboarding program can assist customer retention efforts and help build a larger following for your products or services. Some of the biggest problems that cause customer churn include a lack of understanding about your product, and a lack of perceived value. A solid onboarding process can nip these issues in the bud from the start.


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