The 7 best learnings about delivering success through a Customer Onboarding team

Turn back the clock just 4 years. At that time, there were only four of us when I started working at Resultados Digitais, in the Customer Success team. In 2013, the Customer Success Managers were supposed to do everything related to customer services: onboarding projects, support tickets, selling consultancies and managing accounts, which involves solving problems and leading clients to success.

Fast forward to 2015. In September of this year, we decided to divide our CS team into two: Implementation Success, which is focused on the onboarding stage, and Customer Success, focused on the next steps our clients would take using our software RD Station (ongoing stage). In this way, we could give more attention to each stage, potentializing the results collaboratively with our clients.

Just to explain a little more about Resultados Digitais: we’re a company located in Brazil and our mission is to help companies to grow through Digital Marketing using RD Station, our all-in-one platform.

With the restructuring I mentioned before came the opportunity — and also the challenge — of building a new operational division at RD: the Onboarding team, which we lovingly call the Implementation Success Management team — and I decided to accept this challenge.

I started as coordinator of one of the teams and a few months later I took responsibility for all teams by becoming the Director of Customer Services. With this new position the challenge got even bigger: how could we improve even more the results of our newly formed area, scaling our processes and building a successful world-class team? A potentially daunting objective that I started to ponder.

At that point we already knew that our Onboarding Project’s results had been having a huge impact in our software adoption. The onboarding mission is to deliver the First Value, which impacts directly in retention. That means the more we deliver the First Value, the lower will be our churn rate.

Onboarding impact in Renewal

During all this time as the ISM team leader I experienced some good and bad things, much more than I’ll talk about in this article. What I did was choose some points that I consider the most valuable of all my learnings so far — the ones I want to share with you.

There are two key-tools involved in these learnings: processes and people. To keep it to the point, I’ll only talk about processes in this article, focusing on people in my next post. Without both processes and people we couldn’t have done half of all we have done during these years — and they’ll be crucial to what we intend to achieve in the years to come.

Learnings about the Onboarding process to deliver more success to customers

Empower your customers as much as you can

Generally in life, new clients often want to use their new acquisitions immediately after buying them — and that is just great! No matter if it’s a smartphone, an app, clothes or a new software. And we, as a company, have to make use of this curiosity, this “initial spark”, to lead them and deliver success as soon as we can. This impacts directly in satisfaction, engagement and retention.

On average it takes 7 days from the moment of signing up for RD Station to the first online meeting with the Implementation Success Manager (ISM). Although this period is agreed during our sales process, we have already received some complaints from clients, saying that with this delay they would need to wait a long time without learning how to use the software — and some even lost motivation to continue.

Due to this situation, my team and I noticed we should improve the process to engage clients to use RD Station immediately, even without the ISM. We found these two solutions:

  1. Welcome email with the Activation Kit: We started to send an email immediately after the ISMs receive a new client, in which they introduce themselves and send the Activation Kit. This Kit was a series of videos and articles about technical configurations of our software — exactly the first steps they need to take. This way, the client not only receives the first instructions to use whenever and wherever they want, but they also optimize the time they have with the ISM and often discuss advanced topics.
  2. Onboardings 2.0 — Training videos and strategic meetings: We noticed that lots of customers have had good experiences using the Activation Kit to master the configuration steps by themselves. That made us think: what if we use more materials like these to help customers accelerate the software adoption? Back in the middle of 2016, we started testing a new onboarding model, in which we replaced part of the technical instructions script of the ISMs with training videos. We called this new model “Onboarding 2.0”. As we achieved really great results, in 2017 we changed all our onboarding packages to the new versions, which allowed us to reduce the meeting time from 1 hour to 30 minutes — 50% fewer 1–1 interactions without losing quality or satisfaction. On the contrary, the activation and satisfaction rates increased! Here are two key changes:
  • One week before the meeting with the ISM, the clients receive a training video to learn about one specific feature of RD Station. This allows them to watch all videos and perform actions inside the software before the meeting;
  • The ISMs focus only on validations and strategic orientation, leading the conversation towards what really aggregates value to our customers.
Observe that those who watched the videos during the MVP tests achieved the activation criteria above expectation in 3 of 4 weeks

Besides customer autonomy, the new model helped us increase productivity and scale the team better, as we were able to raise the number of accounts per ISM.

Focus on customer, then on process

We are not — neither do we aim to be — a purely technical area. Being Customer First is in our DNA and it’s one of our Culture Code’s values. In the ISM team we want to deliver value during the onboarding project, aggregating technical knowledge and digital marketing best practices that make sense to each client segment, so they can get return on investment from the first months with us.

An implementation services team often tends to be very procedural, but it’s essential to keep in mind the onboarding process isn’t a “recipe” with steps to follow exactly the same way with all customers, instead it’s an unique experience for each of them. Thus, we want to offer a personalized experience, with an understanding, even minimal, of their business and deliver results that match their realities.

First Value vs. Activation

For those who work with project management, it’s known there’s always a clear, determined objective as the result of the project execution. We call it First Value, which means the first result the customer obtains with our software.

But how could we measure First Value? To make it possible, we decided to measure some actions within the software that show us the user is reaching the desired outcome. Let’s see a simple example: if someone wants to learn how to generate leads with RD Station, this person must create at least one Landing Page, promote it and generate a specific number of leads through it. The accomplishment of all actions allows us to tell the customer has achieved the First Value and, hence, the customer’s account is activated. The activation is the most important metric for us because it translates the First Value into software usage.

Note that Activation is our internal metric to measure the team’s result, whilst First Value is the customer’s vision about the onboarding project result. That means Activation is the consequence of delivering success for our clients — and that’s why we must focus on it.

