Unpacking the art of customer onboarding

Let's explore the art of customer onboarding. What is it? How does it work and how can you build a successful onboarding strategy.

Rory Sadler
March 28, 2024
March 26, 2024
Let's explore the art of customer onboarding. What is it? How does it work and how can you build a successful onboarding strategy.
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Learn what customer onboarding is, how it works, and what you need to do to build a successful client onboarding strategy. Find best practices, top tools, and key metrics below. 

Companies face an increasing challenge. In a competitive marketplace, customers expect to see value from a product or service from day one. If customers don't understand your brand or fail to see any value, a business can suffer high customer churn rates.

It's not just the tech sector that's affected. Over 50% of people have returned a product because they didn't know how to use it.

Customer onboarding is the answer. Post-purchase, companies should work hard to educate customers, providing the resources and support to get them up and running as soon as possible. The result? According to a 2020 Wyzowl report, 88% of buyers said they were more likely to stay loyal to a brand that provided a welcoming and educational onboarding experience. 

Client onboarding isn't optional – it's imperative. This guide covers how to build your customer onboarding strategy, from the best practices to the top tools. 

What is customer onboarding?

Customer onboarding begins the moment a client signs up for your service or purchases your product. It involves teaching customers how to get value from your product or service through step-by-step tutorials, how-to guides, and other informative content. It's the ultimate welcome package!

As part of "customer success," the process works proactively to deliver value. Rather than waiting till a new user has a question, client onboarding solutions answer common questions, explain key features, and highlight the potential of your product or service. 

Why is customer onboarding important? Because customers who obtain value from a product or service and who feel supported have much higher rates of customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, and advocacy. They're not just another user; they're your word-of-mouth marketer. And, of course, customer churn rates will plummet.

The onboarding journey usually involves a few key steps:

  • Welcome and Introduction: This often includes a welcome email or message thanking the customer for choosing your product or service and providing them with an overview of what to expect next.
  • Account Setup and Configuration: Guiding customers through setting up their account or configuring the product to meet their specific needs. This can involve step-by-step tutorials, video guides, or direct assistance from customer support.
  • Education and Training: Offering resources and training materials to help customers understand how to use your product or service effectively. This can include webinars, instructional videos, FAQs, and user manuals.
  • Support and Resources: Providing easy access to customer support and additional resources to help users when they encounter issues or have questions. This often involves support via phone, email, live chat, and a knowledge base.
  • Feedback and Follow-Up: Soliciting feedback from customers about their onboarding experience and using this feedback to make improvements. Follow-ups can also ensure that customers are satisfied and fully utilising the product or service.

Key strategies and best practices

Building a customer onboarding strategy is the first step to higher retention rates and better customer relationships. But before you begin, you'll want to establish a few clear goals:

  1. Encourage users to use your product multiple times in the first week or two.
  2. Explain the basics of your product and hint at more advanced features.
  3. Make your product irreplaceable. 

Read most guides on the subject, and they'll provide an onboarding checklist. Common items include welcome emails, product or service orientation, user account setup, etc. While some of these items are important, customers can suddenly feel they're a cog in a machine. Gone is the human support and personalisation present throughout the sales cycle. 

Indeed, your strategy should always be personalised to each customer's specific needs and goals. Use the data you have about your customers to personalise everything from the content to their welcome message. Such customisation is hard to achieve if you rely on email as your primary communication medium. 

trumpet's digital sales rooms (DSRs) work much better – not only providing continuity between the pre- and post-purchase phases but also allowing companies to quickly swap out old sales-related content for handpicked onboarding sections related to the customer in question.

Personalisation is only one part of a solid strategy, however. You should also:

  1. Streamline the Process: Simplify the onboarding journey to ensure it's clear, intuitive, and free of unnecessary steps. A straightforward process helps customers start using your product or service more quickly and with less frustration.
  2. Offer Comprehensive Training and Resources: Provide accessible, diverse educational materials like tutorials, webinars, and FAQs to support different learning styles. Ensuring customers understand how to use your product or service effectively is crucial for their success and satisfaction.

You might also want to provide a sense of progression. Progress bars and milestones, in one sense, gamify the process, encouraging customers to finish what they start. But they also inform users how much further they have to go. Mutual action plans for client onboarding can be created and added to our DSRs – so customers can tick off each item as they progress. 

  1. Ensure Easy Access to Support: Maintain open, responsive channels for customer support across multiple platforms (e.g., email, live chat, phone). Quick and helpful support during onboarding can alleviate concerns and improve the overall experience.
  2. Gather and Act on Feedback: Regularly solicit and utilise customer feedback to refine and improve the onboarding process. Demonstrating that you value and respond to customer input can enhance loyalty and trust in your brand.

It's tempting to automate much of this process. After all, the customer has already paid and can figure out how to use your system alone. That's a mistake. Maintain a balance by offering human support when it's most needed, such as answering complex questions or providing personalised advice. Most customers may only use this service once or twice – but simply knowing it's there goes a long way. 

