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How to Improve Your Onboarding Process (With Great Customer Support)

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Follow these tips to make each customer’s first experience a great one.

We all feel good when we have new customers sign up to do business with us.

And we should.

It means that something that we’re doing is working, at least enough to prove our value to these new customers.

But we should be slow to celebrate these wins.

Here’s why: a new user or customer signing up does not mean a new user or customer that’s going to stay.

This is especially true in the world of software, where 40-60% of software users will open an app once, and never log in again.

For most businesses, there are two key milestones that need to be reached before a customer can reach their full value potential:

  1. The moment they sign up for your product, and…
  2. The moment they achieve their first "success" with your product

A disproportionate amount of your customer churn will take place between (1) and (2). That’s where customers abandon your product because they get lost, don’t understand something, don’t get value from the product, or simply lose interest.

That’s why user onboarding is so important: it minimizes that initial churn.

What is onboarding? It’s the process by which you help a customer go from (1) to (2).

For this post, we’ll define onboarding as making that transition as fast and smooth as possible for your customers. Succeeding at this will win you higher retention and happier customers.

To be sure, customer onboarding is a team sport; a lot of different roles in every company play a role, from marketing to sales, from product development to design, and everything in between.

And of course, the customer support team.

Today, we’re looking at the critical role that customer support agents play in successful user onboarding, and how to make that impact even bigger with some key onboarding tips.

Rolling Out the Red Carpet: Customer Support’s Role in User Onboarding

Support plays a number of roles in onboarding, which we’ll look at in this checklist below.

1) Support is the first line of contact in onboarding customers

If there’s a snag in the customer onboarding process, and the customer decides to contact your business about it (more on that in a bit), then your support team is the first line of defense in ensuring that a minor snag doesn’t turn into a lost relationship.

That first interaction is an opportunity to set the expectation of great customer service; that is, it gives your customer a reason to believe that even when they hit road bumps, you’re there to help them succeed.

Are you using the right tone of voice to make them feel comfortable? It matters, especially online.

Are you using the right phrases to put your customers at ease, and avoiding the dangerous ones?

Even things as seemingly simple as knowing whether to deliver good or bad news first makes a big difference in your customers’ first experience interacting with your support team.

2) Support helps to get new customers across hurdles, large and small

Even great onboarding experiences can require a little help from support.

That means following important customer support and onboarding best practices like:

3) Support ensures that customers have easy access to the information they need

A self-serve knowledge base that contains answers to frequently asked customer questions is one of the most effective ways to quickly get your customers the answers that they need during onboarding.

But simply having a knowledge base isn’t enough.

In a survey by Coleman Parkes of nearly 3,000 online consumers, an overwhelming 91% said they would use a single, online knowledge base if it were available and tailored to their needs.

Sounds great, right?

Well, here’s the problem: only 37 percent of respondents currently even bother trying to use self-service options, because they perceive them as inaccurate or incomplete.

It’s not enough for your knowledge base to be there. It has to be good.

And it’s customer support’s job to keep that knowledge base good, by:

4) Support proactively reaches out to nudge customers along

When customers contact you for support, that’s great, because they’re asking for help.

But the reality is that most customers won’t contact you for support.

According to a survey by Lee Resources International, for every customer who complains, there are 26 customers who don’t say anything.

That means that you—yes, you—likely have customers who are unhappy about something, and saying nothing, many of whom are entangled in your onboarding process right at this very moment.

One of the simplest ways to address this is to track when new customers don’t log in for a day or two—or don’t complete a basic task in your product within a day or two—and send them a proactive email:

We’ve found this approach to go a long way in bringing those unhappy new customers out of the shadows, and getting their issues resolved.

5) Support tracks trends to improve customer onboarding

Some help desks—including Groove—let you track trends among your customer support tickets.

We do this by using labels (similar to labels in Gmail), and giving users data on how often certain labels are being used.

This helps you identify the friction points, so that you can understand how to improve your onboarding process.

And once you do, those same metrics will tell you whether you’ve succeeded or not.

6) Support knows when and how an upsell is appropriate to deepen the customer relationship

The deeper your relationship with your customer, the more likely they are to get value from doing business with you, and the more likely they are to stick around.

One of the most effective ways to create a deeper relationship with your customers is to have them buy more from you.

If your business offers multiple products, or multiple tiers of the same product, you can probably easily spot the customers that would get more value from either buying another product, or switching their plan to a higher (or lower) tier.

Doing this during the onboarding process could save a customer relationship. If they aren’t getting value from a lower tier, but would get a lot of value from a higher one, your job is to make that clear.

Chris Yeh, an investor and entrepreneur, shares a great example of a well-done support upsell when he called Geico for roadside assistance.

After providing GEICO with my location and arranging to wait for the tow truck, the GEICO dispatcher told me, “From looking at your account, it looks like you’re now eligible for a big discount on our comprehensive coverage. Since you’re going to be waiting for the tow truck anyways, would you like to hear more?”

15 minutes later, I had agreed to add $1 million in additional coverage for my car and home, at a cost of right around $100 per year.

Upselling, downselling and cross-selling aren’t just sales tactics; they’re customer happiness tactics that can help you build deeper relationships with customers by delivering more value.

Read our guide to upselling in customer service here.

7) Support turns onboarding failures into big customer loyalty wins

Anyone who has worked in support for longer than a week has almost certainly dealt with an angry or upset customer.

Those first few days using a product are prime time for this, as it’s when a customer’s expectations meet reality. When those two don’t align perfectly, some people don’t take it very well.

We all have bad days, and as someone who knows the importance of empathy, patience and positivity—and practices those skills—you have the magical power of being able to help these customers turn their day around, and turn their experience into long-term loyalty to your business.

For turning those bad customer experiences around, turn to Disney. Disney’s approach to customer service recovery is so good that companies pay The Disney Institute many thousands of dollars to train their own service employees and executives.

The technique they teach is an easy-to-remember acronym: HEARD.

  • Hear: let the customer tell their entire story without interruption. Sometimes, we just want someone to listen.
  • Empathize: Convey that you deeply understand how the customer feels. Use phrases like “I’d be frustrated, too.”
  • Apologize: As long as it’s sincere, you can’t apologize enough. Even if you didn’t do whatever made them upset, you can still genuinely be apologetic for the way your customer feels (e.g., I’m always sorry that a customer feels upset).
  • Resolve: Resolve the issue quickly, or make sure that your employees are empowered to do so. Don’t be afraid to ask the customer: “what can I do to make this right?”
  • Diagnose: Get to the bottom of why the mistake occurred, without blaming anyone; focus on fixing the process so that it doesn’t happen again.

Great Customer Support Empowers the Best Onboarding Experience Possible

While many different roles in a company make an impact on the customer onboarding experience, customer support is front and center.

With great support, you can massively improve onboarding, and even recover from less-than-perfect onboarding.

With poor support, even great onboarding processes fail.

As you focus on optimizing customer onboarding, don’t forget to focus on making your customer support extraordinary.

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About the Author

Len Markidan heads up marketing at Groove. He’s focused on helping startups and small businesses build better relationships with their customers.

Read his latest posts or follow him on Twitter

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