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Picture this: Your favorite chef has just started their own cooking channel on YouTube. You have loved everything they’ve ever created, and you can’t wait to replicate their best in your own kitchen. You open their cooking videos with a lot of anticipation. Everything is perfect — how they explain the recipes, the duration every step would need, etc. You’re making notes, and then they say something that makes you pause: “Salt to taste.”

That’s an innocuous instruction that confounds a lot of people. Many interpret it as an instruction to add the quantity of salt required to taste good to them. Experts will tell you salt is about enhancing the flavor and aroma of other ingredients in the dish you’re making. And it takes a while to figure out the right quantity of salt.

Customer onboarding can be a lot like cooking: You need different ingredients (delight, ease, etc.) and tools (files, data, project management tools) to deliver a successful onboarding. You’re probably wondering what the salt could be. It’s customer experience, of course! 

Compared to cooking, though, with customer onboarding, it’s easier to figure this ingredient out. All you have to do is look at your customer data.

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Retention begins at onboarding

When speaking to people involved in the onboarding, implementation and customer success functions of different organizations, we find that most businesses have a common approach to retention: They see it as a problem for the post-onboarding phase in the customer lifecycle.

You will find that customer success teams have a good understanding of what metrics to track, what those metrics all mean, and how they fit into the bigger picture. Where you don’t find that level of obsession is in tracking and understanding customer onboarding data.

Acquiring a new customer costs five times more than it does to retain an existing customer. It’s a good idea, then, to emphasize retention. While we look at best practices and data used by a company’s post-onboarding functions, we find that the onboarding function itself doesn’t have retention through value delivery as a goal.

Retention begins at onboarding. Onboarding is, after all, the first real partnership between your customers and you. It’s when you lay the foundation for trust and reliability. And customers who trust you and your brand are more likely to renew: 81%, to be precise. 

You can use the available customer data to better understand your customers and make sure they are getting the best possible experience with your company. You can use data intelligence in all aspects of customer onboarding — from the data you collect and how you collect it to how you use it.

When you don’t proactively look at customer onboarding data, the onboarding process itself tends to be reactive. You are mostly operating based on gut feelings. Other unfavorable consequences include a lack of visibility into onboarding performance and customer sentiments during the phase, which in turn leads to a less-than-ideal customer experience during onboarding. 

If you track relevant data, on the other hand, you gain a 360-degree view of the onboarding. You are able to pre-empt any risks and delays and make sure the project is on track; draw patterns from across onboarding projects your team has executed; understand your team’s performance; and use this information to come up with a game plan to improve your onboarding and by extension your renewal rate.

If read right, customer data provides insights into what exactly your customers want. And when you give your customers what they want, i.e., fulfill their expectations, they’re likely to extend their loyalty to you.

How you can use customer onboarding metrics 

While there are many metrics you can use to gain insights into customer satisfaction and experience, here are some that you can track during your onboarding process and the problems they can help you address.

Course-correct ongoing projects

Tracking certain data points helps you snap out of reactivity and get proactive about your onboarding experience. They help you spot the iceberg well in advance so you can prevent your ship from colliding with it.

  • Time to first value
    Time to first value (TTFV) is the time it takes your customer to have their first taste of value from your product or offering. This first taste need not be the value in its entirety; it can be a quick win that will boost your customer’s trust in you. Just as with TTV, the shorter the TTFV, the better.
    TTFV is a useful metric to measure the efficiency of the customer onboarding process. In the short term, you can recognize delays and intervene on time to eliminate roadblocks. For the long term, you could track the TTFV for projects over a period of time, set benchmarks and then measure how your teams achieve them. TTFV will also help your teams focus on value delivery.
  • CSAT
    Customer satisfaction surveys, or CSATs as they’re widely called, do exactly what their name suggests: They figure out how satisfied your customers are with your processes and execution. Usually, CSAT surveys are shared with customers at the end of onboarding. But customer onboarding usually includes multiple phases and milestones, and customers may not remember every detail of the experience. Also, floating a survey to understand experience at the end of the process doesn’t help you manage any damage or unfavorable issues that you could have addressed if you’d gotten the feedback in real time. I recommend having a CSAT at different significant stages of the onboarding process (kickoff, training etc.). It will help you understand where changes to process are required, where you are doing well, how your people can be trained to provide better customer experience, etc., ultimately helping you come up with a plan to up your onboarding game.

Improve product experience

A huge part of customer onboarding is helping your customer learn how to use your product or service, and eventually become an expert user. The onboarding phase is when they’ll have their first hands-on experience. Use these metrics to understand how user-friendly your product is, and how you can improve the experience for them.

  • Customer effort score (CES)
    The customer effort score (CES) metric measures ease of experience with your product. Customers are usually asked to rate ease of use on a seven-point scale, “very difficult” being the lowest and “very easy” being the highest score. The higher the score, the better — ease of use correlates with better customer retention. Collect CES at the end of user training and adoption, so you can get a view into customer experience and figure out how to improve it.
  • Product adoption and usage
    This metric indicates how you’re faring on two fronts: your onboarding success, and customer retention. The product adoption/usage rate helps you measure customer engagement. Use the Daily Active Users (DAU) and Monthly Active Users (MAU) metrics to gauge product adoption.
  • Number of customer support tickets
    A significant number of customer support tickets might mean proactive support from your end is necessary. Look at the nature of the queries, divide them into buckets, and you’ll arrive at FAQs, potential help content, training modules required, etc. Making such resources available will help your customers serve themselves, leaving them empowered rather than dependent on you. All of this adds to product experience.

Understand and improve team performance

Customer experience also includes how your team executes on the processes. Track these metrics to understand where they’re doing well, and what needs to be improved.

  • Time spent on different tasks
    While you are still a lean team, this may not be necessary, but as you scale and become larger, tracking time spent by your team members helps you understand how much time every task or onboarding phase should take, and how much time your team actually spends on them. This helps you create benchmarks and targets for the team. You can also forecast timelines more accurately for your customers by looking at your past onboarding projects. Another benefit of tracking time is helping your team prioritize right, ensuring they spend time on the critical tasks. 
  • Customer engagement
    Keeping the customer engaged relies a lot on human effort. You could track customer engagement to understand where your team needs to be more hands-on, or where they can do with some training. It will also provide additional motivation for your team members to put their best foot forward. You could look at the percentage of customers who see their onboarding through to completion and the percentage who drop off midway. Use these numbers to have conversations with the onboarding team and understand where they could be more proactive, and where drop-offs are due to circumstances out of their control.
  • Time to resolution
    This is the time that has lapsed between when a customer issue is raised and when it’s resolved. The shorter the time, the better your customer feels about their decision to pick your product. This metric also helps you understand when something is a product experience issue vs. when it’s an issue of insufficient user training.

Future-proofing your revenues

As noted above, acquiring a new customer costs five times more than it does to retain an existing customer. One way to ensure customer retention is customer satisfaction. And to ensure satisfaction, we need to meet customer expectations and deliver the value they seek. 

Your customers are constantly indicating their experiences to you overtly (NPS, CSAT, escalations, etc.) and subtly (product adoption, usage, etc.). All we need to do is listen.

Srikrishnan (Sri) Ganesan is the cofounder & CEO of Rocketlane

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