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4 ways CS leaders can tackle data chaos in customer onboarding

Poor customer onboarding will cost your company more than you think. Not only can it lead to reduced time to value, but it can also damage your customers' trust in the company and lead to opportunity costs for customer success (CS) teams, who have to dedicate valuable time to managing onboarding issues.

CS leaders know that any software application that requires data ingestion comes with a serious challenge to user satisfaction: Customer onboarding. Successfully navigating the onboarding process is critical for ensuring a positive first impression, and glitches and delays from poor onboarding can derail a new relationship before it's even begun.

By improving the customer onboarding process, companies can reduce costs, accelerate revenue and significantly increase customer satisfaction.

Data might come from a previous software vendor, a legacy database, or live in spreadsheets and other applications or files. Getting that data in shape will almost certainly require complicated data mapping, review, cleanup and validation, and you may even need human oversight before it can be imported into your new target system. 

Not only do many companies have products and services that require data, but this data is often complex. While CS leaders are familiar with migrating data into a product, the scale, scope and timing of the data onboarding process varies greatly for each company. For some, the process of collecting, mapping, validating, transforming, reviewing and cleaning data can go on for months. 

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How does data chaos happen during onboarding?

Data chaos is the web of confusion and missed opportunities due to the quality of your data across sources with high variance that becomes so unmanageable that it can derail your customer onboarding strategy and even cause customer churn. That problem can be exacerbated in the face of unstructured data, large volumes of data and data not stored in a meaningful or useful way.

These problems, especially when combined with lackluster data management practices or outdated technology, leads to the chaos that can create a negative experience for new customers, both those who need to onboard their own data and those who expect white glove service from the customer success team. We've all experienced data chaos at some point in our careers, and some of us have to deal with it monthly or even weekly.

But data chaos can cause an incredible amount of pain and frustration during the customer onboarding process.

Signs you're experiencing data chaos during customer onboarding

Not sure if your organization has this common customer data onboarding problem? Look for these sure signs:

  • The customer success team's process for onboarding customer data looks different every time

  • It sometimes takes extra weeks to onboard new customers

  • Customers love your product, but you've gotten negative feedback about your customer onboarding process and time to value

Top risks of data chaos during customer onboarding

72% of companies surveyed by Forrester said customer experience is their top priority, and for good reason. According to Harvard Business Review, acquiring a new customer tends to be 5 to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing customer. 

Without customer onboarding tools and processes in place to dispel the data chaos, organizations risk frustrating the new customers they should be impressing, which can result in immediate churn. 

Even when contracts are in place, customers may be unsettled if there are any headaches or slowdowns in the data onboarding process as part of the broader customer onboarding. They might feel swayed by competitors who can back up their promises of fast and easy onboarding with proof of their superior processes.

Icons representing multiple data file types being successfully imported into a spreadsheet

Tools and techniques that prevent data chaos during customer onboarding

From marketing and sales to inventory management to HR to product development, there are thousands of software applications and SaaS tools that can't offer any value until their customers' data is ready to use.  When customers come to you — yes, especially enterprise customers — their data chaos becomes your problem. You need to offer a structured process for wrangling and utilizing their critical datasets. 

Some aspects of data onboarding invariably fall on your customers' shoulders. After all, you don't have access to all their systems. However, you can give them a roadmap for the data they need and offer technical solutions to minimize the manual effort required.

What are four key tips for preventing data chaos during customer onboarding?

  1. Create a collaborative space for customers and CSMs

  2. Make the onboarding process easy for your customers

  3. Effectively communicate with customers about data requirements

  4. Make sure the CSM is well-trained in handling data

Data onboarding tip 1: Create a collaborative space for customers and CS leaders

Emailing spreadsheets with data and providing lengthy instructions for a manual process are not effective ways to work with customers through the data onboarding process. 

These methods aren't trackable or clear to understand. For the same reason that project managers use task management tools to assign tasks instead of communicating via email, CSMs shouldn't communicate using this outdated method either. 

Instead, look for a collaborative data onboarding platform that offers a central space to collaborate on data, fix issues, transform data, review changes and approve them.

Flatfile, for example, offers the following features to CSMs who want to uplevel the experience they deliver to customers during the onboarding phase:

  • Secure team-specific, multi-user collaboration space

  • Built-in data checklists

  • Granular access control

  • Auto source-to-target column mapping trained on millions of mapping decisions

  • Powerful AI-powered data transformations, including preview AI-powered changes with inline-diff view

  • Collaborative data editing

  • Secure data sharing

  • Data version history

Data onboarding tip 2: Make it easy for your customers

Working with customers isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Not only do they have varying levels of expertise and comfort with the onboarding process, but they often provide data in all shapes and sizes, whether they’re bringing CSV, XLS, PDF or other types of files, or even images. 

When your customer has a wide variety of file types from numerous sources, having a solution in place that’s designed to simplify and streamline the onboarding process can be a game changer. If you can automate everything possible, allow for manual intervention when necessary, and provide smart tooling that makes the review process fast and easy, you’ll be able to offer a customer onboarding experience that builds trust and confidence.

Data onboarding tip 3: Effectively communicate with customers about data requirements

Communication is critical. You need to know what customer data is required to enjoy full use of your platform, what data is desirable to help your customers avoid internal issues with knowledge sharing, data utilization, and data silos, and what data is simply a "nice to have" but isn't a high priority.  

Apply your knowledge of the industry and the data that matters to what you know about your customers' businesses to determine the data requirements.

You can assign these to customers in phases based on the priority level and know which customer contact is in charge of which data source or have a single point of contact who can point you in the right direction. 

A collaborative data onboarding workspace is ideal for this. You can use this space to assign the right data requirement to the right person with the right deadline.

Data onboarding tip 4: Make sure the CS team is well-trained in handling data

Dealing with your customers' data chaos is even more complicated than dealing with your own because it's not your data; you might not be familiar with it. 

CS teams who want to go above and beyond for their customer accounts during onboarding need to be experts in data handling and onboarding. As a team, you can create dummy data to work with to avoid jeopardizing customer data during training. 

Focus your training on the type of data that yields success for customers, the format the data should be in, and handling any issues that arise during the data onboarding process. 

A dedicated solution for data onboarding can make this responsibility easier on your team by minimizing the required manual work. Your solution should handle collecting the data, data mapping, data validation, data transformation, and data conversion but CS teams still need to be trained in helping customers collect and prepare the data and make sure they can use it successfully in their new application.

Take care of data security and data privacy

When it comes to touching your customers' data, security and privacy need to be top priorities.  Make sure to only exchange data with customers in a secure environment. Your collaborative workspace should have built-in security mechanisms like authentication and verification. 

Data from external and internal systems needs to be shared, which typically involves emailing Excel files back and forth over long periods of time for review and data cleanup. This process nearly always introduces data errors, versioning issues, time delays and frustration. Additionally, team members sharing data files via email carries enormous data privacy and security risks - they need to be able to send and receive data through a safe and secure process.

As companies create more and more data, the need for moving data from sources with a high degree of variance in structure and quality to an enterprise application isn't going away. What matters is having the right technology and systems to help your customers deal with it so they can successfully use your product - sooner rather than later!

By leveraging the ideal solution for your use case and requirements, you can avoid the costs of missed opportunities, delayed revenue and the time and resources involved in creating and maintaining complicated workarounds. If you're trying to deal with the data chaos at your organization, Flatfile has helped hundreds of companies tackle their data onboarding and migration challenges, supporting many use cases and data requirements. Reach out and connect with one of our data experts to find out how Flatfile can help you address your customer onboarding needs.

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