As a CEO, like you, I know that without customers we would quickly go out of business. I imagine like me, you understand the importance of quality service for both keeping customers and earning referrals. Many organizations that provide considered and consultative offerings, such enterprise software and technology, professional services, consulting and business services, and so on, need to realize is that what happens before you deliver the service is equally as important as what you deliver. We call this phase of the relationship “onboarding.”
Derek Cromwell of Tallyfy, a software company, defines customer onboarding “as the process users go through, from the start of their journey to become a customer and beyond.” Onboarding provides beneficial information and engagement to ensure the customer derives the most success from their purchase.
An experience by a colleague who sent her son, Nicholas, off to overnight camp for the first time provides an excellent example of the onboarding process. During the buying process my colleague:
- Talked with friends (peers), school counselors (trusted advisors), and family members (stakeholders)
- Discussed with Nicholas his “criteria” for camp, such as types of activities
- Identified the top choices (short list), visited the websites that had links to videos, stories from campers (customer testimonials) and counselors (employees), read reviews, did background checks, and had initial conversations with the camp administration (sales) to narrow down the selection
- Brought her son and husband (other members of the selection committee) into the process once she identified her top options and together they picked the winning camp
- Completed the application and associated paperwork
This process seems similar to what our customers employ when selecting our services, and I suspect it is not that different from what your customers do.
As the date for departure got closer, she worried a bit about sending Nicholas away from home for the first time (buyer’s doubts). The camp apparently knows this occurs because right about the same time, a welcome package arrived comprising two components: one addressed to her and one addressed to her son.
Her package contained the following:
- a personalized welcome letter from the camp director
- an information packet organized into the pre-camp prep (such as what to pack, medical and vaccination history, etc.) and the at-camp documents (including a recommended schedule and tips for mailing cards and care packages)
- an invitation to join the Facebook page for that camp’s session to view daily pics
- an invitation to come to a free in-town pre-camp get-together to meet staffers and other campers
- a camp guidelines manual and camp contact sheet
- a questionnaire that included one key question: “What one experience do you want your child to have while at camp?”
- a pre-paid self-addressed envelope in which to return all of the docs (no nickel and diming here)
Her son’s package contained a personalized welcome letter from his cabin leader, information about the cabin and his cabin mates, loads of pictures, a schedule of all the activities, and one question that he needed to answer and return in the package: “My camping experience won’t be complete without…“
Now this is a camp that understands managing expectations and clarifying success outcomes!
Onboarding idea: Create a welcome “package,” orientation process, and a way to set expectations.
Shortly thereafter, the family attended the pre-camp meet and greet. Prior to the meet and greet, my friend received another mail package with badges, attire recommendations, the name of camp staffer who would host them at the event, and an activity schedule, which included orientation as well as a few “fun” camp activities. Camp hasn’t even started, and my colleague is a referral in the making.
At the meet and greet, the camp staff promptly introduced them to the cabin leader and other campers and made sure they made it through all of the activities. By the time they left that evening, Nicholas had made a few new acquaintances. When they arrived home, there was already an email from the camp staffer host thanking them for attending, expressing how much he enjoyed meeting them and that he was looking forward to spending time with Nicholas at camp.
Onboarding idea: Make sure your customers know who is their primary go-to person in your company, and make sure that person understands their role.
All businesses in some way provide a service. Whether you provide legal, financial, personal care, dry cleaning, new construction or repairs, security system installation, moving and storage, graphic design, etc. there is a service aspect to what you deliver. In addition to the previous two ideas of a welcome package and identifying their primary points of contact, consider borrowing these ideas from the camp example for your business:
- Give some thought to what you and the customer both need to know about your process to ensure the delivery of your service will go smoothly. If you don’t have an “intake” form, create one. Use this form as an opportunity to learn how your customers’ expectations and measures of success.
- It’s important to signpost to your customers how you will engage with them and their role. The camp provided a manual, guidelines, packing list, and key forms. Provide a personalized schedule/timeline for each customer. If you don’t have a new customer orientation or project kick off process, develop one.
- The camp made sure campers and parents knew everyone they would encounter at camp. Odds are multiple people from your company will engage with your customers. Be sure your customers know who these people are and their role. Make formal introductions.
My friend and her son’s camping experience was successful in large part due to the onboarding process. Think about your business and how well your onboard your new customers. You can give your customers quality service if you follow the above takeaways and business examples, customizing them to your business. Let’s discuss how you can create this type of onboarding experience for your customers.