How accountability makes onboarding easier

Jan Young, Principal Consultant at Success League, talks about why accountability is important from customer onboarding to product adoption.
Shuvedha Subramaniam
June 21, 2023
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Our guest for this episode is Jan Young, a top 50 Customer Success influencer. She is currently the principal consultant with the Success League, which offers CSM and leadership training, CS program assessments, and consulting services.

She started her career in project management, moved to marketing and has been in CS even before it even became a thing. She has been a passionate influencer in the CS world and in this episode of the Launch Station, she talks about:

  1. How setting expectations when onboarding customers sets the tone for better customer partnerships
  2. How accountability makes onboarding easier
  3. How the momentum has to be carried from onboarding through adoption
  4. Whether or not you need to charge for your implementation

… and more.

Here's how our conversation transpired.

Sri: In this episode of Launch Station, we discuss accountability and why you need it from onboarding through adoption. We have a special guest today. Jan Young is a top 50 Customer Success influencer, and she's currently a principal consultant with The Success League, which offers CSM and leadership training, Customer Success Program assessments, and consulting services and CS. She started her career in project management, moved to marketing with Paramount Pictures, and she's had a pretty long stint in customer success, starting at Vubiquity and Mediamorph before when Customer Success became a thing. She entered CS through sales and account management five years before joining The Success League. She did her own consulting with founders and startups. And she's been a passionate influence on the CS world. Welcome to the show, Jan.

Jan: Thanks. I'm excited to be here.

Sri: You have an interesting background in theater playwriting. If there's one classic play that you'd like to direct, do an adaptation of, which one would it be?

Jan: I'm sure I should say something like ‘Waiting for Godot’. My favorite screenwriter-director happens to be Charlie Kaufman. Have you heard of films like ‘Being John Malkovich’ or ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’?

I've shifted my focus lately to thinking about workflows. It's actually quite a creative process. Nowadays, my writing revolves around customer success, specifically blog articles. I enjoy exploring workflows in onboarding and throughout the customer journey. It's become my primary interest these days.

Sri: That's an interesting way to look at it. 

We'll dive into the main topic for the day. Let's start with how you define accountability. If you were the CSM onboarding a customer, how would you set those expectations? How does accountability work for you?

Jan: During the introduction phase, it is crucial to establish a strong partnership. One effective approach is to introduce a success plan that includes SMART goals during the kickoff meeting. This allows executive stakeholders to discuss the reasons behind purchasing the product, their goals, and how they envision using it. It also emphasizes the importance of implementation to the team responsible for it, as their boss has highlighted its significance. 

Additionally, incorporating the team's perception of value, strategies for achieving it, and timelines fosters buy-in and partnership. This collaborative process ensures everyone agrees on tasks, responsibilities, and goals for the next three to six months. It creates an opportunity for the customer success manager to provide progress updates to executive stakeholders and for the onboarding manager to remind everyone of the agreed-upon approach and foster alignment. 

This approach establishes an emotional connection while also addressing the intellectual aspects of project management and the next steps. Overall, this methodology is my preferred way of approaching the introduction phase.

Sri: I think some of these hit us harder when we hear it with a story. I wonder if you can recall an incident where it dawned upon you that keeping folks accountable is making onboarding a breeze and that we’re helping you nail this critical juncture in the partnership with a customer.

Jan: I had experience managing a professional services team before my current consulting role. In every meeting with the team, there were always complaints, and it was a painful process. 

We implemented a new approach focused on partnership and accountability to address this. We introduced user acceptance testing and changed the structure of the meetings. Each meeting started with a sign-off on the items from the previous sprint to ensure acceptance. Once agreed upon, we didn't revisit them. 

This prevented the constant reopening of issues. We would troubleshoot and sign off on each item, then move on to the next one. If there were other issues to discuss, we allotted a short amount of time for that. Through these changes, we became more productive and established mutual buy-in and acceptance. 

The team, although initially resistant to the changes, became happier and felt they were making more progress. This experience taught me the importance of guiding the customer through the process and establishing a partnership based on mutual agreement. It's a story of accountability and partnership, closely aligned concepts. 

Overall, it was a positive experience to turn the team's attitude around in each account. It was truly a magical experience to be able to do that. 

Sri: In addition to their role as project managers, do you think onboarding managers also need to be mindful of setting the pace and maintaining the right momentum for sales to progress with a certain intensity? Would you say it's also the onboarding manager's responsibility to ensure that momentum carries through all the way to adoption?

Jan: Definitely. It is crucial in the sales process to set the customer's expectations and ensure their commitment to the onboarding stages. Often, customers may prioritize other things over the onboarding process, causing delays and complications. 

For example, I recently witnessed a customer taking five to six months to complete something that should only take a month or less, resulting in them asking for extensions on their annual contract. 

This ends up costing the company money. To avoid this, it is important for customers to understand and agree to a set timeline before finalizing the deal. This is why we create a success plan with the executive stakeholder, outlining the timeline and goals to be achieved by specific dates. 

Customers need to prioritize and dedicate time to the onboarding process in addition to their other responsibilities. If they fail to do so, the change management and adoption process becomes more challenging. Thus, it is essential to manage both the emotional and logistical aspects, helping customers understand the benefits they will gain from completing the process. 

Without addressing these expectations and emotions, successful onboarding becomes difficult. I strongly believe that effective change management requires a balance between emotions and practical steps.

Sri: Right. On some occasions, there may be additional parties involved, such as a Salesforce consultant engaged by the customer or other partners. How do you collaborate with them to ensure everyone is aligned?

Jan: In order to ensure alignment, it is important to bring all parties together and address any issues. This may involve discussing concerns with the executive stakeholder who initially purchased the product or having a group discussion. 

If the parties are unwilling to cooperate and move forward as agreed upon, a decision must be made collectively to either reevaluate the situation or discontinue the project. This poses a significant risk, jeopardizing the progress and potential of the product. 

It is crucial for all parties involved to work cohesively, although external factors such as politics or competing priorities may arise. In such cases, there may be a request for compensation, which should be carefully considered based on the importance of the situation and the impact it has on the onboarding team and the customer's growth. It is essential to avoid reaching such a situation if possible. 

However, if it does occur, it is necessary to escalate the issue to the executive team to address and resolve it promptly. This should not be a common occurrence, and proactive measures should be taken to prevent it from happening frequently.

Sri: I've found two different approaches, and I'm wondering if you have any firsthand experience with them or if you have a preference for one. The first approach involves paying for onboarding hours, where you would buy 40 hours for the initial month. If these hours aren't used up by the end of the month, they will expire.

The second approach offers a free implementation for the first month, but if it continues into the second month, payment would be necessary. Have you encountered either of these methods before? Which one would you suggest?

Jan: It is interesting that you inquire about the difference between charging for onboarding versus offering a free month, as both approaches can be effective or not depending on various factors. The success of the approach often lies in how it is communicated and framed to the customer. Additionally, pricing psychology and competition in the market can also influence customer perception.

Regardless of whether you charge or not, the primary goal is to ensure that the customer is invested and committed to the onboarding process, establishing a partnership with your company. The key is to onboard the customer successfully and productively. Even if you charge for onboarding, an unsuccessful process can result in dissatisfied customers, which contradicts the overall objective.

On the other hand, if you offer free onboarding and achieve success, it can be more valuable than charging and failing to achieve successful onboarding. Charging for onboarding can create a sense of responsibility and commitment from the customer. However, you can also utilize psychological strategies to incentivize customers even if you charge. For example, offering the first 30 days free and providing a refund if they complete the onboarding in under 30 days encourages them to complete the process quickly and effectively, potentially even gaining two extra weeks for free.
In cases where onboarding is complex and takes longer than two to four weeks, it is more common to charge. This is because customers understand that significant investments of time and resources are involved. 

Ultimately, whether onboarding is charged or free, the key is to establish a psychological partnership with customers and achieve a productive onboarding experience.

Sri: Now let's transition to our rapid-fire section. Here's the first question: What have you discovered in 2021 that you'd like to continue in 2022?

Jan: I've been reading books regularly. And that's something that I've really enjoyed. So I've continued that throughout 2022. I also have a couple of cats, but I don't think you can call that a habit. 

Sri: Any books that you recommend?

Jan: One book that truly impacted me is ‘So You Want to Talk About Race?’ I apologize for my difficulty pronouncing the author's name, but it was an incredibly compelling read. I often reflect on its contents, and I'm even considering starting a book club around it. It's simply a fantastic book worth reading.

Sri: What comes to mind when I say customer?

Jan: Partner.

Sri: Right. And what comes to mind when I say metrics?

Jan: When considering leading and lagging metrics, it's important to recognize that the choice of metric may vary depending on the task at hand. Instead of focusing on a specific metric, it is crucial to adapt and use metrics that align with the current objective. Understanding whether a metric is leading and will aid progress or lagging and will be measured afterward is key in determining its significance.

Sri: We also have one question from our community, Preflight. How do you ensure you keep things on track with customer initiatives without annoying them?

Jan: It's important to avoid being too critical or constantly pointing out flaws. Building a strong partnership is crucial, where both parties share common goals and a clear vision. The executive stakeholder should be responsible for ensuring this alignment, making it feel like a collaborative effort rather than doing a favor for onboarding purposes. 

Having a sense of partnership allows for flexibility when unforeseen challenges arise, like delaying certain tasks together. However, if there is no commitment from the stakeholder regarding the onboarding project, there may be frequent delays. 

Sri: Last question. What piece of advice would you like to give to a reader who is currently going through a similar journey as you are?

Jan: Recently, I've been thinking a lot about how to navigate the challenges presented by the great resignation or the great reshuffle, as some call it. It's a difficult time for teams because we have to manage hiring and onboarding while also dealing with people leaving.

This puts a lot of strain on the team as we have to constantly bring in new members. It's important not to take our team for granted, especially when there are other tempting job opportunities with better pay or promises of greener grass elsewhere. 

This can lead to losing valued team members and further strain on the team. It's crucial for the executive team to understand the impact of these transitions and communicate any limitations or adjustments required to achieve our goals. 

Sometimes, we may have to acknowledge that we won't be able to meet certain goals due to the extra workload caused by team transitions. It's better to be upfront and have the necessary support and time to handle these changes. This has been my major lesson this quarter.

Sri: This was great, Jan! Thanks for having this conversation with us.

Jan: Yeah, it's been a lot of fun, and a long time coming, and really excited to have had this conversation with you.

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