Have you ever started a new video game where you’re just dropped in the world? You start clicking buttons to see what happens. Depending on the type of game, you know one button is going to be jump and a different one will be run or duck, but there’s always a bit of a learning curve to figure out exactly what’s what. In order to acclimate new users to the controls, there’s often a brief tutorial that explains how the controls work. The further you get in the game the more new skills you learn or unlock. For serious gamers, learning the controls may only take 30 seconds and they’re good to go; whereas, a new gamer may struggle with the motions and take a few game sessions to really become familiar with the controls.

That same scenario applies to new customers who are trying to learn a new SaaS product. Depending on how familiar users are with the software type and how the new product fits into their existing workflow, the onboarding process may be self-serve or it could require a few training sessions. The job of the Customer Success Manager (CSM) is to be that game tutorial and ensure that new customers have a smooth onboarding process, understand the value of the product, and are equipped with all the resources they need to succeed in the future. Easier said than done. Let’s hop in and work through what customer onboarding is, why it’s important, and how to go about making it a more efficient process.

What is Customer Onboarding

Customer onboarding is the process of helping new users become acquainted and engaged with your product. The process involves a series of steps, resources, and active support to help customers incorporate your product into their workflow so that they can achieve “success”.

The reason there’s quotes around success is because each customer is going to have a different goal for your product. It’s not just letting new customers click buttons and hoping they figure it out, especially for SaaS products. People care more about achieving their desired outcomes than what general feature functionality you have. One of the main components of the onboarding process is actually understanding what success looks like for each new customer and then determining what resources they’re going to need to help them along their journey.

Why is Customer Onboarding Important

Customer onboarding really acts as a customer’s first impression of your product and sets the tone for the relationship moving forward. Sales has spent the time reeling in the customer, highlighting their pain points, and how your product is going to solve everything. Now they’re bought in and ready to dive in and get started with your product. If there’s not a smooth and tailored process for them to follow, customers may become confused or frustrated and stop using your product. A successful onboarding experience increases Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), reduces churn rates, and helps turn new customers into product evangelists.

Who’s in Charge of the Onboarding Process

The impact of Customer Success Managers can’t be overstated. They’re the ones in charge of assisting customers throughout the different lifecycle stages of their journey with your product. One of a CSM’s most important roles is overseeing the success of the onboarding process for new customers. Once the sales team has closed a deal, there’s a handoff between the sales manager and the CSM assigned to the new account, usually in the form of an email welcoming the new customer to the company. From there, it’s on the CSM to introduce themselves and the product to the customer, obtain necessary contact information for key stakeholders, and then set the stage for new customers to define and achieve success.

Tips for a Successful Onboarding Process

So Sales has passed off a new customer and now it’s on you to create a plan of action for success. The following list provides some best practices to help you help your customers have a successful onboarding experience.

Do: Set customer expectations

Even before purchasing your product, customers should know what to expect. And more than that, you should aim to fully understand who your customers are and what they want from your product. That carries right on into the onboarding process as you continue to reiterate and demonstrate the value of your product. Take a customer-centric approach to goals and let your customers define their own version of success. Then you can provide measurable milestones that customers can use to track their progress, reinforcing the value that your product is providing for them.

Do: Keep open channels of communication

The last thing you want is a customer using your product, running into an issue, and not being able to ask for help. If that happens, their impression of your company will take a negative turn. If for some reason they continue to run into set backs, they’re likely going to churn as a customer. Instead, determine customers’ preferred methods of communication. Wether it’s email, in-product, or via Slack, continue to regularly check-in and ensure your customers are engaging with and finding value in your product. Once customers start hitting their success milestones you can space out check-ins and remain an open network for assisting future success.

Do: Celebrate small wins

The little things count, especially when customers are just getting started in your product. Every small win or success milestone hit should be celebrated to encourage further engagement with your product. It shows that you care and are attentive to customer needs, making them feel valued. The earlier you can foster a positive relationship with customers, the higher your chances of turning them into lifelong product evangelists.

Don’t: Force an onboarding schedule

Just like the gaming example from the start of this article, some people need more time to become acquainted with how to navigate and some people need less time. In order to avoid advanced gamers getting frustrated or bogged down with tutorials, many games offer a “skip tutorial” option.

Now, the objective for customer onboarding is achieving success and understanding value rather than solely learning functionality. But, similar to video games, each customer is going to have their own timeline and need different levels of support from your team. Set a unique schedule for check-ins (whether that’s a one-off, weekly, or monthly) and offer your contact information, as well as the support channel, should anything pressing come up in the meantime. This provides them with clear expectations and easy access to communication channels.

Don’t: Overwhelm customers with information

While it may be tempting to offer a new customer every FAQ and piece of documentation on your product—just in case they need it—you’re more likely to overwhelm them than truly help them. Instead, take the time to understand exactly what they’re hoping to achieve in the next 30 days and what their overall purpose for purchasing your product was. From there, you can provide the contextual information that makes the most sense for them to know now and walk them through a workflow they can use immediately. As customers move through their journey with your product you can offer workflows and features that provide additional value as needed.

Don’t: Let customers emotionally disconnect

Sales and Marketing spend their time creating a connection to potential customers. Prospects become customers because they’ve emotionally bought into a vision of your product. It’s jarring to go from the big picture goals into a purely technical relationship around integrating tools and explicit feature functionality. All it does is allow customers to pull away and view your product as some random tool rather than a partner for success.

Instead, start by focusing early conversations on high level hopes and dreams for what your product will provide them. Maintain that emotional connection by creating those smaller success milestones and position yourself as their partner and collaborator along their journey. This positions you as a positive resource and advocate for their needs should they encounter any future issues.

Conclusion

Every touch point a customer has with your product is an opportunity to improve their experience and impression of your company. Take the time to properly align sales, marketing, and support teams around customer information (pains, needs, common questions) so that your Customer Success team can create a more comprehensive onboarding process. The more tailored the onboarding, the more valued customers feel and the more likely they are to successfully achieve their goals using your product. When this happens, you’re in a great position to have built a collaborative relationship with customers to drive their future success.