Jan 31, 2020

Read Time 9 min

Q&A: How to Streamline Onboarding to Reduce Churn


Customer retention and churn prevention start at the beginning of a customer’s journey with your company – in onboarding. This crucial first interaction between your customer, your product, and your team establishes the groundwork that can jumpstart success or accelerate failure.

A successful onboarding process enables your Customer Success team to set clear expectations, understand goals, deliver on promises, and build the foundation for a valuable, long-term relationship.

To delve deeper into this popular topic, we hosted a webinar with ChurnZero’s Customer Success Operations Team Lead, Bora Lee to cover:

  • How a successful onboarding impacts customer retention
  • 5 signs that indicate you may need to revamp your onboarding process
  • 3 mistakes to avoid and 3 strategies to employ when implementing changes to your existing onboarding process

If you missed the webinar, be sure to view it on-demand here.

Q&A Recap

Speaker: Bora Lee, Team Lead, Customer Success Operations, ChurnZero

To kick off the webinar, we polled our audience to find out if they knew their current churn rate. 89% of respondents reported tracking their churn rate, but of that majority, 26% do not regularly review this metric. 10% of respondents said they are not tracking this metric.

Poll #1

Poll #1

We also asked the audience if they know how long it takes them to onboard a customer. Compared to our first poll, a smaller majority (67%) track this metric, although 26% do not regularly review this metric. 32% of respondents said they are not tracking this metric, which is 3x the number of respondents who reported not tracking their churn rate.

Poll #2

Poll #2

Q: What data is important to gather during the onboarding process?

A: This is a very broad question where I can’t help but be vague. During each onboarding, you definitely want to track when the customer started onboarding and when they successfully complete it. So, the time it takes to get a customer through that onboarding process. If you have specific milestones that need to be completed within that journey, whether that’s a customer-based milestone or an internal milestone, you may want to track the time it takes to reach to those points.

In my experience, I’ve seen customers track specific goals. That’s a little harder to do depending on your industry and business. I’ve had customers track time to initial goal. I’ve had customers track the total time spent. If you have a product where they should be in your application a certain amount of time or should be doing a certain number of things, you may want to track that type of usage.

You might also want to think about things on the other side. If a customer is struggling, what are the metrics we need to review or identify in our process so that we can help them before they get to the point where they’re so frustrated that they want to walk away. We know that this milestone takes, on average, X number of days to reach. If they take more than 15 days, we’ve seen empirically that they’re so frustrated they walk away. Then let’s create a process that says if they reach 12 days, and should have been done in 10 days, but it’s before 15 days, then at that 12-day mark, let’s make sure that everybody has a task for any customer who has hit this point to reach out to the executive sponsor to make sure that we’re pulling them back on track, and getting a strategic meeting in place to ensure that we meet their deadlines.

Q: What’s your recommendation to engage as many stakeholders as possible during and after the onboarding process?

A: Do you engage them during the onboarding process? For what reasons would you engage them outside of it? At any high value point success or any low value point, those are great places to bring in executive sponsors or additional stakeholders.

Now it would depend on what the stakeholder is interested in. I would outline that expectation from the very start. For example, saying ‘We require all stakeholders to be on this initial kickoff call because we want to get to know you and because we’ll be communicating your successes. And, if we need to pull you in to get us back on track to make sure that you realize value, then we’re going to do that.’ We’ll do this in a strategic manner, so you’re not called in for every tactical or technical thing. But ask, ‘Is that okay with you?’ I love to use that, because then you go back and say ‘Hey, congratulations! You have this great success.’ Everybody loves to hear about successes. So, that’s an easy one and a lot of people will follow up on that. But when you’re struggling a little bit, that could be the point where you reach out and say ‘I know we agreed to talk about this. I’m reaching out to you to let you know that this is happening. We’re handling this, but it could use your input.’ And what that does is put the investment in the hands of the stakeholder, so that when you come up to renewal, or when you come up to a big decision point, where they’re making the decision to continue to use your product or not, you have that relationship. It’s not just a one-off, where you go to some type of business review every year or you just rope them into this thing. It’s a valued relationship where you’re providing important, relevant information about what they’ve been able to gain.

Q: How do you recommend avoiding customer overload in the onboarding process?

A: That happens, especially with onboarding that can be more technical and involve many different players that can go on for months or even years. The biggest part of that is to say ‘Here is the process. Let me give you a very high-level overview.’ But then break it down and tell them not to worry about any of this other stuff. What we’re going to focus on is this piece which is this month, and then let’s talk about the different ways we can make sure that we hit those specific deadlines, objectives, or timelines.

