5 Simple Rules to Improve Onboarding.

Lauren Walsh, Head of Marketing

Does this sound familiar?

Your company invests heavily in building awareness of a new digital product. The product has a compelling brand, and a campaign that’s been generating an impressive number of quality leads. The sales team has been converting at a higher-than-average rate, and the number of new, signed customers is exceeding forecasts.

Flash forward to 18 months later: while initial sign-ups were great, the number of people actually using the platform is below expectations, and revenue is disappointing. A series of promotional emails to spur activity falls flat.

We’ve spoken with a lot of companies who have this issue. When one of our large clients launched a digital foreign exchange platform, everyone was excited. They were generating a lot of leads and had an easy-to-use platform that tested well. But there was a weak link in the chain: their onboarding process for new users was messy and frustrating.

Problematic onboarding experiences aren’t unusual. But for this particular company, a bad experience had a serious negative revenue impact. They found if clients didn’t transact in the first 6 months, they never would.

When we mapped the onboarding experience from the customer perspective, we surfaced some systemic issues:

  • A piecemeal experience, with customer touchpoints spread across siloed teams with no clear best practices for when, why, and how to transition
  • Communications that were simultaneously overwhelming with information about features and functions, but under-informing about key pieces of the process
  • A disconnect between the benefits being promoted and the triggers for customers needing to transact
  • An overall lackluster experience that didn’t live up to the company’s reputation for superb world-class service

Based on our findings, we created 5 principles to guide their new onboarding experience:

1. Better transparency & expectation-setting — one of the biggest insights from our research was that customers wanted a much clearer idea of when things would happen, how long they would take, and what information was necessary to facilitate the process.

2. Greater consistency across different touchpoints — Our client’s customers were receiving emails from the company’s central marketing group, their relationship manager, and auto-generated emails triggered by the platform itself. Each one had a different header, different language tones, and different calls-to-action and contact information. This may seem small, but in foreign exchange, where there is a lot of uncertainty around where money is going, it made customers question the reliability of and investment in the platform.

3. Information delivered in context — our client had developed helpful FAQs and guides, but they were buried as PDFs in a “help” section of the platform. Instead, we recommended they create contextual help throughout the experience; for example, if a customer was unfamiliar with a type of bank account information that was being required for a payment, they could roll over the form field to get immediate guidance. They also split welcome emails into action-based steps based on the customer’s stage in the process.

4. Trigger-based communications, not time-based — initially, our client was sending email reminders at 30, 60, and 90 days if customers hadn’t finished sign-up. We recommended they shift to a trigger-based reminder process, where emails were initiated based on an action or lack thereof; for example, if they had started to create a payment but never sent it. Additionally, while our client was sending promotional emails rewarding transactions within a specific time frame with more points, customers had very little control over when payments needed to happen.

5. “Wow” at key moments — in onboarding, it’s important to ask two questions. Am I meeting my customer’s basic expectations for an easy experience; and what are the calculated moments I can go above and beyond to make the process not just smooth, but memorable and shareable?

Here’s the biggest question to ask about your onboarding process: do you really know what it’s like? Our client was shocked and appalled when we mapped theirs and revealed that customers were getting, in some cases, 17 emails and 7 phone calls from up to 6 different people. In a large and silo-ed organization, it happens more than you think.

Luckily, this case had a happy ending: our client prioritized a handful of key changes and created an onboarding experience that reduced customer service email and call volume by more than 50%, and allowed their sales teams to re-focus on growing accounts instead of salvaging them.

If you think your company has an onboarding problem, feel free to reach out.


Originally published at sullivannyc.com.