We are all living and working in an increasingly competitive market – regardless of the vertical your business is in.
Thanks to technology making everyone better connected, your competition can now be any business in the world, not just other companies in your town.
Because of this, the deciding factor in the company or product a client chooses is increasingly the customer experience rather than traditional factors like price points.
What that means is that if you’re in a service based industry, the initial weeks of a client’s experience is vital as to whether you will retain them as a customer long term.
Simply offering the best price will no longer cut it.
To make sure that your customers get the best possible experience in the early days of using your product or service, you need to make sure you have an effective onboarding process in place that leverages the wide range of communications channels available to you.
Here’s how you do it.
1. What is customer onboarding?
First off let’s decide what customer onboarding actually is.
Onboarding goes hand in hand with another more recent trend in customer service called customer success management.
It’s helpful to think of onboarding in relation to customer success management as the term “customer success management” is a pretty good literal description of what onboarding is.
During the onboarding process, you want to make sure that your customer has the most success possible using your product, in the shortest amount of time, and in a way that makes the product straight forward and easy to use.
Today, you have more ways than ever to do this, which is great because it means onboarding is becoming increasingly effective.
However, it can present a challenge when it comes to choosing what channels and media to use when onboarding your clients.
2. How does onboarding benefit your business (retention and customer success management)
But you might be thinking “why does onboarding even matter?”.
After all, by the time customers need onboarding they’ve already bought your service, so why should you invest more money in them?
It comes down to this.
Successfully onboarding customers will help you maximise the revenue you can generate from that customer.
If you successfully onboard a customer, not only will you be more likely to retain that customer (as they will know the product works) but that customer will see you as an authority in your field.
By onboarding them, you prove to them that you know what you’re doing, because you prove to them that your product effectively meets their needs.
Once this relationship of trust is established, you can upsell that customer onto a larger package, or cross sell to that customer and encourage them to use your other products.
That is why onboarding is a worthwhile investment for your business.
3. What was onboarding traditionally? (and why it no longer works)
Traditionally (let’s say 20 years ago) onboarding wasn’t much more than a big and boring instruction manual, and maybe a follow up call from the salesman to see if you were happy.
In bigger industries with a high value product you might have got an account manager who would come and visit you and make sure things were ok.
And, given you were limited to phone calls, fax, and meetings that’s about the best you could do.
However, today that style of onboarding simply isn’t good enough.
The modern customer is used to a highly connected 24 hour working environment in which they can get the all information they need at any time, wherever they are.
What’s more, in the last 2 or 3 years with the advent of social media, live chat, and better marketing automation, it’s even pretty outdated to expect customers to go onto google and find out how to use your product for themselves.
Today the preferred customer experience is to have all the information they need made readily available to them across multiple channels – in various formats – so they can choose the journey that’s best for them.
But what does that mean in real terms?
What that means is you might have one client who is younger, tech savvy, and wants to learn about your product via a series of YouTube tutorials, that live conveniently on your Facebook page.
Someone else might be a highly visual twitter addict and love it when you post helpful infographics about sneaky hacks and hidden features in your software.
And then of course, you will get the old-school people who wince at the idea of anything digital, and simply want to have a sit down, a firm handshake and for you to talk them through how to use your service face to face.
To maximise the success of your onboarding strategy, you need to bring in as many different channels of communication, and as many different media as possible, so your clients can get the information they need in a format they’re familiar with.
4. Finding the right balance between active and reactive communication
One of the biggest challenges when bringing multiple communications channels into your onboarding strategy is balancing active and reactive communication.
Active communication is when you reach out to your new clients with information. This can be things like sending them emails, or creating guidebooks and tutorials.
Reactive communication is basically being there to answer their questions when they need you whether that’s over the phone, email, social media, live chat, or any other option you choose.
Both of these things are important, but serve different purposes.
The goal of your active onboarding strategy should be to make content that best explains your product and services.
This content needs to range from completely thorough and in depth pieces like manuals, ebooks, and case studies, to lightweight pieces like top tips videos and infographics that your customers can dip in and out of.
By having this mix, your customers have the meaty literature they can sit and read through when they first get the product, and they have the quick tips for little hiccups.
After all, if you just want to know how to change the colour on a background you don’t want to root through a 60 page manual – you just want to get shown how to do it.
