Whatever process is used to improve the likelihood a new user finds value when adopting your product, the end goal of customer onboarding is always the same: Make your new arrivals really happy.
And where a company can’t compete on location, marketing budget, or name recognition, there’s enormous opportunity to wow customers in ways that outshine the big players. The key is to leverage digital tools for a great customer experience that can rival the best of the industry.
In our case at GeoFli, a software tool that allows anyone to easily change and replace website content, task management apps allow us to pave the way for successful global customer onboarding while being located amidst the world-class trout-fishing, uncrowded trailheads (and extremely limited direct flight options) of Missoula, Montana.
Here’s a look at the strategy, touch points, and Trello boards that help us deliver a successful remote customer experience right out of the digital gate.
Le’me Le’me Onboard Ya!
Casey Winters, Greylock advisor and former growth lead at Pinterest, knows startups. He’s delivered a number of talks about customer experience with a key message: Before thinking about customer growth, you have to first be sure your existing customers like, nay, love your product.
Warm and fuzzy brand sentiment rarely happens through exhaustive FAQs and uninspired user forums. For us, brand relationship building happens through real conversations, screencasts, video chats, and an organized process.
Overall, there are three major phases of a successful user onboarding experience:
- Clear The Runway: Remove obstacles to adoption and provide clarity on uses and benefits.
- Lift Off: Help your client feel the impact of your product or service.
- Cruising Altitude: Focus consistently on support, engagement, and reliance. (Or as Pocahontas would say, be the wind beneath their wings 😄)
The exact steps within these phases are up to you and your customers, but here are some important elements to remember as you help your users go from brand new to brand advocates.
Customer Onboarding Phase 1: Clear The Runway
A new user entering your application for the first time is exciting. But like celebrating too early when heading into the endzone, it’s important not to drop the ball. Though the contract is signed or the download is done, in many ways, your work has just begun.
Your team works hard putting together valuable resources, creating a great app experience, and creating how-to videos. Your app shines in testimonials and the value validated by case study data. Yet, when a user creates an account for the first time, they’re often presented with a sad experience: Because they’re just getting started, they show up to an empty room of a party!
When Pinterest experienced this problem, they made new users select topics they were interested in, and started their feed with the activity of auto-selected followers from those topics. By filling up users’ feeds with some initial content, they solved their lonely service problem.
And if you’re not Pinterest? Visualize success, and then back it up with data.
Does your team have an idea of what success looks like after week one? If your company provides a calendar service, how many events do you want new users to schedule? If your company designs websites, is there a brand questionnaire, creative asset repository or video tutorial that will help move the project along during that first week?
Consider your potential pitfalls of the “lonely service problem,” hone in on exactly what that first week goal is going to be and help your users get there.
How We Get Cozy With Customers
We welcome new users by immediately clearing the path for their first live campaign. Our initial onboarding meeting always includes:
- A meeting agenda delivered to the customer at least 24 hours before a scheduled video conference.
- A personalized idea document that eases the learning curve and gets customers creating. We come prepared with the answer to the following: What are ten ways this new customer can use our product?
- An outline of next steps and goals, with consistent follow-up. Justin Bigart of WiseTail LMS leans hard into onboarding their customers with dozens of touch points in each of these phases. Unless the customer wants less-frequent attention, a WiseTail customer representative will be reaching out weekly. Our goal is to deliver this level of service.
Here’s a quick look at our Trello board for the first phase of customer onboarding. We use this board to store important onboarding documents that each customer should receive (Onboarding Documents), and track which phase of onboarding each new customer is in at any given time:
We also spend time building checklists based on Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto. In the book, a checklist is defined as a list of key items that get forgotten. We think about this definition when developing our onboarding steps, and use a Trello checklist to organize them:
The checklist is copied over to each new customer so that all elements are always included, and then customized based on their individual needs.
Customer Onboarding Phase 2: Liftoff!
To stick with the flight metaphor, it’s important to remember that when the pioneering Wright Brothers were trying to get their planes off the ground, they crashed. They crashed a lot. The second phase of onboarding is where you’ll find the most friction, but it also has the highest potential to increase customer success and net promoter scores.
Broadly, liftoff can be described as the set of actions the customer takes to reach product market fit. Or, as Casey Winters more colorfully describes it, it’s getting a customer to the point where they would be (very) upset if your product went away.
For a social app like Facebook, there is a magic number of connections a person has when their average time-on-site increases, pages per session improves and bounce-rate decreases. For a calendar app, there is a number of events scheduled that, when a user schedules beyond that, their likelihood of returning and scheduling more events increases 250%.
This also happens to be the stage when we use Trello the most to track the process. Here’s a quick look at a customer card showing our progress to reach liftoff:
This list can be customized to fit whatever process you have in place, but it gives your whole team visual assurance that each customer receives the same experience taking off with your company.
Customer Onboarding Phase 3: Cruising Altitude
Don’t get fooled by the feeling of reaching a stable altitude—there is no such thing as cruise control in a personalized customer onboarding process.
There’s also no such thing as a finish line. You’ve paved, sealed, and cleared the runway during the first phase. In the second, you get liftoff, buy-in, and (hopefully) believers. In the third and final phase of customer onboarding, your goal is to not push the customer out of their chosen comfort zone.
Exceed expectations with support, follow-up, response time, and added value. When you fly, you hear it all the time: “We know there are a lot of options, thank you for choosing ____.” The same is true for your product. If there isn’t a competitor in the market yet, there will be. Here are a few ways to continue delivering onboarding services well past those first initial weeks:
- Early Feature Access: Get feedback from existing customers on new features being released. Maybe they have ideas your team didn’t think of.
- Anticipate Technical Frustration: Reach out and ask if they have anything you can help solve. Proactive anticipation is a great way to reduce any frustration when it arrives because the customer knows they can reach out to you directly.
- Interact With Delight: The longer the lifetime of a customer, the stronger the relationship should become. Make a trip to see a customer even if it’s just to introduce yourself in person. Send swag or give a personalized touch that goes the extra mile.
Finally, be sure to make a status report of the health of the customer, and keep it transparent for your team. Again, we use a checklist to make sure we are interacting with both the user and their data:
Where do customers and clients go when they’ve reached cruising altitude? Our team doesn’t archive, delete or remove users from the onboarding board because we like to see the client list on “cruise control” grow while also seeing our hard work pay-off.
If (and only if) the customer is happy, finding value and comfortable navigating the application are we ready to accept cruise control status.
Choosing Your Onboarding Path
Trello works for GeoFli’s small team of personalization specialists because we can easily set due-dates at a granular level while also seeing the overall status in the client’s onboarding cycle.
If you’re thinking about using Trello to onboard customers, start with one customer and figure out what the runway, launch and cruise-control phases look like. Your onboarding process might look different, but if it’s successfully keeping your customers happy and helping them discover new ways your product can add value, you’re well on your way to getting a lot more just like them.