New Customer Onboarding

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New Customer Onboarding

The new customer onboarding experience is influenced by multiple aspects, from the expectations set by the sales team, time to value, collaborations, among many others. Regardless of how a company approaches its onboarding experience (self-service, low-touch, high-touch), a customer-centric mentality is key to ensure engagement and adoption.


Some initial considerations:
    • Instead of following the initially proposed sequence, we structured the research in the following order: pain points, best practices, case studies, and customer trends. This was done to reduce repetition.
    • We included limited examples and insights from the finance vertical to best practices, pain points, and trends when they appeared in multiple sources or were noted by reputable outlets as significantly important/different. Apart from one pain point, these insights are only an addition to the broader picture.
    • We used eleven (out of over 100) sources from 2015 and 2016, all corroborated by recent sources. They were only included due to their level of detail, images, or unique perspective. All data coming from sources older than 1-2 years were fully noted.
    • Five videos were used. These sources are interviews or presentations from key executives at best-in-class experience companies, and there were no equivalent sources.
    • Finally, as this is a lengthy report, with multiple charts, screenshots, and infographics, we are also providing a replica in this attached Google Doc (with a menu) to make it easier to adjust the images and edit as desired.

Pain Points

False Expectations

  • Consistently setting expectations is "arguably the most critical element to building an effective customer onboarding program." However, that concept is often overlooked by companies. Onboarding should start the second a client shows interest in the product but companies only start thinking about onboarding after the client is already signed up, which leads to confusion, misguided expectations, and frustration.
  • "If you don’t align sales with implementation and operation, you have a big problem," states Jochen Wirtz, professor of marketing at the National University of Singapore. "One group is overpromising everything to get the sale, and the other group cuts cost whenever possible." Consumers, stuck between both groups, are left with a product that does not fit their needs.
  • Forrester research uncovered that "78% of buyers say salespeople often present irrelevant or incorrect materials." They overpromise results and capabilities to close the deal. Most clients will only discover these false promises in the middle of their onboarding process.
  • Forbes illustrates this point with storytelling: "There are examples of this all over the internet. One talks of a service provider that offered to optimize the ways the client monitored their activity, excited by the promise of how the service would lighten their workload, and the client agreed to a two-year contract. When it came to delivering on those promises, the client quickly realized the service wasn't easy to integrate into their existing processes, and the data they gathered was either inaccurate or irrelevant. The client spent one year working with the service provider trying to fix the problem, without success, and the second year trying to get out of the contract."
  • Even though the new "customer-centric" era resulted in shorter contracts and more options, switching services is still expensive, time-consuming, and stressful for B2B consumers. The same way onboarding teams are pressured to prove their products' value, the famous "aha moment," as soon as possible, B2B customers are pressured to prove the validity of their decision in choosing a vendor/service, especially now.
  • Since the incentives for sales teams and onboarding teams are not always the same, customers are left with a difficult and draining onboarding process. Frank Cespedes, senior lecturer in entrepreneurial management at Harvard Business School, explains, "Most companies set themselves up for either a difficult or costly onboarding experience in the way they manage sales," he says. "Most sales compensation plans ‘bonus’ salespeople purely in terms of sales volume. So the message to salespeople is that any customer is a good customer, irrespective of the post-sale costs and capabilities required to serve that customer. Hence, sales brings in customers with very different onboarding characteristics that must be managed by other functions in the company. This is one reason why ‘customer focus’ is a perennial slogan but not an organizational reality at many firms."

Broken Communication

  • In the era of social media and Google, customers are no longer willing to wait, as "they are used to no longer having to actively ask for information." They want accessible, transparent, and real-time information during their onboarding process. However, many still report that companies fail to provide basic information, such as where they are in the onboarding process.
  • According to Adobe, during the onboarding experience, consumers need to feel "Ease, relevance, trust, familiarity, belonging, validation, positive emotion, esteem, reward, and being heard," which is not the experience they are getting from most companies.
  • Victor Bilandzic, Managing Consultant at digital marketing firm Motava, elaborates: "A big issue with service-based industries is establishing realistic expectations for the life of the new relationship. What are the deliverables? What's the timeframe? What's the expected result? If the service provider and customer are not on the same page and seldom communicating, it'll cause a lot of issues."
  • When companies succumb to the "get them and forget them" mindset, they run the risk of triggering cognitive dissonance. "This describes the feeling of tension in the brain when you have two conflicting ideas, beliefs, or emotional reactions. If your customers’ experience is great to begin with but breaks down soon after they purchase or enroll, they feel discomfort — which can lead them to disengage with you."

Learning Experience

  • Executives recognize that customer onboarding experience is an integral part of their business and a pain point for customers; their expenditures, however, would indicate otherwise. A recent survey discovered that commonly outsourced sales functions receive 20% more investment than those related to customer success. That number shrinks to a 17% difference when asked about their future priorities.
  • This has a direct reflection on consumers and creates a major pain point. The post-sale process often fails to provide support for the onboarding experience. Companies onboard multiple customers simultaneously, and their Customer Success Managers (CSM) cannot provide one-on-one training to all clients, which when paired with insufficient self-service resources, leads to clients rejecting the product.
  • Many companies opt to use self-service strategies to assist low touch clients, which are quite valid; however, they often fail on that front as well. A survey discovered that only 37% of consumers "are trying to use self-service options" because the rest perceive them as inaccurate or incomplete.
  • In 2015, HubSpot conducted a "survey amongst users who had churned from a certain email tool within one week of signing up for the service." Perceived value and complexity were the most common reasons:
  • Some additional stats that illustrate the necessity of providing efficient resources (one-on-one or self-service):
      • "55% of people say they've returned a product because they didn't understand how to use it."
      • "80% of people have deleted an app because they didn't know how to use it."
      • "Over 90% of customers think that companies 'could do better' when it comes to onboarding new customers.

