We've written several pieces about Software as a Service (SaaS) and how it is very different from the old model of on-premise installation. The primary difference, for SaaS providers, is that subscription customers can easily cancel at any time - even before a break even or ROI is achieved. The key to retaining customers in this environment is engagement. Customers who use the product early on are more likely to remain customers, and the more they use it the happier they tend to be with it.
So how do you get new customers using your software as quickly as possible and as extensively as possible? The answer is customer onboarding in SaaS. The Association of Support Professionals (ASP) recently released a great report on this very topic. You can download it free here:
Our favorite takeaway from the report is that the goal of onboarding is to go beyond customer satisfaction and create customer loyalty. While very true, what does it really mean? In essence, customer onboarding is a series of actions that you take to introduce new customers to your company. Similar to the original meaning of onboarding, which was introducing new employees to your company, showing them the ropes, training, etc. customer onboarding has many facets.
It includes more than just training or implementation, customer onboarding includes the entire process of introducing a new customer to your company. Once the contract is signed or the subscription is purchased, onboarding includes setting your new customer up for billing, helping them implement the software, training the new users how to use the software, providing best practices to improve processes, etc. It can also include self-help guides, or automated tutorials to help new users navigate the software, rather than throwing them in to figure it out for themselves. This is a key opportunity to create a relationship with your customer as well as a positive first impression of your company as an advocate for their success.
These are all components that are applicable to any business. But when we consider the customer experience in the SaaS industry, the definition expands even further. You are building your customers' experience as soon as they sign up for a trial (which is more often than not in SaaS) - in fact, the process of signing up for a trial itself is part of the onboarding process. Remember that this is your prospects first interaction with your company, and in trials just as with new users, the faster and easier it is for them to learn your system, the more likely they are to buy.
Remember that the goal is to get the customer (or prospect) to use your software, and find value in it. As a subscription software provider, understanding the importance of customer onboarding is vital because it encompasses all aspects of customer interactions with your company.
Like any part of a good customer experience, onboarding has be a part of your company's genetic makeup. Here are some key onboarding activities by role:
Sales: Provide the demo/introduction to the software, get the customer signed up
Implementation Team: Set up the account, give the right access to the right people for the right product(s).
Training: Can be in-person, online, and/or include automated tutorials. Give them access to your online documentation, knowledge base, and community forums.
Customer Support: Support is a key component to customer success, especially during a trial, and during the first 3 months of a subscription when they tend to need more assistance. We recommend using a collaborative customer support software solution to track onboarding activities, set tasks, and communicate with other members of the team so that you don't lose track of your customer success efforts. If possible, make sure to tag or segment trial accounts and new customer accounts so you can differentiate between them and long-term existing customers. This way anyone on your team will be able to quickly and easily identify them.
To learn more about how collaboration can improve your customer support, download our white paper:
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