Ten mistakes you could be making in your customer implementations

Ten reasons your customer onboarding projects and implementations aren't succeeding.
July 23, 2021
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Krishna Kumar

Any business project entails requirements, risks, stakeholders, teams, good news, bad news, budgets, and deadlines. Now, take all of this and multiply by two. Then, add in the challenges of a nascent partnership, new people, and unfamiliar systems and processes. The result? A customer onboarding and implementation project. 

With so many variables, it’s no surprise that enterprise customer onboarding projects tend to go wrong. As tricky as they can be, there will only be more of them, considering the amount of money riding on enterprise software. Global enterprise software spending is expected to reach about $500 billion this year. 

When you combine the newness of onboarding with project management challenges, you have a recipe for some big problems. Fortunately, most of them are preventable. Through our interactions with customer onboarding and implementation teams, we narrowed down the top mistakes that onboarding teams make. 

Here are the top ten areas where onboarding and implementation projects falter and ideas to streamline and fix them. 

1. Ineffective handoffs

A common issue in project management is that stakeholders are not on the same page when it comes to requirements, goals, commitments, and decisions made in a project. This is mostly because handoff calls are not exhaustive. 

One of the ways to increase your chances of succeeding early and avoiding confusion is through deliberate documentation.

Here’s how you can practice deliberate documentation for handoffs:

  1. Have a template for your documents covering all the relevant shared context and understanding developed in the project that far. For example, even when you share the requirements of a custom app, it is still important to have sections on (i) goals of the project, (ii) the agreed-upon scope of the roll-out, and the part played by the custom app, (iii) the specific requirements for the custom app.
  2. Have checklist sections where possible. This ensures it is easier to fill, and it builds on an existing framework to improve the document and process with every iteration.
  3. Dedicate sections to FAQs and clarifications provided to the customers, key decisions made, and the rationale for them. This ensures that information does not stay buried and lost in email trails. 
  4. Obtain signoff on the sections from the relevant stakeholders along the journey; do it as and when discussions happen, and phases/milestones are completed.
  5. Set up calls or meetings to walk stakeholders through the documents and the channels for them to engage over for any follow-up questions. Don't underestimate the inertia that leads to making assumptions instead of seeking timely clarifications. 

2. Requirement gathering remains a mere requirement 

Gathering requirements is a standard part of most projects, but there is a nuance that is often missed. This step becomes all about just gathering requirements rather than identifying the problems the customer is looking to solve—with little to no effort to digging deeper and understand better. 

Some common mistakes at this stage include: 

  1. Allowing the customer to dictate features and processes from their existing solution as requirements, rather than understanding their goals or pain points and how you can solve for both. 
  2. Not having a methodology for requirement gathering. This leads to incomplete context and data. 
  3. Not setting up a cadence to improve or iterate on this methodology based on the latest customer implementations.

Here’s what you can do to get this step right: 

  1. Obtain business requirements and functional requirements independently: Use a problem/goal alignment checklist rather than a list of features and customizations the customer wants. 
  2. Capture the use cases, rationale, and ROI of each of these to develop the best understanding of what will solve your customer’s problem.
  3. Develop playbooks and templates for your requirement-gathering sessions with customers of different verticals. 
  4. Don't accept every requirement from the customer without using an agreed-upon framework to arrive at the priority of a problem to be solved given the common understanding of the goals.

3. Not involving the right stakeholders

We’ve all been part of projects where the executive sponsor shows up at the kickoff meeting, talks about how important the project is, and is never to be seen after. While we’re often happy with them showing up, the fact that they didn’t stay long enough or stay involved later sends a message to the team: The project is not important enough to justify a few hours of this executive’s time.

The other challenge with most mid-market or enterprise companies is this: Your customers’ urgency and intent to use your solution often do not match the time commitments from their end. There's always a new fire they are attending to, and you’re often left navigating bottlenecks and convincing their team members. To make things harder, implementation projects typically have multiple stakeholders with different and conflicting interests and requirements.

However, as hard as they may be, here are a few things you have to do: 

  1. Set up a steering committee of the customer’s executive members. 
  2. Communicate expectations on when you need their time in the future and help them plan their calendar to help you out very early. For example, identify key decision-making and milestone stages from your project plan and get them to commit to giving you time during them. 
  3. Identify the person who will be ultimately responsible and accountable for the final structure and design of the system. This person also needs to have the pull and the ability to take the final decisions between conflicting interests. 

4. Late communication and lack of transparency

Communication breakdown is one of the most common issues plaguing implementations. While we know how early and accurate expectation setting goes a long way in solving problems, it is easy to forget to do it. 

But this is a bigger issue for onboarding projects. Here’s why: The more left out your customer feels or, the less they understand your project, the more likely they will be to micromanage or force things to go their way or how they have always been. 

Here are some of the most easily fixable communication mistakes: 

  1. Skipping open and early conversations around the communication cadence and approach.
  2. Keeping bad news to yourself: This is a common practice where you end up waiting for an issue to become certain before communicating it with the customer, thereby painting a positive picture till the 11th hour. And then making things appear to go downhill suddenly. 

What you can do: 

  1. Establish the cadence and channels of communication right at the start. 
  2. Ensure that your systems are transparent and provide visibility to the customer regularly: when milestones are accomplished and when the status changes for the better or worse.
Rocketlane X Slack: Collaborate from the comfort of Slack

5. Not accounting for information security practices

We're sure you’ve heard versions of these before: 

"We're waiting for our internal security review of your integration approach."
"Our information security team will get back with recommendations on your solution."