Time Consuming and Invasive Onboarding

  • A significant share of customers feels that onboarding complex and highly regulated services, such as healthcare, banking, and insurance, is too time-consuming and requires too much personal information.
  • In 2020, 63% of banking consumers abandoned their application, according to a survey by Signicat, an unexpected increase from the 39% that reported the same in 2019. This behavior is highly influenced by COVID-19, which will be covered in detail later, and by consumers no longer accepting poor experiences.
  • Approximately "39% give up because the process drags on too long, while 34% drop off because too much personal information is required." Thirty-two percent of consumers refuse to even start an application if they are required to take ID credentials to a branch, while 50% reported that they would abandon onboarding if it takes more than 20 minutes.

Best Practices

  • We broke down each best practice into three sections. The first section presents drivers, context, or the problems the practice addresses; the second section describes the practice and provides implementation insights and guidance. Finally, the third section presents results, examples, and opinions. For two practices (content and email onboarding), we excluded the third section as these are mostly compilations of smaller best practices. Therefore, we considered it would be more efficient to present the results with the description.

Best Practice #1: Value-Driven Onboarding

  • "Time to Value" (TTV) or "Time-to-First-Value" (TFV) is often regarded as one of the most critical customer onboarding metrics. It defines how long it takes for new clients to reach the "aha moment," or "the amount of time between when a customer takes an action (makes the purchase) and when they see the value of that action (uses the product in a meaningful way)."
  • There is a short window between the clients' first steps and the time they expect to reap value from the product or service. If the onboarding process is too long, engagement and adoption rates plummet, as customers perceive a lack of value. On the other hand, "delivering results quickly gives customers the confidence that they made the right choice and increases their likelihood of continuing the partnership long-term."

Strategy & Implementation

  • Strategies to improve TTV may vary according to the onboarding process of each company/product. For example, a high touch onboarding may leverage concierge service, while self-service approaches may ramp up walkthrough strategies. "Vendors need to assess on a case-by-case basis whether one client needs a bit more hand-holding than another." However, there are some general guidelines.
  • The first step is to understand how each customer defines value. For B2B companies, this is a vital step. "Successful B2B relationships are built on deep, actionable insights about customer needs and expectations;" unfortunately, companies often fail to understand their customers and, equally important, to manage their expectations.
  • CO specialists consider the kick-off and discovery sessions as the essential stage of the customer onboarding journey. In this stage, sales and customer success teams should work together to understand clients' needs, manage expectations, identify stakeholders, and set goals and milestones. HubSpot advises companies to send the email to start the kickoff process within 24 hours of the contract being signed to ensure the client's to-do list is not accumulating.
  • Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timebound (SMART goals).
  • Engagements need to be "proactive and personalized based on the unique customer situation. Understanding the customer’s business and using data and technology to support customer interactions will enable the CS team to deliver value with every engagement."
  • TTV has an extra layer of complexity for heavily regulated industries due to all the complex and iterative steps. To ensure clients are not forced to repeat themselves, which is a best practice, companywide communication guidelines should be established to streamline the experience and reduce attrition. For example, Salesforce maintains the database of clients' open cases (tickets) accessible to the customer success team, the support/service team, and the sales team.
  • In the self-service front, tutorials, walkthroughs, and case studies are effective ways to accelerate TTV. Onboarding emails can be designed to trigger actions and help companies guide the client with simple add-ons, such as a call-to-action button.

Why it is Considered a Best Practice

  • Forbes points out that TTV is more important now than before, saying, "In these uncertain times, time to value is more important than ever. Faced with unforeseen business challenges and already-stretched teams now working remotely, businesses cannot afford to waste time and delay value."
  • Salesforce explains, "First impressions matter. Everything that happens after people give you their information is part of the onboarding process. It should be easy for new customers to begin interacting with your brand once they cross the threshold. Whether they sign up for a free trial, purchase a product, or download your app, how effectively you introduce customers to your offerings and help them understand the benefits will often determine whether the relationship lasts or not."
  • In 2016, Appcue increased its completion rate from 13% to 32%, resulting in 150% more users reaching their "aha moment to become activated users" by simply redesigning the welcome message to redirect users to the right landing page. Slack also increased retention rates with the same strategy.

Best Practice #2: Personalized and Simple Onboarding — "Offer Help, Not Hype"

  • One of the most challenging aspects of the customer onboarding journey is that there is no "one-size-fits-all" strategy. Customers have different learning patterns, digital abilities, and triggers.
  • The onboarding process of complex products and services usually involve multiple departments and specialists, which will be covered in the next practice. However, customers perceive the onboarding experience as a single relationship. Therefore, "Companies that put the customer first and personalize every point of interaction are well-positioned to maintain long-term relationships with their base."
  • According to McKinsey, customers want "offerings that are smart, tailored to their needs, and easy to use, and they want an integrated experience that is channel agnostic."

