What is customer onboarding?

Customer onboarding is the process of actively nurturing and guiding new customers with the purpose of acclimating them to your products and services.

Modern customers are no longer content to just buy products; they want to take a more active role in their own customer journeys accompanied by a knowledgeable and supportive partner (i.e., you). The relationship you develop with your buyers has the potential to define the success of your business. But successful buyer/seller relationships don’t simply happen—they take dedication and intentional action on the part of your organization. And they begin with the first contact you have with your prospective client.

Customer onboarding (also called client onboarding) makes this relationship a priority. By helping new customers become familiar and comfortable interacting with your business, you lay a foundation for ongoing engagement.

Not every new customer becomes a life-long enthusiast. Some drop away quickly to explore other options. And often, the reason behind this new-customer churn is that the buyer never feels any interest in exploring your business beyond that initial purchase.

Effective customer onboarding helps mitigate this kind of situation, establishing a proven path towards customer loyalty. Simply put, customer onboarding exists to help clients recognize that the service or product being provided is something valuable and that your business is worth interacting with. In so doing, it provides organizations with the following benefits:

Reduced churn

Customers who are fully familiar with your business, products, and services, and who know that they can rely on you for ongoing guidance and support through the initial stages of the customer journey, are less likely to become frustrated or lose interest. They learn to value what you have to offer, preventing them from wanting to explore competitors’ options.

Increased customer lifetime value

When customers make a purchase and then fall away, they bring only limited value to the business. And when businesses invest substantial amounts of money in customer acquisition only to have their key prospects taper off, that value takes an even greater hit. Customer onboarding helps ensure that those customers you work so hard to acquire are interested enough to return, increasing their customer lifetime value in the process.

Accurate expectations

When customers don’t know what to expect, it makes them uncomfortable. Effective customer onboarding allows you to responsibly manage customer expectations, such as what levels of customer service and support to anticipate, the capabilities and limitations of the product, what kind of timelines they expect, and more. Having the right expectations in place helps eliminate customer disappointment.

Improved referral rates

Just as today's customers are more invested in their own journey, they are also more vocal about the customer experience. This can be a major boon to your business. With an effective customer onboarding process in place, not only will your customers return again and again, but they will also bring their friends and associates with them. Customer onboarding supports and improves customer referrals, so that the positive experiences you promote can become effective marketing tools.

Improved revenue

All the advantages listed above feed into this one, all-encompassing benefit: revenue. Customer onboarding lowers the cost of customer acquisition, increases customer retention, and turns otherwise disengaged buyers into true brand advocates. Taken all together, these points add up to the potential to significantly improve revenue for your business.

Every business is unique, and the same can be said for every customer. As such, every company will need to develop an approach to customer onboarding that meets their needs and the needs of their buyers. But even with this provision in mind, most customer onboarding processes follow a similar structure:

Initial contact

The very first touchpoint with your customer is where the onboarding process begins. If this includes signing up or otherwise sharing personal data and other details, you will want your customer form to be as simple and intuitive as possible. The easier this first step is for your customers, the more likely that they will want to continue moving forward. Consider adding social sign-up options so that customers can share their info at the click of a button.

Welcome

Once the customer has shared their information, the ball is in your court to reach out to them and set them on the next stage of their journey. A welcome email is often the preferred method, allowing you to set communication expectations, express your thanks, and provide links to valuable customer resources. Don’t overdo it, however. If your initial communication is too heavy your customers might feel overwhelmed.

Product setup/tutorial

Being comfortable with a product means knowing how to use it effectively. A guided tutorial that takes your customers through every step of the setup process can have a major positive impact on their overall experience and ensure that no customers are lost from not understanding how to use the product. On the other hand, it’s just as important to make this step optional; customers who are already familiar or who are not interested in a tutorial should be allowed to skip it.

Educational resources

As part of onboarding, make sure that your customers have easy and direct access to any educational resources they may need to get the most out of their experience. Documentation, guides, insights, and an interactive knowledge base can empower customers with the opportunity to resolve their own issues quickly without having to create a customer support ticket.

