The Three Cardinal Sins of Customer Onboarding

Ali Flowers
Jan 30, 2019 6:21:19 PM

Telltale signs you're failing implementations even if your churn rate doesn't reflect it.

While customers abandon their software-as-a-service vendors for a variety of reasons -- they've found what they consider to be a better deal, there's been a change in company strategy, they need a function they don't think your software provides -- the one customer exit that stings the most is failed implementations. Your market-differentiating features and functionality don't matter when you're implementing with a failing onboarding process. Customer onboarding is that critical moment in the buyer journey where sales hands off the baton, and CS has to carry it across the finish line.

Even if you aren't experiencing "failed" implementations, per se, there are a few telltale signs that your onboarding process is not hitting the mark. Do you have customer success managers working more than contracted hours during implementations? Are executives stepping in to reassure newly-signed clients? Or is your development team giving away custom development projects to compensate for over-promised functionality? These are what we like to refer to as the three big sins of customer onboarding. If any of those things are happening in your customer success department, you're failing at implementing your product, even if your churn rate doesn't reflect it.

This quick-read article discusses the root cause of those three "sins" and explores the impact on both your onboarding process and the productivity of the rest of your organization.

Cardinal Sin #1: Customer Service Managers Spending More Hours Than Contracted During Onboarding

When a CSM spends more than contracted time with a new customer, he or she is costing your company billable hours, resulting in direct revenue loss. This is a key indicator of a failing implementation process. Aside from the painful fact that you aren't seeing revenue for those CS hours, it also usually means that the CSM is working beyond his or her bandwidth, diverting attention away from otherwise happy accounts and thereby putting the health of your company's relationship with them at risk.

What addition to my customer onboarding solves this? A heavy emphasis on self-service learning. If your CSM is spending time going through a slide presentation covering basic vocabulary and functionality as a preface to getting to the system configuration discussion, that onboarding schedule is already behind.

As Thought Industries CEO, Barry Kelly, has explained, "a particularly effective practice" is to create short-form, on-demand learning content—think video, in particular—that provides quick walkthroughs of features leading to an outcome the prospect will value. "People don’t have a lot of time," he says. "You want to walk them through a couple of steps, give them some information, a couple of ways to interact with the product. Those can be offered simply and easily."

Also, make sure your training addresses a smartphone generation, with small-screen, single-shot servings of video lessons that answer specific questions as they arise in the use of your program. Learners will thank you by consuming them to figure out things for themselves.

Cardinal Sin #2: Relying on Executives to Step in and Reassure New Customers

It's common in any business to hear the refrain, "I'm upset. Let me speak to your manager." In SaaS it's usually an indication that the onboarding process is going less than smoothly. Executive time is valuable, and once you offer it up, the customer is going to expect it every time you hit a minor bump in the road. The last thing you want is for your CEO, CIO or CTO to be doing routine onboarding work.

What addition to my customer onboarding solves this? Giving your newly signed customers defined learning paths in your customer training platform significantly reduces the risk of their implementation going sideways, and thus lessens the need for executive reassurance.

Because people new to your software service can easily be overwhelmed by the various functions you offer, it's important to customize your training options to cater to specific roles -- the executive, the line manager or the individual staff member. In early days, anticipate needs. Push (but don't force) the two, three, or four top activities most customers seem to need to get up to speed quickly on the most-used functions for their roles. Make sure your users know where to find the customer training platform with that self-service content that can be accessed 24/7. Then use those tech support calls, texts, chats and emails that do come in to identify where your training has gaps that need to be filled and create those short walkthroughs (mentioned in the previous sin) for inclusion in your training platform.

Cardinal Sin #3: Giving Away Custom Development

Custom development is a part of the SaaS business. While it's often unavoidable, it should never come free of charge. If it is necessary, it needs to be contracted during the sales cycle -- not given away as a last-minute attempt to salvage a deal. Aside from degrading the value of your consulting operations, by giving away one of the most expensive assets your organization has to offer, you're allowing a client to drag your product roadmap through the mud.

What addition to my customer onboarding solves this? Most people think customer training doesn't begin until after contracts are signed. Wrong. This is a perfect example of why you need to educate your prospects before they become clients. Having a training program that runs alongside your platform trials is how to identify whether custom development will be necessary in the future. At this point in the customer journey, it's far simpler to set up that contract and schedule sufficient time with the proper development team to ensure the launch schedule stays on track.

The customer onboarding phase of a SaaS adoption gives you multiple chances to remind customers about why they went with your product in the first place. The retention issues surrounding SaaS adoption can be solved with a continuing flow of education available to your customer in multiple flavors -- through your consulting services, through short bursts of video training and in all of the other self-service options you provide. By tracking how well your customer onboarding is reaching users, you'll be able to stay on top of their needs and successes while avoiding those sins signaling implementations that are about to fail for the wrong reasons.

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