Let me give you an example. If onboarding was going to take 180 days, that’s six months before they even see value. What would I want to parse that down to? I might say the technical implementation is only going to take the first month. The rest of it is really configuring, training, and then getting every single user onboarded. So, let’s parse it down. Let’s say we have all the stuff that’s six months’ worth, but we’re only going to focus on one piece: technical implementation. And guess what? All we need to do today is book our next call and make sure that we have your technical point of contact on that call. And then on the next call we can handle the next task, and so on. That’s simplifying it, because I understand that there are more working pieces. But there’s always an opportunity to pare down what could be a 180 days’ worth of tasks (including the people that need to be involved) into a much more manageable chunk.

How many people have their calendars fully booked out for the next 30 days? Probably a lot more than you think. How many have them booked out for the next 90 days? Probably not as many. So, let’s focus on what’s in front of us at a given point in time so that the customer is not walking away thinking ‘I’m never going to be able to do this, so I’m never going to start.’

Q: Do you have any recommendations for ensuring a smooth handoff from the onboarding stage to a more maintenance-related stage?

A: If the handoff is between an Implementation Specialist and CSM, that’s one example. Or it could be that you’re transitioning the customer from talking to them at every single point of the day to ‘Hey, now you’re live with a product. You’ve got to use it on a day-to-day basis.’ I think the two examples are pretty similar.

You want to outline expectations. If you’re handing off internally, you certainly want to document it. You want to have the person who is handing off be very clear about what the customer is looking for. When we do these handoffs, I like to provide a couple of quick wins, so that the new person can jump in and say ‘Hey, I figured this out for you. Here are two places where you can get quick value and I can help you set that up as well as a longer-term objective.’ So, as a team or as a company, we’re positioning the customer to be successful and we’re putting the keys to immediately be successful into the hands of the next person while they get their bearings under them.

Q: How would you motivate unresponsive customers to go through the onboarding process?

A: This is one of my favorite questions. Your customers are people. We are people. If they’re not being responsive, there’s probably something that is burning on the other end. I doubt that any customer comes to us and says ‘Okay, let me spend all of this money on this product and do nothing. Let’s waste our money.’ So, the first thing to think about, and I have to remind myself of this all of the time, is that customers are people too. I am a person too. The first thing I think of when a customer is not responsive is ‘Have I provided anything of value?’ If I’m saying ‘Hey, I’m just checking in. Can you give me a call?’ I probably wouldn’t respond to that. Versus saying ‘Hey, I wanted to let you know that we talked about this a couple of weeks ago, and we have this brand-new feature coming out. I think you can use it in this way and here are a couple things you can do. I’m happy to jump on a call and get that set up for you.’ Those are two completely different ways of reaching out to a customer that can result in very different things.

Now, if you’re only reaching out to them via email, which happens frequently because it’s the easiest way to get to a customer, you might want to think about a different medium for contacting. Pick up the phone. I don’t know how many people prefer that, but at least it gets their attention. They’ll probably listen to the voicemail if you leave one.

Reach out through social media platforms. If they’re active on LinkedIn and you see them posting, comment on that. If you have an in-app tool or if you have a chat tool that allows for communication with your customer, you might reach out through that. We get so bogged down into thinking ‘Well, I sent five emails and they never responded to me.’ How many emails do you get a day? And when everything is burning on fire, how many of those do you get to? Or how many accidentally get deleted or put into archive? So, there’s different things that we can do but I think those are two really easy ways provide value, and then use a different medium.

Q: What is your opinion on measuring NPS after onboarding? Is that a good time to survey the customer?

A: I think that’s a good time. Now, there might be plenty of people that disagree. If that’s the only time you’re surveying, you may want to pick a different time. There are certainly customers that might say ‘Hey, I haven’t even gotten to your product yet. I don’t know.’ But it’s interesting to note that if the satisfaction of your customer at the end of onboarding was very high, and their NPS after six months or their recurring NPS after two years is low, then you want to figure out what you’re doing in your onboarding that is so good. What are you doing throughout the mid lifecycle or end lifecycle that is deterring your customers from being satisfied.? Maybe it’s the other way around. They could be super unhappy after onboarding because it’s taken them forever. They’ve had to do all these technical things and get in the system and then afterwards they’re happy. Think of these as data points. Every data point can be useful if we have the information around it to provide context.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for engaging with clients that might have inherited your product or weren’t around when you went through the initial onboarding? Should they go through the onboarding process themselves?

A: I’ll pose that question to the group. If you’re a brand-new person being introduced to a product that’s already embedded in a company, would you want to be introduced to the product? How would you want that to happen? For me, I would want to be introduced to the product. Whether that’s my responsibility as the person who has purchased the product or as the person who is delivering the product or service, that is a point of contention. But if it’s a key critical user and if it’s an admin user versus an end user, they might want to be treated in different ways. But there are certainly ways within your technology stack or through your services that can still provide some level of guidance. Even if it’s ‘Welcome! We know that you’re a brand-new user. Here are three resources that we think you’ll find useful.’ I just signed on to a different business technology the other day and I got this super short, relevant email that said ‘Hey, you’re new. Look at these three things to get started.’ I’m going to look at that because I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing.

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