The importance of helping new customers understand how to be comfortable with using your product and draw value from it can’t be understated.
Instilling this confidence early on often starts at the onboarding stage. Overlook new customer onboarding, and you run the risk of:
- Frustrating your new customers
- Which could lead to product inactivity
- Which could increase their churn risk
In Customer Success, onboarding is a vital first step to retaining customers over the long term. That’s why we spoke with several Customer Success experts to get their best tips on onboarding new customers.
Why Customer Onboarding Is So Important
Onboarding is the process of getting new customers familiarized with a product after they’ve purchased it. With SaaS companies, customers will typically connect with a Customer Success Manager (CSM) or Solutions Architect (SA) who will guide them through the basics of using the product, and may also help configure their data, accounts, settings, and more.
More importantly, onboarding helps your customers get the most value out of their purchase right away. A well-designed onboarding program can increase customer loyalty and reduce chances of them leaving for a competitor down the road.
How Vitally Onboards New Customers in 4 Steps
We spoke with Sarah Steingraber, Vitally Customer Success Team Lead, to give you a sense for how the typical onboarding process goes at our company.
The goal by the end of the onboarding process is to ensure every customer feels confident using Vitally themselves and knowing they have an internal team to offer support and answer questions.
1. First Touchpoint
When a new customer closes with Vitally, they’ll be introduced to their CSM and SA. The relationship starts with a kickoff call, where the new customer will review a personalized onboarding plan.
2. Tech Review
During the review, the SA will confirm the tech stack that the customer is using. This is important, because to get a complete view of a customer’s data, they’ll need to integrate several data sources with Vitally. The SA is here to help with this process by providing a Blueprint that fits their needs.
3. Product Walkthrough
After a Blueprint is provided, it’s time to put the onboarding plan into action. The SA introduces a project that outlines what they’ll work on during weekly calls with the customer, such as syncing their accounts, users, conversations, NPS, support tickets, product events, and so on.
A basic account configuration will also be completed with the customer as a part of this project, which consists of account assignment, account segmentation, and lifecycle tracking that buckets customers into subscribed, trial, or churned.
4. CSM Handoff
The final stage of the onboarding process at Vitally includes building a customer scorecard to keep track of how their team is adopting and using the product.
From here, the customer and their CSM will reconnect to identify a process for rolling out Vitally to the customer’s team. This ensures everyone using the product understands its basics, and can continue to learn and unveil new insights about their accounts.
What CS Pros Say About Customer Onboarding
Now that we've taken you through our own roadmap for onboarding, here's some more expert advice that will be helpful no matter how you structure your customer onboarding process.
What Is One of the Most Challenging Parts of Onboarding a New Customer?
Sarah from Vitally: “The data! We address this by looping in the right resources during data integrations and scoping a customer’s current set up. If their tech stack doesn’t have a native integration with Vitally, we get creative with our API or Zapier.”
David Nicotra, Director of Customer Success at Foundry: “It’s a two-fold challenge. First, making sure that all the discussions the sales team had with the client are accurately transmitted to the primary CSM. Second is multi-threading the onboarding process to make sure things don’t drag out and that clients can start getting things done with the platform quickly.”
When it comes to CSM handoff, David says:
“We handle the first challenges through a handoff document that gets filled out by sales and passed to the CS team, and if the client is particularly adventurous, then we coordinate an internal sync with sales to ensure we have all the information we need.
“We handle the second challenge by having one CS team dedicated to integrations, onboarding, and support and another team dedicated to the training and relationship ownership. This division of responsibilities ensures that we remain streamlined in those early days and can be as systematic as we need to be on the more detail-oriented integration side as well as personal and consultative as we need to be on the strategy and execution side.”
Emily Woodward, Community & Support Specialist at Teal: "The big challenge is understanding all of the customer questions that could exist and consolidating how much information you provide to customers upfront. Information overload, especially related to tech tools, is so real. We have to be intentional about the guidance we provide, where that guidance points to, and resources that can be leveraged if questions still exist post-onboarding.
