You’ve probably heard of Mumbai’s famous dabbawalas. They are a 125-year-old network of around 5000 humans who transport lunch boxes all over the city. Uber Eats, Swiggy, and other modern era, digital-first service providers haven’t been able to acquire their customer base.
They rely on the Mumbai Suburban Railway system and their bicycles and nothing more to do their job (they don't even use mobile phones). They charge each household they serve <$12 per month. They’ve had FedEx, and Amazon representatives observe them from the sidelines to learn how they have been able to deliver with a negligible margin for error. In fact, during the 2005 Mumbai floods, they were back on their feet and operating before the rest of the city.
This has been possible because they have, over time, observed and tweaked their system and process. They put their heads together and figured out the most watertight process that will help them deliver food on time, every single time. A lot of their strategy involves being prepared well ahead of time - back up dabbawalas, a group to collect, and group to deliver, a group to paint a unique code onto each box that each person will be able to recognize with ease, etc.
Every team has its own version of delivering lunchboxes. For SaaS customer onboarding or customer success teams, the equivalent would be value delivery through consistent, tight, fast implementation.
So what are the elements that make or break an excellent customer onboarding methodology? Here are five we came up with, based on conversations we had with several customer onboarding teams:
Read on to know more about each element in detail.
Your customer onboarding depends a lot on what your customer expects out of your product or service. Your onboarding goals are ultimately derived from their goals. First, look at your current customer base and categorize them based on specific indicators such as their goals, business size, etc. Then, create customer segments for each category, and have an onboarding methodology tailored for each segment. A great way to go about this segmentation is to look at their maturity level:
Figuring out a customer maturity model will also help you decide on the scope of where your onboarding process should take the customer in terms of value delivered, usage, adoption, etc.
You also need to have clarity on the duration of your customer onboarding phase and set clear expectations with your customer about the time it will take to go live. Here, too, it helps to tweak your timelines based on the customer’s needs. Figure out an acceptable timeline for your customer and what would be an aggressive timeline, and go with the one your customer is comfortable with.
For example, onboarding enterprise customers can take at least six weeks, given their decision-making process, stakeholders, and teams involved. However, it is common for enterprise onboarding to take two to three months and, for larger projects, six to nine months. One way to de-risk such projects is to have a 30-60-90 day plan with milestones where you help your customer realize value or ROI at each point; this way, the first value delivered is also faster.
For SMB customers, the onboarding phase typically takes three to four weeks, and in some cases, it can take as little as two to three days. If your customer onboarding projects fall under the former category (three to four weeks), you might want to have milestones or deliverables per week:
Here’s Vishal Rana (VP - Customer Success, Snapdocs) on customer maturity models and onboarding enterprise customers and Irit Eizips (CEO, CSM Practice) providing us with a First Value Delivery framework.
Break down your project into phases, give them logical names, arrange them in chronological order. You could name each week of the project, for example, based on the theme for the week. A typical customer onboarding project has the following phases:
For projects that take around four to six weeks, you could name each phase as Week 1, Week 2, etc., as we’d explained earlier in this post, and list the activities for each week.
Make sure you list key activities under each of the phases you’ve identified. These can be added as tasks and sub-tasks under each phase. Indicate the time and effort each task/subtask will take. E.g., you could have four hours of work (effort) spread over four days (duration) because it involves multiple stakeholders from both your end and your customer’s end.
A project charter can come in handy for this purpose. Check out our guide to creating a project charter (with a free template).
For any project to be successful, communication is key. It eliminates misunderstandings and misinterpretations during the course of the onboarding process. Here are some things you can do to use communication to your advantage:
A project status report can be a helpful tool to include in your communication plan. Check out this guide to know how to create one and for a free template.
Take time to create examples, best practices, and guides for each activity in your onboarding methodology. This helps your team and your customers get their work done easier.
And finally, don't stop at "go-live.” Think further, and work product/feature adoption and value delivery into your onboarding methodology. Include workshops or feedback sessions on an ongoing basis so that they serve as soft deadlines to make these happen.
If you’d like to hit the ground running, we’ve made some customer onboarding templates that you can use and tweak as you go.
Customer onboarding is a crucial part of the customer journey and can eliminate possibilities of churn if done right. Though based on our research while building Rocketlane and on our own onboarding experience, this post is not exhaustive. We intend to add more resources on this subject.
In the meanwhile, if you’d like further reading, we’ve gathered the wisdom and insights of experts and onboarding veterans and made them available as part of our resources: