Customer Onboarding: the beginning of a lasting relationship

Customer Onboarding: the beginning of a lasting relationship

My wife downloaded a beauty products App a few days back and immediately thereafter, there was a barrage of push notifications (to the extent of 6-7 pushes per day) and SMSs on her mobile. And there were just 2-3 messages being repeated ad nauseam – about a “soon to be expiring” coupon and the range of products they have. This out pour of messages continued non-stop for 3-4 days, which is when my wife decided to uninstall the App out of sheer irritation.

This incident reminded me of the old adage we learnt at school – “first impression is the last impression” and how relevant this is for describing the consumer journey in the first few weeks. The massive investments into creating top of mind brand awareness and the hard work in setting up and ramping up acquisition channels can all be undone by what we make the customer go through in the first few interactions with the brand. So this piece is about certain practices we can adopt for more effective customer onboarding and is as much relevant for offline businesses as it is for online, where shorter attention spans mean even lower tolerance levels.

1. Assign measurable goals for the onboarding journey: the real reason for doing an onboarding program for new customers should not be that your competitors or big brands around you are doing one, but it should be rooted in specific business objectives you are trying to achieve. Many businesses, more so the online ones, face the challenge of a leaky acquisition funnel, where out of the 100 customers acquired on Day 0, a very substantial portion are no longer with the brand on Day 30. For such businesses, they need to pivot all their onboarding actions towards the goal of retaining customers. For subscription based products (which invariably have a certain duration of free trial post which the customer moves to paid membership), it could be % conversion from free trial to paid memberships. Even the duration of this onboarding phase need not be a constant 30 days for all businesses; for instance, in a telecom post paid business, one would want to closely track this journey till when the first bill has been paid by customer – this would mean at least 60 days from the time he activated his connection.

2. Identify those high value actions which will enable you to meet your onboarding goals:   this is something you will have to establish with your data over a period of time –  which high value actions taken by the customer are most likely to lead you towards meeting your onboarding goal? Once we know these high value actions, we can think of ways to steer the customer in that direction. These high value actions would vary across businesses – it could mean XX hours (or tracks/ titles) streamed for a music/ video App, YY orders placed for a shopping App or food delivery App, ZZ number of transactions done on a credit card etc.

3. Design programs to nudge him towards those high value actions: now that we know which high value actions are likely needle movers in achieving the onboarding goals, it’s time to think of those interventions which will expedite the customer journey towards those actions. This can take the form of a structured outbound communication program via available channels (emails, push notifications, in-App messaging, SMSs, telecalls etc). Such programs are most effective if you can set automated campaigns based on certain customer triggers – customer has not yet placed the 1st order till Nth day, then send message X; if the customer has placed 1st order, then send message Y etc. One can evaluate a one-time welcome/ discount voucher to reduce the friction in the customer journey.

4. Let the acquisition channel have skin in the game: there are likely multiple pipes flowing into your acquisition funnel. It is important that you build dashboards which enable you to monitor not just the acquisition quantity from each of these channels, but the quality parameters as well. Ensure that the channel partners have stake in the acquisition quality –mechanisms like clawbacks, staggered payouts etc are helpful in this regard. The “Garbage in, Garbage out” principle would apply here – in spite of all the effort you are putting in towards effective onboarding, if the acquisition quality is sub-par, you might be breaking your head against a wall.

5. Know Your Customer: I am not referring here to the KYC mandated by the applicable legal regulations, but about knowing your customer by capturing his/ her relevant data points which will help you personalize the user journey better. One of the first (and very few) things a leading music streaming App asks for as part of user onboarding is – choosing 3 musical artistes that you like and the moment you select your favourite artistes, you are presented with your personalized music feed, something which can possibly have a strong influence on the customer’s decision to continue using the App. While there are obvious merits to asking for more data points from the customer, one needs to exercise extreme caution here and not go overboard as each and every additional step in the process can lead to customers dropping out.

6. Identify the pain points in the journey of the new customer and devise ways of addressing them: new customers are likely to have unique problems and helping them solve those problems will build a solid foundation of trust right at the start. One rich source of understanding these pain points would be the customer touchpoint data (call centre, store walk ins, emails etc). Go beyond the surface level data to get to the underlying issues. Example – a prominent telco in India received 4-5X calls per customer from their new postpaid customers at their inbound call centre as compared to the same from ‘older’ customers. On diving deeper into the data, they found that a large part of this was attributed to those customers who earlier had a prepaid connection from the same telco and had recently opted to convert to postpaid billing. However, as they were not familiar with the postpaid construct of fixed monthly rental irrespective of usage, this led to spike in calls after they saw higher than expected amounts in their first bills. While there was an onboarding program in place, such data points forced them to rethink of ways in which they could reach out and educate such customers proactively.

7. Set in place appropriate reporting mechanisms: while taking up onboarding goals would itself perforce setting up dashboards to track the progress, one need not be limited to just these goals. Depending on the criticality of the new customer to the overall revenues of the organization, one can even create this bucket as a separate segment in CRM and track metrices at a more granular level. The Net Promoter Score, which a measure of customer advocacy being used by many organizations, can be bifurcated into NPS from new customers versus the same from older customers to assess the first impressions you are leaving your users with.

8. Get the sign up flow on mobile right – onboarding in the context of mobile becomes more critical because the customer’s attention span is limited, he has abundant choices around him and the ratio of users/ downloads is very low. While the onboarding UI/UX is a separate discussion area itself, just a few pointers here:

a.     Don’t make logging in mandatory: if your App demands users to either register or login before being able to use any of the App’s features, just rethink as you are not allowing the customer to evaluate its utility for him basis a walk through, besides the fact that signing up is a fairly high friction action.

b.     Keep it short and simple: you don’t want users to abandon your App getting lost in the multiple steps trying to sign up, so keep it concise. Ask only for the information that you think will help personalize the customer experience in future. Give the customer the additional option of signing in through his social accounts. If there are certain key differentiating features that need to be communicated to the customer as part of onboarding, use images and visuals rather than verbose text, possibly with an option to skip.

c.     Optimize multiple times till you get it right: if you are not sure which route to take, test multiple options with the customers. There are tools available which will help you know if customers are finding your flow intuitive enough.

 Providing the right onboarding experience can go a long way in determining whether the customers are going to travel long distance with you. How do you approach customer onboarding?


Ashish Khatri (connect with me on Nodd app by clicking here)

Connect with me on Linkedin by clicking here.


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