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PHOTO: Jon Tyson

A major challenge for companies at any time is retention, but it's currently top of mind as revenues are down and companies are operating with reduced budgets. Putting extra effort into customer onboarding pays off in the long-term for retention efforts.  

Good Onboarding Procedures Lead to Long-Term Customer Success

When budgets are reduced, companies and departments start cutting expenses. The first to get cut are unnecessary software, tools or subscriptions, said Ray McKenzie, founder and CEO of Starting Point Technologies, Inc. “That is why onboarding and retention is essential for tech companies. Once a customer decides to buy it is of the utmost importance to make sure that customer is utilizing the software, tool, or platform to solve their challenge. If the onboarding or initial use is successful it becomes an integral part of their business and is tough to remove. However, if the onboarding does not happen once the invoice or payment is due for the service, a cancellation may soon follow.”

Here are the onboarding practices StartingPoint follows:

  • Once the customer is onboarded, it is helpful to reach out, share contact information, offer additional training or even offer support assistance. This lets the customer know they are important and have someone they can work with. Focus on building relationships.
  • Measure interaction and usage through user experience.
  • Use tools internally that provide visibility into customer usage and interaction with the tool. Low usage may mean the needs of customers changed or they do not find value in the product or service. When interaction and usage are high, retention will be high. The value will be there.
  • Engage the customer within one business day of purchasing.
  • The customer has the solution at the forefront of their mind and a top of their list of initiatives once they purchase. Early engagement leads to successful onboarding and team implementation. The longer a company takes to reach out to their customer, the lower the chances for retainment.
  • Follow up with personalized service to ensure use or to offer additional training.

“The above best practices have helped us on-board and receive case studies from our customers,” McKenzie said. “Customer success leads to customer retention and decreased churn.”

Related Article: The Dirty Secret of the SaaS World: Customer Churn

Keep Onboarding Relevant and Fun

“Onboarding can often be the make it or break it moment for a lot of customers. You need an onboarding email sequence that helps them unlock the potential of your platform, without taking up too much time or being too dull,” said Jonathon Wright, co-founder of The QA Lead. “One of the best ways to figure out what's relevant during onboard and what isn't is to talk to your existing customers. Ask them what they wished they had known right off the bat and what they did learn early on that helped them see the value in the platform.”

If you're not yet at a point where you have customers to ask, ask the sales team what questions they're getting, Wright added. Any questions that keep coming up are probably going to be worth addressing in the onboarding sequence.

“Also, don't be afraid to have fun,” Wright said. “You don't have to go full out, with wacky unicorn gifs and all that, but you can inject humor into your emails .... Make people smile. It goes a long way to keeping customers.”

Related Article: When a Customer Says Goodbye, It Doesn't Have to Be Forever

Onboarding Starts Before Purchase

“Customer onboarding starts in your marketing and the top of the sales funnel. This means CX pros need to have what can be incredibly hard conversations with team members, particularly at early stage companies and emerging products that need to show traction or profits to survive,” said Lauren Locke-Paddon, vice president of marketing for Vocal Video. “Customer experience leadership should be prepared and adept at stepping outside of their organization to say 'no' a lot: no, we shouldn’t take money from a customer that is too far from our target market; no we should not sell to an enthusiastic prospect that is willing to ignore the specifics of how a solution works; no, we cannot accept a client that needs to flush budget at the end of a quarter.”

Selling customers something other than what you have, whether it’s in aspirational marketing or overzealous salespeople, is a death sentence for customer retention, Paddon added. The single most powerful thing you can do to create long term customers is to overdeliver — fast.

“CX pros must ruthlessly defend truthful, achievable messaging for sales and marketing,” Paddon advised. “By the same token, successful customer stories tend to inform the most effective messaging that will resonate with your company’s prospects. Use this to your advantage, rather than chasing unachievable marketing/sales daydreams. Likewise, by doing disciplined outreach and specific marketing to highly qualified prospects organizations will see dramatic yields in terms of shortened sales cycles and higher close rates.”

Related Article: Why Are Companies Investing in Customer Retention?