Strategy & Implementation

  • Customers are at the height of their interest when they make their first purchase. It is the right time to get to know them better and ask for information that can help personalize outreach and future recommendations. However, the key is to "offer help, not hype. You want the messages you send to be relevant, not intrusive." For example, up-selling and cross-selling should not be part of the initial B2B customer onboarding experience.
  • Some simple features can help guide customers and streamline their experience. For example, adding a progress bar that shows customers where they are in the onboarding process and how many steps are left provides transparency, encouragement, and helps clients estimate time investment. Adding extended jumps (e.g., from 10% to 25% instead of 10% to 12%) is more likely to motivate completion.
  • Breaking down complex tasks into smaller and more manageable steps and actions ensure clients are not overwhelmed by the process.
  • Adding a "skip button" to tutorials and walkthroughs, preferably at each point instead of skipping the entire tutorial, ensures that self-service options can be personalized to each client's needs and help reduce attrition. Vevo found that "adding a skip option to their onboarding flow increased logins by nearly 10%, and the number of successful sign-ups jumped by almost 6%." Furthermore, tracking the interaction of customers with the skip button can help personalize the onboarding process, and identify steps that are considered simple and those that are pain points.
  • Mobile apps can help simplify the process by eliminating the need to break the customer journey. "New technologies are available that enable a customer to start and finish the entire onboarding through a simple text message on his mobile phone. Clicking on a link in the message opens a secure portal for interacting and completing all onboarding steps — with no need to break the customer journey for printing, signing, or uploading and emailing supporting documents and identification."
  • For industries that have to comply with AML and KYC regulatory requirements, advanced ID verification and authentication solutions that enable customers to quickly fulfill compliance requirements are great tools to streamline the process and remove paperwork burden.

Why it is Considered a Best Practice

  • Michelle Novak, Enterprise Customer Success Manager at Iterable, states, "As we recommend to our audience of growth marketers, the 4 essential ingredients to amazing onboarding are properly orienting newcomers to your brand, building connections across channels, enabling behavioral profiling for better personalization, and gathering feedback to optimize your process."
  • B2C companies like Netflix and Pinterest personalize the onboarding by asking users to select their interests and then provide targeted content. B2B companies use a similar approach by tracking customers on-app or website activities and sending follow-up emails with tutorials and videos.

Best Practice #3: Cross-Functional Process

  • B2B onboarding is typically more complex and less straightforward than B2C. Within a single company "there are multiple stakeholders, and each one of them is at a different stage in the customer lifecycle. This significantly increases the quantity and depth of interactions required to deliver on a customer’s needs. There is no single anchor point it’s a matrixed relationship, constructed by individual interactions, created by data, driven by insight, and changing every moment." Collaboration between departments and effective communication are imperative. As explained by SaaS onboarding consultant Alli Blum, "Onboarding is a team sport."
  • According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), one of the most common errors companies make when implementing an onboarding strategy is to treat the process as fragmented cycles instead of promoting alignment between functional areas and adequate communication.
  • "Every employee is doing what they think is the right thing to do for their functional area, but sometimes that causes a poor customer experience," says Melanie Wing, vice president for strategic marketing at Equifax. "We need to get everyone to think like the customer."
  • In fact, B2B executives and managers surveyed by HBR in 2016 regarding their customer onboarding strategies identified "lack of alignment between functional areas (54 percent), inadequate communication (51 percent), and limited understanding of customer needs (44 percent)" as the three most significant customer onboarding challenges.
  • A 2019 survey, conducted by ServiceSource in North America in 2019, corroborates HBR 2016 survey. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said that the "handoff between sales and customer success teams" is one of the biggest obstacles to creating a great onboarding experience for their customers.
  • Overall, insufficient or inadequate communication between different departments and the mentality that customer satisfaction is driven by a specific group rather than adopting a holistic approach are some main barriers impairing B2B companies' onboarding efforts to engage customers and reduce short-term churn.

Strategy & Implementation

  • Gainsight theorizes that maintaining separated customer silos is detrimental to the onboarding journey as companies end up over engaging and under engaging customers at the same time. For example, CSM and Marketing departments are not communicating; therefore, the client is receiving conflicting information or having their pain points brought up over and over again. Instead of a seamless and satisfactory onboarding experience, clients receive a frustrating and fragmented one.
  • Cross-functional teams, composed of specialists from different functions, can help mitigate the "often messy team handoffs from purchase to service."
  • Taskray and Gainsight created a Consumer Journey Map to help companies track and implement each step of the transition between Sales, Customer Onboarding, and Customer Success. However, they note that "This map is meant for your top tier customers (key accounts, enterprise, etc.). and represents nirvana—a state that is achieved without limitations on resources, time, etc. However, when building a CS practice from the ground up, this is a great place to start."
  • Each transition should be a result of collaborative efforts between the teams to ensure "the end-to-end onboarding process would be managed cohesively to ensure the customer is delighted with the product or service throughout the process."
  • Companies with superior customer experiences are more likely to assign specific responsibility for customer satisfaction to an individual employee during onboarding. They are also more likely to have a formal and structured plan in place, assisted by management systems and tools.

Why it is Considered a Best Practice

  • The Customer Onboarding Benchmark Report 2019 defines how companies approach onboarding new customers according to their efficiency and maturity level. "Hyper Smart" companies operate cross-functional teams working together to achieve a seamless and engaging onboarding experience. The report concludes that "Having a standardized process is not the panacea for trouble-free onboarding: it is however the first step in customer onboarding maturity model."
  • Forty-four percent of companies that prioritize client experience say they deliver onboarding as a cohesive, consistent system (compared to 22% of all companies). They are more likely to show greater sales growth and to report success in multiple aspects during the B2B onboarding period.
  • Moreover, "Prioritizers" have a firmer understanding of the "important roles played by various functional groups for successful onboarding. When asked what functional groups are extremely important during this time, Prioritizers ranked almost all groups significantly higher than Non-Prioritizers."

