The Gist

  • First step. Customer onboarding is a customer-first strategy that focuses on improving the initial experience with a company and sets the tone for the rest of the customer's lifecycle.
  • Comprehensive support. Prepare comprehensive support resources to empower customers to take control of their experience and reduce their need for hands-on support.
  • Personalization is key. Check in with customers regularly, and personalize the onboarding process to create an exceptional customer onboarding experience that drives revenue and business growth.

The onboarding experience is a pivotal moment in your customers’ journey. While your business has successfully converted a prospect at this stage, you’re still very much at risk of losing their business.

In fact, an insufficient onboarding experience is the third driving factor of customer churn, following wrong product fit and lack of engagement

So, to help you improve experience and retain customers, we’ll discuss the basics of creating a successful customer onboarding experience in this quick guide. Let’s jump in!

Customer Onboarding Explained

At its most basic level, onboarding is a customer-first strategy that focuses on improving their initial experience with your company. And it sets the tone for the rest of the customer’s lifecycle.

You can also define it as the process of providing new customers with necessary information and support while they get acquainted with your product. The onboarding period begins the moment a customer signs up with your brand or makes an initial payment. And it lasts until they’re completely comfortable with the service. But, it might last longer depending on your company and how you approach the onboarding process. 

Onboarding efforts typically include:

  • Activation sequences.
  • Personalized welcome messages (emails, texts, phone calls, etc.).
  • Tutorials, walk-throughs and guided product tours.
  • Knowledge bases, help desks, how-to videos, FAQs and other support resources.
  • Routine follow-ups, surveys and so on.

A good onboarding strategy sets new customers up for success, helps them avoid obstacles during use, reminds users of your product’s value and, most importantly, shows customers that they made the right decision. This way, they aren’t left wondering why they purchased your product in the first place.

Related Article: Is Your Org Chart Creating Onboarding Challenges?

Importance of a Solid Customer Onboarding Strategy

It’s no secret that the onboarding process impacts the customer’s experience. But, it also directly affects your bottom line. 

An effective onboarding strategy improves retention and reduces your business’ churn rate. And this is significant because acquiring new customers is not cheap. A study revealed that acquiring a new customer costs businesses five times more than retaining an existing one. The same study also found that increasing retention rates by just 5% increased revenue by 25% to 95%. 

With that being said, it’s easy to see why having a solid customer onboarding strategy is important for business growth. But, in case you’re not convinced, let’s take a look at what else this process affects:

  • Keeps customers engaged with your product and brand.
  • Increases customer loyalty.
  • Builds trust and enhances CX.
  • Boosts customer advocacy, referrals and positive word-of-mouth marketing.
  • Improves free trial conversions.
  • Increases customer lifetime value (CLV).

Overall, customer onboarding is a strategic investment that helps companies build long-term relationships with their customers. And this is vital for business success in today's competitive market.

Related Article: How to Deliver a Customer-Centric Digital Customer Experience

How to Create a Successful Onboarding Experience for Customers

Now that we’ve got the fundamentals down, let’s dive into how to create a successful customer onboarding experience in six basic steps. And if you have an existing onboarding strategy in place, you can use these steps to optimize your plan and fill in any gaps. So, without further ado, let’s get started. 

1. Prepare Support Resources

With 86% of consumers reporting that they’re more likely to stay loyal to a company that invests in onboarding content, creating support resources seems like a no-brainer. 

By giving customers the tools they need to succeed, you empower users to take control of their experience. This way, they can find solutions on their own and learn at a pace that works for them. And at the same time, a resource center can even help relieve the amount of hands-on support they require from your staff.

Consider producing support resources such as:

  • FAQs (for quick, bite-sized answers).
  • Knowledge bases (for walk-throughs, troubleshooting and step-by-steps).
  • Informative videos and webinars (for visual tutorials and educating customers on product).
  • Blogs (for in-depth guides, generating ideas on how to use service, etc.).

If done correctly, a support resource center helps your customers succeed whether they just signed up or have been with your company for years. So, don’t forget to make it easily accessible to all users. 

2. Streamline the Sign-Up Process

Although this is generally considered a pre-onboarding stage, it still contributes to the customer’s impression of your business and their expectations moving forward. 

Let’s say you have a super complicated, hourlong sign-up process. It’s likely users will interpret this as a preview of what’s to come. And this can lead to discouraged prospects, cart abandonment and lost conversions. 

So, instead of scaring prospects away or giving them a reason to leave, make the sign-up process as easy and quick as possible. If your business requires a lot of information from users, try to ask for it gradually rather than all at once. 

Kathy Bennett, CEO and founder of Bennett Packaging, agrees with this sentiment, saying:

“When we’re onboarding a new customer, we like to keep the sign-up process as short and simple as possible. We believe it’s best to collect the necessary information first and ask for supplementary information later. We also give our new customers an organized task list so they don’t become overwhelmed by all of the new information they’re being given.”

3. Give Them a Warm Welcome

Once consumers have officially chosen your brand, send them a welcome message and thank them for their business. This not only confirms that their order or purchase went through, but also establishes a positive beginning to your ongoing relationship. 

