Best Practices

10 implementation best practices from industry leaders

Industry leaders share ten best practices for creating and delivering a successful implementation and customer onboarding process.
November 8, 2023
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Mukundh Krishna

Launching a new customer project can be an exhilarating yet overwhelming experience.

It is like embarking on a thrilling, twist-filled rollercoaster ride, except you don't have a clear map or a set of instructions to guide you through the chaos. The fear of potential pitfalls is intimidating, but with some help from industry leaders, it's possible to ace customer onboarding and implementation.

These experts have experienced the excitement and challenges of navigating the complexities of the customer onboarding and implementation processes. Having spent years honing their strategies, learning from mistakes, and refining their approaches, they can provide you with tried and tested strategies. These insights will help set a clear and effective roadmap for all your customer projects, offer practical solutions to potential problems, and give you a comprehensive understanding of what lies ahead. The result: a smoother, more efficient, and successful customer onboarding and implementation journey.

Here's our curated selection of top 10 implementation tips from industry leaders meticulously crafted to set your teams and customer projects on a path to triumph from the get-go.

Tip 1: Dedicated teams, agility in integrations, seamless handoffs, and solid documentation

A successful customer onboarding strategy entails having dedicated teams, an agile approach to integrations, seamless handoffs, comprehensive documentation, and a focus on essential metrics.

  • Dedicate a specific team to onboarding to streamline your customer onboarding process and enhance customer success. 
  • Implement an agile approach to the process, breaking down integration into manageable phases. This will allow for early testing and efficient sign-off, preventing delays and errors. 
  • Ensure that customer-facing and internal teams prioritize the handoffs that happen between them and ensure that they document all details of the customer. For starters, the handoff document should include information on a customer’s background, expectations, and sentiments. Further, it needs to be a living document -- well-maintained  and updated from time to time. Over time, documentation of onboarding processes can ensure consistency in your customer onboarding and implementations, allowing for repetition or automation without much effort. This can also help you track success by focusing on metrics such as billing, time-to-first-value, and customer satisfaction.

For the full conversation with Jharna Moorpana of WebEngage, head here.

Anya Palisch, Head of Implementation and CS at Pave also shares four tips for seamless SMB customer onboarding and implementation. Read more here.

Tip 2: Onboarding journeys should be customized to suit the unique requirements of each customer

In designing customer onboarding journeys, it's essential to be flexible and adapt to the customer's experience with the product. A one-size-fits-all approach may not work for customers who have already used the product or come from a proof-of-concept (POC) stage. It's crucial to perform a technical audit regardless of the customer's familiarity with the product to prevent potential integration issues. Additionally, onboarding journeys should be customized based on the customer's maturity level and specific needs, and open communication and acknowledgment of product limitations are vital during the sales process. Tools that facilitate collaboration and demonstrate commitment are preferred for customer accountability. Finally, tracking factors like the number of open implementations and support tickets can help gauge project complexity and customer sentiment.

Take this free quiz to discover potential areas for improvement in your customer onboarding methodology.

For the full conversation with Apoorva S of Branch Metrics, head here.

Tip 3: Enhance customer onboarding experiences with project management principles

Using project management principles in customer onboarding can bridge the gap in expectations between the customer and the service provider, ensuring a smoother experience for customers. This approach to customer onboarding offers a versatile framework applicable across various industries. Key components include:

  • Implement a structured onboarding process that involves understanding the customer's needs, aligning expectations, and creating accountability with predetermined KPIs to enable successful onboarding. 
  • Set up effective communication channels, both formal and informal, to keep customers informed and engaged throughout the onboarding process. 
  • Proactively manage potential issues, such as expectations set by the sales team, and address buyer's remorse, to enhance product adoption and satisfaction. Engage customer management and replicate workflows to ease the transition, fostering early successes.

For the full conversation with Krishna Kant of Almabase, head here.

Tip 4: Quality customer education is all about delivering value to customers

The crux of quality customer education lies in focusing on delivering value to customers by emphasizing the ‘why’ and ‘what to do to be successful,’ and not just product features and navigation. Training has a huge role to play in this. When customers understand why they need to use a specific feature or take a particular action, they are more likely to see the real value in it.

For example, when training on a reporting feature, rather than just explaining how to build a report, the focus should be on what customers need to achieve. In this case, reporting could be required on how many deals they've evaluated. This approach transforms training into a conversation, where open-ended questions are encouraged, making the learning experience more engaging and relatable. You should also ask customers about real-life scenarios of how they intend to use the platform and encourage them to share their screens during training sessions. This interactivity helps solidify the understanding of the ‘why’ and makes the training more effective.

For the full conversation with Brittany Lockwood of Dealpath, head here.

Tip 5: Introduce a CSM early in the sales process to bridge the value gap and ensure successful customer onboarding

Introducing the Customer Success Manager (CSM) early in the sales process is crucial for a successful customer onboarding journey. The CSM plays a critical role in bridging the gap between the sales team's promises and the actual delivery of value during implementation.