Peculiarities of the Financial World

  • Both McKinsey and Bain & Company note peculiarities in the finance vertical that make this practice even more crucial to an effective and customer-centric onboarding process. Although this report is not centered around financial services, it might be worth exploring the variations in this particular instance.
  • Bain & Co focuses on the hurdles inherent to the vertical, and detrimental to the onboarding process, using the example of a large North American bank that tried to improve its onboarding process through mobile and website channels. It is a good cautionary tale to the issues that could emerge with a lack of collaboration between departments for complex onboarding processes:
    • "The digital application process was quick and easy, did not require a huge amount of information and allowed for instant approval. Everything worked well at launch—in theory. However, several status checks showed that the new customer approval rate, as well as the economics of the project, steadily declined."
    • "The return on investment of the digital channel was worse than for direct mail offers. Even among customers with high credit ratings, 40% got a "not approved" online message. Worse, the message told them they would receive a letter in 7 to 10 days explaining why. When it arrived, that letter often asked for more information, such as a pay stub to verify income, which had to be mailed back to the bank."
    • "At the heart of the problem, the bank's many steps required for approval—risk assessment, antifraud verification, credit underwriting and so on—were handled by different functions operating in silos. No single team with authority had designed or analyzed the entire experience end to end. Each part, which had a solid rationale on its own, could not combine into a coherent, seamless whole. And this dynamic characterized other digital initiatives across the bank."
  • McKinsey, on the other hand, explores the solution to these issues. Some organizations create a "purpose-built 'lab' or 'pod' for a team working on a customer journey to insulate it from everyday business demands and free it to focus on delivery. To ensure speed to market, each team member must hold decision-making authority for his or her respective area. If the head of legal can’t attend every daily meeting, she needs to empower a member of her department to be in the lab full time and act on her behalf."
  • The power of this approach "lies in the way it unites professionals from legal, compliance, operational risk, and other functions in working toward a common purpose. By engaging them from the start, organizations can sidestep responses that block change ('This can’t be done') and foster more constructive dialogues ('Let’s work together to make it happen')." This is particularly important for financial services as they have complicated onboarding processes due to legal restraints and security demands.

Best Practice #4: Copywriting Strategy and Content

  • Traditionally associated with sales, Content Marketing is also crucial for customer onboarding. From case studies to landing pages and blog posts, content strategy can inspire and motivate clients and reduce the necessity for high touch strategies.
  • Content focused on specific customer segments also affects the onboarding process by attracting the right consumer. A typical mistake B2B sellers make is to embrace all clients, regardless of them being the right fit for the product. Tailored content can help companies attract the "ideal client," improving the process from the beginning.

Strategy & Implementation

  • Companies need to ensure that they are correctly addressing pain points on their guides. Self-service tools need to be clear, easy-to-follow, have visual aids (video is a good option), and be readily available and easily accessible. One common factor among companies recognized as having superior onboarding experience is not gating these guides and resources. They are readily available to everyone.
  • Another important step is recognizing (internally) that the product is not as accessible to a first-time user as companies tend to believe. For example, Slack's value proposition is all about being an easy and convenient tool. However, around 2016, the company was struggling with retention rates. After interviewing some key customers, the product team discovered that the tool was complex for enterprise customers, with multiple clients reporting that they had to write their own guides to help employees. By adding one landing page to its onboarding process, the company increased retention by 8%.
  • Improving existing content (or content pruning) is another good tactic. QuickBooks removed 40% of their blog posts and saw traffic go up 44%, resulting in a 72% increase in signups.
  • Case studies help accelerate time to value by proving a visualization tool to clients. However, it is important to reinforce that case studies should be robust, provide metrics when possible, clarify what problem the company solved and how long it took. Case studies should not be used merely as another product description page. A best practice is to make metrics the first thing customers see when they open the case study.
  • Finally, the Knowledge Base should be organized, frequently updated, accurate, and easy to navigate. Consumers want to find answers on their own. A study by Forrester reported that "customers prefer knowledge bases over all other self-service channels. This is likely because the vast majority of customers want an immediate response to their customer service question — 90%, in fact." However, as previously noted, most companies are failing to provide good knowledge bases. HubSpot provides a complete guide to create and improve knowledge bases.
  • Furthermore, when it comes to retention, "companies who are deploying content are seeing 5 to 10% better retention, especially when they deploy content that is more customer success focused."

Best Practice #5: Email Onboarding

  • Onboarding emails are a common practice, with most companies making it part of the onboarding process. "More than 70% of new subscribers expect a welcome immediately after signing up." Welcome emails generate "four times the total open rates" than other forms of bulk promotions.
  • According to Experian, "personalized emails generate 6 times higher transaction rates." Keeping in mind that most emails are open on mobile (70%), best practices for onboarding welcome email include setting a goal for each email, reaffirming the product's core value, focusing on benefits, providing encouragement to act, and segmenting users to provide personalized content.