It’s common for businesses to use emails to welcome new users, but phone calls and texts work too. Email is the most popular onboarding contact method, as you can both customize and automate it. But, your chosen contact method all depends on your target audience’s preferences and how long it will take you to contact them using that channel. 

Whatever contact method you choose, you should reach out to new customers within 24 hours of receiving their order or sign-up form.

4. Include Necessary Info in Welcome Message

Don’t make customers search for the information they need to get started. Instead, make all essential info easily accessible, clear and concise. 

Include details such as:

Learning Opportunities

  • Login credentials.
  • Login link.
  • Account number, PIN and details.
  • Customer support resources and contact information.
  • Best next steps for successful implementation.
  • Links to helpful content.
  • Business contact information.

This way, you proactively help new users avoid unnecessary roadblocks and frustration by providing them with the information they need to succeed. 

Some businesses choose to spread out details and introductions over multiple welcome emails. This way, you don’t overwhelm users with information. This is one of the biggest mistakes Larry Barker, CX leader at Articulate, has noticed:

“Your customers don't need to know every possible thing your product can do on day 1. If you've done a good job capturing their primary problem or use case — during the sales process or using an in-app onboarding form — then your priority in onboarding should be only delivering the information they need to begin solving that problem”

So while you don’t want to bombard customers with information, you must cover the essential information that customers need to fully engage with and utilize your products during the first point of contact.

My colleague, Luke Genoyer, sales and marketing manager at United World Telecom, shares an example of this method:

“Our customer onboarding process at UWT entails a series of welcome emails over the customer’s first week with us: 

  1. Service confirmation and welcome email — includes information about the services they purchased, account credentials, relevant links to our control panel login, how to contact support and a link to our knowledge base resources. 
  2. Account manager email — to introduce themselves and provide contact information. 
  3. Customer success email and call — to walk the customer through the control panel, understand the customer’s use case and inform users about service features that could help them.

5. Personalize, Personalize, Personalize

Personalization is the name of the game, if you want to create an effective customer onboarding strategy. Lucjan Suski, CEO and co-founder at Surfer, explains why:

“One of the biggest mistakes businesses make when it comes to customer onboarding is not personalizing the experience enough. Onboarding should be tailored to individual users — their specific goals, needs and preferences — in order for them to get the most out of our product or service. If a business fails to customize its onboarding process in this way, then customers may become confused about how best to use our products and services, leading them away from achieving success with us as partners.”

Suski also gathered data on the progression of Surfer’s onboarding process from the company’s infancy until now. Here are the results:

suski data

As you can see, customer satisfaction increased while onboarding time and questions asked decreased — all after introducing both support resources and personalization methods. 

Which brings us to the benefits of personalizing the onboarding process:

  • Increased engagement: Helps customers better understand and engage with the company’s products or services, leading to increased customer satisfaction, retention, and loyalty.
  • Improved customer experience: Customers feel more valued and supported throughout the process, leading to positive word-of-mouth marketing and increased customer referrals.
  • Reduced customer support costs: Self-sufficiency among customers increases, reducing the need for customer support and increasing the efficiency of customer service teams.
  • Increased revenue: 90% of consumers reported that they would spend more money with companies who personalize their experience. This directly translates to an increase in revenue and business growth.

To personalize your customer’s experience, start by gathering information through surveys, and personal interviews. Ask about their needs, preferences, goals and what pain points they want to solve. Then, customize the onboarding process accordingly. 

6. Check in With Customers

Throughout the onboarding process, pepper in routine check-ins with customers. This allows you to address any roadblocks they’ve encountered before the issues significantly affect the user’s overall experience. And it gives you the opportunity to help them get the most value out of your product. 

Here are a few tips for checking in with new customers:

  • Set a follow-up schedule after they have signed up. Start off by checking in on a weekly basis. Then, reevaluate the frequency and the customer’s progress and satisfaction after a month. 
  • Use automated follow-up systems such as email marketing software, CRM software or a customer service ticketing system. This helps streamline the process for your teams and keeps this task from falling through the cracks.
  • Make it personal. Always address customers by name and tailor the follow-up message to their specific needs, preferences and onboarding progress.
  • Ask for feedback on their experience with the product or service by sending a survey or scheduling a call. Use it to identify and address any issues or concerns that customers may have.
  • Listen and act on the customer’s feedback. Based on responses, make improvements to not only your product or service, but also the onboarding process.

Keep in mind that the onboarding process doesn’t have a hard cut-off time, so routine customer check-ins are critical. Digital consultant Natalie Arney explains:

“Often onboarding doesn’t end when you expect. Just because a customer has had training doesn’t mean the onboarding is finished. The post-training check-ins are equally as important to ensure they have all they need and are ultimately getting the best results from the tool they have paid for.”

Drive Business Growth With Effective Customer Onboarding

Customers are the lifeline of your business. By providing them with an exceptional onboarding experience, you will not only retain them, but also convert them into advocates which, in turn, can drive revenue and growth. 

While these six steps are fundamental to a successful customer onboarding process, they are not the end all be all. You can and should build on this foundation to further improve CX. And as you receive feedback from customers, you’ll know exactly what to add to your process or focus on refining. 

Good luck!

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