Donna Weber

Donna specializes in the post-sales customer success journey. With over 20 years' experience, she has a proven track record helping high growth tech firms create customers for life. Her clients range from start ups to well-established large companies, with a focus on the open source and SaaS arena. Colleagues know Donna as a leader who makes a difference.

Why Customer Onboarding Never Ends

This post originally appeared on Springboard Solutions.

Do you find that just when a new account is finally onboarded and goes live, the internal champion leaves and poaches half their team? When this happens, you unexpectedly are entitled to onboard and train a new set of users, all while ramping up your next set of new accounts. As long as users keep changing and your product keeps updating, your onboarding program needs to keep addressing the constant change. When it does, you lead accounts to ongoing quick wins as well as a continuous lifetime value of your product.

Onboarding accounts vs. users

Consider the difference between onboarding a new account versus onboarding users. Likely a new account includes one-off events like customizing and branding your product, integrating it with other systems, and a go-live date. While you celebrate when an account is officially launched, this is just the beginning of user adoption.

The reality is that turnover is high in many industries, so even when you get that first team up to speed there are always more users that need help. A LinkedIn article shows that if your customers come from technology or retail industries, you can expect to have a 13% turnover of users each year. That means if 25 people use your product at one account, then three to four of them will leave the company by the end of the year. When you include all the internal changes that happen at companies, the number probably doubles. When CSMs single-handedly onboards and trains each new account as well as each user in the account, you are in trouble. You don’t have the bandwidth to meet this need. You risk a decline in product usage and a higher chance the account will churn when you don’t onboard and enable new users in an existing account.

Dealing with the revolving door

Usually, your first pass at building an onboarding program is to engage the new account and to guide them to launch. This is often a high touch, white-glove experience. Once the first phase of the program is in place, then it’s time to build an ongoing program that engages new users along their journey. Some of the companies I work with don’t have many new customers to onboard because they work with large enterprise accounts. This is where an ongoing onboarding approach is of great benefit. Whether your customers are large or small, your ongoing onboarding program needs to address the following areas, all while being scalable.

New users in existing accounts

The best way to increase product adoption with new users is through Customer Education offerings. Customer Education is indispensable because the offerings are consistent and repeatable. In order words, it’s scalable, which is just what you need for ongoing onboarding. Ideally, you have a team that specializes in creating self-paced and live online courses for anyone to leverage at any time. Once these offerings are in place you exponentially increase the number of users who can learn your software without extra effort on your part.

For best results, training needs to show users how to do their jobs, not just how to navigate around your product. The more functional guidance you provide the better so include prescriptive learning pathways to guide users to their desired outcomes. Effective training allows CSMs to be tour guides pointing new users to training offerings rather than personally educating each new user. Another approach is to build and sell train-the-trainer and ‘center of excellence’ packages. This works well when you have large groups of users at customer sites. By ramping up a handful of super-users within each account, they can then be responsible for getting their teams up to speed on your product.

Existing product updates

Every time your product updates, users need to learn about the new features. I recommend delivering webinars to highlight benefits of the new release and then record them for all users to access on demand. You might also create delta courses and other content to quickly get users up to speed on new product releases.

New products

Work with the product team to build user enablement content and then make it available when new products go live. Make sure to include content that helps users understand why they need this new product and where it fits within your product suite or platform. When enabling users, it’s always important to emphasize how it makes their lives easier and not just what the product does.

New organizations within existing accounts

When a new organization at an existing account starts using your product, do they require a separate implementation and integration cycle, or are you onboarding new users to an existing implementation? Peter Ord, President and CEO of GuideCX, shares, “50% of our growth this year has come from existing customers adding new users and additional features.  We have a culture of treating customers exactly how we would like to be treated.” Depending on the scenario, deploy an ongoing onboarding program that addresses the requirements of the new organizations.

Different phases of the customer lifecycle

Rather than throwing everything about your product to users at once, it is helpful to define a customer maturity lifecycle. This might emphasize that users start adopting your product in a basic way and then increase the complexity of what they do. For example, the first step might be to create a simple workflow and then to guide customers to develop more complex workflows, showing them how to build on their existing experience and knowledge. When you have a customer maturity model, then include a basic to complex maturity journey in your onboarding program. Another option is that users start in specific modules of your product and then mature to additional modules that you expose or sell along their lifecycle. The point is to have a success plan and then onboard the parts of the product when users need them, as if they are new products.

Ongoing onboarding

Despite your best efforts to onboard and train new customers, onboarding never ends. Onboarding is ongoing. Just like phases of the moon, there are phases of onboarding. It’s important to accept and embrace what customers need throughout their lifecycle.