Strategy & Implementation

  • The number one best practice for onboarding emails is to use them to guide customers to where they need to go to extract the most value from the product (B2B or B2C). Companies should define the feature most likely to provide immediate value and engage customers. It is a way to amaze clients without overwhelming them with multiple features and several CTAs in the same email. Additionally, the first email should have only one CTA.
  • Interactive Digital suggests the following guidelines for email onboarding flow:
  • Zurich Insurance worked with Salesforce to send new pension customers a series of tailored welcome emails to every individual. According to Russell Fisher, Head of Customer and Digital Strategy at Zurich UK, the emails helped the company reach new clients. "We’re starting to reach a whole new set of customers — people who have never engaged with their financial futures before. They are now reading our articles and realizing how empowering it is to take more control of this aspect of their lives."
  • These onboarding emails are so important to drive engagement, and encourage new customers to explore activities and resources that the Salesforce's Customer Success team worked with the Legal team to ensure all onboarding emails have Transactional status. Therefore, these emails can bypass email opt-out options. As clients reach a maturity level during the onboarding and adoption process, the emails are then flagged back to commercial status.
  • Onboarding emails are an excellent way to remind customers about what the company offers and how it improves their business/life. Emails should be personalized and, if possible, triggered by customers' actions. For example, if clients are frequently visiting one topic on the Knowledge base, the company should send an email that directs the client to related-topics or journey.
  • Emails with tips or resources the client might be unfamiliar allow users to "explore specific features and makes the product more actionable versus directing them to a general login page." Directing customers to useful guides, interesting features, and self-service resources can generate curiosity, driving usage and engagement.

Case Studies

  • We also focused on finding case studies that had mass-appeal. We interpreted mass-appeal as onboarding processes/challenges/strategies that are somewhat universal to all verticals. We chose case studies from well-known, large companies. Most companies are US-based, apart from Vodafone (Germany), but serve global customers.
  • We included one user onboarding case study (Grammarly) to illustrate best practices to help clients navigate applications in a freemium model.

Case Study #1: Slack - Continuous Evolution

  • Slack is a reference when it comes to onboarding new users, often referred to as a best-in-class reference for user experience (detailed case studies of Slack's user onboarding can be found here and here). A less explored side of the company's onboarding strategy refers to its customer onboarding journey (administrators and business sponsors).
  • Slack's value proposition to customers is easy to understand and direct to the point: "Slack is secure. It’s flexible. It’s software that people actually enjoy using. And it’s here to help your business." This is reinforced to new customers at every step of their onboarding journey. From the welcome screen and customer support to guides, webinars, videos and communication.
  • Slack's onboarding team includes (quoted verbatim):
    • "Account Executive (AE): Your main point of contact with a deep understanding of your business needs."
    • "Customer Success Manager (CSM): Your AE will connect you with a CSM to help coordinate a smooth launch."
    • "Support Team: Our Support team is always here to help if you've run into an issue or need help using Slack."
    • "Our Support team supports the majority of our customers' needs, so not all customers will have dedicated AE or CSM. "
  • The company has a dedicated and easy-to-navigate "Getting Started" help page that includes tips to introduce Slack to the company, use cases, guides to help educate teams, configurations, among many other helpful resources.
  • These pages are also filled with recommendations to make the end-users experience better. For example: "We recommend letting all members create and manage public channels. It helps to express the value of communicating openly in public channels to promote transparency and contribute to your company's message archive."
  • In the Getting Started page, Slack offers administrators multiple guides they can use to help their teams' onboarding experience, such as walkthroughs, tips, and videos.
  • In its customer onboarding flow, the company uses "empty states," allowing administrators to personalize the product. This process is guided by the Slackbot, which shows how to fill these empty screens with data and content.
  • In its Customer Onboarding Guide, Slack reinforces its value with a straightforward message, simply stating, "Slack is an easy to use messaging app for teams. All your communications in one place and it integrates with everything. More productivity, more transparency… no more email. That's Slack."
  • A side note regarding the previously mentioned pain point (enterprise retention rates). As reported, in 2016, the company changed the onboarding process to include better instructions and a new landing page, creating a more "human-centric" and intuitive onboarding after asking clients about their difficulties. Although the initial retention increase was not exponential (8%), asking consumers for feedback personally (the team traveled to meet the clients) and applying their responses to improve the onboarding process gave clients a sense of strategic partnership. They felt like they were pioneers, relevant partners, helping to improve the product. This resulted in increased trust and engagement. Capital One later expanded their plan to include thousands of new users, citing that moment as the reason they chose the company.
  • This seems to be the company's approach to the onboarding process to this day. Onboarding as an evolution, based on clients' pain points and feedback. For example, in Q1 2021 Earnings Call, the CEO stated that they are "ramping up remote work consultations for our customers, accelerating the launch of a new user interface and introducing a new onboarding experience."
  • He did not expand on how they are changing the process this time around but added that one of the company's priority is TTV, saying, "if they come to our website and download Slack, we want them to be successful, to have that aha moment and to get value from Slack as quickly as possible. This remains personally my biggest focus area, particularly because of the large number of organizations new to Slack who, if we do our job in showing them value, could become larger paid customers down the road."