One final factor to consider:

  1. Foster a Community: Encourage new customers to join your community, whether it's a forum, social media group, or another platform. A sense of community can provide additional support, facilitate knowledge sharing, and enhance customer loyalty.

Strong brand communities reduce the load on customer onboarding and success teams, allowing users to answer each other's questions. However, it also boosts brand loyalty – think of companies like Linux or Adobe. 

Top tools and software for customer onboarding

Your post-purchase success depends on the customer onboarding software and tools at your disposal. Choose platforms that provide the smoothest onboarding process for optimal customer satisfaction and retention. Here are our top picks:

1. trumpet

Trumpet is a leading digital sales room platform, helping companies build one-link buyer journeys from cold outreach to onboarding. Loved by customer success and onboarding teams, the platform's virtual spaces are 100% customisable. 

In seconds, companies can pull a buyer's brand, colours, and imagery into the DSR. They can then populate it with relevant content personalised to the client, including blog posts, videos, demo recordings, and more. Plus, with the mutual action plan feature, brands can guide the new user step-by-step through the onboarding process.

Throughout this post-purchase phase, companies will track everything a user does in the DSR, receiving insightful intelligence signals. And, if a user wants to reach out, they can do so through scheduled calls or real-time chat. 

Discover a customer onboarding digital sales room in action

2. HubSpot

HubSpot is a tech ecosystem that spans everything from marketing and sales to service and operations. Companies can use the platform's free email tools, contact management capabilities, and live chat features to ensure that every customer receives the help they need. 

As a customer relationship management (CRM) system, HubSpot tracks and records client interactions, helping identify areas for personalisation. You can automate certain onboarding tasks with the Marketing Hub Professional subscription.

3. GuideCX

GuideCX is a specialised client onboarding system where companies can create assignments, allocate tasks, and track client progress. Working on a project basis, the platform helps guide users through the initial stages of a company. It also provides a basic automated email feature for sending welcome emails and other onboarding communications. 

4. Userlane

Userlane is a digital adoption platform that automates onboarding tours within your software, using pop-up bubbles and notes to guide customers. It enables personalised tours tailored to different customer goals and offers unlimited creation of tutorial paths ("userlanes") and their usage. 

The platform also tracks customer interactions, providing valuable metrics on the effectiveness of your onboarding process. However, you'll still require a CRM and marketing automation platform alongside Userlane to distribute onboarding materials and add a personal touch.

5. Apty

As a digital adoption platform, Apty allows companies to create a tutorial path for their software. Combining on-screen guidance, checklists, and customised content, the platform helps streamline the onboarding experience. 

The in-app help widget, in particular, provides immediate access to help documentation, eliminating the need for a separate knowledge base. 

Metrics for measuring success

Customer success (and, by extension, client onboarding) was developed to counteract the high churn rates in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry. However, while churn rates – the percentage of customers who cancel or stop using your product after onboarding – are critical, they're not the only customer onboarding metric to monitor. 

Follow these metrics closely to measure your success:

  • Completion Rate: The percentage of new customers who complete the onboarding process. A high completion rate indicates a practical and engaging onboarding experience.
  • Time to First Value (TTFV): The amount of time it takes for a customer to achieve their first significant milestone or value from your product or service. Shorter TTFV can lead to higher customer satisfaction and retention.
  • Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT): Measures how satisfied customers are with the onboarding process, typically through surveys. High CSAT scores are indicative of a successful onboarding experience.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS): Gauges customer loyalty and the likelihood of them recommending your product or service to others based on their onboarding experience. 

However, these metrics only measure the immediate success of your onboarding approach. Looking further into the future, you also want to measure two other metrics of customer loyalty:

  • Retention Rate: The percentage of customers who continue to use your product or service after a certain period following onboarding. High retention rates are often a sign of successful onboarding.
  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLV): The total revenue a business can expect from a customer throughout their relationship. CLV encompasses all transactions, projecting the worth of a customer based on average purchase value, frequency, and lifespan.

Case studies and real-world examples

Thanks to the ingenious and creative use of trumpet's digital sales rooms by our clients, we've got tons of insights into how to use the platform to improve your customer onboarding experience.

Perhaps the most impressive case is eola. As a booking and management platform for experience providers, their customer success team wanted to get providers to take bookings and engage clients early. It filled its DSRs with educational materials and how-to videos. We were shocked by the results. They saw a 78% decrease in onboarding time from 2 weeks to 3 days. 

"Trumpet allows us to get our message out effectively and concisely, working perfectly with everything from automated outreach to account-based sales and customer onboarding."

‍– Will Koning, Chief Commercial Officer

eola isn't the only success story. Flexa were previously overwhelmed by emails and threads that stagnated the flow of inflammation. First, their sales team developed a successful DSR that reduced their time from demo to close by 40%.

Going further, the company also passed completed DSRs to the account management team to help with retention and upselling. Given that their sales rooms had an average open rate of 68%, it's not surprising they wanted to keep a good thing going. 

As Krys Stoza, Head of Sales, said, "We use trumpet for so much: improving our outreach, deal cycle, onboarding, and account management."

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