Mar 10, 2020 3:33:01 PM
The ultimate guide to customer onboarding
People don’t buy products—they buy relationships.
We’re particularly proud of the relationships we have with our customers. After all, our customers are our lifeblood, the reason we built our software and continue to develop it. We care about our customers’ problems and we care about their service teams. We care about end users who are looking for answers and about helping people save time.
We have been investing in our relationships since the very beginning, particularly in the form of our Customer Success team. We’ve also developed an outstanding onboarding process that ensures our customers will enjoy lasting success with our customer service chatbots.
Why invest in onboarding? Because frankly, it doesn’t matter how good your product is, or how much time and effort has gone into testing it and honing its capabilities. If your customers don’t know how to use it properly, or don’t know how to make the most of it, then they won’t get a positive ROI, achieve their business goals, or be able to solve their problems.
Why onboarding is vital for customer success
In its essence, onboarding is about guiding new customers through the key features of your product and ensuring they know how to get the most out of it. The customer has bought your software for a reason: they have specific business problems which they believe your product can solve.
Customer Success teams play a crucial role in the onboarding procedure, which is a very strategic part of the customer journey. This stage often has a major impact on the customer lifetime value (CLV), as well as the customer’s overall success with your product.
Onboarding is the time to lay the groundwork for the relationship: you introduce the main features of your product, explain relevant metrics and success factors, and provide adequate tools and training so the customer understands how to use everything.
In fact, it’s almost like having a personal chatbot and customer service “coach”, who helps you every step of the way.
So without further ado, let’s go through our ultimate guide to customer onboarding.
1. Customize your approach for every new customer
Every customer you deal with is going to be different, so it’s important to go into each onboarding with an open mind and a willingness to develop an individualized approach. What’s more, to carry out a successful onboarding process, you really need to know the customer’s business like the back of your hand.
At Solvemate, our Customer Success team spends an entire week preparing for the two-day, on-site onboarding process by taking a deep dive into the customer’s industry and service setup. Next up, they use their expertise and knowledge of best practices to create a customized solution that will work for that specific customer. This is achieved through various steps, including:
- Testing the company’s current customer service
- Reviewing the current service mix and routing
- Analysing the website and mobile experience from the perspective of a customer who needs help
- Preparing ideas and proposals for the chatbot strategy and fitting them into the service mix
- Chatbot placement: analysing possible ways to channel users towards a chatbot for optimal ROI
Some chatbots may be able to deliver relatively satisfactory results without a proper onboarding process. But for a truly remarkable ROI and outstanding business results, a more customized onboarding approach is required.
2. Include a comprehensive and well-executed “Welcome Call”
Virtually every B2B buyer knows what it’s like to be given “the works”. The salesperson showers them with attention and makes lofty sales pitches—until they sign on the dotted line. Then, once they are handed over to someone else inside the company (often via email), they are pretty much left to their own devices. The extravagant promises are rarely kept and the buyer’s original contact person often vanishes into thin air.
First of all, the customer should never feel like they are being “handed over” to someone. They should feel like someone “receives” or “welcomes” them. Customers don’t care about the responsibilities or quotas of your sales team or account managers. They want help resolving their business problems.
At Solvemate, we have overcome this often bumpy transition by introducing a comprehensive, dedicated phone call involving all the relevant parties: the new customer, the sales representative, and a member of the Customer Success team.
During this “Welcome Call” the status quo is clarified, so that everyone is on the same page. What has been agreed upon? What are the expectations? Are there any questions? With everyone present at the same time, the chatbot project team can get off to a great start under the guidance of the appointed Customer Success Manager (CSM).
This phone call also gives the CSM an opportunity to collect all the information they need to prepare for the onboarding:
- What are the top 20 requests received by your customer service team?
- In your current service setup, what works and what doesn’t?
- Which KPIs are currently being measured and why?
- What is the ideal outcome of the chatbot project?
- How is success measured – both at the level of individual service agents and as a company?
- What are the main goals you hope to achieve with the chatbot project?
- Which CRM systems are currently being used?
- Who should attend the onboarding session?
By collecting this information early on, the team can take an “outcome first” approach, which means the customer will get everything they need from the onboarding process.
3. Use the right toolkit
Carrying out a great onboarding process is part strategy, part preparation—and the rest is about using the right tools and methodologies to deliver the information. “Death by PowerPoint” is a thing of the past.
The onboarding toolbox is vast; there are lots of different methods to choose from. In our experience, the best results come from mixing and matching. Our Customer Success team uses a variety of methodologies, including:
- Ideation exercises for thinking of ways to improve the customer service journey or collect service design ideas (for example)
- Mind mapping, e.g. categorizing the question topics and defining question flows
- Real-life best practice examples from other clients (this is always very popular!)
- Practical exercises about using Solvemate: e.g. features, functionalities, and integration
- Do-It-Yourself: the CSM helps to set up the chatbot by adding questions and solutions, as well as providing preliminary training
- Learning chatbot best practices with gamification
- Classic software training and tours of the Solvemate web app and widget
Basically, the tools need to be aligned with the goals of the onboarding session, the overall Customer Success strategy, and the specific customer. As you can see from the list above, we like to mix some chatbot theory with more practical tasks: setting up the chatbot, editing the content, personalizing the chatbot to fit the brand, integrating the chatbot into the customer’s CRM system, etc.
