In a previous life as the leader of a Customer Success organization, when speaking with the team I referred to the customer onboarding process as “our one perfect moment.” The logic was that it’s the single period of time when the customer is completely dependent upon the vendor before they’re able to take the next step forward. After all, during the sales process, they still have a choice whether to walk away or continue down the path to signing a deal. During the onboarding period, they are highly motivated to get started and are awaiting clear instructions from you, the vendor, as to what to do next. How you handle this transition will have a great impact on their decision to continue with your solution.
Onboarding is the First Step on the Customer Journey
Having all lived the experience of trying to help customers long after they were poorly onboarded (at which point we referred to them as “victims”), I and the rest of the team I led swore to design a process that laid the ground for enduring success for the customer and for us. We relished the opportunity to make such a significant difference, and began by revisiting our Customer Journey Map.
When building a comprehensive Customer Journey Map, a key question needs to be asked: “Do we weigh each of those intersection points equally, or do we view some steps as being more critical than others?” It is probably the most important question a company can ask itself today, vis-à-vis the customer. To answer it honestly, you’ll have to examine the value and necessity of each intersection point from the customer’s point of view. You’ll find that, to them, often the most valuable intersection point is not during a sales or support interaction. It’s during onboarding, hands down.
How Onboarding Affects Renewal
If your customer isn’t properly onboarded, this can lead to frustration and unhappiness with your solution. If the customer isn’t happy, it will certainly affect renewal. (Tweet this!) How many vendors have crashed on the shoals of renewal beach because they’ve inadequately navigated the seas of customer expectations and value realization? Many. Most, I would say.
Too often, onboarding seems to be viewed by vendors as being a little less important than the product sale or even the support. However, if done well, onboarding is probably the most important piece of the entire journey. It can set the customer up for enduring success like no other step in the process can. That is why it’s vital to seriously build a thorough process, one that factors in all the variables that are critical to a customer’s ability to succeed over the long-term.
Is Your Customer Truly Ready to Be Onboarded?
While you strive to improve your own processes, it’s worth mentioning that there will be cases where a customer’s failure to realize the value of your solution is not your fault. Even with a new and improved onboarding process in place, your efforts may not be successful if your customer simply isn’t ready, even if they think they are. To determine whether or not a prospective customer has the right people, processes, and technology in place to successfully implement and adopt your solution, some key questions must first be answered.
Customer readiness assessments are a great way to make sure your customer has the right foundation in place to realize the full potential of your solution. (Tweet this!) For some example questions you can ask to determine customer readiness, take a look at our sample Customer Readiness Assessment checklist.
Improving Your Process Involves Everyone
A successful customer onboarding process depends on input from more than one function within an organization. When building or improving your process, you should include your Education team (for training), your Services team (for any sort of implementation or process work), Support (so the customer is best prepared when something goes wrong), and, of course, Customer Success. The onboarding stage of the customer journey is really where Customer Success can shine, as they are presented with the perfect opportunity to navigate the entire ship to calm seas.
About the Author
Peter Armaly is TSIA's former vice president of research, Customer Success. He has over 30 years of experience in supporting, enabling, and driving success with customers, and has held several customer-facing organizational leadership roles for technology companies such as BMC Software, Eloqua, and CA Technologies.