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7 Steps to effective onboarding

Although this blog is focussed on the world of SaaS implementation and onboarding, many of the steps are valuable in any function within a business delivering a service or product to their customers. This process is referred to in many different ways in different businesses, but in principle, any team that is responsible for bringing the customer from the point of sale, to the point of use, we will refer to here as ‘onboarding’.

One of the most important (and early) indicators of a customer’s likelihood to renew is Time to Value (TTV).

When a client signs up with your business, they will have an expectation of the outcomes they will get from using your products or services, and how long this will take. So, having an understanding what these expectations are and how they can be met and exceeded, will mean your onboarding team can be effective in building a streamlined and low friction process.

As a company grows and their client list expands, it is common to see an increased need for planning and administration tasks creeping into the business; these can add complexity and delays to the delivery process. The normal reaction to this is to increase the manpower assigned to a project or add new technologies, both of which will inevitably increase the cost to serve, and these interventions also only mask the underlying issues for a while.

By following a set of simple steps to fully define your onboarding process, you will be able to focus on what is important and unique in what you offer, be scientific in understanding the moment your client has truly gained some value, and also find ways to reduce the time it takes for new hires to be effective within your onboarding team.

Your onboarding teams can learn a lot from customer experience best practice; especially when it comes to understanding your customers’ expectations, the journey you take them on and how to measure if changes to the service are working well.

The 7 steps outlined below use this best practice to frame and inform what you do within your onboarding team, and how you do it. Once completed, you should have:

· a standard playbook on how and what you do to onboard your clients;

· the key factors that need to be monitored for onboarding health;

· a list of activities that can either be automated or removed; and

· a better idea of where your onboarding team should be focussing their time.

Throughout this process it is important that you engage your team, the wider business and your customers to communicate the changes you are making and why they are important. Trying to make changes like this without seeking feedback will make the task harder and ultimately likely to fail.

Step 1: Your Reason Why

As Simon Sinek discusses in his book Start with Why - if you understand why your team does what they do, then it becomes easier to know how you should change, and what you should change.

If your company already has a clearly defined ‘why’ then you can apply this to your team’s why – if not, then spend some time talking to your team, your customers and your colleagues in other functions to help define your own.

Step 2: Build your customer journey

Journey mapping is common in the CX world in helping to define what your customer strategy should be – it’s a way of documenting each step where your business connects with your customer (these are referred to as touchpoints). Journey mapping is a hugely powerful tool and can become something that can get out of control, but at this stage keep it simple and do the following:

a. Get your team in a room

b. Start to talk through the onboarding process – from sales to sign-off

c. When you identify the moments where you ask your customer for something, give your customer something, or update someone on the status - document it. These are your milestones or touch points.

Step 3: Write down the tasks

For every milestone or touchpoint there will be a number of tasks or steps that need to be taken to complete it. Working with your onboarding team, review each step and make sure you have captured every one. Each task should contain three things:

a. Who is responsible for completing the task

b. How the task is completed

c. What the result of the task should look like

This is a great opportunity to highlight where tribal knowledge is prevalent within your processes – are you reliant on shared understanding of the actions needed? If you are missing a documented process or description of what the result should look like and the test needed to validate the activity, then now is a good time list these and make a plan to address the gaps. Having a clear set of documented steps and tests will help reduce ramp time for new members of your team and also embeds a common understanding of your team’s deliverables.

Step 4: Define your measures and red flags

Selecting the right measures to manage the onboarding process is important – as long as the measures are well understood and you understand how they affect your goals, then all procedural measures are useful. If you already use utilisation and timescales, for example, then continue to use them, but you need to understand how these affect the Time to Value measure.

In addition, agree on a set of red flags to monitor so that as you start to implement changes you can quickly address any issues that may impact your clients.

Step 5: Build your playbook

Now is the time to pull all this information together into a single playbook that clearly sets out the activity and outcomes that are expected for a standard delivery, highlight where the supporting procedures are available, and make sure that all the measures are aligned.

Peer review this document to check if there are any gaps or obvious mistakes, and check that it will meet the needs of your customers and your business.

During this process you may find that there are some obvious redundant tasks or wasted time. Make a note of these, but at this stage do not try and make changes – at least, not until you have completed the next step.

Step 6: Make it repeatable

As you were developing the playbook it is likely you discovered that members of your team don’t all work in the same way. This could be because people have already found what they believe are valid short cuts, or it might be that they are not fully aware of what is needed because they are new. In any case, it is important to embed a method of onboarding that is measurable and repeatable and, above all, standardised.

Once you are comfortable that you have a repeatable model and you can easily predict the results and the timescales involved, you can use this to set your TTV with the current model.

Don’t be surprised that by applying this standard model you see an increase in throughput and a reduction in how long onboarding takes.

Step 7: Evaluate and streamline

Once you have a repeatable process, you can now revisit all the areas where you highlighted redundant or inefficient activities. Remove these from the playbook, but each time you do so, you need to monitor the result using the red flags to quickly address any service impacting mistakes.

You may find that as you carry out this process you are able to define different customer types that need different playbooks and resourcing; as you develop these, you will be in a better position to forecast your growth needs.

Depending on the complexity of your onboarding processes and how long they have been in place, these steps may take a while to implement. But once they are effective you will find that your team becomes more agile and far more resilient to business and environment change.

Reduction in TTV and happier customers are just happier by-products of an effective onboarding program

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