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Despite the money businesses spend in acquiring new customers across various channels, it looks like they are losing the battle from the very start: customer onboarding. According to a Wyzowl customer onboarding survey, over 90% of customers feel that the companies they buy from could do a better job of onboarding them.

It seems like the obvious response to acquiring a new customer is to roll out the proverbial red carpet, so what gives? It might be that these brands (and maybe even yours) have a few blind spots in their customer onboarding process. That's why this customer onboarding checklist is so handy—you can simply go through it and cross-reference the steps that your new user experience may be lacking.

But, before we get started, let's understand what customer onboarding means for your customers and why it is so essential to give enough attention to this crucial aspect of your customer's lifecycle. 

What is customer onboarding?

Depending on your business model and the product or services you provide, customer onboarding could differ for your customers. Customer onboarding is usually the first step for your customers after they purchase your products or services. Your approach to welcoming new customers and providing them with a white-glove experience will deliver a great first impression. If your business is sales-led, it could entail a live in-person or online interaction to walk you and your team through the product. If it is a self-serve product, your first step might be an assisted walkthrough with a virtual product tour, which nudges you to try out the product, accompanied by an explainer video. If you have a high-ticket SaaS product, you might also have an opportunity to complete your first task or achievement with a customer success team member helping you adopt or migrate your legacy systems into the new product.

Why is customer onboarding important for your business?

So why should you fine-tune your customer onboarding process?

1. Keep customers wanting more

For starters, because acquiring new customers is way more expensive than retaining them. And the key to keeping existing customers is to provide them with a stellar first-time onboarding experience. Then, once they are set up for success in their initial journey and have experienced a great activation process to use your product effectively, they are much more likely to stick to the product long-term. 

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2. Reduce churn.

Once your customers have experienced success with your product as part of your customer onboarding process, they will likely complete their core work tasks as part of this journey. Knowing what your product can do to improve their productivity or speed with specific activities would encourage them to use your product more often, improving your client retention.

3. Boost customer lifetime value

Happy customers are always keen to have more 'aha!' moments—and every "aha!" motivates them to continue the customer onboarding experience. Once you've hooked them with that lightbulb moment, they'll be happy to consider any adjacent product add-ons or service upgrades you would like to offer them. It stands to reason, then, that you should use these opportunities intentionally throughout the customer journey to promote and provide incentives that support your business model.

To understand the benefits of excellent customer onboarding, I recommend reading more about the best practices to create a great onboarding experience. But just dreaming of a great customer-facing experience is not going to cut it. If you're going to pull it off, you'll need to rally your entire organization around building this white-glove experience.

Part of making it happen is ensuring that all customer-facing teams provide the same onboarding experience consistently. And the best way to do that is to create a customer onboarding checklist that guides every team through ensuring every customer gets that red-carpet treatment—every time.

Sounds almost too easy, right? Well, I'll make it even easier for you! Here's a customer onboarding checklist you can easily adapt for your new users today.

Steal This customer onboarding checklist!

You might have customers across different market segments, sectors, and geographies. How do you ensure you can provide each one with a consistent onboarding experience? Having a comprehensive checklist, like this one, can guide all your teams to deliver well-executed, consistent, delightful experiences. Let's unpack how each aspect of the checklist can act as a template for your team to deliver each part of the onboarding process.

1. Streamline the sales-customer success workflow

Tell me if this sounds familiar: your clients converted from a prospect to a customer after witnessing your value proposition across several whitepapers, blog topics, product walkthroughs, and proof-of-concept (POC) deliverables. They were convinced that your product or service was the best fit to solve their unique pain points. But somehow, after the contract was signed and the sales process was complete, they observed that your customer success team has no context on their requirements and is providing a canned response to their questions.

If this is relatable, it is because the lack of a handoff among sales and customer success teams is a real problem, especially in large enterprise businesses.

Action Item:

The best way to overcome this issue would be to share notes about the client seamlessly across the sales process at the CRM level with your account and customer success teams, so they are all aligned on the same page. This way, your teams welcoming the client into your product have clear expectations set from the start on what pain areas to guide the client to create a great first impression.

2. Create a client profile summary for your team 

Understanding the client's pain points might be one piece of the grand client onboarding puzzle. It might be helpful also to compile information to know how your client is positioned in the market, with insights into how your product can enable new opportunities for your client.

Action Item:

Have the onboarding team create a questionnaire to understand their customers' pain points in detail. These insights should be accessible to the key stakeholders on the client end, complete with the customer's roles, key personality traits, contact information, and social media handles. This client summary can help your team personalize their conversations in the onboarding process, thus creating a great rapport from the beginning of the client onboarding relationship. 