Case Study #2: Salesforce - Automated and Triggered Guidance

  • Salesforce is one of the leading Cloud-based companies in the world. With thousands of new consumers onboarding every quarter, the company leveraged its own tools (Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and Service Cloud) to streamline the onboarding process, focusing on self-service options.
  • The company disclosed multiple details surrounding its onboarding strategy in different video presentations (around 30 minutes each). The following case study is mostly based on two 2019 videos with some extra insights pulled from the Q&A portion of the 2015 video. All screenshots are from the most recent videos.
  • Salesforce data shows that an efficient onboarding strategy leads to increased revenue, less attrition, increased loyalty, and higher usage and adoption rates. Initially, the company had a fragmented and somewhat manual onboarding process with not a lot of scalability potential. After multiple trial & errors, it arrived at an onboarding program that leverages its own data and automation tools with a milestone strategy to facilitate onboarding and promote renewals.
  • As a company that adds, on average, 9,000 new customers per quarter, one-on-one high touch strategies are not sustainable for Salesforce; therefore, it has to provide superior self-service tools powered by personalized, triggered recommendations.
  • The onboarding strategy starts with the sales team. Instead of waiting to discover contact points after the contract is signed, salespeople can only close a deal if they provide the key stakeholders for that account, meaning that they are required to identify administrators and the business sponsor. The sales team collaborates with the Customer Success team to ensure the onboarding process will start with the right people. The company then tailors the communication according to the stakeholder position.
  • The company aligns different teams to collaborate and create a consistent and cohesive client journey. They call it the Journey Orchestration Model.
  • Onboarding strategy is based on a funnel approach, with different engagement paths tied together to achieve a data-driven, personalized onboarding experience without requiring human interaction at every single step.
  • Salesforce recognizes that onboarding is not a one-size-fits-all process. Therefore, instead of pushing a "one and done" approach, the company leverages multiple resources throughout different touchpoints to guide clients and drive engagement. It does not gate any of their onboarding resources and provides multiple options, such as 3-5 minute demonstration videos, knowledge bases, H&T Knowledge articles, in-app walkthroughs, webinar series, fundamental webinars, among others. However, to ensure clients are not overwhelmed with options, it uses onboarding emails to guide the experience.

  • Monitoring engagement throughout different milestones is how Salesforce maintains a proactive approach to onboarding in a self-service environment. Automation enables the company to act timely, with triggered and timed events.
  • Customer onboarding journeys are typically unique to each customer, and, therefore, not linear. Salesforce tailors the onboarding process according to what steps consumers accomplish and what they might need to do next during their 90 days onboarding.
  • The onboarding process has three primary goals: Reduce future attrition, increase engagement, and accelerate time to value. To reduce attrition, the company starts the onboarding process early, manages expectations, employs strategies to mitigate implementation risks, encourages clients to explore resources and educational materials.
  • Increased engagement is reached by getting the right content to the right stakeholder, with automated triggered events. After multiple tests, the company saw more client engagement in interaction-based emails and follow-ups. Based on the client's interaction with the platform, the company sends follow-up emails with the appropriate resource. For example, if a customer logged a data quality case, Salesforce invites the client to check their data quality journey and a webinar invitation to ensure he or she is familiar with the resource.
  • To accelerate time to value, the company customize the onboarding experience to the needs of each client. This is achieved by aligning teams and automating marketing resources (the Sales Cloud interacts with the Marketing Cloud and Services Cloud).
  • There are two detailed videos available describing the Salesforce onboarding process. One from 2015 and the other from 2019 (the exact date is unclear). The process is similar in both videos, with one notable change: Intervention strategy. In 2015, Salesforce contacted low engagement clients, those who did not participate in any onboarding activity, in what they called a "low engagement email" at week six of the onboarding process. This email included a "Get Help" button that enabled customers to request one-on-one assistance.
  • The most recent video shows a different strategy. If the client does not participate in any activities for an undisclosed number of days, Salesforce sends another email with similar content. If, after 21 days, the customer is still not engaging, a Customer Success Manager proactively reaches out to the client to follow-up and offer assistance (this procedure applies to standard clients, as Premier account clients have access to one-on-one support from day one).
  • Salesforce’s Director of Market Insights, Michele Mere, points out that when they first started the onboarding program, they did not really consider how they would measure if clients followed directions and recommendations, a common mistake in multiple companies.
  • The company now breaks onboarding metrics into three major categories: Reach, Engage, and Impact.
  • Salesforce was able to identify that clients' adoption rates increased according to the number of activities they participate in during their onboarding journey. More importantly, they were able to determine which tools drive more engagement. For Salesforce, video is the best tool to drive engagement during the onboarding stage, followed by community and documents.

Case Study#3: Athenahealth - Adopting to a New Model

  • After years of success, athenahealth was facing challenges with its Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and customer attrition. To improve customer satisfaction rates, the company chose to shift from an account management model to a Customer Success strategy. The goal was "to improve customer satisfaction and retention through a proactive approach to supporting each customer with high-quality, evidence-based and system-generated interventions."
  • The one-to-one model needed to change so athenahealth could deliver more "proactive guidance to help customers perform better and extract greater value from the athenaNet platform."
  • The new CSM team was segmented into "four service tiers based on client revenue, which generally correlates with the complexity of the customer’s business; service offerings range from lower-touch service that includes quarterly performance coaching calls, to higher-touch service that includes quarterly onsite visits."
  • For its onboarding process, it chose Gainsight to employ a phased approach. It initially focused on "establishing a successful Customer Success team and ensuring CSMs were completing core activities by emphasizing adoption of Gainsight. It then turned its sights to improving NPS and attrition."
  • By gathering data and engaging clients at all business levels, CSMs were able to move from a reactive to a proactive stance, with CTAs supporting connections with customers on "meaningful topics, such as opportunities to improve configurations and workflows, and to discuss overall performance."
  • The Customer Success team’s performance-focused interventions "are a special subset of proactive CTAs. With its insight into customer performance and a clear point of view on what constitutes strong performance, the team was able to identify improvement opportunities, test interventions and prove their ability to drive change."
  • The company used digital tools to convert "certain CTAs originally directed at CSMs to send directly to customers. One example is when noticing a straightforward configuration opportunity that would help a customer improve its performance. "
  • Service tier leaders gained "transparency into initiatives across customers, enabling a more strategic approach to cross-functional collaboration. They also appreciate visibility into how the business is performing, enabling them to identify where to prioritize their efforts. "
  • It also improved the feedback loop during the onboarding. Gainsight creates an NPS CTA with its own playbook every time a survey result comes in, guiding CSMs to proceed with specific outreach based on the score.
  • The company also worked with 7Summits to improve its customer community. "athenahealths existing CX was disjointed, leading to frustration among customers. Overall, they faced five primary challenges in their existing community: lack of self-service mechanisms, no one-stop “hub” that opened the network, disconnected CX during transitions as a part of internal processes, no personalization, and limited guidance, timeliness and transparency."
  • They successfully migrated key content, data and users and enhanced customer care and support. Additionally, they "enabled personalized homepages and increased peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and collaboration, achieving many tangible results," such as better deflection rates.
  • Looking at reviews, it is possible to see customers are satisfied with the onboarding system, with many noting how easy it is to learn and use the system, as well as noting that CSMs kept them engaged and efficient.

