It’s time to put the high-touch vs. low-touch onboarding debate to rest. Learn when it makes sense to use each model — and why companies should try both.
August 16, 2021
When it comes to high-touch and low-touch onboarding models, many companies see it as an either/or conundrum. They want to equip their customers for success and value quickly without being too hands-off or creating a serious case of attention overload.
So, what’s the answer? The truth is that both models will contribute to successful onboarding and a great customer experience all around, no matter which model you use first.
In most cases, best practice is to begin with a hands-on, high-touch model, and as you grow and better understand your customers, you can move to a low-touch approach.
But as with any business strategy, the right solution depends on a variety of factors — your product or service type, customer skill level, available resources, and more.
In this blog, we’ll define and compare both models, then go over scenarios when each model could be the stronger choice.
High-touch and low-touch refer to two different methods of onboarding, communicating with, and supporting your customers. Let’s explore these pathways in more detail below.
A high-touch model is a human-first method of supporting customers through the pre- and post-sale phases. A handy way to think about high-touch onboarding is that it’s “guided,” where low-touch onboarding is “self-service.”
High-touch is often used in situations when customers need (or benefit from) direct guidance to navigate a complex onboarding process. Businesses also take this approach to better serve their high-value customers (think: “white glove” treatment).
Common high-touch tools include in-person meetings, demos, webinars, video chats, and phone calls. Customers may get frequent one-on-one assistance from a dedicated customer success manager (CSM) to cater to their hurdles, pain points, and questions.
Fact: 66% of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations, yet 66% say they’re generally treated like “numbers.”
A major benefit of a high-touch model is that customers feel like they’re receiving special attention and can tap into as much support as they need. This fully personalized experience creates loyal customers, fast. Also, if your product or service has a steep learning curve or complex implementation process, it’s an effective way to get new users comfortable.
For example, data-centric companies like Salesforce or Tableau need to onboard and train multiple teams — sometimes hundreds of employees — who may be non-technical users wading into very technical software.
The opposite of a high-touch model, a low-touch onboarding model is largely self-serve in nature. Customers use instructions or resources you’ve provided to guide themselves through setup and quickly take action in the app or with the product.
Common low-touch onboarding tools are in-app cues, support documents (how-to’s, troubleshooting guides, FAQs), webinars, emails, and other robust content resources. Although human support may be available through email, phone, or chat, communication with customers tends to be automated and digital.
Pro Tip: Companies that use low-touch models often rely on onboarding metrics — such as user login data, feature adoption rates, number of support tickets, and customer health scores — to understand where users need guidance ASAP.
One of the biggest benefits of a low-touch model is that it takes very little time out of your customer success team’s day. It’s particularly attractive to new, small companies that simply don’t have the resources or human power to provide a high-touch experience to every customer.
For example, companies like Zoom or Slack don’t need to set up full-on walkthroughs to train their customers. Messaging and video conferencing tools are familiar and intuitive for most modern users. Still, these companies need to provide support resources for when users have a specific or niche question.
Some of the main characteristics of low-touch models are as follows:
The most successful companies give their customers a mix of high-touch and low-touch experiences.
The reason? Every customer is different. Some customers will prefer to be left to their own devices. They’d rather look around, figure things out themselves, and ask questions when they pop up. Others appreciate a much more hands-on approach.
And as we covered with the business examples in the previous section, different products and services are suited to different engagement models. Technical companies, for instance, tend to have high-touch onboarding plans.
Your best bet is to offer something for the different learning styles and customer expectations you’ll encounter. We don’t mean you need to churn out tons of support documentation or double the size of your customer success team. Start small and iterate as you go.
Pro Tip: We recommend starting with a high-touch program and layering on a low-touch program (if needed). Talking to customers is what lets you really understand what’s clicking with them and what isn’t. Without those direct 1:1 insights, you simply can’t build great webinars or app modules.
