All Aboard! Customer Onboarding – The Human, Customer Centric Approach

We all too often & with the best intentions put all our attention into what our product is like to use, how our website feels & what we think is the best & easiest way to explain how things work. We often, because of how great we know our product is, overlook a fundamental of great customer centric HUMAN business – how we engage our customers from day 1 & keep them engaged & excited about our product (commonly called the Onboarding Process).

So, what is onboarding & why is it almost as important as having a kick ass product?

In the context I am going to explore here, Customer Onboarding serves 2 key purposes:

  • To welcome your new customer
  • To show them how to maximise their subscription to your website, product or service
  • To guide & support where needed

Broader onboarding could include the first few days of a new job, all the paperwork & forms needed, printing badges, meeting the team & getting all your logins & equipment sorted & you could transfer a lot of what I’ve learned into that scope too but today, we will just focus on onboarding customers to your product or website.

There are several ideas when it comes to onboarding & how it should look but based on my experience & opinion, here is the absolute best way to make sure you’re going to start as you mean to go on!

When Does a Customer Become a Customer?

Realistically, many companies look at this differently and in truth there is no clear answer but from my perspective, your customer becomes a customer from the moment they express interest in your product, by taking out a free trial, signing up to a newsletter or liking/following you on social media. These actions form an expression of interest & potential intent to buy so, I recommend harnessing this and ensuring that you’re able to collect key information about your customer here.

How do I get them Onboard with a free trial or demo?

It’s important not to overwhelm or worse, bore your customer here though so less is more! Try to minimise the steps and information needed to get at the freebie, whether that means instead of taking down their address, business data & telephone numbers, you just take their first name, email address and chosen password, or even better allow social sign on using Facebook, Google OR LinkedIn. This way you’re helping your customer to get at the experience, quickly and with minimal fuss, they will thank you for this and remember how easy it was. You can then have this information funnel into your CRM allowing you to start seeing and monitoring behaviour straight away.

If you’re a software or online company, you’ve got what I call a Pre-Customer they are a customer, they’re just not paying yet. Be sure to welcome them right away with a lovely email which embodies precisely what your brand is about, it should be energetic & exiting, should be clear & concise and should definitely give them what they expected, be that log in details, the white paper or links to a nice video, webinar or tutorial & remember, be HUMAN, don’t drone on about things which don’t really matter yet, use an email address which your customer can reply to & try to make sure the person who’s name is on that email is the person the customer can reach out to if they need to. This customer centric, user friendly, energetic approach is sure to get the customer excited to be working with you & they’re bound to have questions if they’re interested in using your product in the future.

They’ve Signed Up,
Now What?

They’re in, they’ve signed up, provided their info, you’ve delivered a kick ass response, that’s it, right? Nope! This is where we really ramp it up!

Now that we’ve welcomed the customer, we’ve told them all about the greatness that is our product & we’ve even delivered on our promise, giving a simple, time efficient humanly approached way to access what we’ve delivered, we need to keep an eye out, make sure that your customer accesses your product, link or other media, if they haven’t after a day or so of signing up, drop them an email to check in, make it personal, ask if everything’s okay and invite questions. Be sure to offer support over the phone or email & make sure to put a link back to the login page on there too, also make sure you can track all the links in this email (HubSpot & most email marketing suites make this super easy).

In an ideal world, your customer is going to be all over your website or software, they’ll be in and out of everything & they will know it like the back of their hand but we all know, that’s not really how things go down without a little help.

Consider making a welcome video, just a few minutes long which highlights how to get started, accompany this with a little user friendly written guide, showing turn by turn or click by click where to go and what to do to get started (make sure this can be skipped, just in case the customer doesn’t want to see it but give them the option to come back to it later if they want too again – it’s a great idea to monitor if this has been watched or skipped by a user.

If there are a number of steps to getting started, consider using tooltips or screen overlays to guide your customer, maybe even let them track their progress & help them get excited about being ready to use your product, properly for the first time, I call this self-service onboarding. It feels personal but doesn’t require human resources. Having a human approach, doesn’t always need a human there BUT ALWAYS give the option to speak to someone,either through an IM service, email or telephone call. If you’ve got the resources, offer all 3!

It really doesn’t matter if you’re trying to get a business or an individual onboarded either, the process should be the same. The person working for the business looking to procure is still a person whose buying decision will be driven not only by how great your product is & how well it meets their business need but also by how it makes them feel using it, how remarkable their experience with you was, vs. your competitors.

Make sure that education doesn’t stop once your user understands the basics! Offer a platform for continuous self-development, like an online learning platform, blog or video series showing users more complex ideas or use cases, make sure to offer these right out of the box & make them accessible to non-customers too so that site visitors can get a feel for what the product does, how it works & what to expect, before they’ve even signed up!

The trial is almost over!

In the last couple of days before the Free trial ends or a few days after the user has downloaded the whitepaper, opened & watched the video or attended the webinar, drop them another email or drop the customer a call to see how the trial went, gather feedback on their experience and harness this to make improvements to the platform, don’t just write them off as out of the funnel, though their benefit to you might not be financial – they could give some amazing insight!

WooHoo! They Bought a Licence Or Subscription!

First things first, thank them for their custom, show them you’re excited to have them as a customer and that they’re valued again, be human, at this stage, they might move from having a sales person as their point of contact to having an account manager or other customer service person, so it’s a great idea to introduce that person too, make sure they know who to speak too if they need it and when they’re available. Again, HubSpot offers facilities for customers to book meetings or calls right from their email inbox using a special link, if you’re using HubSpot, make sure to take advantage of this throughout the customers life cycle.

In Person For The Win!

Occasionally, a customer might need a little more than an online tutorial or hour long video call can offer, if you’ve got the facilities to do so, why not invite them to your office for a tour of the product and hands on help or even offer to visit them and get them set up? It’s probably not cost effective to do this for a free trial customer but the moment someone has paid for your product, this option could be the difference between a single use customer or repeat subscriber.

Onboarding Complete!

After about the first 30 – 90 days, your on-boarding team will have:

  • welcomed
  • have shown the customer around
  • understood the customers needs and wants
  • signposted all the great learning material they’ve made
  • given your customer the very best start with your product

They’ve now done their job, the customer is using your product, knows how it works, has insight into where to get further self help or where to go for tech support. They might even have become an advocate, writing great reviews online (be sure to thank them for these if you find one & try to have their onboarding manager do that). Make sure at this point, you introduce them to their new account manager, via email, or telephone call so the customer knows who’s looking after them & why, again – keeping the human element in play, always.

I know I said this earlier but its VITAL to keeping customers informed, working using both a HUMAN & Customer Centric approach. Make sure the learning never ends, offer a weekly newsletter with cool tips, maybe start a YouTube Channel dedicated to new features, how to guides and use cases, harness social media to shout about the great things your company is doing! Perhaps even consider starting a blog which shows your customers what you’re working on.

Just because they’re on-boarded, the journey is never going to be 100% complete & though your on-boarding team makes this content, existing, new and old customers will benefit from it, creating a happy and strong relationship with your customers. Always remember, being Human & Customer centric in your approach is likely the difference between a repeat customer & loosing them forever to a competitor.

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