How can you plan around this and prevent weeks of delay from just one department? Here are some ideas: 

  1. Share your key integration approaches at the start of the engagement — even before finalizing one — so their information security team can review all of them and get back with their approvals ahead of time. 
  2. Get a breakdown of the analysis and tasks that the customer’s security team will be doing and make these a part of their deliverables with individual timelines. This accomplishes two things: ensuring there's no undue delay and enabling you to contribute inputs or documents on each of those. 

6. Agreeing to too many integrations

Customers often want premature integrations with an extensive set of tools they use inside their organization. For example, they may want your chat tool to integrate with their CRM, marketing automation and ABM tool, resource planning and forecasting tools, etc. 

You need to align these to the ROI-based goals agreed upon. This is why getting an agreement on the ROI is important to avoid any confusion around priorities and value delivered.

You must always work with the key customer side counterparts to push for those that optimize for faster time to value. A good way to do this is an ROI matrix with values against each integration to ensure the right ones are picked first.

Here are some other steps you must take to handle integrations smoothly: 

  1. Get access to the right customer accounts for integration and set up the right configurations.
  2. Ensure that tasks around these are in place and tracked before integration begins. 
  3. Obtain access to test environments of the tools to be integrated with to ensure no surprises when integrations move to production. 

7. Ignoring data exports and migration

Migrating customer legacy data is often not easy. Many organizations have old and complicated systems. It is a complex activity whose scope and plan must be created at the project’s beginning. You’d also need to define the approach: Will you load the data in one go or multiple batches? How will you handle data validation and acceptance criteria? 

Here are our recommendations for handling migrations and exports:

  1. Make migration a separate project: Migration is often not simply an “export and import” operation. You need to understand the source data, analyze any scope for conversion, and handle data cleaning and data mapping. Invest time and resources in this. 
  2. Define the acceptance criteria: Ensure that your customer signs off on the threshold and this acceptance criterion. 
  3. Run test imports and migrations with partial or all records and ensure that the customer validates them. 
  4. Account for potential delays for heavy loads. 
Meet Rocketlane Forms: Collect and organize data in a jiffy

8. Not prioritizing change management and training

Most organizations still subscribe to the “build it and they will come” school of thought. Chances are that your customers do too.

No matter how impactful the change would be for your customer, if their employees don’t understand it or see value in it, you have your work cut out for you.

Here are just some of the most common change management mistakes and how you can avoid them:

  1. Inadequate communication to make a case for the change: You, along with your customer sponsors and champions, must be able to make a compelling case for this change. You must be able to answer these questions at three levels: Why is this change important for the organization? Why is this change good for my department? What’s in it for me? The best way to do this is to communicate a clear vision of the value your service provides spelled out in quantifiable metrics. The customer’s team must be able to see the tangible value that your offering can provide. 
  1. Underutilizing executive sponsorship and support: You need a top-down show of support. The executive sponsor has to be visibly engaged in the project so that their investment trickles down to the rest of the team. 
  2. Not planning training: There is an assumption that the customer teams will know what to do or figure it out because your product is just that easy to use. That’s rarely the case. Customers are, at best, likely to be passive, and at worst, resistant to adopting your solution. 
  3. Assuming that change management begins with communication and ends at training current employees. Both of these may need to be ongoing. How will you communicate changes? How will you handle training for new users and not just current employees? 

With the right effort in planning communication and training, you can make the process smoother for everyone.

How Quality Customer Education Enhances Value Delivery

9. Not using the right tools 

With complex customer onboarding projects, the biggest risk you run is that of running different activities in silos. Such projects generate many documents, leave a trail of emails, and involve multiple meetings, stakeholders, and tasks. You simply cannot afford to lose any data: on progress, deliverables, and milestones. Relying purely on emails or using the wrong tools can spiral into chaos. 

You need a strong system-driven approach and the right tools to support it. While choosing tools, opt for those that integrate as much as possible and facilitate the right balance of collaboration and visibility. For instance, your executive sponsor should be able to see, in a snapshot, where the project currently is. Or that your team should be able to communicate internally and privately within the team and with the customer on the same task or document. This is the best way for information to flow freely through both teams. 

We’ve designed Rocketlane to ensure accountability and transparency for your customer, and usability and efficiency for your onboarding team. It places a system-driven approach at the center of implementation and provides a unified framework for you to work on. This eliminates the need for multiple tools so that you can plan, document, communicate, demonstrate progress, generate status reports, and collaborate across internal and customer teams—all in one place.

How to Pick the Right Customer Onboarding Software [Free RFP]

10. Not showing progress along the way

Customer onboarding teams know more than anyone else the importance of value realization in any customer journey. However, most onboarding teams underestimate the value of demonstrating incremental progress. 

While periodic status reports are a must-have as part of your onboarding, demos can go a long way in sustaining customer interest and building value realization. Make sure regular and scheduled demos are part of your customer onboarding plans at key milestones. This way, milestones don’t just remain tick boxes on a long checklist but are tangible markers of progress. 

As daunting as the challenge may sometimes seem, it’s important to note how almost all of the issues we’ve spoken about arise from a breakdown in the fundamentals: planning, communication, collaboration, and a value-focused mindset. With eyes set on these basics, ears to the ground, and the right tools to work with, your onboarding and implementation team can handle any challenge thrown at them.

If you’d like to see how Rocketlane can help you deliver a delightful onboarding experience each time, sign up for a demo

More resources

  1. Implementation Stories from Preflight
  2. Customer onboarding resources from Rocketlane
  3. The Launch Station - a podcast for all things customer onboarding

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Srikrishnan Ganesan
Co-founder, Rocketlane

Love technology and start-ups. Your friendly neighbourhood CX and onboarding enthusiast. Follow me on Twitter @srikrishnang

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