Customer onboarding expert Donna Weber, founder of Springboard Solutions, says customer churn costs US businesses billions of dollars in lost revenue every year, yet few businesses are adept at keeping customers happy from the start.
Donna Weber has devoted her career to helping B2B companies, including many startups, improve customer retention by focusing customer success teams on the earliest stages of the customer experience, instead of chasing customers who have left after feeling ignored.
Donna Weber is a customer success thought leader, influencer, and strategist. She has been recognized as a Top 50 Customer Success Influencer of 2021 and Top 100 Customer Success Strategist of 2020. She just recently published a new book, Onboarding Matters: How Successful Companies Transform New Customers Into Loyal Champions.
We asked Donna Weber about when customers are likeliest to bolt, when they need more attention, and whether most companies even recognize the early signs of customer discontent.
What led you to make customer onboarding your specialty?
Too many companies ignore their customers. I want to change that. Many businesses know they need to focus on customer success, but they miss this target during the crucial beginnings of a customer relationship.
For example, a business might declare that it’s “customer-centric” but then choose to invest exponentially more money into sales and marketing than customer retention. Employees don’t attend to new customers, who are left to figure things out for themselves. These customers finally give up and go elsewhere. In fact, most customer churn happens during the onboarding period.
How much is poor customer onboarding costing companies, and do they even realize they have a problem?
It’s estimated that more than half of customer churn is related to poor onboarding and poor customer service. In the United States alone, it costs businesses over $136 billion a year. But many don’t realize it.
While it’s easy to blame customer churn on fledgling products or growing pains, the main reason customers leave your company in the first year is that they never got value from your product in the first place. They fail to launch.
The reality is that many companies are so busy popping champagne bottles to celebrate new logos, they fail to notice their existing customers are quietly slipping out the back door until it’s too late. They wait until customers have problems and end up chasing after them, always behind the curve. They need to proactively engage new customers from day one instead.
You say that onboarding needs to begin even before customers have agreed to purchase anything. Please give an example of what you mean.
Sure. Rather than startling new customers with a tsunami of information after the sale, sell the value of your customer-facing services during the buyer journey. The earlier you show your customers you know what you’re doing and that you’ve done this before, the faster you foster trust, and the easier it will be to engage new customers quickly.
As customer experience expert Joey Coleman explains: “The best companies in the world take the customer experience offered after the sale and infuse it into marketing and sales, so the customer gets a flavor of the good things to come. This not only incentivizes prospects to sign on the dotted line but also properly sets the expectations for what will happen after the sale.”
Start by providing value even before you win a customer. When the deal nears closing, generally in the last couple of sales stages, acquaint soon-to-be customers with the specifics of your onboarding program and the merits of your customer success services. Introduce the teams and people that will guide them to success.
Bringing onboarding into the sales cycle can also improve your deal close rates. Take the example of the company CFO who told me about his experience as a buyer. When the vendor shared their onboarding and customer success framework during the sales cycle, his reaction was, “This company has their act together. I want to work with them.”
At what point in the customer’s sales journey are they at most risk of dropping out?
While most companies focus on the last 90 days of a license or contract, customers are at most risk of dropping out during the first 90 days.
Here’s an example: I worked with a startup that provides tools to develop web-based applications. They had just launched their first customer success team of three CSMs. Unfortunately, since the team’s primary responsibility was customer renewals, these three CSMs focused on each account’s last 90 days while customers kept churning. They were so swamped chasing down accounts to renew, they never had a chance to engage new customers.
I worked with the head of customer success to dig into the churn data. We learned that the majority of accounts left in the first 30 days. With this important evidence in hand, we convinced the leadership team to shift the CSMs’ focus away from license renewal to onboarding and enabling customers immediately. They moved from a reactive and expensive approach to engaging customers where and when the data showed it was most needed.
What’s a common mistake companies make that drives the customer away?
There’s a tendency to wait until customers have problems before anyone gets involved. Rather than deploying expertise and guidance up front, customer-facing teams wait for customers to tell them what they want and need. By then, it’s often too late, and companies jump into reactive heroics to save accounts.
Unfortunately, firefighting rarely works. As customer success expert Greg Daines found in his work with thousands of companies, saved accounts are actually 50% less likely to renew than customers who never needed rescuing in the first place. That’s something to think about.
What does neuroscience tell us about how to do a better job of onboarding customers?
When most people think of neuroscience, they picture the structure of the brain. But neuroscience also reveals how we’re hardwired to think and behave, and this can tell us a lot about onboarding. During onboarding, your customers face all sorts of uncertainty: “Are we making the right decision? Is this the right product for us?” This causes the parts of the brain that deal with fear and value to activate. As a result, customers don’t perceive the beginning of their relationships with you objectively.
So, what can you do? Rather than letting your customers ruminate in fear and doubt, determine what you want them to think and feel after they purchase your product. Most likely, you want them to trust they’re in capable hands. You want them to feel confident they made the right decision and be excited about what’s coming next. Your onboarding program needs to build confidence quickly because the choice to churn or renew is determined during these early days.
Anything else to add?
Listen to your customers. Before you start changing or building your onboarding approach, reach out to five customers and listen to them. Find out what’s working, what suggestions they have, and whether they’ve had awesome onboarding experiences with other vendors. You just might learn something valuable.