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The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 38 :: Operations :: Customer Onboarding

There’s nothing more critical to a great customer experience than onboarding. Many times, we limit “onboarding” to something we do with a new employee, but every stakeholder in the organization should have an onboarding experience. Onboarding sets expectations, defines responsibilities and describes “winning”.

In this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, we’re focusing on customer onboarding, but many of the outcomes and methodologies can be applied to other stakeholder groups.

Here’s why onboarding is so important. Have you ever received a movie recommendation from a trusted friend and, after watching the movie, realized you’d never get those two wasted hours of your life back (or in the case of Dances with Wolves, 4 hours)? It’s pretty disappointing. But why is it disappointing? Because the friend’s glowing recommendation created high expectations. In the absence of that recommendation, you might have still hated the movie, but you would have just added it to the list of movies you’ll never watch again. But now, you’re presented with confusion. You’ve had reliable recommendations from that friend in the past. What did you miss in the movie that your friend loved? How are you going to explain your disappointment to your friend? Will you ever be able to trust their recommendations in the future?

That all stemmed from faulty expectations created at the beginning of the interaction. We can have the same problem when we begin a relationship with a new customer. If we don’t successfully create correct expectations at the beginning of a relationship, the customer will create their own. Those will come from experience (the last time I hired a plumber, it took them an hour to replace my kitchen faucet), from hope (I would love it if the plumber spread a tarp in front of the sink before they began working on the drain) and from people who influence them (my friend hired a plumber and it cost them $300 to get their sink unclogged).

Let’s jump into this week’s exercise. We want to finish with a rock-solid customer onboarding framework. Depending on your product or service, this could be very simple or a bit complex. You can do this one solo or invite some trusted team members who are familiar with the flow of work from initial customer contact to delivery. We’re going to focus our attention on three things – expectations, responsibilities and metrics.

Before I jump into the steps below, let me quickly say that I’m aware we’re talking about a mix of communication, some before the sale and some after the sale. I realize that in some pre-sale messaging, you’re selling a feeling or experience (someone buying insurance is buying peace of mind in the midst of an unfortunate circumstance, not a policy). The bulk of the ideas below are to create clarity of expectation, responsibility and metrics. You decide where to deliver them in your messaging based on your product, service and desired delivery experience.

 

Expectations

  • Succinctly describe what product or service the customer is buying (A great meal at a great price, the most sophisticated timepiece you’ll ever own, you’ll never know your car was wrecked).
  • Give clear direction to the first step in the discovery or purchase process (Visit our showroom at 123 Main Street, contact one of our friendly customer service representatives at 555-555-5555, click here to schedule an initial appointment).
  • Explain the steps in which you create value for the customer (It all starts with a free health assessment, we’ll email you the results of the assessment along with our recommendations, in three days we’ll contact you and get your decision on which weight loss program is best for you, we’ll kick off your exercise and diet plan, and by week 4, you’ll be down 10 pounds).
  • Explain what interactions will look like (you’ll never be stuck in voicemail jail – a real person will always answer the phone, you’ll be able to manage your account from anywhere on our award-winning mobile app, you’ll have unlimited support via email with a 4 hour guaranteed response time).
  • If your product or service has inherent uncertainty, explain the path from uncertainty to certainty (When our technician arrives to examine your appliance, you’ll get a full explanation of the problem and a complete estimate of what it will cost to fix it. We’ll get your OK before we proceed with any repair. And when it’s fixed, the parts and labor are guaranteed for one year).
  • Explain the customer’s financial responsibility ($99/month for the first six months, then $129/month for 33 months, there’s a $400 administrative fee on top of the price of the car). If you want to make customers extremely unhappy, bury some previously undisclosed cost in the fine print.
  • Explain what will happen if something goes wrong (our workmanship is guaranteed for 10 years – if your roof leaks, we’ll fix it at no charge to you, if this isn’t the best snow-cone you’ve ever eaten – your money back, if you don’t like the like the paint color you’ve chosen with our patented color match system, we’ll repaint your room for free).

 

Responsibilities

One of the key parts of customer onboarding is explaining the customer’s role in the delivery of your product or service.

