Are The Tasks You Ask Of Customers During Onboarding Actually Tasks?

We ask a lot of our customers during the early phases of their journey with us, especially during the customer onboarding portion. Here are a few tips to make sure the tasks you're asking of your customers are actually tasks.

Shareil Nariman

April 7, 2022

8 minutes

We ask a lot of our customers during the early phases of their journey with us, especially during the customer onboarding portion.

“Book time to get started”

“Tell us about your goals and needs”

“Update these settings”

“Read this novel”

“Use this feature”

“Watch that video”

“Click those links”

“Check out these 23 help center articles”

“Bookmark these pages”

“Learn more here”

We jam pack an email or project plan with all of these tasks thinking we are giving our customers a clear path to success.

“Finish all these steps and you’ll be using our product in no time!” we write at the end of our email.

But are we really driving them towards success or just shooting our shot?

To make matters worse, if a customer gets stuck along the way, we have no way of knowing why or what caused that hiccup.

  • Did they read the article and it didn’t make sense?
  • Did they watch the video but it didn’t relate to their need?
  • Did we even have an ask or did we just share information?

This becomes especially dangerous if we are expecting customers take action to make progress when we are not around to guide them, yet they are wondering what the action even is.

Now, this doesn’t mean all of those links, videos, and resources you spent hours creating are a waste. It’s just an opportunity to evaluate what actually is needed of a customer to get through your onboarding flow (the actual tasks) versus what is supplemental information that is best suited as such.

The solution is to make sure every task we require of our customers has a clear purpose in their journey towards their first moment of value realization. Focus on what your customers need right NOW.

Remember, onboarding never ends, so you’ll have time to show off all your fancy features and work arounds.

Let’s look at some best practices that will help ensure your tasks are both relevant and actionable so your customers make it through onboarding instead of ending up in the churn column.

The actionability test

Whenever we put a task in front of a customer and ask them to complete it, we should be able to answer these 3 questions

  1. will completing this task help them see the value of the product or service?
  2. is completing this task a dependency to be able to do the next task?
  3. will I need to follow-up if this task is not completed?

If the answer to all 3 is “yes” you have a task that requires action. If any answer is “no” you might need to re-evaluate.

Let’s look at some examples.

Example task 1

Schedule time for an onboarding kickoff call

Actionability test

✅ yes, if we find time to talk I’ll be able to understand their goals, show them how to use the product, and ensure next steps drive them towards the value they came for

✅ yes, without this first call, I am not able to finish setting up their account for them to actually use it

✅ yes, if they don’t schedule the call through my calendar link, I’ll have to reach out again to remind them to do so

✅ This seems to checkout as a task that requires action from a customer in order to progress through the onboarding journey

Example task 2

Read this article to learn more about our reports dashboard

Actionability test

✅ yes, data is a critical part of our product, so knowing how to access and read our reports will help a customer do so

🚫 no, they could read the article at another time while still marking off other tasks on the action plan

🚫 no, I would not urgently reach out to ask if they had read the article about reports, I’d likely just remind them during a future check-in

🚫 Although data and reports are incredibly valuable, reading the article itself doesn’t seem to be an actionable task that my customer needs to do this very second

Today, a “task” like this might lead to confusion, questions, or unnecessary delays in the onboarding process.

Are there common tasks you should be including in your onboarding plans?

Every business and product is different, as are the needs of their respective customers. There isn’t a simple one-size-fits-all approach to knowing exactly which tasks are a must and which can be skipped.

However, there are some common actions we require of customers during this part of their journey and we’ll get into those in a second.

Equally as important as the task itself, is the ability for the customer to complete it. We need clear directions, help articles for guidance, and other products to help us make the process easier for our customers. And there are plenty of great tools out there that helps us accomplish this - calendar scheduling tools to book time, form tools to help capture answers, and products to let customers upload/download files.

With more tools, however, we add more destinations our customers need to visit to accomplish a task.

So that “simple” task of “upload your CSV here” might not be so simple when we break down the components. The sub-tasks might include:

  1. review this help center article to learn which data needs to be uploaded (Confluence, Notion, etc.)
  2. download this template to learn how to format the columns in your spreadsheet (File sharing tools)
  3. navigate to this link and upload your CSV (ex. Dropbox, Google drive, etc.)
  4. schedule time to review your completed CSV (Calendly, HubSpot meeting links, etc.)

We tend to shy away from too many steps in a process to avoid overwhelming a customer. And sure, there is some truth to that. However, in the example above, all of those things do have to happen in order to “upload your CSV here”

This is where having a mutual action plan and setting expectations up front is key. It doesn’t matter if a step is “easy” or “hard” so long as completing it provides the expected value the customer is looking for. And, if there are multiple steps that are critical dependencies for making progress, it is our job to make that as seamless as possible for our customers.

In the example below, we’ve used an Arrows action plan to capture the 4 tasks above. We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible for the customer to complete the tasks by giving them access to the actions required right within the plan.

A link to the help center article we need them to read, a place to download a data template, a place to upload their completed data sheet, and a calendar embedded right within the task.

The link will open in a new page and everything else can be completed right within the plan. So although we still have 4 critical steps, we’ve made it so our customer only has to visit one place instead of 4 to complete the tasks at hand.

task actions - phase view.png

The image above also highlights some common tasks that should be included in your onboarding process. Here is a list of actionable tasks you might consider including in your own onboarding plans.

  1. scheduling pages to book time for kickoff, check in, and review calls
  2. filling out forms with information needed to begin the onboarding process (goals, needs, data points, etc.)
  3. file downloads (PDFs, spreadsheets, word documents, etc.) with clear instructions
  4. file uploads (completed documents, spreadsheets, images, company logos, etc.) with clear instructions
  5. instructions for any admin settings that are critical to product usage (you’ll have time later for the advanced stuff)
  6. homework for things that need accomplishing between check in calls AFTER you have taught them how to do it (example - show them how to upload one row of data and then have them do the rest on their own)
  7. help center articles or tutorial videos ONLY for the items that absolutely need to be completed today (otherwise, save these for a “resources email” that can come after onboarding is completed)

Keeping the actionability test in mind, we can determine if the above are actual tasks that require action AND need attention during the onboarding phase. Because onboarding never ends, there will be plenty of time for everything else if you focus on the most immediate value drivers for your customers today.

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