Customer Success: The Importance of User or Customer Onboarding

Customer Success is not limited to one part of the customer lifecycle, and Customer Success Management is not limited to simply helping the customer get up and running at first or to save them from churning later.

Rather, when a company has Customer Success as their operating model, they see every aspect of the customer lifecycle and every milestone of the customer journey as just as important as the rest.

That said, it is totally possible to plant the seeds of churn early, and that’s where an understanding of the process – and value behind – customer and user onboarding are so critical.

Let’s dig in…

The Difference between Customer and User Onboarding

I’m often asked what onboarding means, how user and customer onboarding differ (if at all), and what results a company can expect if they get this process right.

Those are good questions that need to start by defining the different aspects of onboarding.

First, I like to separate customer onboarding from user onboarding.

Customer onboarding may include things that are outside the scope of individual users. This may have to do with getting the company set up in the accounting system and going through that entire process, but then, within a company, there’s going to be users.

There are human beings who are actually going to be consuming your service or interacting with your product. Thus, you need to figure out a way to ensure that those customers and those individual users achieve some value as quickly as possible.

Let’s talk about onboarding in general. What does it even mean?

Onboarding as a Goal

We talk about onboarding as if it’s a phase – as if it’s a process that has an endpoint. But a huge question that people have is: What is that endpoint? When should I consider a customer “onboard”?

Some people will say, “Well, a customer or user that’s been with us or been in the system for 30 days will be considered on board.” To this, I say, “That doesn’t make any sense at all.” That has nothing to do with whether or not they’re getting value. It has nothing to do with their success. It simply has to do with an arbitrary timeframe that you decided on.

It’s not about time in the system; it’s about something else. You have to figure out what that “something else” is.

Onboarded as a Success Milestone

The way that I define onboarded is this: The user or the customer, depending on what you’re measuring, is either getting value from their use of the product or the consumption of your service, or, for the first time outside of sales and marketing, they see the value potential in their relationship with you.

What this means is that you have to identify the point where they first get value – where they first start to achieve their goals. This is the time they first start achieving the things that are going to make sure that they’re on the road to their Desired Outcome.

Onboarding for Complex Products or Services

This is especially true if it’s a more complex product or if it’s going to take more time. Even if they start using your product, it’s going to take time before they really get value. There’s a point in which they’re going to start to see the real value potential in their relationship with you.

This is maybe when they’re going through and they feel that they haven’t really gotten value, but they’re like, “Oh, I get it! This is cool.”

At this point, your customers say, “They told me about this in the sale process. I read this in the marketing collateral, but for the first time, I see the real value potential here. It’s going to be several months before I’d get real value because of the complexities, but I get it.”

You should figure that point when they’re getting value, they see the value potential.

Once they hit that mark, we can say they’re on board.

Engineering the Onboarding Process

The onboarding process is meant to get them to that point. You figure out where they need to get to, and you reverse engineer the process to get there.

What are the things that they have to do in order to get value or in order to get to a point where they see the value potential? What are the things they need to do with your product?

What are the things they need to do outside of the product in their world? You figure out what that is. You build the process to get them there.

That’s it – that’s onboarding.

That’s so simple to say, but actually making it happen is a whole different story.

The Seeds of Churn are Planted Early

I always say that the seeds of churn are planted early. What I mean by that is very often, customers that churn out or that don’t renew – whether they actively cancel or they just simply choose to not renew a contract – will often cite things that happen very early in the lifecycle. With this, I am referring to 80% to 90% of customers.

In other words, the reasons for churn arise during the onboarding process, which means customers never really get up and running.

They never really start to get value.

They never get to the point where they see the real value potential in this thing, and from the very beginning, they have one foot out the door.

The problem here is that this usually happens almost every single time; it’s the vendor’s fault.

If you’re the vendor in this case, if you’re having onboarding issues, it’s your fault. You basically told the customer from the very beginning of the relationship that you don’t care about them. You don’t care if they’re successful. Then you say, “What do you mean by that?”

Hope and Chance vs. a Designed Process

Well, if you haven’t designed a process to get them up and running – to get them onboard – then you just dump a product on customers and hope that they figure it out. You let them fend for themselves rather than designing a process to get them to that point where they’re onboard.

If you don’t do that, you’re basically telling them, “We don’t really care if you’re successful; we have your money. We have the contract. We’re good to go. Leave us alone. Do your thing.” I mean, if you’re honest, that could basically be what you’re doing.

Whether that’s your intention or not, that’s the reality.

Maintain Pre-sales Excitement after the Close

What you need to do is design that process, such that as soon the customer signs-up, and as soon as you are done with the sales process, you have this excitement.

Even in a B2B world, there’s excitement, and there’s energy – there’s something positive there. Carry that through.

When the sale is done, that’s just the beginning. But a lot of companies, even today, still think that when the sale is done, then they’re done.

In fact, that’s actually the beginning of the relationship. You can’t drop the ball right after you close the sale. You have to continue with it. You have to carry it through.

You have to keep that excitement going, and get them to the point where they’re on board, such that they’re getting value, or they see the real value potential.

Plant the Seeds of Massive Success

If you would just to do that, those seeds of churn wouldn’t be planted early. Instead, you would be planting seeds of massive success.

You would be setting your customers up to stay longer, buy more, and advocate for you. You want those three things.

I’ve never run into any company that didn’t want those three things from their customers, but I often run into companies that aren’t doing anything to ensure that they get those things.

That’s what’s really confusing.

Results of Proper Onboarding

What can you expect? Well, your churn is going to go down.

You’re going to keep your customer longer.

You’re going to set them up for success so that you can then sell more to them through upsell, cross sell, and the land-and-expand model.

You can expect them to advocate for you.

Of course, getting them to stay longer, getting them to buy more, and getting them to advocate for you don’t just happen magically. You have to do other things to make sure that these things happen by setting your customers up for success.

You set them up in a way that those things can happen if you operationalize appropriately.

What you can expect is a bigger, more valuable business for you, which is kind of important.

Kind of.

Just a little.

About Lincoln Murphy

I am a world-renowned Growth Architect, Consultant, Author, and Keynote Speaker and have helped drive exponential growth across the entire customer lifecycle for more than 1000 companies worldwide I wrote the Customer Success book which you can buy at Amazon. If you need help growing your company or would like me to speak at your event, please contact me. Also, connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.