In an ideal world, your active onboarding strategy would be so strong no one would ever need to contact you. However in reality this is never going to happen.
Even if you cover every single aspect of your product in your literature there will always be someone who wants to get in touch and talk to a real person.
This is where the reactive onboarding communication comes in.
There’s the obvious things like having a help line and an email address people can send messages to, but today you need other channels like social media and live chat customer support.
The more channels you have available, the more likely you are to catch a customer when they’re having a problem with the product, and the more able you are to assure their success using your product.
5. Video is an important onboarding tool (so start using it)
Today, one of the most important tools for any onboarding campaign is video.
It’s incredibly effective for a number of reasons.
The first is that today people are simply more comfortable watching a video than reading a lot of content.
We all have a screen in our pocket, so it’s just as easy to access videos as it is written literature, but it’s a much more enjoyable medium to consume.
The second benefit is that with video you can show the product in action.
Video is much better and easier to follow than pictures in a manual. If you can watch a video of someone using a product you can see exactly how it works without having to interpret still images.
Finally, with video you can incorporate animation. Animation is an incredibly effective tool for explaining how something works.
If for example you were selling a complicated bit of machinery, animation could show simplified cross sections that make it easy to understand how the product works (which is helpful when you’re explaining a common problem).
If you offer business process outsourcing, animation can provide a really helpful graphic display of how the process is going to work.
It could make the difference between someone understanding the service and buying from you, and simply finding it too complicated and bouncing from your site.
If you want to successfully onboard customers video should be top of the list when it comes to creating content.
6. How to use social media and live chat as part of your reactive communication when onboarding clients.
Two frequently under-utilised tools when it comes to customer onboarding are social media and live chat.
Both of these channels can be incredibly effective touch points for customers who have a quick question about the service that your reps can easily answer.
However – there is one thing that both of these tools are heavily reliant on – keeping them manned at all times!
The only thing worse for a customer than not being able to get in touch with you is them messaging you and you not responding.
If you can answer customer enquiries quickly, you can rapidly ensure their success using your product.
If you don’t reply for a number of hours (or worse – at all!) you have simply rubbed salt into the wound of their bad customer experience.
So what’s the difference between live chat and social media?
Both live chat and social media are similar in that they’re relatively informal, and use a messenger format to answer quick questions, however there are some differences.
The benefits of social media
One of the benefits (or problems depending how you use it) with social media is that it’s a public forum.
This is good for customer onboarding as it means your answers to customer questions are shared publicly, and that those answers could then be beneficial to other customers further down the line.
In a way, this can make your Facebook wall a bit like an FAQ page that’s written by your customers – and who’s better to write your FAQ’s than them.
Remember, customers spend 20-40% more with companies who engage on social media and respond to customers, so it should be an important part of both your onboarding and your general customer service strategy.
The benefits of live chat
Live chat is different in that it isn’t as public, however it can be better optimised for the user journey.
When Live chat first became used by businesses it would simply sit in the bottom corner of the screen for customers to use if they had a question.
This is a very reactive form of live chat, and while it’s better than nothing it isn’t the optimal way to use it for customer onboarding.
Today, you can get live chat software that will actively pop open based on triggers of customer behaviour on your site.
So how does this work in practice?
Well if someone’s been looking at your FAQ page for over a minute it might be the case they’re not finding the answer they’re looking for.
Why not pop open a live chat window and ask them if you can help?
Perhaps someone’s been reading a blog you wrote about a particular feature of your product for over five minutes.
Why not pop a live chat window and tell them about a video you have on that very same subject?
Reactive live chat software lets you talk to customers based on their behaviour, before they’ve even felt the need to ask you a question.
This is extremely effective for onboarding as some people might not be that vocal with their issues.
They might look for an answer to their problem on your website and, if it’s not there, simply stop using your product.
Reactive live chat can help stop this from happening which makes it an important tool for customer onboarding.
Live chat has been shown to have a 73% customer satisfaction rate, so it’s definitely worth implementing on to your site for customer onboarding.
By broadening the channels and media you use for your customer onboarding, you give your customers many more options when it comes to learning how to use your products.
The more channels you can offer your customers, the more likely they are to find one that works for them.
If you can do this effectively, you will find your customers have more successes when using your products and services, and that they are more likely to keep using your products which is the ultimate goal for any good business.