One of the most critical components in customer experience is the first impression that you make. Your onboarding processes are a chance to set the scene and show customers that they’ve made a great choice.

Get this part wrong, and your customers could view you as incompetent and incapable of delivering value.

What is onboarding?

Onboarding is the ongoing process of turning prospects into customers. It’s not simply about taking money or adding the customer’s details to a database. It’s about drawing the customer into your organisation, helping them get acquainted, setting them up for success and ensuring they start getting value as soon as possible.

If we compare this process to climbing aboard a ship, we can see that simply stepping off the dock and onto the boat is not a complete process. The captain doesn’t just let you hop on board and leave you to get comfortable. To have a pleasant, safe and pleasurable trip, you need to know who is in charge, where to go for help, and how to stay safe.

Your onboarding process might include a greeting from the captain, a safety briefing, and a general orientation so you can find your way around the ship. This is a great start, but the best captains – like the best businesses – don’t just leave you there. After all, you might be safely aboard and familiarised with the boat, but your needs tend to evolve over time, and questions arise throughout the experience. Your captain should understand this and check in from time to time.

The key thing for businesses is to recognise the ongoing nature of onboarding, and understand its importance when it comes to retaining customers.

Demonstrate value

Until your customer has seen the value that you bring, they have one foot out the door. They are not committed to you, and are looking for reasons to leave. If you can demonstrate your value, you can persuade them to close the door behind them.

But what does ‘demonstrating value’ mean? It depends on the nature of your business, but it might mean giving the customer an early experience of your product, some kind of saving – or information that only you can provide.

If it’s difficult to provide actual value, you might focus on showing people how your services and products have helped customers like them. This is most effective if the examples are relevant. Show SMEs examples of how you help SMEs. And so on.

Define customer goals (and track them)

You probably have goals for onboarding and customer conversion rates. But you also need to define your customers’ goals. What are they interested in? What do they want to achieve? What does success mean to your customers?

It’s essential that you enable your customers to achieve their goals. By leading your customers to success, you can clearly establish the value that you offer, and ensure your customers stick with you for the long term.

Your customer goals might be:

  • Spend less on heating my home
  • Get insurance that comprehensively covers my home
  • Implement a new feature or service for my company
  • Reduce a risk that I’m concerned about

Personalise the onboarding experience

Onboarding is a great opportunity to build a relationship with your customers. The inevitable back-and-forth that occurs means your company can address individuals personally, learn from their choices and gradually refine communications so that they appeal to their individual personality.

Gather data

The onboarding process is a rich opportunity to gather information about what your customers want and need. Information gathered during this period can help you refine your onboarding process – and improve the way you relate to customers.

Set expectations

What will customers get from your organisation? What can customers look forward to? Are there any common misconceptions that you can clarify during onboarding? The transactional stages of onboarding give you plenty of opportunities to communicate with customers and ensure they have accurate expectations.

Simplify the onboarding experience

Unsurprisingly, one of the most challenging elements of onboarding customers is the need to get customers to take action. This is why so many onboarding processes break down; we ask too much of customers, or we ask for information they don’t have or can’t provide. They pause the process – and many will never resume. The best onboarding processes are like falling down a slide; getting to the bottom is inevitable once you’ve started.

Onboarding must continue past sign-up

As we mentioned above, onboarding isn’t just something you do until the customer is signed-up. Your onboarding process must continue until the customer is gaining value from your organisation.

You may need to keep in touch, to ensure your customers understand how to get value from your organisation. For example, you might send a series of messages to help customers use your services effectively, or set up messages that are triggered when customers do not sign in – or use your product – after a set number of days.