The 3 steps to a Successful Customer Onboarding - onboarding

Bringing customers onboard is the most important part of the customer journey. Yet, despite this being so critical, poor onboarding is the leading cause of churn at companies that sell software as a service (SaaS) and subscriptions.

It’s estimated that more than half of customer churn is related to poor onboarding and less-than-stellar customer service. In the United States alone, avoidable customer churn is costing businesses over $136 billion a year. While it’s easy to blame this on poor products, the main reason customers leave your company in the first year is because they never got value from your product in the first place. They fail to launch.

The 90-day Countdown for Creating Loyal Customers

Most software companies have about 90 days to turn a new customer into a loyal user. Of course, the time it takes to onboard new customers might differ depending on your product. Consumer products may only have 90 minutes to engage people, while mobile apps take 90 seconds to make a loyal user. Regardless of the category, those first days are precious because customers are most excited to be successful with your product at the very beginning. As you guide your new customers to success, keep these six dos and don’ts of successful customer onboarding in mind.

1. Don’t keep onboarding as your best-kept secret. According to customer experience expert Joey Coleman, “The best companies in the world take the customer experience offered after the sale and infuse it into marketing and sales, so the customer gets a flavor of the good things to come. This not only incentivizes prospects to sign on the dotted line but also properly sets the expectations for what will happen after the sale.”

Rather than startling new customers after the sale, sell the value of your customer-facing services during the buyer journey. The earlier you show your customers you know what you’re doing and that you’ve done this before, the faster you foster trust, and the easier it will be to engage new customers quickly.

Bringing onboarding into the sales cycle may even improve your deal close rates. Take the example of the company CFO who told me about his experience as a buyer. When the vendor shared their onboarding and customer success framework during the sales cycle, his reaction was, “This company has their act together. I want to work with them.”

2. Do start onboarding before the deal closes. When companies ask me how to solve issues with customer expectations and implementations, I tell them to start onboarding earlier. That’s why my Orchestrated Onboarding™ framework launches with a stage called “Embark.”

The purpose of this stage, which begins during the sales journey, is to help buyers understand the path ahead of them and provide continuity from the buyer journey to the customer journey—which is what’s needed to establish trust. During Embark, you also sell the value of onboarding and the customer success services you provide customers.

3. Don’t focus solely on your product. You won’t create customers for life if all you focus on is implementing. Onboarding is much more than deploying your product in a new account. While implementation is a critical element of onboarding new customers, a comprehensive onboarding program starts before the deal closes and continues after the go-live date to build enduring relationships and renewing customers.

While you and your teams might be enthused about your product’s latest features and functionalities, users just want to be better at their jobs. Providing a tour around your interface is just the beginning of customer enablement, so focus on how your product helps users do their jobs better. Your job is to make them heroes at their companies, not master button clickers in your software.

4. Do onboard the people who actually use your product. What’s the difference between onboarding a new account and onboarding the people who will use your software? New accounts typically require one-off events, like customizing and branding your product, integrating it with other systems, and setting a go-live date. While you may celebrate your new account launch, this is just the beginning of user adoption.

Users are the actual people who employ your product to do their jobs. They may be end users, business users, administrators, analysts, and developers. They might use your product once a day, all day every day, or just once a year.

Are you guilty of onboarding accounts but not users? You’re not alone. According to the 2020 Customer Onboarding Report, 65 percent of B2B software respondents admitted they don’t formally onboard new users in existing accounts. As a result, these organizations miss a huge opportunity to expand the use of their products with existing customers.

5. Don’t wait until customers have problems. During interviews with one of my client’s customers, I was told how nice their customer success managers (CSMs) were. When it came to onboarding, however, huge gaps were revealed. Customers let me know that during kickoff meetings, CSMs directed them to “call me when you have a problem.” Those customers told me they don’t want problems. They want guidance to follow the right path in the first place instead of getting lost and having to seek help.

When I shared this feedback with the company’s CSMs, they were surprised to hear that customers wanted up-front direction. Working together, we built a proactive onboarding approach that guided customers through milestones and deliverables during those critical first 90 days. As a result, this company aligned customer success and sales teams, guided customers along a preset journey, and reduced their new customer onboarding time by 80 percent. It’s your responsibility to provide prescriptive and frictionless experiences for customers.

6. Do quickly guide customers to value. ServiceSource, a global outsourced go-to-market services provider, finds when customers don’t see value in the first 90 days, their renewal likelihood drops to as low as 10 percent. Your product or service must be important to your customers, worth something, or useful. 

When customers are left to wonder for weeks (or months) if your product is useful, you’re in trouble. So go beyond deploying your product and make sure they know how to use it to save time, save money, or make money. The quicker your product drives your customers to wins, the more customer loyalty, retention, and revenue will grow.

The bottom line for customer onboarding is that you’ll make your company successful by engaging your customers and the people using your products. When you do, your new customers will realize the value of the solutions you sell. Your business will gain loyal, long-standing customers—and your revenues will climb. And if you work in customer success, you’ll become a proactive partner in everyone’s success, rather than a heroic problem-solver always under stress.

-Donna Weber

Hakan Ozturk

Hakan Ozturk
Founder,, #1 Weekly Customer Success Newsletter

Hakan Ozturk is a Paris-based Customer Success leader with over 15 years of experience in the computer software industry. Passionate about driving growth and delivering value to strategic customers, Hakan has established himself as a trusted industry expert. As the Founder of The Customer Success Café Newsletter and, Hakan provides valuable industry insights and daily-updated job opportunities worldwide in the field of Customer Success. Connect with Hakan to boost your career in CS and your company’s potential for massive growth.

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