4. Meet the customer in person
EDIT: During the COVID-19 outbreak, we've obviously had to refrain from meeting our customers in person. We have however, put together an extensive virtual onboarding, which follows the same pattern as the onboarding in person, and we put some additional TLC to getting to know our new customers virtually: we still need to build that mutual trust.
Our mantra is “always meet in person”. We really care about our customers, their service departments and their struggles. We want to see them in action, get to know them, understand their daily business and their problems.
Our onboarding sessions are always spread across two days and carried out in person (usually at the customer’s premises). We do this because we believe it produces better results. It’s much more efficient to transfer tacit knowledge and clarify any misunderstandings while you’re all in the same room. If anyone from the customer’s team needs help setting up the chatbot or has trouble using any of the features, the dedicated Customer Success Manager can provide immediate assistance.
Most of the time, customer service chatbots are also very strategic projects. They might be part of an omni-funnel, automation-first service strategy, or a larger digitization initiative organized by one of the company’s departments. When customers come to us, they usually have high expectations, big business goals, and very real problems. Customer relationships are built on trust, so we want to get to know you and start building that trust.
5. Communicate openly about expectations
Transparency and feedback is the bread and butter of our workplace, so naturally, the same is true of our customer relationships. In the end, everyone wants the chatbot to be a success, and we’ll do whatever’s necessary to make that happen.
Our Customer Success team welcomes feedback and suggestions for improvement—our fine-tuned onboarding process is a testament to this. But we can’t take all the credit. Our communicative and open-minded customers have also played a key role in the development of our great feedback culture.
We also try to be candid with our customers. If the chatbot implementation can be improved, the dedicated Customer Success Manager will be the first one to bring it up and start making suggestions. If there’s a way for the chatbot to yield better results and a more lucrative ROI, you’ll know about it.
We believe that this kind of trust, transparency, and candour is only possible when relationships are cultivated in person.
6. Invite the right people
We have a lot of respect for customer service agents. They often know your customers’ needs—and your product—like nobody else in the company.
That’s why it’s critical to involve service agents in the onboarding process. Good customer service starts with understanding and empathy, and only the customer service teams really know which questions are asked and when, and where the pain points are.
Other people who are crucial for the onboarding process include the project manager or other contact person, the chatbot manager, and any other stakeholders who are involved in the project.
7. Incorporate the chatbot into the service strategy
A chatbot will only yield results if people actually use it. That’s why it’s important to integrate the chatbot into your overall strategy—it shouldn’t simply be a one-off, stand-alone solution. In fact, we believe the chatbot should ideally be the first point of contact for customer inquiries. Why? Because if you want to see ticket deflection, you need to help your users successfully serve themselves.
Consequently, a crucial part of the onboarding process is deciding where the chatbot should appear, so that users are most likely to use it. Here are some of the key questions to consider about when planning your chatbot roll out:
- How does the chatbot fit into the service strategy?
- Which pages should the chatbot appear on: product pages, help page, contact page?
- What measures can be taken to channel users to the chatbot? For example, could the phone number on the contact page be removed?
- Which handover channels exist: phone, email, live chat?
- Does the chatbot look and feel like a natural extension of the brand?
- Have resources been assigned for chatbot maintenance?
Chatbot projects should always be motivated by a desire to make life easier for end users. Wherever possible, they should be given the opportunity to help themselves. This will also deflect those tickets and save time for everybody involved.
8. Clearly define the desired outcome and next steps
You’ve nailed the onboarding—now what? A customer service chatbot is a project like any other: there are KPIs that need to be monitored and data-driven adjustments to be made.
Aside from knowledge transfer and training, the most concrete outcome of our onboarding process is a chatbot that’s virtually ready to be rolled out.
The onboarding process is more than just knowledge transfer and training—it should produce tangible results. After the onboarding is completed, the customer can always ask for help, but ultimately they need to be able to manage the chatbot on their own. If there is no concrete outcome after the onboarding, the whole thing will have been in vain.
In our case, by the end of the onboarding, the chatbot is 80% ready. All that remains is to test it on the website, carry out any necessary fine-tuning, and then it’s ready to roll. We’ve even had customers go live the very next day.
The onboarding process should also result in a project roadmap with clear tasks and responsibilities. At Solvemate, we create a plan for the first three months:
- Customer and CSM catch up on a weekly basis
- CSM monitors and reports on the chatbot KPIs
- CSM makes recommendations for improving chatbot content
- CSM makes recommendations for improving chatbot performance, e.g. through better user channelling
- CSM supports the development of the first personalization integrations
- Opportunity for QBR reports and end user testing carried out by the CSM
Next level customer onboarding can give you the edge
An outstanding onboarding process makes all the difference. Think about it: if you had to choose between two almost identical software products, you’re much more likely to pick the company that also offers comprehensive training, consultation, and integration measures.
Onboarding is about setting customers up for success by giving them the skills and information they need to get the most out of your product. Equally, it’s about helping them prepare to go live, and devising a plan for the road ahead. That’s why we’ve invested so heavily in this aspect of our customer service. If you do it well, everyone wins.
P.S. You know what happens when our customers go live after the onboarding process? We celebrate with cake!
Sara is a brand & content strategist at Solvemate. She’s really into chatbots, and improving customer experience. When she’s not writing about customer service automation, she’s an Italo-disco singer and a devoted housekeeping nerd. Hailing originally from snowy Finland, the Berlin winters leave her cold (pardon the pun).