That fancy hotel lobby with multiple check-in stations is there for a reason. So is the lounge stocked with food, drinks and comfortable furniture that an upscale airline sets up in the airport.
These aren’t just elements that help such companies stand out and attract future customers. They also help reinforce the decisions their existing customers have made to give them their business.
Many of us now book hotels and flights online, for example. When we show up and are greeted with a clean, sophisticated and welcoming environment, we feel more confident about what comes next. This is customer onboarding at its best, and it’s something that can be done by businesses well beyond the hospitality and travel sectors.
Onboarding may have gained more attention in recent years because it’s seen as a way of getting in front of customer service issues before they crop up. After all, if customers are repeatedly making the same initial mistakes or running into the same challenges, a little hand-holding at the outset might ensure things go smoother in the future.
For the most successful companies, however, onboarding is much more than that. It’s a way of nurturing loyalty by demonstrating you care about their entire experience with your company. Otherwise, all that work that went into gaining their attention through marketing and converting them is for naught.
Think of it this way: a company without a strong onboarding strategy is sort of like running a restaurant where you entice people with tantalizing smells, take their order and then, after giving them their food, leave them to clean up the dishes and figure out where the restrooms are on their own.
Strong marketing and sales are only half of the equation. Onboarding builds upon those first two phases and, ideally, helps make those steps easier the next time around.
Start developing an onboarding strategy by imagining yourself in the first hour, then day, then week and month as a new customer and work outwards. Some of the pillars could include:
Most likely customers first became aware of your firm through the stories you told through your blog posts, eBooks, videos and social media posts. They might have been stories that reflected the needs or your target market’s paint point, hinting at how their lives will be different or better if they were your customer.
Even if those content marketing assets told stories with a strong beginning, middle and end, your onboarding strategy needs to add something else: an epilogue.
If you used an “explainer” video to walk through what your product does, for instance, create a follow-up clip that you can make available to customers after the sale that helps them do everything necessary to start using it. If there are short-cuts or tips you’ve gleaned from your first customers, create a “putting your best foot forward” article that complements the blog posts that made the business case for buying something in the first place.
Customer success content can also take the form of infographics, webinars or even a series of push notifications. It’s best to not only make them available immediately post-sale, but to prep your customer and let them know what to expect and how it can help them as a deal closes.
Let’s go back to our restaurant example earlier. One form of “onboarding” you might recognize is that moment, shortly after serving the food, when the waiter comes back to see if the meal tastes good and if you need anything else. This kind of check-in is appreciated by all kinds of other customers, too.
Offer the most diverse set of methods for reaching out with questions or support as possible. This goes beyond customer service issues, like when things are broken or need to be returned. Instead, it might be a dedicated phone number to help customers get started with your products and services, an email address or a number they can text.
Depending on the complexity of your offerings and the customers you’re serving, you might need to set up an initial meeting or call to provide more bespoke onboarding assistance. Other options here could be a chatbot that can answer common questions or share critical tips from a dedicated customer success page on your website.
Not every organization will have a lot of resources they can devote to onboarding and customer success, particularly small and medium-sized businesses. That’s why your existing customer base can serve as a fantastic complement to your efforts.
Online customer communities, for instance, can be a place where customers can field questions directly to non-competitive peers who may have very similar needs or use-cases for your products. Some organizations will ensure new customers are among the first to be invited to conferences where their peers will be speaking in keynotes and panel discussions about their successful use of your products and services. In other cases there might be opportunities to organize or support local meetups and user groups. Some of the lessons and ideas offered here can be easily recorded and then turned into additional assets for your customer success resource library.
Don’t look at onboarding as a short-term exercise. Much like the way sales teams try to build their relationships with customers over time, you can continue the conversation through email newsletters, dedicated social media accounts or other channels that make the most sense for your customers and their needs.
Successful onboarding will do more than reduce churn and customer acquisition costs. It will also help increase the odds your next customer will be willing to offer a testimonial or participate in a case study. These are the ultimate signs of a happy customer, and in some cases can provide real-life examples of your products and services in action that will help with onboarding, too.