The customer onboarding process is a vital stop on the path to customer happiness and product success. Ensuring that your customers know how to use your products and don't encounter any major obstacles to utilizing all of its features and functionalities is the big win for most parties involved, but onboarding also represents a great opportunity for your product organization to gain more insight into your customers, how they interact with your product, and how you can improve across the board.
Think about it for a minute. You have a customer who has already bought, downloaded, or signed up for your product and is getting ready to use it for the first time; they haven’t formed any bad habits, but they haven’t formed any good ones either--if you want a real “in the wild” look at how customers approach your product here it is. The issue is, many organizations miss this opportunity because they underestimate its value.
"During the critical onboarding phase, no matter how "easy to use" your application might be, you have a unique opportunity to personally connect with your new customer, understand their goals and how they are measuring value, get to know their style and potential, and put in place the building blocks for a solid, mutually-beneficial relationship. Don't squander it – you will not get this particular chance again."- Rachel English, Frontleaf
As a product manager, there's nothing that quite compares to watching and listening to a "virgin" user try and figure things out. Unlike some usability test subjects, these are real customers trying to do their job or live their life, not people you have paid to complete a task they may or may not really be interested in accomplishing. Plus, if your company is seeing decent volume for your products, these things are happening every month, week or day, giving you ample opportunities to lurk in the shadows and observe away!
If your company offers webinar-based training or does one-on-one conference calls (hopefully with screen sharing) to get your customers started with your products, you have a great opportunity to sit back and take notes on what you hear (and see) during these sessions.It may pay off to listen carefully to the questions customers ask during this stage. A few key types of customer questions to be on the lookout for:
Think of the "interrupting kid" at the dinner party who simply can't wait for someone to get to the end of the story or is constantly asking barely tangential questions. It may be annoying to the storyteller, but you get a pretty good idea of what that kid is really interested in and can't wait to ask about. Your customers may start doing the same things during these sessions, interrupting the trainer or account manager to ask questions about what they really care about.
When a customer asks the presenter for clarification, it is a good tip-off that your UI or text may not be clear enough or as intuitive as possible.
When a customer asks a "can it do this?" or a "can I do that" question you should have one of three (silent) reactions:
(Note that "Of course not, that's just stupid" was not one of your options.)
Since you will usually know at least a little bit about who is being onboarded, you can pay special attention to what different types of customers (industries, use cases etc.) are asking about to see if your solution is meeting their specific needs.
If you sit in on enough onboarding sessions, you will probably start to notice that some things come up fairly often while other topics are rarely raised. Keep score and use that as an input to your prioritization process.
Whether your company uses a human touch during its onboarding efforts or offers a strictly digital path to proficiency for your product, there are a number of data points that you can harvest for your own product-specific insights. At the most basic level, you can see what people are clicking on and downloading.Start with the tutorials section of your web site:
If your company sends a standard set of emails throughout the onboarding process you can evaluate their open rates and click-through rates to see what is resonating with customers and what is falling flat. Just like a marketer will tweak subject lines and imagery and A/B test emails, you can try to identify what things customers are interested in and what might be less popular with your user base, which you can then leverage when prioritizing releases and roadmapping.Beyond the onboarding materials themselves, if your product generates usage data you can map that to what stage of onboarding customers are at for additional learnings. For example, does watching a tutorial lead to additional usage of a feature or does attending a webinar increase average session length? If you see that onboarding activities are making a positive impact on usage, you can explore other ways to deliver the same information to longer-term customers that aren't as engaged with your solution.Assuming your company offers multiple channels for onboarding content (such as webinars, tutorials, and 1:1 calls with account managers), you can also measure which channels are working for which customers. This gives you a solid foundation when deciding how you want to deliver future valuable information (such as a new feature or product line extension) to your current customers.Finally, you can also learn a lot from how and where customers are accessing your onboarding program. If they're reading blogs on mobile phones and watching webinars on tablets, it's a safe bet they likely want to use your product on those platforms as well.
A key goal of customer onboarding is to ensure that customers have entered all of the relevant and required data into your product and/or configured settings so they can fully realize the benefits of your product. Account managers are often on the hook to help customers do this to ensure customer success and satisfaction. Talking to your account management team about what data is trickiest to extract from customers is another potentially useful insight from the onboarding process. Are those data points critical to your product's functionality or could they be skipped or put off until later? Is there a way to automate data collection with an integration into a third-party system or even your own CRM?Sometimes the most impactful enhancements to a product are never seen by the customer at all, but instead make it easier to provide great customer service (or cut down on customer service requests to begin with).Assuming your onboarding process has a linear set of goals and tasks that customers are expected to complete, is there a common bottleneck where the progress tends to get bogged down? If so, think about how you can streamline things within the product itself to remove these roadblocks to customer success.
Assuming this isn't already part of your job description, a great way to find flaws in your product is to try and teach someone else how to use it. When you have to explain things step-by-step you're far more likely to spot less-than-ideal UX flows or uncover opportunities for improvement. So try doing things personally; use a screen capture program and narrate how you complete a common task or create a how-to blog post.
This doesn't mean you have to personally ask customers questions, but think about every opportunity there is to get customer feedback during the onboarding process. During a webinar, instead of sticking entirely to the script, the presenter should ask the attendees what else they would like to learn about. At the end of a tutorial you can also inquire if they are satisfied with what they read/watched or what other topics they would like to learn about. On your FAQs, don't be afraid to have an entry form where people can ask another question if they didn't find what they are looking for...don’t forget to add that option to your emails, too!"Building feedback loops into your products is good for everyone: for customers it shows that the company actually cares about it’s products, services and the people using it. For companies it’s a great tool to use in your in understanding how people are using your products, what they like about it, don’t like about. Later take that data and change things around for even more success." says Peep Laja on the ConversionXL blog.But when your company does have the opportunity to ask a customer a question, don't forget to ask the most important one of all: How would YOU define success with regards to the product/solution in question? In a post on Sixteen Ventures' blog, Lincoln Murphy suggests also considering this from your customer's perspective,"You can make big leaps forward by understanding not what they need to “do” but what they need/want to achieve and using your creativity/engineering prowess/entrepreneurial spirit to solve for that." By learning what it is your customers want to achieve in their own words you can learn all kinds of things that might otherwise remain uncovered.
While the primary purpose of a customer onboarding process is to educate and train new users and set them up for success, there's several ways to use your onboarding procedure as a source of feedback to incorporate into your product development cycle. A few of the easiest ways to get customer feedback at this stage include listening in on training calls, looking at data and analytics to see how often certain assets are accessed, talking to your account managers, stepping back and writing your own product tutorials, and of course simply asking questions.Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness