Onboarding Accountability + 10 Strategies for Driving Action

Stuart Balcombe

9 min read
Onboarding Accountability + 10 Strategies for Driving Action

This is the final edition in the 3-part series on onboarding metrics and experiments. So far we’ve discussed why using average metrics like “time to value” can be deadly and introduced a new metric for understanding onboarding performance.

If you want to improve your ability to onboard more customers, more quickly, more of the time the one thing you have to be great at is holding them accountable to taking action.

Here’s how Kristi Faltorusso, VP of Customer Success at Client Success described the role of customer accountability in their onboarding journey.

“We’re here to hold you accountable. These are your goals. You bought this software. It’s your instance of it. If it does everything it’s supposed to do, and we’re doing our job and helping you understand how to maximize the value from it. The rest is on you. We’re here. We’re gonna be your cheerleader. We’re gonna help you how we can, but we’re not responsible for doing the work. You have to do the work, you have to own it.”

So how do you ensure your onboarding process is effective at holding customers accountable to the work they have to do to get the outcome they want?

3 questions to ask to prioritize your onboarding accountability efforts

1. Are there tasks or phases with noticeably higher drop off rates than others?

When you look at customers who slow down or drop off altogether during onboarding, do you notice patterns about the specific steps they get stuck on?

Maybe there is a particular form they need to fill in or a file they need to upload that results in delays and a loss of momentum. These specific points are a great place to start testing changes to get the best bang for your buck.

2. Are there specific customer segments that perform differently during onboarding?

Different customers bring their own context and challenges to the onboarding journey. To get a more accurate picture of where the bottlenecks are in your process consider reporting on performance with customers grouped by attributes like annual contract value, job title of the point person, or size of company.

Alternatively, segment the customers who perform the best and worst in onboarding and look for common patterns amongst the customers you identify.

3. Does how you measure onboarding success align with how customers define successful outcomes?

One of the biggest causes of customers getting stuck during onboarding is a lack of clarity and alignment between the tasks they are being asked to complete and the outcome they are hoping to achieve.

The first step to maintain this alignment and keep customers engaged and motivated to invest in their own success is to clearly define and document how customers define success with your product.

10 Strategies for driving action during customer onboarding

1. Define and document successful outcomes for the customer

The first step to drive action during onboarding is to get your team and your customers on the same page about the outcome you are trying to reach so you can create a plan for collaboration to get there. The plan should include:

✅ Who is responsible to drive the plan forward, on both sides

✅ What the goals and outcomes are, for both sides

✅ What needs to get done, you guessed it, by both sides!

Documenting your onboarding plan in a template like this or a tool like Arrows helps create alignment with the agreed upon goals.

2. Create a specific onboarding plan for each customer segment

Every customer segment is different, so a one size fits all approach is unlikely to yield optimal results. By creating an onboarding plan that speaks to the specific challenges and goals of customers in the segment you can reduce unnecessary friction and ensure the path to success is always clear.

A few common attributes we see templates segmented on at Arrows:

  • Number of participants involved in a plan
  • Technical expertise of the point person
  • Level of internal approval needed before “going live”

3. Schedule the next step on the previous call

It’s common to have specific check-ins at key milestones throughout a human-led onboarding journey. A simple but effective tactic to keep things on track and reduce unnecessary scheduling back and forth is to schedule the next check-in on the previous call.

For example, anytime you have a call in your process, leave 5 minutes at the end of the agenda to pull up your calendar, agree on a time and fire off the calendar invite. This does 2 things:

1) You have the next call on the books and don’t have to spend time doing a scheduling dance via email.

2) It time bounds any tasks that need to be completed before the next milestone is complete.

Which leads us nicely into our 4th strategy.

4. Set due dates (and show the implication of missing them)

Once you have defined what a successful outcome looks like for your customers and created a plan to get there, setting due dates for tasks helps set clear expectations about when each step needs to be completed in order to reach the end goal “on schedule”.

The specific due dates themselves don’t matter as much as the impact they have on the timeline to reach the outcome the customer wants to achieve.

For example - If you know that the customer wants to be successfully onboarded and reach their outcome in 30 days and you know that one of the steps to get there takes most teams 10 days to complete then prior tasks that might be a dependency needed to be completed in less than 20 days so as not to extend the overall time to value.

When discussing due dates with customers consider framing any requests to extend due dates against the implications on the timeline of doing so.

5. Provide options for asynchronous education

Your customers likely don’t want to be tied to your schedule and want to get things done when it suits them. If a task needs explanation, consider providing a video walkthrough or knowledge base article to help them get unblocked and maintain momentum.

Tools like AirDeck make it easier to created both one-to-one and one-to-many onboarding resources that can be customized to specific customers and use cases.

6. Split onboarding tasks into smaller steps to build momentum

When you’re building your onboarding process – consider the experience your customer will have when trying to complete individual tasks.

If a task might take a long time or require information about different topics or from multiple sources to be available its a good idea to break a single task into multiple smaller steps.

This is particularly important if you need to collect a lot of information using forms during onboarding or request file data for complex migrations.

For example - A 30 question form could be split into three 10 question forms segmented by topic.

Being able to quickly understand what is needed to complete each tasks and see progress when they are checked off makes customers more likely to stay engaged instead of pushing your onboarding down their priority list.

7. Follow up

Successfully onboarding to your product is just one thing on your customers likely overflowing todo list, so be proactive with your follow up.

But make sure you go beyond sending nagging “Just following up” emails. Wherever possible reference 1) The successful outcome you are working towards together (Strategy #1). 2) The implications on the overall time to reach that outcome if due dates pass (Strategy #4).

For more on how to write amazing follow up emails this blog post by Gong includes 7 data-backed tips to optimize your copy and drive action.

8. Keep tasks in flow

Trying to create a seamless onboarding experience for customers when you’re stitching together multiple tools for different parts of the journey is a challenge we hear often at Arrows. Anytime you are linking customers to different places to complete individual tasks is an opportunity for them to get distracted and never return to complete the next one.

By creating a shared space where customers can see what’s next and take action inline you can reduce this drop off and help customers get in a flow and build momentum as they move through the onboarding process.

Embedding the tools you use for actions like meeting bookings, data migrations and file sharing inside an Arrows plan is a great way to provide an experience that feels cohesive and focused.

9. Don’t make customers repeat themselves

How many times have you tried calling customer support only to be passed from department to department having to repeat your story to each new person you talk to? Frustrating right?

Your customers can feel the same frustration during onboarding without effective handoffs and a clear process for sharing context. This is one big advantage of operationalizing onboarding in your CRM – your customer data is all in one place.

Whenever possible:

  1. Pre-fill known information in form fields (or remove them altogether)
  2. Validate information with customers vs asking them to repeat it.

For example “You said you wanted to integrate your data from HubSpot so you can get a complete picture of the customer experience, is that correct?”

10. Make it easy for customers to loop in their team members

It’s often the case that the point person for your customer during onboarding won’t be the best person to complete every task in your onboarding plan. There could be any number of reasons this is the case. For example, they might not have access to the right data or not be able to install a code snippet.

However, that doesn’t mean they should be left to just figure things out. Providing helpful resources or suggested language to not only help them loop in the right person at the right time but also explain why that task is important in the broader context of onboarding can prevent bottlenecks that you have little visibility into.

Great onboarding is like having an accountability partner.

Accountability for the customer to the work required to achieve the outcomes they want. Accountability for the company to deliver the value they promised and customers signed up to receive.

Great onboarding holds everyone accountable to building a partnership for shared success.

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