Brian Casel
Brian Casel

Onboarding is everything

by Brian Casel · Subscribe

One thing has proven to be true across every one of the businesses I have worked on. It’s this:

Improving the onboarding experience has made a more positive impact than any other improvement I can work on.

This is true of all types of onboarding too: New customer onboarding as well as employee onboarding.

And it’s true across all the different types of businesses I’ve had: From Productized Services to Software and even to my training products. Improving onboarding has made an outsized impact on all of them.

The critical first month

Those very first few weeks of a new customer’s engagement are, literally, make or break.

Put yourself in their shoes.

Your customer just paid (or committed to starting a trial). They’ve put aside all of their initial objections, overcome their hesitations, and gained a high enough level of trust in you and your offer that they decided to give it a shot.

Now they’re faced with the question: “Did I just made a huge mistake?”

The sooner you can put that nasty question to rest, the better.

How bad is a rocky start?

It’s perfectly natural and common for details to be missed, for trivial hiccups to occur, for miscommunications to happen. Rocky starts happen.

No big deal, right?

Actually yes big deal. It’s a bigger deal than you think.

Sure, the customer might be able to forgive a missed comma or a deliverable that comes one day late. That doesn’t seem like the end of the world. Nothing blew up.

But let’s hop back into your customer’s shoes.

They’ve experienced mild frustration, maybe some confusion, perhaps some skepticism. They can’t firmly answer that question that’s now reverberating more loudly in their mind: “Did I make a mistake in trying this service?”

Now you’re at risk of them becoming convinced that their first decision—to try your service—was, in fact, a mistake.

Once that idea seeps in, they’ll be on the lookout for any opportunity to correct that mistake. Often that means cancelling service, ghosting on their trial, or taking a look at your competitors.

The upside of an amazing start

Now let’s look at the flipside: What happens when your customer’s early experience goes amazingly well?

First, you’ve crushed that “Was this a mistake?” question. So all of the risks that came with that, are instantly off the table.

But it gets even better.

Your customer not only believes they’ve made the right decision to hire your service. They also believe they are extremely smart for doing it! And that they feel both lucky and resourceful that they happened to discover your service in the first place.

You know what those feelings lead to?

Evangelism.

They will tell whoever they can about it. They want others to experience the same win that they’re experiencing. They want to be the one others come to for trusted advice. Now they know, with first-hand confidence, that recommending your service will be solid, worthwhile advice.

It gets better still.

An amazing first impression leads to a far more forgiving relationship.

Sometimes the work turns out to be more complex than expected. Sometimes honest mistakes happen. If these happen in the very first few days, you’re toast.

But let’s assume that you’ve already established with your customer that they’re in good hands. As things move along, if and when a mistake pops up, they’re much more forgiving and willing to get passed it. When something goes wrong, they go to battle with you (not against you). They root for you to make it right.

I have seen many customers experience mishaps in the early months and go on to turn into multi-year, high-value customers. The only way this happened was because their first month went swimmingly.

Easy onboarding wins

It’s not terribly difficult to improve your onboarding. It just takes some work and trial and error.

I can’t speak to how every business operates. But I can share a few wins that have made a tremendous impact in mine:

  • Have a process. Your team should always follow the same steps, on the same schedule, with the same tools and checklists every time. I’d go so far as to say that our new customer onboarding processes have been by far the most highly used, refined, and improved through the years in my businesses.

  • Never leave them wondering. Your customer should never be wondering “When am I going to hear from them?” or “What happens next?”. Communicate early and often throughout the process. Let them know what’s been done, what’s coming next, and whether anything is needed from them.

  • Gather what you need up front. Whether it’s information, assets, logins, or anything else. The more you can do streamline the gathering of all these bits and pieces from your customer, the better. Use an onboarding intake form and continuously update it as you identify new things you often need to gather later.

Onboarding employees is like onboarding customers

I suggest you scroll back to the top of this article and re-read it, but this time swap out “customer” for “employee”. The same advice applies.

I found it to be incredibly important to find great people who can turn into long-term, valuable team members. This only happens when they’re sold on how valuable it is to work for my company.

That begins with the employee’s early experience. You might call that a form of onboarding too.

New employees need quick wins. They need to be eased into your processes. Trust needs to be built, both ways. Confidence needs to established and nurtured.

I often say that I sell the value of working at my company just as much as I sell the value of buying the service we offer. The onboarding experience of working with me and my team factors directly into that.

Resources for better onboarding

You might find these helpful when working on improving your onboarding:

  • I designed ProcessKit to handle your team’s processes and those repeatable projects (like onboarding). We have a new customer onboarding process template that you can import into ProcessKit and tailor to your needs.

  • In my training program, Productize, I dedicate an entire lesson on new customer onboarding, and other lessons on hiring and training your team.

It’s that important.