Apr 20, 2017

Read Time 5 min

Critical onboarding mistakes to avoid, what works (and doesn’t!) for structuring CS, predicting churn without machine learning


Fact: The first 90 days will decide the fate of most implementations. Though you may have many months remaining in the contract, if a customer feels let down by your onboarding, the seeds of churn may have already been planted. Failing to quickly deliver value and lay a foundation for long-term success greatly increases the likelihood of a customer eventually determining that your product and services have fallen a little bit…short.

So how do you ensure that customers are set up for success from day one? There are lots of great reads out there about the “dos” of onboarding – like this one, this one and this one – but today we’re going to focus on the “don’ts.” As this thoughtful post by Business2Community explores, there are several common mistakes that Customer Success teams make when designing and executing their onboarding programs. Let’s dig into what these mistakes are and how to course-correct if you are guilty of these blunders:

  • Mistake #1 – Setting Unrealistic Objectives: Nothing will leave a bad taste in a customer’s mouth like over-promising and under-delivering. Not only does this kind of disappointment fuel a customer’s drive to look for another solution (one that can meet all their needs) but it also provides them with negative experiences to share with others. Having detractors like this can damage your goodwill and market sentiment – not to mention it gives your competitors a serious weapon against you.
    • How to Fix It: B2C recommends focusing on the handoff from Sales: “To combat this, nail your sales handoff and schedule an introductory call in the first few days. Gather any information discussed in the sales process and prepare for challenges in advance. When you’re speaking to your customer, ask what his/her team is looking to accomplish and be honest about your product’s capabilities.” Once you know a customer’s goals, you can then drive new clients towards specific and attainable steps that directly relate to their business objectives.
  • Mistake #2 – Not Providing True Value: Brand new customers are likely to initially use your product; after all, it’s the shiny new toy they just bought. But this novelty wears off quickly and if by the time it does you haven’t shown real value, you’ll likely struggle to cultivate consistent usage going forward.
    • How to Fix It: B2C notes that as CS pros, we often love our product’s features and want to show them off but we need to remember that the value to the customer is not in the features themselves: “Instead, emphasize the benefits you can provide, such as increased efficiency or insight into key data points. Then let users experience them through training.” B2C also suggests that you offer varied training content so that each type of user can find resources that resonate with their daily lives and struggles. Additionally, once a customer knows what they should be doing, automation can help you consistently reinforce desired behaviors.
  • Mistake #3 – Failing to Follow-Up: If your customer is still learning how to use your product, they expect to hear from you. If all you are sending them is a simple welcome email with a few tips and resources that isn’t enough. Your onboarding should have defined touchpoints that are both proactive and reactive.
    • How to Fix It: B2C recommends looking beyond questions and complaints and taking advantage of other opportunities to engage, such as celebrating milestones, offering resources based on usage and responding to missed steps. And while automation is your friend for these types of touchpoints, B2C advises that, “It does not eliminate the need for a more personal and proactive touch. Check in with your clients via phone on a weekly (or at least monthly) basis to ensure they’re on track for success.”
  • Mistake #4 – Ignoring the Data: B2C puts it pretty bluntly: “One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a Customer Success professional is to rely solely on anecdotal evidence. Maybe customer X seemed happy when you last spoke. But how do they really compare to customers Y & Z? The only way to know for sure is to analyze the data you have at hand.”
    • How to Fix It: It is critical to identify KPIs for onboarding and then diligently track them. And these KPIs should be centered around the customer’s adoption and success, specifically addressing what features customers need to use, by when. Once you define your list of important features, B2C suggests, “Integrate these key activities into your onboarding processes and drive healthy behaviors among your new customers. Alternatively, try to determine at what stage in the process people are dropping off and strategize ways to mitigate the drop off. Understanding this type of information can help you improve onboarding and reduce churn.”

Customer Success Around the Web

  • Structuring CS – what works and what doesn’t: Customer Success has come a long way in just a short amount of time. As the landscape of SaaS companies continues to expand, it has become increasingly more difficult to find a SaaS company without some form of a dedicated Customer Success structure in place. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to creating the “perfect” structure for Customer Success, this issue of the SaaS Tattler digs into what works and what doesn’t. A very interesting read, particularly for younger teams that are still forming.
  • Predicting churn without machine learning: Churn or churn rate refers to the number of customers leaving your business and this metric is typically tracked by subscription businesses because it’s cheaper to retain current customers than acquire them. The aim is to predict the point at which the customer decides to leave (before the subscription runs out) so you can try to retain the customer. This post explores a way of predicting churn based on customers’ inactivity profile; without using machine learning algorithms, the model delivers an interpretable prediction of churn that gives a fairly accurate insight into the customers leaving the base. An worthwhile read for any team that is still determine the best factors for their customer health/churn scores.
  • Scaling the revenue engine through customer segmentation: You have a product. It makes the unworkable workable; the unavoidable and urgent easier. On some dimension of personal or corporate need (status, affiliation, safety, ease of use, cost, speed, etc.), your product wins big. Segmentation can only emerge from this: the solid foundation of a compelling product. Without it, you have nothing. Once you’ve nailed basic product/market fit, however, proper segmentation is the lift-off point for all future company growth. This post dives into how smart segmentation sparks scaling and is the key for sustainable revenue growth. And if you’re feeling too lazy to read, you can watch the corresponding lesson video instead!

Word to the Wise

This week’s wisdom comes a recent post about the Customer Success processes of fourteen different SaaS companies. While there is a lot of variation in process specifics between different companies, this post begins by outlining the focuses and responsibilities that all CS teams share before diving into the unique tactics of the highlights teams. The full post is definitely worth a read, but a few ideas really jumped out at us:

Ambition celebrates customers’ successes publicly. “We recognize awesome user performance on Ambition, publicly. Just last week, one of our clients, Fitzmark, notified us of a new user high score on Ambition, breaking 600. We broadcast that new “Ambition Score” record on social media to provide additional public recognition for that user and for Fitzmark.”

Chargify developed a system to catch at-risk customers. “We are starting to identify red flag metrics that should warrant outreach from our customer success team. Some of these flags include accounts that are past due (and not responding to our dunning notifications), accounts that could save money by upgrading (currently paying overages), accounts where activity has dropped off, etc. The goal is to reach out and re-engage with these customers before they churn.”

Signpost prioritizes transparency. “Companies that deliver the most value have nothing to hide from their customers, and in any instance where performance isn’t delivered, they will take that head on and fix the problems instead of hiding it.”


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