It’s onboarding time -- the most critical time in the relationship with your customer! They don’t really know you or your product yet, their hopes are high and it’s important to exceed expectations.
Here are a few practical suggestions for a great onboarding experience:
- Kickoff with Strategy: Remember, it’s all about the customer. In order to build trust, start by validating their business drivers and goals developed during the sales cycle. One way to win trust early is to demonstrate your knowledge of what they are trying to do with a full understanding of their time-based goals. During this meeting, I recommend including anyone who was part of the sales process, as well as the team implementing your solution. Often, it’s not the same people and it’s important for everyone to be on the same page when it comes to expected outcomes. The basis of this meeting is to understand the business value your solution brings. This allows you to keep the business value as your True North.
- Project Methodology: Everybody wants a big picture view before diving into the details. That being said, it helps to provide your customer with an overview of your implementation methodology. This should include the different phases of the project, the outcomes of each phase, and what resources will be needed throughout. Once you have validated your customer’s strategy and goals during the kickoff meeting, it’s a smooth transition to show them how you’ll get them there through your project methodology.
- Communications Plan: A communications plan is vital to any good project. It should include the list of everyone involved, as well as their contact information, role, preferred contact method, and expected turnaround times. For example, you may set the expectation with some contacts that all phone calls or emails should be responded to within 24 hours. This is also the right time to establish the cadence of meetings required to successfully implement your solution and keep your customer feeling comfortable through the process. Things like weekly check-in meetings, or touch points at certain milestones, such as implementation complete - beta testing begins. Try to schedule these meetings ahead of time to maintain your momentum and keep things moving forward.
- Customer Training: I would be remiss if I didn’t stress how important training your customers is. It should start immediately following your kickoff strategy call. Depending on how in-depth your solution is, you should use a combination of on-demand training and instructor-led training as needed. Asking customers to view your on-demand training prior to walking through it with them is a good approach that helps customers focus on your solution at times that are convenient for them. Once they have a general overview, it allows them to be very focused during an individualized walkthrough - should one be required.
- Project Plan: Sometimes this is a simple checklist; other times it’s a complex project plan with resource and cost allocations, heavily populated with milestones and compelling events. These are the details you can dive into and get agreement on after your customer is comfortable with the high-level plan. Some critical components may include: technical setup and integrations testing, pre-launch team review, post launch review. I usually prefer to dive into project details once the customer understands the project methodology and has been through customer training. This project plan becomes the strongest tool you have to keep things on track during implementation. Make sure someone is accountable for keeping it updated.
- Post Launch Review: Have a meeting with your customer shortly after they launch your solution. Check in on how they are feeling about the project in general and take a pulse on progress toward their goals. Use this review to develop a list of follow up items you both need to complete (isn't there always something left to do?) and set up your ongoing communications cadence. Be sure to set something up that fits your customer. It’s important to have a “keep in touch” plan that ensures they are successful and are adopting your product. Keep them engaged, but don’t over inundate them with meetings and emails. It’s a balancing act of communication methods with your customer’s best interest as its managing principal.
- Congratulations!: Whether it’s a card or a gift or something else that tells your customer you’re proud of them and their accomplishments, send them something. We all like to be congratulated for our work and chances are, you made it through some good times and some not so good times with them. Let them know how much you appreciate their efforts and their partnership.
When we get onboarding right, we have the best shot at having a customer for life.