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Data exchange

The complete guide to customer data onboarding [updated]

Customer onboarding is a critical early stage in the overall customer experience and companies need to deliver flawless onboarding to ensure a healthy, long-term relationship. But often, onboarding can’t move forward without customer data.

Customers can’t use your product or get any value out of it if their data doesn’t get migrated properly. They can’t set up marketing automation without their leads. They can’t sell e-commerce products without SKUs. They can’t run payroll without accurate employee or customer profiles.

In the world of customer success and onboarding, we often hear about the “aha!” moment, which is the moment when the light bulb goes off and the customer understands the true value of the product. We know how important it is to get there quickly. But what if you have to help your customers migrate tons of data sets over before they even get to “aha!”?

For example, one CRM implementation specialist says that migrating a 100-user account to a new customer relationship management platform can take 11 months.

How can you make customer data onboarding faster?

If you don’t find a way to speed it up, customers might churn and sales might lose deals when decision-makers are concerned about migration and no one can alleviate their anxiety.

This guide will dive deep into the data side of customer onboarding so you can get to the success side faster.

Table of contents:

  • What is customer data onboarding?

  • Challenges with customer data onboarding

  • How does data onboarding fit into the customer onboarding strategy?

  • Who manages customer data onboarding?

  • Why customer success teams offer high-touch customer data onboarding

  • How customer data gets migrated during high-touch onboarding

  • The improved process for customer data onboarding

What is customer data onboarding?

Customer data onboarding is the process of bringing all of the online and offline customer data over to a new software product, in order to successfully use that new purchase. This customer data might be sourced from a previous software vendor as well as offline data sources such as spreadsheets, employee or patient files, and activity logs.

For many platforms, customer data onboarding is a necessary first step before use. These are just some of the software verticals that can require complex customer data onboarding:

  • Ecommerce

  • HR

  • Marketing

  • CRM

  • Healthcare

  • Manufacturing

In some traditional industries such as healthcare and manufacturing, customer data is very likely to come from manual sources like logs, not just other software vendors.

Clipboard with check marks

Of course, not every log ever taken will need to be onboarded, but some will. For example, if a food manufacturer is onboarding to a PLM system for the first time, they will need to onboard any manual data for the products that are currently in the innovation cycle.

Challenges with customer data onboarding

When you don’t prioritize customer data onboarding (and don’t make sure it happens quickly), there are several challenges that can frustrate not only your customers but your internal customer success and implementation teams as well.

  • Lack of data slows the time-to-value for the customer - Customers can’t experience the value of your product quickly which can lead to frustration and churn.

  • Inefficient customer data onboarding processes makes life hard for companies - Customer success managers and implementation specialists want to get results for customers. They’re hands-on, goal-oriented, innovative people. If they’re stuck data-onboarding individual customers, it takes longer to get to do the work they’re passionate about, like diving deeper into advanced product features or improving guides.

That’s why it’s critical to continually optimize the customer data onboarding process and make it a key part of your customer onboarding strategy.

How does data onboarding fit into the customer onboarding strategy?

When it comes to customer onboarding strategy, data onboarding often gets left out of the conversation. More often, product managers and customer success managers focus on documentation, guides, training videos, one-on-one phone calls, check-in processes, etc.

Of course, these professionals know that data migration is important, however, they might not know that different tools and processes are available and so they continue to solve this data migration issue by instructing customers with guides and videos.

Let’s take a look at the role data can play in your customer onboarding strategy—whether that be a self-service or high-touch customer onboarding approach.

Data migration in self-service customer onboarding

For self-service customer onboarding, customers need to be able to quickly and easily load up their data into your platform.

When you optimize this customer data onboarding experience and make it as painless as possible for them, the following benefits can occur:

  • Decreased time to value

  • A reduced churn rate

  • Users get to the aha” moment faster

  • Increased ability to utilize onboarding metrics earlier on (such as usage of certain features, because you’re not waiting as long for customers to touch more meaningful product areas)

Data migration in high-touch customer onboarding

With high-touch customer onboarding (meaning that your team is helping the customer onboard their data), the benefits and results of optimizing data onboarding can be even greater, such as:

  • Decreased time to value

  • Better customer experience and increased likelihood of retention

  • Customer success manager and customer support staff time savings

  • More Customer Success Managers (CSMs) time allocated to impactful projects and activities (instead of manual customer data onboarding being a continual time suck)

  • Greater likelihood of customers purchasing more of your company’s products in the future

Regardless of the price point of your offering, faster and easier data migration has the potential to make a big impact.

That’s why it should be something that you continually seek to improve upon.

Flatfile Concierge illustration

To experience these benefits and make customer data onboarding a key part of your onboarding strategy, a data onboarding platform can be used. With a data onboarding solution, companies save significant time. Key platform features might include:

  • Embedding data onboarding directly into your product

  • The ability to collaborate with stakeholders

  • Secure data submissions

  • Approval workflows

  • Data normalization

  • Data validation

  • Low code or no code required

Flatfile provides a collaborative, secure data onboarding platform to help companies speed up every part of data migration, from data submission to cleaning.

Who manages customer data onboarding?

Depending on the price point and target user of the software, customer data onboarding will be managed by product managers who seek to make the process easy for customers or by customer success managers and implementation teams who assist with the process hands-on.

Customer support staff might get involved as well, particularly in assisting in the implementation of workflows that product or IT teams have put into place.

