Why Does the Customer Onboarding Experience Need to Demonstrate Simplicity? In an Interview with Will Stevenson, Founder & COO at Onboard.io


4 min read
16 Jun

Onboarding is the first post-sales stage of the customer journey. This monumental journey needs to start on the right foot. It is the stage where customers will gain trust for your company and product or lose it.

In this interview, Will Stevenson, Founder & COO at Onboard.io, talks about the importance of making sure the onboarding experience aligns and exceeds customers' expectations. Failure to do so can make or break the relationship at this stage.

What led you to establish Onboard.io?

I have spent the last 10 years helping early-stage B2B companies onboard new and existing customers. Through these experiences, I learned how to build, scale, and manage customer success (CS) and onboarding teams.

I love solving complex and challenging problems for customers. That is what attracts me to the CS space. In my previous company, Ambassador, I led CS, standardizing best practices around complex CS processes and onboarding nuances.

When it was acquired, I ventured into consultancy, advising companies, investors, founders, business unit leaders, and their teams to scale their customer onboarding processes. It eventually led me to found Onboard.io.

For me, as long as onboarding efforts and processes are reactive, they will not be effective. That means, businesses must invest time mapping out their customer onboarding experience to ensure it’s proactively giving the customer what is needed. This will inevitably increase value. 

When customers realize the value they get from the product, it becomes more sticky, and they actually want to use it. Even better, it gives customers a reason to stay because they consider it necessary to achieve success, ROI, and growth. 

What onboarding challenges do you solve or aim to solve?

Most companies create or use general onboarding project management or spreadsheet templates, we find that these templates are challenging to maintain at the administrative level and too rigid to fit the wide-ranging (and unique) needs of various customer-cohorts.

If a task needs to be updated or changed, all templates are required to be modified. If you have 5 or 10 templates (these are checklists), then updating all the changes or tasks becomes a daunting task from an administrative perspective. 

From the Customer Success Manager’s (CSM) perspective, we found the same. They typically have to modify or rework the template for each client, spending valuable time before the client ever even gets access to their checklist. 

Another struggle we found was visibility across the board. Customers struggle with enough visibility; therefore, accountability starts to diminish, not knowing the next steps or what they need to do. We help solve these challenges by eliminating traditional templates, creating dynamic launch plans, providing customer visibility, and increasing accountability, allowing our customers to scale faster. 

What steps do you suggest or recommend to onboard customers successfully? 

People buy for different reasons. The first step is understanding what success means to them. Some customers have a different definition or metric that they benchmark against. 

After you understand why clients buy, the most crucial step in the process is just getting organized. Spend time outlining the customer attributes that determine how you’re going to onboard customers, we call these attributes “variables.”

A few examples are: 

  • What the client purchased
  • How they will integrate
  • Growth potential
  • Service level, etc.

The next step is outlining the tasks that need to be completed during onboarding, whether internal or external. The tasks will map directly to the attributes above. For example, if a customer has an attribute of “purchased the Enterprise package”, they’ll have different tasks than a customer that “purchased the Starter package”. 

After determining the work to be done, provide the client with visibility - assigning an owner and a due date to each task. With visibility comes accountability. If your customers understand what needs to get done, by who, and when, tasks will start falling off of your launch plan. 

Understanding this will help structure the right onboarding programs or plans. This small amount of work upfront will save dozens of hours after it is implemented. It’s a little meta, but we use Onboard to onboard our own customers. When our customers sign up, they’re given access to a launch plan based on their attributes. Within minutes of signing up, they have full visibility into what needs to get done, by who, and when to have a successful launch.

How important is customer feedback when developing an onboarding process or strategy?

While it is easy to see how customer feedback positively affects or improves our product roadmap, strategy, and process, what is of primary importance is to understand who will do the what, when, why, and how when feedback is received. 

In other words, every organization must embrace and leverage it. It should be an organization's objective. We need to work toward iterative improvement and demonstrate how this feedback contributes to the greater good.

During these unpredictable and stressful times, customers expect their preferred vendor to align well with their overall goals and success. That means we must also be aligned internally to deliver the outcome the organization wants or expects to achieve. 

Customer feedback allows us to focus on what matters to them and how we can be truly strategic partners. Without putting too much value or effort into understanding it, we will have a hard time maintaining or managing customers' success.

What did COVID teach you? How has this impacted you as a leader?

I think what is interesting now is that working from home or anywhere has become the new norm. If we look back before the pandemic, the ability to work from home had become a competitive advantage for many companies or businesses.

Now that it has become a new norm, it is no longer a competitive advantage. It is something everyone expects from companies. It is now leveling the playing field for everyone. Most businesses had to adapt for that to happen.

Overall it has been a positive change. But the big challenge most companies face is that when you have a remote team, the speed of learning slows down compared to if you work physically. It really pushes us to elevate our game when it comes to training, knowledge sharing, and improving systems and processes.

Any final thoughts or ideas you can share on how to improve customer success or the onboarding process?

I’ve always looked at Customer Success as, if a customer is not getting meaningful, impactful, or measurable results from our product, it just means that we are not the right solution provider, and they are not the right customer for us, right now.

So, helping customers achieve whatever their definition of success must be our first and foremost priority. For too long, the CS industry has only focused on the metrics that we believe will impact the customers. While important because these metrics (such as NPS®, time to value, survey outcomes, or how we think our meetings went) are quantifiable, they are not the full picture. But what is not happening as often as it should, is having long-form customer interviews!

With those interviews, you’ll know what’s wrong, what to correct, and what customers think is missing from the service or outcomes delivered. It seems like a cliché, but if customers aren’t getting value and success isn’t measurable, it’s not a partnership.


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