The more features that require deep technical knowledge and setup — especially if your customers are older, aren’t tech-savvy, or aren’t familiar with tools like yours — the more they’ll benefit from a high-touch model. You’ll prevent frustration, confusion, and delayed time to value, which means you’ll boost retention and reduce churn.
In the early stages, you may not have the budget, people power, or internal skills to build a low-touch user interface, and that’s alright! A high-touch model may simply be more realistic and practical until you have the resources to provide self-service tools and documents.
In order to take a hands-off approach to onboarding and customer success, you’ve got to know your customers inside and out. That includes their use cases, pain points, goals and desires, and more. A high-touch model is perfect for building closer relationships with your customers and drawing out those insights as early as possible.
Pro Tip: A great high-touch onboarding strategy is highly personalized. Reps shouldn’t be walking through every feature and data point. They should speak to what the customer cares about — the use cases they’ve shared and the benefits they’re excited about — and drive the point home: They chose the right product!
If your product or service plays a key role in your customer’s business, your timeline to deliver value shrinks. When they want to understand what’s next (profile setup, part two of team training, etc), a high-touch engagement model allows your success reps to give them that roadmap.
They can quickly jump in and explain what customers should expect to see and how to best navigate the remainder of the onboarding, shortening that time to value.
Alignment between a sales rep and the CS team is important to managing customer expectations and delivering a seamless experience. You don’t want your CS rep getting on the phone and repeating the same questions the sales rep already asked.
If your collaboration is smooth and information flows freely between these teams, this is a great moment to use high-touch tactics. Your CS team can head into customer touchpoints with detailed notes from past interactions and deeper the relationship even further.
Are your customers asking questions beyond “How do I add users?” or “Where’s the option to change the time limit?” You may know the ones — we’re talking about questions like “Why do companies pay for this instead of using that other free option?” or “Why is this app designed like this?”
If your customers would benefit from a more in-depth understanding of your product/service and why it is the way it is, a high-touch strategy is a good idea. Your reps can explain everything in a friendly, personable (and persuasive) way instead of directing new customers to an FAQ page.
We’ll say upfront that this isn’t a universal rule, but it’s good to keep in mind. Your customers’ expectations at each price point depend very much on your business and your target audience. However, when someone invests in an expensive SaaS platform, high-touch onboarding is usually part of the value they perceive in the product.
As you use high-touch tactics to learn more about who your customer is and how to deliver them value, you’ll identify opportunities to execute low-touch strategies. For instance, tools like email automation workflows, simple video and audio clip sharing, and built-in modules for self-setup may be more than enough to help your customers onboard themselves.
You may not need to experiment with high-touch onboarding at all. If you’ve been able to segment your customer base into distinct groups, you can infer which segments will succeed with a low-touch customer journey and simply adjust as you go. Remember, it’s all about delivering what your customers prefer.
Sound familiar? Earlier, we talked about companies that didn’t have the resources to build a low-touch UI into their product or create the necessary educational content.
On the flip side, maybe you’re short on human power and need the help of automation until you can provide a high-touch experience. This isn’t always a desirable place to be, but you can make the most of a tech-touch approach by ensuring you’ve got the right tech stack at the ready.
If your client or customer is already tech-savvy and understands how your product works at the fundamental level, you might find that they value a lower touch experience more. After all, there’s nothing more frustrating than being taken through a long and unnecessary setup process when you already get the idea!
Some products are inherently more user-friendly or simply don’t require much of a setup/onboarding process, such as our Zoom and Slack examples from earlier in the post. In this case, a simple form, intuitive UI, or an automated newsletter may suffice.
If there’s one thing we know, it’s that you’ve got to provide an engaging, personalized experience to keep your customers around for the long haul, whether it’s high-touch or low-touch.
Our onboarding platform is designed to make it incredibly easy to welcome, educate, collaborate, and coordinate everything with your new customers based on their needs. Send them a personalized onboarding plan with assigned tasks, automated email reminders, due dates, and more.
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