Producing a TV show in front of a live audience has its challenges, among them booking high-quality guests, writing consistently funny material, and managing the production logistics. Studios are usually customized based on the needs of each show, to ensure the show runs as smoothly as possible.
Now imagine that you take your normal operation on the road, as Conan O’Brien does a couple times of year. How do you create a mobile version of the show’s studio that will keep the show run smoothly on the road? That’s where Nextiva comes in. It’s a voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) company that focuses on cloud-based communication solutions. Put another way, it ensures that internal and external communication are seamless when the show has been uprooted from its studio.
Nextiva earns accolades for customer service. There’s no secret to how they onboard customers. Yaniv Masjedi, CMO of Nextiva, said it very straightforwardly: “If we can provide a simple and effortless experience, we're going to win.”
Nextiva has a team dedicated to onboarding. The team knows that the first hundred days are the key to long-term customer retention, but it’s the first couple days that make the biggest difference.
Success requires more than a great onboarding team; it also requires having the logistics and operations in place. “Do what you say you're going to do,” advised Masjedi. I wish more B2B companies approached their customer experience as Nextiva does—with no complex strategy, just great customer service and the right systems in place.
It's common for companies to put significant energy into the sales process, but most companies don’t expend a lot of effort on onboarding. After a big sale, many sales and marketing teams relax and shift their focus to finding new customers. Great companies know not to do this.
The way new customers are brought on board constitutes an essential part of the customer experience. Ensuring a good experience isn’t just the right thing for a company to do; it has an impact on the company’s bottom line. According to a research from the Temkin Group, a “modest improvement” in customer experience could have a big impact on a company. The group found that, on average, a $1 billion company “can gain $775 million over three years.” Consider that for a second: by providing a great customer experience, your company could generate an additional $400 million to $800 million in revenue for every $1 billion in revenue. Do I have your attention?
The company Regalix recently reported that customer satisfaction is the number-one benefit that organizations gain from well-done customer onboarding. It’s not easy, however. According to a report by consulting firm North Highland, the most common “failure points” during onboarding are the misalignment of functional areas, lack of communication, lack of understanding of customer needs, technical/system issues, lack of information/data, and a lack of resources.
In this post, I outline the steps you and your team should take to solve the business problem of how to give new customers a great onboarding experience and what you can do to overcome common challenges. Anyone following these steps needs to bear in mind a few guiding principles.
First, set the right tone early in the relationship. Naturally, the first couple of touch points are the most important ones. Customer relationships can be complex, especially when the number of people on the customer team is in the double digits. That’s why there must be someone in the company being brought on board who is the clear owner of the relationship as well as a relationship lead in your company. These two relationship owners need to work together to create an effective onboarding road map, which lays out the activities required to give onboarding customers a great experience. Make sure the experience uses technology, but don’t rely only on technology. Don't underestimate the importance of high-touch experiences; make sure the road map combines in-person meetings and personal outreach. If it doesn’t, the relationship will suffer.
Cater to different learning styles; don't develop a one-size-fits-all program that works for only certain customers. Some people may want self-directed learning, while others prefer a classroom environment. Be flexible. Even if your company has a specific onboarding approach in place, confer with the customer in advance. Share the plan and ask whether any modifications would help increase the engagement of the customer’s team.
In addition, make sure there’s continuity between the sales and account teams. Nothing is more frustrating to a customer whose expectations aren’t being met than a salesperson who vanishes after a deal is closed. The salesperson doesn't have to create or manage the onboarding experience, but he or she needs to be present at key meetings. And the salesperson should follow up with the customer to make sure the expectations set during the sales process are now being met.
The following steps to creating a great onboarding experience apply to B2B companies with dedicated account teams. According to the Regalix research, it takes organizations an average of three to eight weeks to bring a new customer on board.
Step 1. Determine your onboarding approach based on relationship value.
It's good to take different approaches to onboarding based on the value of each customer. As a rule of thumb, for more important customers, bring in more senior members of your company and conduct a greater number of in-person meetings. If a customer lacks revenue or long-term growth potential, a scaled-back version of this approach is OK. Once the overall approach to a particular company has been determined, identify the team members in each company who will be involved. This is also the point at which one relationship lead from each company must be identified.
Step 2. Introduce the partnership.
Communicate to all involved that a clear onboarding plan is in place, as is a dedicated person in your company to lead it. Following up the announcement with a solid plan goes a long way with the customer. In addition to sending out an announcement email, your company’s relationship lead should personally reach out via a phone call to each of the customer team members. This small gesture can also go a long way.
Step 3. Set up an official kickoff meeting.
This is your chance to orient your customer to your company. Who are the individuals on your company’s team who will interact with the customer’s team? What tools do they use? What is your company culture? Communicating this information upfront shows that your company has a certain way of doing business. It's not to say that you can't be flexible, but you definitely want to communicate that your company is really good at what it does and has a proven way of doing it.
Step 4. Share the onboarding map.
Make the different phases of onboarding and how long they take very clear to the customer.
Also consider making a big deal out of everyone on the customer team completing the onboarding process. Try to think of a fun way to recognize the accomplishment. Some companies hand out printed certificates; others throw happy hours or give away company swag. It doesn't matter how you celebrate; it's just important to acknowledge it. This recognition step is important because it gives the customer team members a clear moment to raise their hands and ask questions or express concerns.
Step 5. Set up rules of engagement.
What does your team do if something in the customer relationship isn’t working? Who should be called if there’s a personality conflict with the customer team? What expectations do the service-level agreements set? That’s where the rules of engagement come into play.
Early in the relationship, your team lead should discuss with the customer’s team lead how various potential scenarios would be handled. Having this clarity upfront is really important, so that everyone knows how to notice signs of something gone awry and when and how to escalate issues when necessary. The value of a relationship lead on both sides is that he or she becomes the clear point of escalation if something isn't working.
Step 6. Monitor relationship health.
What happens once the onboarding process is over? This is where it can get trickier. You may think everything is going well, but behind the scenes an issue or two may be lurking and building up—which is why your company’s commitment to monitoring the health of the relationship is important.
On a regular basis, combine inbound and outbound tactics to gauge customer satisfaction with your company. I recommend starting with a one-on-one conversation, either in person or via a phone call. Ask the customer how things have been going and what can be improved. A more formal way to do this is through surveys. Consider surveying all your customers one or two times a year.
There are always ways to improve customer experience. The act of asking customers simple questions via a survey goes a long way. Be sure to make the questions open-ended, so that you receive from customers is more than numerical ratings or yes-and-no responses. Make them really think about the relationship between your company and theirs. Ask them what's been challenging about the relationship and what can be done to improve it. You might be pleasantly surprised at the quality of the insights you can glean from customer surveys.
Step 7. Make training and education ongoing.
After the onboarding is over, create and explain to your team and the customer team a plan for ongoing customer training and education, required as things at your company change over time. For example, it may add a new product or service to its offerings, the workflow may change, or there may be turnover of employees on either team. At a minimum, have an annual meeting of both full teams to keep everyone up to date.
Moreover, your company’s customer-relationship team should hold similar meetings. Sometimes quarterly meetings of everyone on a relationship team are a good way to come together, share notes, review recent changes, and discuss how the relationship is going. With this information, the relationship lead can then take appropriate action if necessary.
One company that is great at discussing ongoing product news and information is monday.com, which provides to its customers a cloud-based project-management and collaboration tool. Usually once or twice a month, the company reaches out to teach its customers about new product enhancements, via live webinars or on-demand courses that customers can access any time. Monday.com also provides its customers with examples of how other companies have been using its software, via real uses cases that help their customers get more value out of the tool.
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