  • Define deadlines (For your policy to be in effect by 10/11/2020, we need your driver’s license number and the VIN from your car by 9/30/2020, to terminate your lease please notify us 180 days before the renewal date).
  • Explain their involvement. The number of used treadmills, ellipticals and Chuck Norris Total Gyms on Craigslist owned by people who are still overweight are a testament to the number of customers who don’t embrace their responsibility during onboarding. Customers buy, what appear to be, solutions to a problem they are experiencing. Clearly lay out the steps they must take for that problem to be resolved. And explain the how, not just the what.
  • Provide engagement tools. Think about the number of companion apps you have for the products or services you consume. I can lower my thermostat, manage my robot vacuum, change the payment method for my car insurance, and get a reminder when my Home Depot credit card bill is due on my phone. Each time you make it easier to interact with your product or service, you help the customer derive more value from the product or service, make it easier for the customer to fulfill his or her responsibilities, and ultimately solve their problem. Engagement tools don’t have to be as sophisticated as a mobile app. I recently got a bid from a roofing company to replace my roof. Part of their proposal was a checklist for me to follow before they began work on my home. The checklist explained not only what I needed to do, but why it would aid them in quickly solving my problem (getting a new roof on my house in the minimum amount of time and with the least amount of expense).
  • Give examples of customers who have successfully engaged the product or service and achieved the desired results. These examples inspire, inform, and help customers connect the dots between what the product does and what they must do.

 

Metrics

Everyone wants to “win” with their purchase. In the onboarding experience, we need to accurately identify winning for them.

  • Help customers measure leading indicators, not just trailing indicators. If they buy exercise equipment, “winning” is working out 20 minutes a day and cutting their caloric intake, not losing 20 pounds. If they do the former, they will get the latter.
  • Help customers attach greater meaning to their purchases. The financial planner’s 1% annual management fee isn’t a cost, it’s an investment in someone who devotes their professional life to helping clients secure their financial future and the financial future of the client’s family.
  • Help customers attach greater reach to their purchases. The business coaching purchased by the CEO doesn’t just benefit the executive. All who work for that executive benefit as he or she becomes a more effective leader and pushes what he or she learns down through the organization. And, by increasing the organization’s effectiveness and efficiency, shareholders benefit.

 

When expectations, responsibilities, and metrics are clearly defined for a new customer, everyone involved in the equation knows how to behave. If the company fails to deliver on the expectations, they can quickly make it right. If the customer fails to live up to their obligations, the company can jump in with a bit of accountability and encouragement to get the relationship back on track. When both parties agree on what “winning” looks like, they can track it with reporting and reinforce it with messaging.

Would you be disappointed if 2020 looked exactly like 2019?

I’ve been asking myself that question. And now is the right time to ask it. The time between now and mid-December has been called the “100 day sprint” or “the most important 100 days of the year”. Why? Because everyone is back in the office after summer, back in the routine and hunkered down for a busy three and a half months. For some companies, it’s the run-up to a busy holiday season. For others, it’s time to prepare 2020 strategic plans and operating budgets.

In a very real way, the foundation for your organization’s 2020 is going to be laid in the next 100 days. Do it well and 2020 could be your best year yet. Do it poorly or don’t do it at all and 2020 might be just a carbon copy of 2019.

So, what should you be looking at right now? I have a longer list, but if you can’t swing a full-blown strategic planning exercise (which, in my opinion, you should commit to), I’d turn my attention to these four items first –

  • Ask hard talent questions – Do you have the right people in the organization who can take you where you want to go in the next 2-3 years? If not, can you develop existing staff or do you need additional talent? Do you have chronic personnel problems you’ve been reluctant to deal with – people who are poisoning the culture or who are consistently under-performing? If so, what are you going to do about it? Are there one, two or three people, who, if they left, would put your organization at risk? If so, what have you done to mitigate that risk?
  • Gauge organizational health – Is the company culture healthy? For example, is there clear and complete communication up and down the org chart? Is there transparency so that people have the information they need to make good decisions? Are you and are the other leaders in the organization setting a good example in your approach to work and in your interactions with every stakeholder group?
  • Reexamine value creation activities – Do you know the key drivers of the value surplus for your customers? When was the last time you examined your entire value creation chain looking for opportunities to improve vendor performance, inventory management, cross-department collaboration, processes, quality and logistics?
  • Measure what matters – When was the last time you revisited the metrics on your balanced scorecard? Are they really indicative of organizational health? Are your systems providing data quickly enough and to the right people so your field decision-making is data-driven and your longer-term decision-making is data-supported?

Inertia is strong. The pull of ordinary daily days will drag you right into the holiday season before you’ve taken any time to plan for 2020.

I’ve rewritten this last paragraph several times. Originally it said that you’re busy and looking at just these four things is better than doing nothing at all – that’s true. But, I want to encourage you to do the hard thing and take a much deeper dive into your organization. Don’t make 2020 slightly better than 2019. Make it much better by critically and accurately evaluating the current state of your organization, thoughtfully envisioning what you want 2020 to look like and deliberately crafting a plan to get you from the former to the latter.