The scenario is a familiar one. The sales teams exuberantly announce the closing of another client. Ringing bells, celebratory balloons, shouts of joy. Everything but the fireworks.
Meanwhile the Operations team is hunkered down in a corner, skeptically looking over the scene. They exchange the usual questions among themselves. What did sales promise this time? When did they promise go-live? Are we going to be able to deliver on what the new client expects?
It’s critically important for those in customer success to manage the transition from the signing of the deal to the start of successful operations. Call that time period business integration, customer onboarding, or customer set up and training. There is another name for it: The Danger Zone - the delicate time when you can lose a customer before they even really begin using your product or service. It’s a time when, if the process isn’t handled properly, the customer may decide the pain of onboarding isn’t worth the promise of the sales pitch.
According to a McKinsey study, poor onboarding, engagement, and customer service make up 52 percent of the reasons customers leave in the first 90 days. There are a number of issues that can cause clients to churn during the customer onboarding process, costing you a new customer and the revenue stream that comes with it. Let’s explore the issues further.
Customer onboarding is a critical early stage in the overall customer experience, and customer success teams – the group often tasked with bridging the gap between sales and ops - needs to deliver flawless onboarding to ensure a healthy, long-term relationship.
Step one is making sure that the customer success team fully understands the scope of the deal and the customer expectations that come with it. Without that critical understanding, the client can be bombarded with questions and concerns that have already been discussed with the sales team. This can lead to client frustration that plants the seeds of doubt and can even have them asking, “Does this company really understand my business?”
Once the deal is signed, the customer is as excited as the sales rep to begin working with your company and leveraging the promised advantages of your product or services. Each step of the customer onboarding process must be mapped out with clear target dates and every department should be committed to adhering to that schedule.
If the onboarding process begins to go sideways and key milestone dates get missed, the client is again going to begin questioning their decision to sign on with your company. Their thought: if you can’t meet dates when we are in the “honeymoon” stage, what is the relationship and performance going to be like once we go live?”
The customer onboarding process is a time when you should be overcommunicating since this is a time that sets the tone of the overall customer experience. In the old days of car buying, you’d receive a full-court press from the sales rep and sales manager in an effort to purchase one of their automobiles. Once you signed and then drove off the lot, you’d be hard pressed to ever be able to contact that rep again. Fortunately, times have changed as even car dealers now recognize the lifetime value of a customer.
Your organization needs to have a similar mindset as customers go through the onboarding process. During the honeymoon phase, your team needs to be as proactive as possible to ensure everything goes smoothly. The customer should know the proper contact person at every stage and be aware of what to expect next as part of their overall experience.
The sales rep was likely diligent in staying in touch with the prospect and lavished constant attention in an effort to close the deal. Your customer success team must be just as conscientious with its attentiveness as they guide the customer from signing the deal to operational execution. Nothing could sink the deal faster than long gaps of silence, leaving the customer wondering where they are in the process and feeling the pangs of abandonment. Again this can lead them to a dangerous conclusion that they made a mistake in choosing your company’s product or service.
One of the more overlooked steps in customer onboarding is the data onboarding process. Customer success teams are asked to deliver a flawless onboarding experience but, onboarding can’t move forward without customer data. Customers often can’t use or get value from your product or service if their data doesn’t get migrated properly. They can’t set up marketing automation without their leads. They can’t sell ecommerce products without SKUs. They can’t run payroll without accurate employee profiles.
Everyone involved in the customer onboarding process is aware of the need to get to go-live quickly, but helping your customer migrate tons of data into your systems can be a significant barrier to getting started. Discovery Garden, a company dedicated to preserving cultural and mission critical digital content, sometimes spends up to three months mapping and uploading files during an onboarding process.
Data onboarding during the customer onboarding process is about bringing all of the customers’ required 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. 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.
To accelerate the data onboarding process, many companies leverage the use of a data onboarding platform, such as Flatfile. An advanced data onboarding platform ensures secure data transmission, establishes approval workflows, sets up data validation, and doesn’t require intervention from engineers to be used.
Flatfile’s data onboarding platform is a collaborative, secure workspace for data onboarding that helps companies speed up every part of data migration, from data submission to cleaning. The Flatfile Complete Guide: Customer Data Onboarding for Enterprise provides a comprehensive roadmap for streamlining the data import process during onboarding to ensure a successful data onboarding experience.
No doubt your sales rep was effusive in his praise of your product or service and even more so when it came to the tools you provide to interact during and after go-live. However, failing to train members of your new customer on how to use those tools can be another source of enormous frustration. And that frustration can grow stronger as the customer approaches the go-live date and realizes that the key players who are going to be interacting with your company every day still do not know how to use your tools. Most experts say a lack of training during the onboarding process leads to a significant churn rate during the first 90 days of an engagement with a new customer. In one survey, nearly nine of 10 respondents said they’d be more likely to stay loyal to a business that invests in onboarding content that welcomes and educates them after they’ve bought.
You should never squander the relationship-building opportunities that come during the training phase in the pre-go-live stage. During the sales process, your rep most likely dealt with a buyer or senior executive as they hammered out the deal. But the people “on the ground” on the customer side were probably left largely in the dark. The training period during customer onboarding is a perfect way not only to teach hands-on members of the new customer how to use the tools you offer, but to also begin to build relationships and establish critical touch points between your company and theirs. These are the people who could make or break the relationship between the two companies, and they are the ones you want defending you should buyers or management begin to discuss severing the relationship.
The old cliché that you only get one chance to make a good first impression still holds true, especially when you’re talking about customer onboarding. You’ve worked hard to find, pitch, and land your new customer. You should be working equally as hard to make sure you get them to go-live as quickly and smoothly as possible. Avoid the danger zone!
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