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What is customer onboarding? And why is it essential to a great customer experience?
The customer onboarding process describes how someone moves from the start of their journey to become a customer, and beyond. Creating a great customer experience from the outset is essential to retaining that client longer term – and we all know that customer retention is better than new customer acquisition.
Customers want an experience
Consumers have matured. It’s no longer about the best product or lowest price, in today’s modern world, it’s all about the EXPERIENCE.
Customer experience can make the difference between a happy client, and one you risk losing. As an agency, your job is twice as hard; not only do you need to satisfy the needs of your clients, you have to keep your clients’ customers happy too if you’re to retain the business.
Great customer experience boosts retention
Creating an edge is essential for reducing client churn and maximising profitability:
“Acquiring new customers costs 5 to 10 times more than selling to a current customer — and current customers spend 67% more on average than those who are new to your business.”
But it’s no coincidence that most of your revenue comes from existing customers. A client isn’t ‘won’ the moment they’ve signed on the dotted line. A customer is ‘won’ when you satisfy their expectations, gain their loyalty and retain that relationship.
Achieving this is reliant on an engaging, robust customer onboarding process, which sets the tone for your relationship.
It all stems from the onboarding process
Your onboarding process should be designed to ensure your client achieves THEIR desired outcome, not yours. Keeping them happy and fulfilling their needs is what drives retention.
Successful customer onboarding relies on two key milestones:
- The moment a client signs on the dotted line
- The moment a client experiences their first ‘win’
The first point is simple, it’s all about having the best value proposition. But the second point is where it becomes interesting, because the point at which a client experiences their first win with you, is the point where they see the real value potential in your relationship.
And when we talk ‘wins’ it’s not about award trophies or news headlines, it’s about the small stuff that gives your client confidence. It’s about sending through a report when you said you would, replying to an email that day, or doing something out of the ordinary to make them smile.
I once worked with an agency where my account manager sent me random pictures of dinosaurs when he knew I might be feeling stressed.
It was nothing to do with the campaign, it was all about making me feel like he cared about me. And when he hadn’t received a reply from me on a piece of work, he chased me with a simple email that said, “Any dinosaur requirements at the moment?” – there’s no way you can ignore an email like that!
Creating a successful customer onboarding process
The following checklist should be included as part of your customer onboarding process to give it the greatest chance of success:
You obviously want to do a great job for your clients, but your idea of ‘great’ isn’t necessarily their idea of great. The easiest way to know what your client wants is to ask them. Sounds stupid, but it’s so often overlooked.
When I worked in a marketing communications agency, our MD would ask the same question at every client meeting I attended: “What does success look like?” It blew my mind – surely you can’t ask clients to define the success of your campaign? But their answers gave us insight, it told us the minimum level we had to achieve to meet their expectations. And often it was as simple as ‘write an article that positions us as X’ – they weren’t even thinking in terms of web traffic, additional PR opportunities or speaking engagements.
Make your process precise
The last thing you want your onboarding process to be is complicated. If your client feels overwhelmed they’ll start ignoring your emails/calls, and then you’re on the road to dumpsville. When creating your process, make every step as small and simple as possible, and then tick them off your checklist as you go.
There’s no need to demand to see their marketing strategy, branding guidelines or message matrix. Just ask the questions that matter.
Keep it simple (stupid!)
Giving everything a ‘KISS’ is one of the first rules you’re taught as a marketeer. So why don’t we apply it to the way we work? When the client has signed on the dotted line we’re keen to pull every tiny piece of information out of them in order to complete ‘essential’ fields in their CRM system – mailing address, billing address, birthday, inside leg measurement…etc.
Think. Do you actually need all that information? What are you going to do with it today that really matters? What do you actually need to know to get your project off the ground?
Once a client has signed you need to focus your efforts on driving towards that first ‘win’. So forget 20 questions, just send the dinosaur, book the briefing and start delivering what the client wants.
Hold something back
I get it. I’ve worked in an agency where you’re producing great work, you have amazing colleagues and you want your clients to benefit from everything you have to offer. It’s easy to ‘throw-up’ all over your clients, but resist the urge – this isn’t about you.
Onboarding isn’t about sharing everything. It’s about taking the user through the first critical steps to success. Let them discover everything else in their own time.
Working in-house I inherited a great agency. It had been retained to provide PR services, although it was capable of delivering full-service. I mentioned that I was looking to consolidate agencies so I only had one or two to manage, rather than the current 10, but they never pushed their own agenda. In one throw-away sentence my account manager said something like, ‘we can help with all that stuff too’ and left it at that. He planted the seed and walked away. At a time where I had nine other agencies screaming for my attention, throwing proposals at me that I hadn’t ever asked for, it was this humble comment that stood out. In the end I asked his agency to quote for the whole outsourced marketing function, turning his £2k per month retainer into a £20k per month, broader opportunity.
Getting started with customer onboarding
Creating your customer onboarding process is simple – just start writing down all the things you currently do when you win a new client. Include everything, like the dinosaurs, asking what success looks like and the throw away comments. Then share it with your account managers for their input.
Naturally you’ll find that everyone’s currently performing your customer onboarding process in different ways. But in sharing these different ways, you can select the best bits, and start to shape a better process that delivers a consistent onboarding experience to retain more clients.