By having the CSM involved from the presale stage, customers can connect their goals to the right use cases, and the CSM can assure them of the verifiable value of recommended use cases. This approach prevents a ‘value vacuum’ from forming and ensures customers receive the quantifiable value they were promised. Introducing the CSM early also helps in managing expectations, promoting transparency, and avoiding potential conflicts down the line. The CSM should remain a trusted advisor, separate from the project delivery team, to maintain a focus on value and drive successful customer onboarding.

For the full conversation with Alex Farmer of Cognite, head here.

Tip 6: Success in executing multicultural projects relies on cultural sensitivity, team support, transparency, and meticulous planning

When working on customer onboarding and engagement in a multi-geography environment, with diverse cultures, it is essential to be culturally aware. Teams are to understand how people from different cultures perceive hierarchy, risk, communication, and feedback. Project managers should prioritize supporting and trusting their teams, resolving obstacles, and embracing change in such instances. They need to focus on prioritization, detailed planning, and confident execution. When handling escalations, it is important to involve the right stakeholders based on the severity of the issue. Communication should be transparent and proactive all through the process, taking into account cultural nuances when delivering unfavorable news.

Download this free project communication plan to help identify how important information can be communicated to stakeholders.

For the full conversation with Alex Scholz of Freshworks, head here.

Tip 7: Streamline implementation for high-stress, high-impact customer onboardings

When dealing with high-stress, high-impact customer onboarding, it is important to streamline the implementation process. To achieve this, you can start by redefining your onboarding approach. A few strategies you could try to achieve this include:

  • Eliminate status update calls. Instead, ensure that every call focuses on a specific issue/requirement that moves the project forward
  • Substitute traditional kickoff meetings with more informative orientation calls
  • Replace intensive live training sessions with self-paced, homework-style exercises through a learning management system
  • Involve key stakeholders from the beginning, maintaining executive sponsors for motivation and accountability, especially when customers lack software or project management backgrounds. In cases with less tech-savvy clients, encourage the engagement of their internal IT or helpdesk teams for data imports and integrations.
  • Establish limitations on onboarding, including specific hours over a defined timeframe as part of the contract.
To know more about the nuanced definition of customer onboarding and customer implementations, head here.

For the full conversation with Meg Lovell of Everbridge, head here.

Tip 8: Change management is crucial for user adoption during customer onboarding

Effective change management plays a pivotal role in overcoming user resistance and ensuring successful product adoption during customer onboarding. Users often resist change, particularly in cases of industry-disrupting or high-touch products that significantly impact their daily routines. Implementing well-planned change management initiatives can help address this issue.

Change management should be expected, embraced, and co-owned with customers. The goal is to get users excited about the product. This process should start alongside technical onboarding, with cross-section collaboration between customer stakeholders, the development of a communication plan tailored to detractors, a recognition plan, a timeline of activities, and ongoing success tracking. Key practices include:

  1. Delivering bite-sized benefits through various channels
  2. Engaging in branding and teaser exercises
  3. Organizing webinars, acknowledging user achievements,
  4. Focusing on training for smooth integration with existing processes, and
  5. Ensuring sufficient support during the product launch, with additional post-launch hyper-care.

For the full conversation with Dean Colegate of Ada Health, head here.

Tip 9: Use the right tech stack for high-touch customer onboarding

Using a Product Engagement Score can help your Customer Success team analyze user engagement and identify opportunities to enhance product adoption. This approach can enable them to create targeted messaging and improve user understanding of product features, resulting in more effective onboarding and reduced time-to-value (TTV).

Additionally, when you pick tools for the team, understand the specific needs of team members and classify requirements as 'must-have,' 'nice-to-have,' or 'can compromise'. It's essential to track team members' work, identify tasks that can be automated or streamlined, and find tools or hires to support those activities. Remember to also embrace a 'hire slow, fire fast' approach to tools that allow for flexibility and optimization in the customer onboarding process.

Here are five easy ways to improve your customer onboarding process.

For the full conversation with Tami Titheridge of Kapiche, head here.

Tip 10: Use data to digitize customer success at your organization

Successful digitization of the customer journey involves identifying a clear ‘North Star’ metric to measure value, customer health, and onboarding effectiveness. Consider transitioning from a high-touch to a tech-touch model. Also, harness the power of data. Use it to understand customer behavior, drive data-based decisions, and proactively identify areas where interventions are needed. Conduct regular digital check-ins to gather user feedback and offer tailored best practices.

When digitizing your customer journey, evaluate resource allocation, automate repetitive processes, and align with core metrics, promoting user adoption. Ask the right questions to evaluate and implement an effective digitization strategy. Key questions to consider include:

  1. How users go through their journey with your product
  2. Where you should step in to help them
  3. Predicting and stopping potential problems
  4. Using automated tools to assist users

This approach can enhance your customer success efforts and accelerate time-to-value for customers.
For the full conversation with Daria of Amplitude, head here.

For more such content, join our private, invite-only Slack community, Preflight. Gain access to peers, and get to share knowledge on customer onboarding, implementation, and customer success. Also check out our Implementation Stories for more stories from the field.

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Shuvedha Subramaniam
Content Marketer @ Rocketlane

Marketing analyst @ Rocketlane. An Advocate by choice and a penwoman for the love of it. When the world zips, I like to zoink. Also, being happy by being kind.

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