Case Study #4: IBM Cognos Analytics - Small Wins

  • IBM Cognos Analytics is a web-based integrated BI suite that provides a "complete, self-serve toolset for interpreting, reporting, and monitoring analytics." It is a multifaceted and complicated platform that requires customers to accomplish multiple tasks and learn different tools and pathways.
  • The suite can feel overwhelming to new users and "successful onboarding depends on users’ ability to prioritize between a wealth of useful features." Instead of dragging users through every single feature one by one, the onboarding provides context to a few essential features.
  • The Welcome page reinstate the solution's value to customer, while presenting helpful options:
  • When customers open the solution, the onboarding experience starts. "When a user first logs into Cognos, they’re greeted with a choose-your-own-adventure modal, asking which path they’d like to take. If the user came for a specific purpose, they can choose to get straight to it. Or, they can opt in to the product tour."
  • During the tour, multiple tooltips are attached to specific elements on the screen, providing guidance and letting users know where key features are available.
  • It also provides customers a reassuring message while reinforcing its core value, saying, "Whether you are responsible for creating engaging visualizations, compelling reports, or just looking to find answers no one else can find, IBM Cognos Analytics has you covered."
  • IBM uses a progress bar to encourage users to continue the onboarding process, as well as a "No Thanks" option for those who wish to skip the tutorial.

  • The onboarding uses a "mixture of both ‘doing-focused’ and ‘function-focused’ walkthroughs. The visual design looks native to IBM’s products and has enough contrast to stand out."
  • The tour concludes by "letting users know where to find more resources, documentation, and video tutorials. Finally, the Cognos congratulates the user and reinforces that more resources are available. When the product tour is over, the user is shown an onboarding checklist that outlines important next steps for getting started."
  • IBM includes the "already completed product tour on the checklist and checked it off—that little sense of progress provides motivation for users to complete the onboarding process."
  • The Knowledge center has dedicated sections for each step. Images are interactive, and a feedback box is prominently displayed. Each of the boxes in the following image is "clickable" and redirects the user to the appropriate content.
  • The Cognos team knows that with a "powerful product comes the need for great prioritization and clear guidelines. The combination of the “choose your own adventure” product tour, clear directives, and a bank of resources for specific help allows users to feel empowered, not overwhelmed."
  • To drive engagement and encourage use throughout the onboarding process, IBM constantly reinforces its value, grants customers control over their onboarding experience, and applies the "psychology of small wins" to help users concentrate and reduce frustration.
  • A side note regarding consumer behavior, design and engagement: intuition is stronger than reason. Harvard Business Review reports that "trust is essential to forming an intention to purchase, but the psychology behind what actually builds trust might surprise you. A study in the journal Computers in Human Behavior showed that when making decisions involving risk, consumers tend to rely more on associative reasoning (intuition) than on deliberative reasoning (logic). They are more influenced by things like experience, color, and the aesthetics of the website than by deliberative factors such as privacy and security policies. So while security is imperative, a great website and app experience could be the difference between someone choosing to engage versus moving on."

Case Study #5: Grammarly —Learn-by-Doing and E-mail Onboarding

  • Grammarly is a subscription-based digital writing tool with millions of active daily users. It offers free, premium, and business subscriptions. The company is often featured in multiple articles discussing effective onboarding emails and user experience.
  • As soon as clients sign up, Grammarly asks users to personalize their experience by answering why they are using the tool (work, personal) and how they classify their writing skills (beginner, advanced). Next, there is a quick video tour. "Users can click through at their own pace, and engaging GIFs show users how the product works. After the video tour, new users are taken to a demo view."
  • The demo teaches clients how to interact with the tool and the different functions in a "learn by doing" approach. "To guide users that may be feeling overwhelmed, Grammarly places pulsing blue hotspots around the screen that tell users what to click on. When hovering over a hotspot, users are told what to do.
  • The last step in the walkthrough is a "demo document with a lot of grammar mistakes. Users are invited to click through, as though it were their own work, and see how Grammarly helps out." Having a demo document reduces the barrier to entry. "Rather than sending users off to a help document, or dragging them through a lengthy walkthrough of every single feature, Grammarly introduces folks to the UI patterns they'll need to learn one step at a time AND true to form. You learn how to use its features BY using its features."
  • Grammarly leverages onboarding emails to make customers feel "empowered to achieve success," while monitoring and iterating the onboarding process. The "Welcome email," sent right after customers signed up, shows value and key features. It only has one CTA.
  • About a week later, a new email is sent, detailing the latest updates and improvements. This email is longer and contains multiple CTAs. "By sending this to new users, Grammarly is able to communicate their commitment to improvement, while introducing a handful of new ways for users to use its services."
  • Grammarly sends, on average, 14 emails to users in the course of 60 days. Additional templates are available here and here.
  • When it comes to extended communication, Grammarly is continuously reminding consumers of its value and encouraging engagement and adoption. One strategy is to send emails to re-engage consumers during significant moments (such as spring finals), with a humorous touch.
  • Churn rates for B2C subscription tend to be higher than B2B, as users will quickly remove or forget about the tool/product after the first touch point. Grammarly leverages email strategies and intuitive walkthroughs to engage consumers and encourage adoption.
  • The company's valuation surpassed the $1 billion mark in 2019. Although the company refuses to disclose the number of paid users, their entire revenue model is based on subscriptions. In January 2019 SaaS Mag reported that the company grew almost 10% in six months.