"Some customers want to know all of the details on all of the tools immediately — they thrive in pulling together all of that knowledge so that they can curate their own experience. Other customers want to be guided based on the priority of tools; which tools should I be using first and what do I need to know?
"Acknowledging that not all customers learn/activate in the same way and providing an onboarding experience that supports ALL of these customers and their various needs — that's certainly a challenge!"
How Do You Tailor Your Onboarding Approach for Different Types of Customers?
Sarah from Vitally: “Enterprise requires more project management and SMB is more education based.”
One can assume that CS teams at the enterprise level may already be familiar with Customer Success platforms, and require support with managing large-scale projects. Whereas with SMBs, these teams may be using a CS tool for the first or second time and could use dedicated support for getting up and running.
How Do You Gather and Apply Feedback About Your Onboarding Program?
It starts with keeping good notes and tracking our customers through the five stages of our onboarding process, working them through what we call a 'success onboarding pipeline playbook.' Then, we note any customer feature request feedback in Canny, and we encourage our customers to review us on G2.
On a personal level, I make sure to check in with my customers on a regular basis to make sure they are satisfied, have any questions answered and their voices heard. I always make a point from the moment I meet my customers to make sure they know how they can reach me. I feel this goes a long way I’m establishing successful and meaningful, trusting relationships.”
What Advice Would You Give to a New CSM Aiming to Create an Effective Onboarding Program?
Myles mentioned that attempting to teach every feature or nuance of the product during the onboarding stage may overwhelm new customers. Instead, focus on identifying quick wins to get your customers engaged and bought in within the first 30 days. It also helps to know the specific goals and objectives your new customers are trying to achieve during the discovery phase of onboarding.
“Define what your customer journey model looks like — basically a storyline of engagements a customer has with your product. This can be broken into three segments:
- What does the experience of a power user look like?
- What does the experience of a typical customer look like?
- What does the experience of a frustrated customer look like?
Build for that journey, and remember, there’s no better leading indicator for Customer Success than Time-to-Value (TTV).”
Emily from Teal: "Know your community! At Teal, we serve, primarily, job seekers. Job Seekers already exist in a space where information is changing quickly, and there's so much to keep up with. You're applying, you're building your portfolio/resume/cover letters, and you're trying to take care of yourself as a human being. Whew! Lots of pain points to try and solve.
"Our goal, because of this, is to provide an onboarding experience that requires as little as possible outside of leveraging the tool. For example, we don't require new customers to chat with us live, but the option is there if needed. We don't require the customer to take courses, instead we provide tours in platform. The hope is that we can onboard the customer in the platform as quickly as possible, leveraging the tools, which also helps them get started towards their goals.
"I also highly recommend keeping your Support team in the loop! Make sure that Support is aware of and feels confident about the onboarding process so they can provide that human-centered support and additional guidance to members who get stuck."
How Does a Successful Onboarding Program Help With Customer Growth and Retention?
Liam Feldstein, Director of Customer Success at BuildWitt: “The first 30-90 days of a customer’s experience fully dictates the lifecycle of their account. Stumbles and hiccups happen, but it’s how you solve those issues and maintain progress that determines whether a customer will stick around for another year, let alone add more to their existing account.
Onboarding solidifies a customer’s perception of the tool, system, or service they paid for, and a failed experience can doom the relationship before it gets off the ground.
It's the CSM’s job to ensure that the lifecycle isn’t a one-and-done contract but something easily repeatable — and re-signed — once the renewal period comes around.”
Onboarding Can Be Your Game-Changer
A well-designed onboarding process sets the tone for your customer journey and serves as the foundation to building lasting relationships with your customers.
Onboarding is also a great way to stand out from your competitors. Forrester learned that companies that prioritize Customer Success may retain more than double the amount of customers than companies that don’t. Giving your customers the confidence they need to be successful with your product can give you a competitive edge.
Even better, adding a Customer Success Platform to your tech stack can make your entire onboarding process more efficient, and improve your team’s productivity. Schedule a demo with a Vitally expert and learn how our top-rated CSP can help you improve how you onboard your new customers.