Feature callouts

Many of your customers may be using your products or services without fully understanding all their capabilities. Where appropriate, use non-intrusive banners and other elements to call out product features, so customers understand the full extent of what they can do.

Walkthrough

Tutorials aren’t only valuable during the setup process. Often, the best way to learn a new product is by using it, and guided walkthroughs can give your customers this vital experience while also holding their hand to help keep them on track. As users complete various tasks, the guided walkthrough will give them helpful insights and possible next steps.

Follow up

Effective customer onboarding is only possible through effective communication. Keep communication alive by following up with customers after they have finalized their purchases. Follow-up communications and regular check-ins not only give your customers a chance to share their experiences and address any issues that they might be running into; it also helps the customer feel valued. Following up shows them that you are committed to their success beyond simply taking their money.

Notifications

If your product includes a mobile app, in-app notifications may be an effective way to create on-going interactions and keep your customers engaged. Tips and updates ensure that your customers are being kept in the loop regarding your products. Non-app based notifications, such as SMS messaging and emails can also be effective. Just always be sure to give your customers the option to opt out.

Celebrations

The key to customer onboarding is getting your customers excited about working with your business. Celebrate key milestones through in-app notifications or congratulatory emails, and let your customers know that you are fully invested in (and enthusiastic about) their success.

At the heart of customer onboarding is enthusiasm—yours and your customers. But it takes more than excitement to guide your buyers towards brand advocacy. To optimize the customer onboarding process, consider the following best practices:

Know your customers

The better you understand your customers, the easier customer onboarding will be. Create and apply detailed buyer personas and employ customer analytics, so that you never have to guess at what challenges they are facing or what success looks like for them.

Communicate constantly

The only limit to your customer communications should be your customers’ preferences. As long as your buyers are open to communicating and interaction with your brand, continue to reach out through email, SMS, in-app notifications, and telephone calls to keep your customers engaged throughout their journey.

Demonstrate value

The biggest factor in terms of promoting customer enthusiasm is value. At every turn, emphasize what your product or service can do for the customer supported by clear and relevant examples. Do not use blanket statements; employ real-world data and specific case studies so that your customers can personalize that value to their situation.

Don’t overdo it

It can be easy to want to share as much information as possible with new customers and rely on them to pick and choose what they need. But too much all at once can be overwhelming, and when faced with a deluge of tasks and prompts, many users will simply leave. Share your information in small pieces and only request or suggest a single action at a time so that every customer has the option to move at a pace they are comfortable with.

Track appropriate metrics

Your customers’ success is your success, and tracking that success means employing the right metrics. There are many metrics you can use to chart customer-centric goals, including:

  • Retention rate
  • Customer churn
  • Conversion rate
  • Feature adoption rate
  • Time to value
  • Customer lifetime value
  • Engagement rate
  • Number of onboarding support requests

These and other metrics will help you evaluate your onboarding processes, determine whether your customers are receiving the correct guidance and support at each stage, and identify any areas where your customer onboarding may need to be improved.

Graphic showing the best practices for customer onboarding.

When left to their own devices, new customers can easily fall away. Taking a more active and customer-centric role in onboarding ensures that the buyers you depend on are satisfied and fully comfortable in using your product or service, and that they have everything they need to achieve their personal goals. But effective customer onboarding can be a complex process. To optimize your onboarding and turn one-time buyers into brand advocates, trust ServiceNow

ServiceNow Customer Service Management and related solutions apply the power and connectivity of the award-winning Now Platform® to automate requests, connect teams, expand on self-service options, and identify and resolve issues before they can turn into problems. ServiceNow onboarding workflows apply advanced automation solutions to connect customers and representatives, create tasks, collect forms and documentation, gather data, set up accounts, and more.

Streamline the onboarding process and give customers the easy, personalized interactions they crave. Learn more about customer workflows, and help your new customers find success with your business.

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