Altogether, these are the people who might collaborate to handle data migration for a new customer:

  • The customer contact

  • IT staff at the customers’ company

  • Senior leaders in the relevant department at the customers’ company

  • Customer success manager

  • Product manager

  • Customer support representative

  • IT engineers or other software developers

With self-service data migration, your product teams should seek to innovate in ways that make data migration easier for the customer. Otherwise, your churn rates will be higher than they should be.

Screenshot of Mailerlite CSV importer

Here’s an example of how Mailerlite, a popular email marketing solution with a generous freemium plan, helps users add subscribers manually. Their product team has included multiple options for users:

  • Import from a CSV or TXT file

  • Copy/paste from Excel

  • Add single subscriber

  • Import from Mailchimp

But what happens when customer data onboarding isn’t so simple? Now let’s explore high-touch onboarding further.

Why companies offer high-touch customer data onboarding

High-touch customer data onboarding is very different from the Mailerlite example given above, where a user simply uploads a single CSV file and is off to the races.

With the high-touch experience, some or all of these factors are at play:

  • Higher priced annual subscription cost

  • A large number of users on the account

  • Different user roles and permissions

  • Many different data sources to be migrated

  • Challenging data formats (could be offline, or CSV files have very different column types and names)

  • Data sources are owned by different stakeholders

  • Large volumes of data (such as a large number of patient profiles, for example)

  • Highly sensitive data

  • Regulatory compliance concerns (such as HIPAA or GDPR)

  • Customers expect custom onboarding

When working with enterprise customers, a custom, high-touch onboarding experience is necessary. Having an extraordinary onboarding program can even become a key differentiator, helping sales teams close additional deals.

Salespeople can offer certain onboarding-related SLAs such as how much time will be dedicated, who will support them, and in what timeframe the customer data onboarding will be completed (assuming the customer holds up to their part of the process by delivering the data in a timely fashion).

How customer data gets migrated during high-touch onboarding

There are a few different options for managing customer data onboarding in a high-touch way.

These three options get progressively more sophisticated, so consider where your team falls and whether or not it’s time to implement a white glove data onboarding tool to help migrate data faster without having to involve engineers.

Manually and collaboratively

Some level of manual and collaborative work will always be involved with customer data onboarding (even when using the methods below). But when you only have manual processes at your disposal, the data onboarding process will undoubtedly take a lot longer.

This work typically includes:

  • Meeting with your customer contact(s) to discuss the sources of data

  • Requesting data sources from the customer contact(s) and following up until you have it

  • The customer emailing data to you (this isn’t secure—make sure to use a secure data onboarding workspace instead)

  • Manually cleaning up the data before uploading it

  • Fixing any issues during validation one by one (use AI data validation instead to make this faster)

As mentioned above, some manual work will always be required.

Depending on your software product, you might need to have anywhere from one to five phone meetings with your customer contact in order to strategize, decide upon, and gather the appropriate data sources.

If your customer is migrating from old-school, manual methods (not a competitor), then the amount of manual work required from will certainly be higher.

Using custom-built, in-house customer data onboarding tools

Many product teams build data onboarding tools that are very similar to what SaaS companies build for their customers to use in a self-service capacity. The difference of course is that the product teams build these data onboarding tools for CSMs to use on behalf of the customer.

These custom-built internal tools might include data cleaning and validation.

However, they don’t usually include a secure onboarding workspace for collaborating with customers, and requesting and receiving data.

But the biggest problem of course, is actually getting something like this built.

If the company doesn’t have something like this already in place, it can be very challenging to get it prioritized given an engineers’ backlog. Engineers are swamped with customer-facing development needs so internal projects routinely get pushed to the backburner.

That’s why, if you want to speed up the customer data onboarding process, it might be time to consider a third-party data onboarding tool.

Using a data onboarding solution that is secure, no-code, and collaborative

Because data onboarding is so critical to customer success, many CSMs realize they need help. The faster customer data onboarding is done, the faster they can move onto helping the customer fully utilize the product and achieve the results they want.

A data onboarding platform allows companies to deliver the highest quality service while saving tremendous amounts of time on data migration.

Flatfile’s data onboarding platform includes key features:

  • Collaboration with stakeholders - Authenticated login for each collaborator, a dashboard for collaborators so they can see what data you are requesting.

  • Secure data submission - Instead of constantly emailing files (eek!) collaborators can submit data in a secure workspace.

  • Approval workflows - Data doesn’t just get migrated or imported into the client’s account automatically. First, you can approve it, make changes, or request changes.

  • Data validation - AI-powered validation means that data imports happen quicker and more accurately.

  • No code required - Flatfile was built to be more accessible so there’s no coding needed to set up or use the platform.

While data onboarding might always be multifaceted and complex, your team should strive to make it faster.

The fact is that, at most companies, customer data onboarding takes way too long. Companies have accepted this, and so have customers. But now it’s time to raise expectations and surprise customers with fast onboarding.

Let’s take a look at what the fastest-possible customer data onboarding process looks like:

  1. Decide on the needed data with stakeholders

  2. Set up a secure data onboarding workspace with the info collaborators need

  3. Invite collaborators to the secure workspace

  4. Receive and approve data

  5. Quickly import and validate data

When you set up your workspace, you can add what data you need from which collaborators. You can add in the data format and details you need so that collaborators can easily see what’s required of them.

Working inside of the data onboarding workspace, it’s easy to review who has submitted what and what’s still missing. When you approve the data, it gets validated and cleaned up then sent over to your customer’s account.

Flatfile’s data onboarding platform that helps companies onboard customers faster.

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