Case Study #6: Vodafone —Navigating a Complex Onboarding Process

  • Vodafone Group is a "British multinational telecommunications conglomerate, with headquarters in London. It predominantly operates services in the regions of Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. It ranks 158 among Fortune500 companies with annual revenue of $52bn and 111.000 employees."
  • Vodafone onboards more than 10,000 new DSL German customers every month. From the time the contract is signed "to the moment the customer can surf the Internet from home, tens of complex actions happen in the background. This complexity is currently passed on to the customer unfiltered and ensures maximum overload and intransparency."
  • New customers received 13 different emails within the first week alone. All emails were confusing but important to complete their onboarding. At the same time, they also received several letters with relevant information that they would need later.
  • Customers were confused and perceived the process to be chaotic, which usually resulted in several calls to customer service lines to ask about current status and what they should do with the information sent. Not only this meant huge costs, but 25% of all new customers ended up canceling the contract within the first two weeks. Therefore, the complex onboarding process resulted in missed revenue, added costs, and image damage. Vodafone partnered with Hackerbay to streamline the process.
  • At first, it was essential to understand "how the current process works and why it is so complex. The reason for this was that various organically grown legacy systems from different departments were involved in the new customer onboarding process, resulting in an abundance of emails and letters to the customer."
  • After signing the contract, "every new customer received a personalized link via email and SMS, which gave him access to his individual web-based landing page for the further onboarding process." However, the landing page did not provide a framework.
  • The first step to improve this process was to ensure the client knew what to expect and how to proceed by outlining every step of the onboarding process and providing a way for customers to track progress in real-time. This was achieved by adding a tracking page to website/mobile applications, including calendar, real-time progress, and video instructions.
  • At the end of the process and "the successful onboarding of the new customer, a link was created to the Vodafone portal 'My Vodafone,' where the customer can find his account area and many other useful information about his contract with Vodafone."
  • After just one month, calls to customer service significantly reduced, as well as contract bounce rates. "Like the qualitative user interviews during the development process, the surveys after Go-Live showed that the new contract onboarding handling causes significantly less complexity and more satisfaction."

Consumer Trend #1: The New Digital Consumer

  • COVID-19 and the persistent concept of "the new normal" accelerated digital adoption and onboarding. Consumer behavior was already changing before the pandemic, with consumers already pushing for effective digital onboarding.
  • For example, one B2C trend emerging before the pandemic was the demand for digital identity verification, particularly from financial services, healthcare, and government services.
  • For B2B consumers, the pandemic "accelerated the migration to remote and digital." For example, "digital self-serve and remote rep interactions are likely to be the dominant elements of the B2B go-to-market model going forward when selling to both SMBs and large enterprises."
  • Videoconferences became "critical and preferred over audio/phone by 4 out of 5 B2B buyers." Gainsight's and Slack's Customer Success Directors recently stated that they are constantly video conferencing with clients and achieving positive results. In fact, some clients are responding better to this method than in-person meetings.
  • In many ways, "mobile devices have conditioned consumers to expect immediate gratification. They want one-click interactions that are simple and fast." Shopify's onboarding journey is easy, fast, and simple. It "doesn't ask for too much information up front. Their short survey requests the right information from new customers looking to build a website. Shopify can use this data to help create better experiences for users."
  • McKinsey indicates that these new behaviors are likely to perdure long after the pandemic is over.

Consumer Trend #2: Customers are Demanding Superior Experiences

  • Almost every white paper and article discussing customer onboarding processes at some point mention the same metrics: 80% of companies believe they deliver a superior experience to their customers when, in reality, only 8% of customers feel the same way. What they fail to mention is that this "impact quote" is from a 2005 Bain & Co report, before tech giants like Netflix, Apple, and Amazon changed the consumer experience game.
  • Both B2B and B2C customers are growing accustomed to seamless, personal, and simple experiences provided by Tech companies. They now expect the same experience from other verticals as well. Unfortunately, most traditional companies are not able to achieve the same level of personalization and experience.
  • Salesforce states that "73 percent of B2B buyers are expecting more today than ever before, and nearly half of those same buyers say that most experiences fall short of those expectations."
  • Lack of understanding customer needs (41%) "is one of the key challenges faced by marketers in managing their customer onboarding activities."
  • B2B companies, in particular, often fail to understand their client's needs and motivations and, therefore, to meet their expectations. "Successful B2B relationships are built on deep, actionable insights about customer needs and expectations," however, a survey with multiple executives revealed that only 38% said, "their organizations are performing very or extremely well in achieving in-depth understanding of customer behaviors, feelings, and motivations."
  • Bizzabo, an event-management platform, creates detailed customer journey maps and personas to understand customers. By anticipating clients' needs, they quickly changed to virtual events when the pandemic surfaced. The company also showcased a customer-centric mindset and worked with clients to alleviate friction and adjusted contract terms. Growing at "a rate of over 100%, the company broke all previous sales records during Q2 2020."

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