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Customer Success

Streamline Your Customer Onboarding Through Early Evaluation

Why Customer Success is the Key to Onboarding Success

4 min read
By Darlene Kelly
At TSIA, customer success is defined as the intersection between the promise of the supplier’s technology and the business outcomes the customer hopes to achieve with it. Onboarding is the first step in the journey towards fulfilling this promise. However, this critical first step is filled with risk if not executed properly.

We all know that to successfully onboard a new customer, it's crucial to meet them where they are at and guide them to their desired business outcomes. However, companies often overlook the crucial steps that need to take place before you begin the onboarding process with your customer. This can lead to a slower value realization, lower adoption, and, ultimately, a decline in retention.
 
So, what can you do to ensure you start off your onboarding process on the right foot?

We’ve teamed up with our partner company Method Garage to look at why the early stages of onboarding are so important and what best practices you should follow to make the most of it.

Why Customer Onboarding Starts Earlier than You Think

Customer onboarding is the process of introducing your customers to your software, services, or products. This engagement could involve a range of engagements and trainings to get customers familiar with your product/service and how to use it to meet their business outcomes. However, despite this customer-focused definition, the onboarding process really begins before your customer is even “in the room.”

One big piece of the onboarding puzzle is where customer success fits into this process. We’ve talked before about customer success’ involvement in onboarding and why they are crucial to its success. However, the problem we hear over and over is that the customer success team knows very little about the new company that is being handed off to them.

Customer success managers are left to figure that information out on their own, usually once they are assigned to an account. They may know the basics about this new account like company size, segment, and industry but other key information is left for them to figure out, such as:
  • Why did you purchase our product?
  • What are your use cases?
  • What's most critical to your business now?
  • What is the measurement for success?
Customer success managers often give feedback like, "I wish we knew all of this before our initial success kickoff call." This is the crux of the onboarding dilemma and does not set up you or your customer for success. The smoother your onboarding process, the faster your customers can realize your solution’s value.

Getting your internal alignment right and establishing relationships with the key customer contacts will help to mitigate situations like this. When the customer and technology supplier come together to approach onboarding as a team effort, the likelihood of success increases dramatically.

From our partners at Method Garage, we have been able to learn from the most mature customer success organizations in the industry. One way they solve this problem is by collecting customer intel during their value realization program pre-sales. This information follows the customer along their journey with the company and is updated by each team that works with the customer.

Still, even in these mature companies, they aren't collecting some really critical pieces of information about the customer. Information that we've found to be a huge determinator of their onboarding experience and how they should be onboarded.

Let’s examine two ways you can improve your customer onboarding today.

Look at the Journey from the Customer Perspective

Too often, building out the customer journey map is seen as a static, one-time exercise. It’s not enough to just have a visual representation of the processes and interactions on a timeline. To effectively leverage the customer journey map, it is important to capture the customer’s perspective while also considering their emotional response throughout the journey.

Our 2022 benchmark data shows that 55% of organizations have created a customer journey map. However, only 4.7% of these organizations include the customer in the journey creation exercise. To improve the customer experience, you need to identify the moments that matter along the journey and understand how the journey may differ based on various customer attributes.

Having done a plethora of journey mapping exercises for large and well respected companies, the team at Method Garage has discovered trends based on various customer engagements. Over and over, the following insights have been brought to light:
  • The experience level of the person(s) you are working with matters.
  • The experience level or maturity of the team/org that is implementing/supporting/using your product matters.
In some cases, the persona (personality) of the person even matters.

Yet, this information is rarely collected. Take for example, a first-time customer success VP who just invested in a customer success software platform. You probably need an onboarding experience that provides "starting point" templates and dashboards, content around change management, and best practices around establishing a customer health program.

By contrast, if you already have established workflows, customer data aggregated in one place, and processes for tracking customer health, you’ll require a very different onboarding experience. You’ll be in a position to unlock value quickly in the customer success platform and will be interested in unlocking more advanced capabilities like identifying adoption issues within your product then guiding customers towards new and existing features.

It’s important to remember that while the motions along the customer journey are consistent, all customers are not created equal. Each of them will have their own unique set of circumstances, whether it’s business use cases, customer segment, level of maturity experience, or persona.

Make sure you are matching the appropriate resources to guide the customer through onboarding based on the information you have been able to gather. From there, you can set the right expectations for each of your customers so they know exactly when they will achieve initial success or capture first-time-to-value.

Evaluate Customer Readiness

At the point of onboarding, the customer has put their trust in your ability to deliver on their business outcomes through their investment in your technology. However, you may find that  the customer could still fail to realize the value of your solution if they’re just not ready.

Even with a comprehensive customer journey map, successful sales handoff, and an onboarding engagement plan, there is an element of customer readiness that is crucial to success and may be out of your control. Customer success is a team sport and requires the customer to also be held accountable for their participation in the onboarding process.

Ensure that you’re asking the right questions to gauge customer readiness and adjust your plans accordingly.
  • Is the customer on a tight timeline?
  • Do they have the appropriate resources and processes in place to implement your solution?
  • If not, how can you pivot to meet the customer where they are and take them where they need to go?
To help in these efforts, check out our Customer Readiness Assessment and our TSIA Checklist for Success. We provide you with specific question sets and data elements that you’ll need to track to make sure you’re able to get a better understanding for how to deliver business outcomes for your customers.

If you come to find that the customer does not meet all the requirements of the engagement, be honest and express your concern from a place of respect. If the customer is ill-equipped or simply not holding up their end of the obligation, it must be addressed directly. This is in the best interest of both you and your customer, so that neither party is wasting precious time, efforts, and resources. Customers that are truly invested should be open to communication and work together with the technology supplier to address any gaps in their capabilities.

Tactics to Start Onboarding Off Right

To summarize, here are three onboarding tips from Method Garage and TSIA:
  1. “Left shift” your success planning or value realization conversation. This is already being discussed during the sales process, so be sure it is captured and you have a process for handing off this intel post sale.
  2. Go beyond the use cases and priorities. Focus on capturing maturity, experience level, and even personalities of your customer contact and their organization.
  3. Consider a prospect-facing digital maturity assessment and use case prioritization tools to assist the sales team while capturing key information about the customer. For those of you with digital touch sales and onboarding motions or those looking to scale this process, this will be especially important. This can be done in a way that drives value for prospects during their buying journey as well as your sales and post-sales teams.
For those of you able to implement these tactics, you’ll find your onboarding process will run more smoothly for you and your customer. Look at how you can adjust your onboarding timeline to involve customer success early and ensure collaboration across all involved parties to speed up your customer’s first-time-to-value.
 

 May 3, 2022

Darlene Kelly

About Author Darlene Kelly

Darlene Kelly is the senior manager of customer success research for TSIA. In this role, she works closely with TSIA’s customer success members to deliver research and benchmarks to help companies realize and achieve their true value in customer success. Prior to joining TSIA, Darlene spent approximately 20 years in the digital marketing landscape with the last 12+ years at Adobe working in Customer Success across different customer segments and industry verticals. While at Adobe, Darlene served as a Senior Customer Success Manager, responsible for managing Adobe’s enterprise level accounts protecting some of the company’s largest book of business. Prior to Adobe, she held roles within services and sales at Claritas, a marketing company later acquired by market research firm Nielsen.

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