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By Donna Weber, author of Onboarding Matters: How Successful Companies Transform New Customers Into Loyal Champions

Did you know it matters how new customers feel and what they think when they purchase your product? I didn’t, until Customer Success expert Ed Powers enlightened me on the neuroscience of customer interactions and how a good or bad onboarding experience could impact a customer relationship forever. During onboarding, brain science comes into play in three areas: first impressions, buyer’s remorse, and cognitive closure. While I’m no neuroscientist, I’m excited to share with you the impact onboarding has on long-term customer relationships.

It’s the people that matter

Once I started digging into neuroscience, the study of the structure and function of the nervous system and brain, I realized that companies often think of new customers as companies, accounts, and revenue. The reality is you deal with people. And just like you, the people who make up your customers have feelings and thoughts that are not always on the rational or logical side. That’s because the parts of their brains activated during onboarding are those that deal with fear and value. 

Consider how the people on the customer side feel during onboarding. You move new users from what’s familiar to the unknown. The buyer might feel insecure about the choice they just made and the impact it has on their organization as well as on their career. Both the project team and end users might resist having to learn to use a new tool on top of all their projects. 

When you leave new customers hanging without addressing all this change, they feel abandoned. Their brains stay stuck in fear about doubt, you meet resistance from new customers when you most expect them to be excited about your product. Let’s explore why. 

First impressions matter

Neuroscience offers intriguing insights into why starting on the right foot is critical for reducing churn and for building customer loyalty. It turns out not all customer interactions have equal importance. The beginning of a customer relationship directly affects the final outcome, which means the way you start with a new account may determine whether they renew or churn.

The individual people in that new account you just signed don’t perceive the beginning of relationships objectively. Faced with uncertainty, the brain sets the first and most impactful cognitive anchor upon which all subsequent learning is based. Neurobiology predisposes people to automatically place more importance on first impressions. 

Confirmation bias

Split-second first judgments are so influential because subsequent information and learning reinforces the initial experience. In time, cumulative perceptions evolve into long-term biases. The tendency to interpret new information as evidence of one’s existing beliefs or theories is called confirmation bias. We embrace information that confirms our initial view while ignoring or rejecting anything that casts doubt.

When your new customer has a favorable first interaction with you and your teams, they look for evidence to confirm the supportive relationship moving forward. However, when that first interaction is adverse or nonexistent, customers continually confirm their negative prejudice. They stop gathering information and stay stuck in their initial bias. It feels better to keep confirming what we already think, rather than looking for evidence that counteracts our beliefs. Once the mind learns, the underlying neural patterns are difficult to change, which is why perceptions linger and opinions survive and spread. When you mess up the initial connection with new customers, you’ll play catch up for a long time to come. 

Buyer’s remorse

Buyer’s remorse is the sense of regret after having made a purchase. It is frequently associated with large and extravagant purchases, like cars, vacations, and home purchases. However, people experience buyer’s remorse even when purchasing something as insignificant as an ice cream cone. Some 82 percent of people report feeling regret or guilt over a purchase — $10 billion worth of goods, collectively.

Buyer’s remorse is common because of a mental process called prospection. Prospection means you do your best to imagine how you will think or feel in the future as a result of your decision. Your brain goes into prospection when you anticipate that fantastic vacation coming up. Your customers go into prospection during the sales process when the sales rep shares all the sensational things your product can do for them. 

Consider the personal risk buyers make when they select your product over all the choices they have: Their decision could put their reputation on the line. It seems the more involved they are with a purchase, the more intense their potential regret may be. In onboarding new customers, remember that even when the customer signs the contract, their brain keeps anticipating—conjuring up scenarios about what happens after a decision to confirm their expectations and fears. This goes on indefinitely until there’s a reason to stop. That’s why your onboarding program must address the fear, remorse, and regret your buyers might have. 

Onboarding needs to build confidence quickly

Rather than letting customers and their users ruminate, determine what you want them to think and feel after they purchase your product. Most likely, you want them to trust they’re in capable hands. You want them to feel confident they made the right decision and to be excited about what’s coming next. Your onboarding program needs to build confidence quickly, says Ed Powers. “The choice to churn or to renew is determined during onboarding.” Since customers quickly judge the value of your product and the quality of your relationship in the early days, onboarding customers in an orchestrated way is the key to helping your customers’ brains engage immediately. 

DONNA WEBER is the world’s leading expert in customer onboarding. For more than two decades, she’s helped high-growth startups and established enterprises create customers for life. Her new book is Onboarding Matters: How Successful Companies Transform New Customers Into Loyal Champions. Learn more at