Why Customer Onboarding Never Ends

By Mark Mitchell
Jun 24, 2020

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.


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