tips for designing a winning
customer onboarding process

Systems + Processes | 10 Minute Read

Successful customer onboarding starts with developing an outline for your entire process. 


I read this Harvard Business Review article years back that talks about the value of keeping your existing customers vs. the cost of acquiring new ones. It was startling to learn two things:


  1.  ​It's five to 25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain an existing one.
  2. Research from Bain & Company (inventors of the Net Promoter Score®) found that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.


Whaaaat? Yes! That's why celebrities, big box stores and other influencers put so much effort into ​getting you to come back over and over and over again. 


​Despair not, friend. As  solopreneurs, ​we have an advantage when it comes to customer retention that the "bigger players" don't. It's our customer onboarding process.  


And it all begins with a plan to "nail" our post-purchase experience—starting with one specific product or service at a time. This big picture overview should include a list of the things our customers will do and the results they can expect to achieve. ​Careful consideration of the following ​will be helpful as you create and document yours.


So that we are all on the same page, let's define onboarding as an integrated approach ​to creating a consistent customer experience.


Ideally, each customer will feel that your solution is custom-tailored to meet their needs. At the same time, Customer A and Customer B should have a similar experience with your deliverables and service care. A good process ensures this and gives you better control over your customers' experiences.


1. What will your customer do with your product or service?

Imagine that you're selling child car seats. Here are some activities your customer will need to complete upon purchase.

  • Take the car seat out of the package and assemble it
  • Install the car seat in their car
  • Move the car seat from one car to another
  • Strap a child into the seat
  • Add optional items: extra buckles, inserts, toys, or other features


How can you help them through each during your onboarding process? 

  • Do you want to create a welcome video that ​genuinely thanks them for their purchase, talks about your vision and values as the product creator, and reminds them of the features for the specific model they've purchased? 
  • Is there something you can send in the mail if the purchase was made online—or an email sequence if it wasn't? 
  • Perhaps you can offer an installation service at an additional fee. (Ok, maybe not for a car seat. I guess I was getting a bit carried away!)


The point is to think it through and then ensure you have the right post-purchase care in place. 


2. how will they feel while using it?

For this question you'll want to think about the benefits of use. Thinking of our child car seat example above, benefits you can reinforce may include:

  • The confidence of knowing that their child is safe
  • A sense of security while driving
  • Relief and peace of mind while performing other parental duties with their child in their car seat


For each of the above items, it's easy to see how you can provide help. You can provide an instruction manual for easy assembly, video tutorials on how best to move the seat from one car to another, and follow-up emails asking if your customer has checked out the optional extra buckles. You'll may also want to consider a customer service telephone number where customers can get the help they need when troubleshooting.


Once you understand the big picture, you'll need to flesh out the details of their post-purchase experience even more. Here are a few things to consider as you do:

  • Deliverables – The materials the customer receives as they become familiar with your product or service
  • Installation – What the customer needs to do in order to start using the product or service
  • Benefits – Additional benefits they'll receive well into the future—regardless of the different ways they find to use your product or service
  • Features – Special features or add-ons that the customer may not be aware of or know how to use
  • Changes in Use – Ways the customer might change their use—including upgrades, re-installation, and so on
  • Maintenance – What the customer needs to do in order to keep your product in optimal working condition
  • Problems – Any problems the customer might encounter (ie: bugs, repairs, or malfunctions)


The list above will help you create a framework to holistically design your entire onboarding process. From there, you'll still need to figure out the details for execution (all of which we'll cover in future posts):

  • The How – The tools you'll use for customer interaction, information, and education
  • The What – The general content you'll need to create for use during the entire process
  • The When – A timeline for when everything will happen

3. What are your various points of contact?

Once you’ve answered the questions above, and made a big list of items for your customers' post-purchase experiences, consider all of the points of contact they'll have with you.   


A point of contact could be an interaction with you, your team members, vendors, your website or office, or any other aspect of your business where there is a touch-point between your customer and you. With your list of customer interactions, start identifying ways you can offer the help customers need at each point of contact with you​. (See example below as a thought starter.)

Example Customer onboarding timeline

Let's change things up a bit. For this example, you are now a website designer. As such, here's a sample of a very basic onboarding timeline to follow once you've made a sale. Essentially, what you're doing is drawing a visual representation of your customer’s post-purchase interactions with you. As you flesh out your plan, add more detail on what content to include and send—and within what time frame.

Post-purchase ​Timing

​Method

Content/​Message

​Materials

​Immediately After Purchase

Email

​Thanks for making a purchase; begin onboarding process

​Checklist of forms to complete and link to schedule kick off call

​Day ​3

​Email

​Reminder to fill out forms and schedule ​project kick off call

​Links to forms to complete and online scheduler

​Week 1

​Call

​Review completed forms and agree on next steps

​Send agenda and other materials before call

​Week 2

​Email

​Status update

​List of completed items and
open issues to discuss

​Week 3

​Email

Submission of first deliverables

​Send link to preview deliverables 

​Week 4​

​Video call

Review first deliverables

​Send summary of materials and video call link

​Week 4​

​Project offboarding
email series starts

​Learn to use new site

​Overview tutorial for
getting started

​Week 4​

​Email series

​Start using site

​Detailed tutorials on different parts of site

​Week 6

​Email

​Follow up

​Ask about challenges

​Week ​8

​Email

​Close out the project; request for testimonial and/or referral

​Provide ​testimonials template and referral process


Example Customer Onboarding Timeline

Let's change things up a bit. For this example, you are now a website designer. As such, here's a sample of a very basic onboarding timeline to follow once you've made a sale. Essentially what you're doing is drawing a visual representation of your customer’s post-purchase interactions with you. As you flesh out your plan, add more detail on what content to include and send — and within what time frame.


  • Immediately after purchase send an email that thanks your customer for making a purchase; begin the onboarding process (include a checklist of forms to complete)
  • Day 3 >> Send an email with a reminder to fill out forms and schedule project kick off call (include links to forms and online scheduler)
  • Week 1 >> Host kick off call to review completed forms and agree on next steps (send agenda and other materials before call)
  • Week 2 >> Send an email with a status update (include list of completed items and open issues to discuss)
  • Week 3 >> Send an email with first deliverables 
  • Week 4 >> Host a video call to review first deliverables (send link to materials for review ahead of call)
  • Week 4 >> Project offboarding email series starts—begin training customer on how to use website (send an overview tutorial)
  • Week 4 >> Send an ongoing series of emails to help your customer get familiar with key parts of the website 
  • Week 6 >> Email asking if there are any challenges or need for additional support
  • Week 8 >> Send a final email to close out the project and ask for a testimonial or referral (provide testimonials template and referral process)

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