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In order to truly help your customers use, know and love your product, you need to think strategically about your company’s onboarding program. There are three specific areas that you need to consider in order to build a successful high-touch onboarding experience that will scale as your business grows.

Is High-Touch Onboarding a Project or a Program?

When I talk to peers at other SaaS companies about setting up a high-touch onboarding program, I very intentionally use the word “program,” and here’s why. If you’re anything like me, you have many, many customer success projects going on simultaneously. As well you should! And you may be tracking all these various projects with project tracking software.   Those are all discrete onboarding projects, but they should all roll up to an overall, universal, Mama-Pajama onboarding program

A program is a useful thing. A program has metrics, a strategy, and projects assigned to it which support the program’s objectives. Onboarding as a program is a product offering at the highest level.

Don’t Go Checklist Blind

If your onboarding program is only concerned with asking, “What have I done to onboard this individual customer?” the program will fall short every time. Keeping track of activities at the one-to-one customer level doesn’t necessarily mean your overall onboarding program is a success.    

A checklist makes it easy to see the success of an individual project, but you need to understand performance across all your customers to understand if your onboarding program is working. This is why it is important to make sure you have software that not only tracks your individual commitments with customers but also all the projects that are part of that program.  

This doesn’t mean your onboarding program shouldn’t be flexible. It should generally work consistently across all customers but it must also allow some flexibility for the small but important group of customers who need it to be customized.  (Think of the 80/20 rule.) This is important because to scale a high-touch onboarding program you must be able to repeat a similar customer journey/experience across all customers, by following a template (aka your checklist).

Processes vs Templates

Some people unintentionally use the words Process Doc and Template interchangeably when they are planning their onboarding program. This is a situation where it’s important to clearly define terms. 

An Onboarding Process Doc is your internal, in-depth work instructions for YOURSELVES on how the high-touch onboarding process works at your company. It outlines the entire process. If you were to hire a new team member at your company the Onboarding Process Doc is what you would hand them to explain your approach to onboarding a new customer and each of the steps. 

A Template is the high-level version of the process intended to help track the progress of the project and the effectiveness of the onboarding program but is not a replacement of the process itself. 

When you create your template you should use your process documentation, because it’s repeatable. But don’t take that process doc and translate it word for word into a template. Putting every single step of your process into the template isn’t just duplicating efforts, it can also make your team feel overworked and overwhelmed. They’ll feel like the system is working them, rather than them working the system. Instead, you have to translate your program into a template. 

The onboarding template is designed to help you map where the customer is in the process. It feeds metrics to how your overall program is doing. For example, how often did the kickoff call happen on time? And by on time, we mean within 10 days of the close date, unless there are extenuating circumstances. That answer is the information you need to answer the question, “Are we accomplishing kickoff calls in a timely manner?”  

Remember, the purpose of the entire onboarding effort is to add value to your overall program and value to your customer. Breaking out every single step only adds an additional layer of complexity for managing customer onboarding. Don’t make it burdensome…for yourself, your team, or your customer.

If what you’re communicating to your team or your clientdirectly or indirectly is that they will get an A+ for checking all the boxes of onboarding, that’s missing the point. Over-focusing on the tasks isn’t useful…to anyone. That’s not the real value of onboarding. It’s better for your template to ask questions like, “By close date + 10 what does the customer need to be aware of?” “By close date + 30, what do we as a company need to know to understand if this onboarding was successful?” That answer, whatever it is, is built into your system and that’s what your team should be held accountable for. 

At TaskRay, we’ve created a high-touch onboarding playbook for ourselves, which is our process document. The playbook tells us, for example, the expectations for our kickoff meeting. Another page of the playbook might list the pre-work tasks for the kickoff meeting. Or this is what happens during the call and this is what the goals and expectations should be. It’s very broad strokes, very high-level big picture stuff. That’s our TEMPLATE.

Now, there are a lot of different ways to get to that. You can still create a consistent experience by having great process documentation for your team, but in terms of customer success tools and onboarding tools, neither of those are meant to make up for you not understanding your own process. 

Automating Onboarding

Most executives think that automating customer onboarding will save them time and money. And it will, that’s true. But it will save you time and money only in the sense that it will free up your most expensive resources, namely…human beings. 

If you set up your new onboarding program to work like a perfectly synchronized swiss watch, with everything automated, even if it works perfectly, it can actually negatively impact you. We’ve all experienced that moment when the $25 bazillion dollar high-tech chatbot system that we thought was a human being winds up looking like a chintzy vintage Coleco Electronic Handheld Football Game because we answered a question in an unexpected way. What may happen after you put all this time and energy into your automation design, is that it’s not at all in alignment with what your users may want.

In our obsession to automate everything, we sometimes forget that automating makes things faster, not better. If you speed up a great process, it delivers value faster. But if you automate a bad process, it only makes it spiral out of control with little chance for oversight.

It’s better to start with the template. Look at the purpose of the onboarding activity, and then figure out whether it makes more sense for it to be automated or handled by a sentient being.  Always involving your users is key as well. 

When’s the Right Time To Automate? 

I suggest limiting automation in the beginning. While automation saves time, it also can add time and complexity when you want to tweak the program. And believe me, you will want to tweak this program a lot in its infancy. Trust and believe, it will be a veritable tweakapalooza for a while. As your team gets more comfortable with the new process and you’re confident in the template, then, and only then should you start adding more automation and complexity. 

Automating tasks puts things in cement, in a sense. As you’re figuring out the onboarding, it’s better to keep the cement out of the process at first.  

Another advantage to holding back on adding automation is that it sets good expectations with your team from the start. If they know they have input into the automation, they can help guide where the most value is. If you start out of the gate by automating everything, your team won’t have the flexibility to tweak and improve the process.

As you can see, I have a lot to say about Customer Onboarding! If you’d like to learn more from me on how to weave Customer Onboarding success into your organization’s DNA, sign up for my upcoming webinar!