3. Organize all paperwork and contacts in a single place

It's incredible how much you can impact the customer experience simply by getting organized. When onboarding assets are living piecemeal between someone's inbox, shared folders, and the CRM, important things are bound to get missed.

Action Item:

Organize all customer-facing collateral, including the legal paperwork, training materials, knowledge base articles, and product walkthrough videos, in a single location for your onboarding team to access. Ensure that the right teams have editing rights to this collateral, and provide them with the means to edit it if multiple updates on your product or service can make these documents outdated. 

4. Create a client welcome kit across multiple channels

A welcome kit doesn't have to be a big undertaking—even a basic, automated send of useful materials creates a welcoming, orienting experience for new users.

Action Item:

Ensure that you have welcome email and follow-up sequences across multiple channels (like Slack) created and personalized for your client with their logos and preferences in mind. These welcome sequences could also include kickoff meetings with the clients with a dedicated set of contacts within your team to hand-hold them through your business and product. 

5. Automate access provisioning for your client

Automating access to your customer support channels within the first week can enable your customer onboarding team to create a frictionless experience for their initial "teething problems" with the product. For example, they might encounter account issues or configuration problems in the first week.

Action Item:

Solve these problems proactively with automation, coupled with easy access to customer support channels. This can help them get unstuck during the adoption period and make their initial product experience memorable.

6. Provide a structured training path

Your platform might be compelling and capable of solving complex problems with an intuitive approach, but your customers may not be fully aware of the capabilities of your product.

Action Item:

Ensure that your team is fully aware of the customer's pain points to help them create a personalized training experience that introduces the product features best suited to encourage product adoption. These training sessions could be a mix of live interaction webinars or recorded self-paced content, which lets the client stakeholders get up to speed on the product's capabilities based on their own pace and learning style. 

7. Organize progress meetups for the first 90 days

Let's say your client interactions in the first week have gone well, but then it's radio silence from your client stakeholders in the following weeks. Experiencing a drastic drop in product adoption and usage within the first 30 days is standard in the industry—but that doesn't mean you can't do something about it!

Action Item:

Closely track customer progress milestones across every communication channel. Your team can use a mix of software and communication channels to track and monitor key success metrics for your customer onboarding process across the first seven, thirty, sixty, and ninety-day roadmap. You can try one of the tools on this list of excellent customer onboarding platforms to help your team observe and then use these insights to organize weekly check-ins with your client team to nudge them in the right direction.

8. Keep your team informed on customer progress

The first 30 days of your customer onboarding lifecycle can be crucial in understanding if your client team has been able to experience all their use cases and pain points addressed in your product. However, this is also a time when crucial customer insights are prone to falling through the cracks—and if that happens, the customer's business is easy to lose.

Action Item:

Make sure that all customer communications and insights are documented in a centralized location that is easy to search and filter. Why is this important? Let's suppose your customer has been running into several issues and voicing their concerns across multiple channels. Some of these concerns might be logged in customer support, and others might have been expressed over an online product walkthrough—but you can be assured the customer will expect your team to be aware of them all. In cases like these, your team needs to understand the customer's history holistically so that you know how to efficiently identify friction, solve issues, and prevent erosion of trust.

9. Iterate and improve customer support 

Client stakeholders can vary in their preferences to seek help using your product effectively. For example, some might be happy to get access to a product knowledge base of articles. On the other hand, client leadership might desire a more high-touch experience in providing feedback, so an in-person listening session with your customer success team could assure them that their needs are being addressed.

Action Item:

Once your team understands the issues your customer brings forward, tweak your support channels to address them by creating collateral (whether that be help articles, webinars, or training modules) to solve these problems. Chances are that this newly built collateral and documentation would benefit not just your present client, but also other clients going through the same onboarding process, making it reusable at scale.

a rising tide lifts all boats

Creating a checklist for your entire team to follow a structured customer onboarding process is one thing. Mobilizing the checklist to create a delightful experience for your client stakeholders—that's a whole other can of worms. Ensuring all your teams are on the same customer onboarding bandwagon is essential to make this experience a reality. The best way to get there is by gaining leadership buy-in and alignment from customer support, customer success, product, engineering, and marketing teams. Together, you can build an excellent onboarding process your team can be proud of. When all your teams rally together to manifest this experience, your customer onboarding checklist will become the new standard for how your business works with your clients. 

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Renganathan Padmanabhan
By Renganathan Padmanabhan

Renga advises and works with startups at the intersection of product, marketing, and content. He also teaches product and design courses at Pluralsight and OnDeck. You can find him at anushkaventures.com.