Activation is the consequence of delivering success for our clients

The challenge then is to keep the team with this vision. Our daily workload is heavy, full of aggressive goals, so there is a risk of focusing only on metrics and forgetting to see the process from the customer’s point of view. It can be avoided by frequently reminding the team of its mission via training sessions, team meetings and 1–1s with leaders. That’s our way to keep in mind the reason we are all here, what our role is. In my routine, I have weekly 1–1s with each of the coordinators, and they, in turn, have 1–1s with each member of their teams.

Analyze all your process — and beyond

It’s not enough to only track the key metrics. You need to understand the secondary metrics that influence the onboarding progress, as well as gaps in the process. This is extremely important: you must stop and take some time to collect and cross check data to truly understand what is behind your process in order to improve it. I have personally learned a lot by doing this, as in the examples below:

1) The Productivity Metric: How to measure the Time to First Value

Nowadays, this metric is used as a leading indicator of our operation, as there’s a direct connection between the time to finish an onboarding project and the Activation rate. It’s called the “Productivity Metric” because it measures the time an ISM takes to complete the project with the client.

We divided the possible execution time of a project into three periods:

  • Ideal: When the project finishes on-time, with no delay (normally 42 days)
  • Medium: When the project finishes within 60 days
  • Maximum: When the project finishes within 90 days

Measuring this metric helps us manage better the team, because it makes us able to:

  • Avoid overloading our team, as the faster an ISM delivers First Value, the fewer projects they will need to handle at the same time
  • Understand which ISM has more difficulty managing projects (cancelation, technical problems, etc.) and act on it
  • Better foresee the Activation rate. If we start a month with more than 45% of the projects already finished, our chance to achieve the Activation goal is much bigger.

2) Improving how to measure the team’s capacity

When we founded the ISM team, we calculated how many onboarding projects an ISM can manage at the same time. We did this considering as variables:

  • Time spent with client meetings (1 hour a week)
  • Time for other activities related to customer services, such as emails and technical support

We initially estimated an ISM would need one more hour a week for these activities, so for a 1-month onboarding project, the time spent would be 4 hours of meetings plus 4 hours of customer services.

During the “Onboarding 2.0” project last year, we meticulously measured the ISM routine. As a result, we found out a new variable: time spent with extra meetings. We were also able to measure better the time spent with emails in order to have more realistic information. With all this data we created the following formula:

Using this formula during the Onboarding 2.0 MVP tests, we found out the average time spent with additional activities wasn’t the same as the meetings, but only 75% of it. We also realized part of the team was overloaded due to extra meetings that weren’t being taken into account. It’s important to say we don’t consider extra meetings ideal; however, its measurement is necessary to understand how many team members are dealing with them and how long these meetings take, so we can work to decrease them appropriately.

As a result, it was possible to calculate with much more precision the project capacity, and along with the videos of the new onboarding model, we were able to reduce the time per project by 30%. Also, we have already increased the amount of projects by 15%. A way to scalability.

3) Reasons for Activation Failure

Even though the majority of clients was achieving good results, a small part of our base wasn’t getting there, thus we decided to analyze this group deeper. Recently we mapped the main reasons why some projects didn’t achieve the First Value, and the result of the last three months are shown in the chart below:

Some things came out: we thought the main reasons for inactivation would be related to external problems such as customer profile or even sales misalignments, but the data revealed most of the cases were related to the onboarding devaluation: lack of time, low priority and even client no shows represent together 58% of the reasons for inactivation. In sum, that meant we had an internal problem.

Going back to discuss it with the team, we noticed one of the reasons for this internal problem was that some ISMs weren’t able to show the benefits of the onboarding project in order to engage the client with the activities. Undoubtedly, it was time to start a series of training and monitoring sessions, which have already improved our results.

Not all customers will fit into your implementation project

At RD we have 6 implementation projects, based on our Digital Marketing Success Map, a deep study that shows what success means to our customers. Structuring our onboarding projects based on the Success Map was a way to guarantee that the First Value really makes sense, as it is aligned with the results customers expect from the first steps.

Scalable for almost everyone

We deliver success to the majority of customers. However, there are some situations in which the project scope doesn’t work due to a variety of reasons, such as:

  1. The customer doesn’t know what they want to achieve in the first few months
  2. The company has a specific demand that is not included in any project

Regarding the first possibility, in Brazil, Digital Marketing is still something new to a large percentage of the market, so not every customer that buys our software knowing exactly what they want to reach as a result. It’s a risk, but I’d rather see it as a big opportunity, in which the ISM has a fundamental role in orienting and educating new companies about Digital Marketing best practices through our methodology — tested with more than 8000 clients. That means, for this group of clients, we must show what we consider, as experts, to be the best way to success using Digital Marketing.

When it comes to companies having specific demands, as we’re interested in delivering success to everyone, especially big companies with complex demands, we’re studying a way to deliver success through customized onboardings. But rolling out this service will depend on:

  • Having enough demand to invest in it
  • ROI — especially related to Activation and Retention of clients
  • Knowing how to measure success in customized services

As it is still at the study stage, I don’t have much to share, but as soon as I have interesting outputs, I will write about it in a future post.

I hope my learnings contributed to you having an overview of the experiences in our onboarding team and have helped you think about continuous improvements for your customers, the same way they have helped me.

Finally, I want to say nothing would be possible without my team, especially the coordinators: Manuela, Alexandre, Bruno, Ana Carolina and Débora. Without these amazing, dedicated team we couldn’t have reached all these results. Thank you all.