Make it easy for new users to adopt your product with a scalable onboarding program. When you provide an orchestrated onboarding program for the initial onboarding, you decrease time to first value and increase customer loyalty when it’s most critical. When you design an ongoing onboarding program you increase product adoption and product usage. Customers get continuous value from new features, new products, as well as from their new users, which increases the customer lifetime value for you.

Learn more

Want to learn more about ongoing onboarding? I did an in-depth webinar here where you can learn best practices and other tactical tips for implementing ongoing onboarding right away.

Donna Weber
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The Neuroscience of Customer Onboarding

This article originally appeared on Springboard Solutions.

Do you meet resistance from new customers when you most expect them to be excited about your product? The reason might be due to the inner workings of the brain. Ed Powers, Vice President of Client Success and Marketing at InteliSecure, and a key figure on the Denver Customer Success scene, recently enlightened me on the neuroscience of customer interactions and how a good or bad onboarding experience could impact your customer relationship forever.

What is neuroscience? 

Neuroscience is the study of the structure and function of the nervous system and brain. Neuroscientists focus on the brain and its impact on behavior and cognitive functions, or how people think. What does neuroscience have to do with onboarding? A lot, actually. During onboarding, brain science comes into play in these areas: first impressions, confirmation bias, and buyers’ remorse.

First impressions matter

It seems that not all customer interactions have equal importance. Even though your customer might appear to be rational and logical, the parts of their brains activated during onboarding are those that deal with fear and value. As a result, people don’t perceive the beginning of relationships objectively. In the article First Impressions and Onboarding, Brian Anderson shares, “Faced with uncertainty, the brain sets the first and most impactful cognitive anchor upon which all subsequent learning is based.” Neurobiology predisposes people to automatically place more importance on first impressions.

In his blog Why a CSM’s First Impression Means So Much, Ed Powers explains that the beginning of a customer relationship directly affects the final outcome, which means how you start with a new customer may determine whether they renew or they churn. Those first 90 days are that important. Neuroscience offers intriguing insights into why starting on the right foot is critical for reducing churn and for building customer loyalty.

Confirmation bias

Split-second first judgements are so influential because subsequent information and learning reinforces the initial experience. In time, cumulative perceptions evolve into long term biases, or confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret new information as evidence of one’s existing beliefs or theories. In the article What is Confirmation Bias, Shahram Heshmat Ph.D., writes, “we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it.”

This means, when your new customer has a favorable first interaction with you, they look for evidence to confirm the supportive relationship moving forward. However, when that first interaction is adverse or nonexistent, customers continually confirm their negative prejudice. They stop gathering new information and stay stuck in that initial bias. Shahram Heshmat continues, “Seeking to confirm our beliefs comes naturally, while it feels strong and counterintuitive to look for evidence that contradicts our beliefs. This illuminates why opinions survive and spread.” Ed Powers shared with me that once the mind learns, the underlying neural patterns are difficult to change, which is why perceptions linger. So, when you mess up the initial connection with new customers, you’re stuck playing catch up with them.

Buyers’ remorse

I don’t know about you, but when I make a large purchase, I do my homework. I research the heck out of things. I read reviews and ask everyone I know so I make an informed decision. Then, when I finally put my money down to purchase a new car, bike, vacation, or even a pair of shoes, my head is full of expectations. When my thoughts are spinning about making a wrong choice, it means buyers’ remorse has set in.

Wikipedia indicates that buyers’ remorse is “the sense of regret after having made a purchase. It is frequently associated with the purchase of an expensive item such as a vehicle or real estate.” In the article How to Avoid Buyers’ Remorse, Zachary Crockett shares, “Some 82% of people report feeling regret or guilt over a purchase — $10B worth of goods, collectively. It can happen with something as insignificant as an ice cream cone or as serious as a house, and it’s hard to tell when it will strike.”

Ed Powers told me that a mental process called prospection happens when you make complex value-based decisions. You imagine how you will think or feel in the future as a result of your decision. Your brain goes into prospection when you anticipate that fantastic vacation coming up. Your customers brains prospect during the sales process when they buy your product. The predicament is that the brain doesn’t stop anticipating when the vacation starts and when the contract is signed. Instead, it creates stories about what happens next. You run through scenarios to confirm your expectations and your fears. And you do this indefinitely until there’s a reason to stop. It seems the more involved you are with a purchase, the more intense your potential regret will be. Consider the personal risk your buyers make when they select your product over all the choices they have; their decision could put their reputation on the line.

Understand your customer

Did you have any idea how complex the inner workings of your customers’ brains are? I had no idea until Ed Powers enlightened me. It looks like neuroscience illustrates just why onboarding is the most important part of the customer journey. As soon as you engage new customers those subtle yet powerful first impressions, biases, and expectations are already at work.

My article, Trust: The Missing Piece of Customer Onboarding, shows you how to use cognitive closure and the orchestrated onboarding framework to immediately build trust, which helps you quickly move customers to their success and to yours.