All On Board! Roll Out The Welcome Mat

Why onboarding customers is one of your most important actions and how to effectively bring customers into the fold

Matt Duczeminski
April 06 2018

It’s rather odd:

Though the phrases “keeping customers on board” and “fostering customer loyalty” are essentially synonymous, we sometimes think of “onboarding” as something that happens at the beginning of our relationship with a new customer, and “fostering loyalty” as something to focus on a little later on in our relationship with them. However, in thinking this way, we unintentionally make the assumption that our customers will magically become loyal to our brand at some point in the future. Even though we know how illogical this sounds, it’s easy to overlook the fact that our customers’ propensity to become loyal is dependent upon the quality of their experiences with our brand from the get-go.

In many ways, the quality of our customers’ initial experiences with our brand is the most telling factor of whether or not they’ll stick around long enough to be considered “loyal.” Perhaps a more effective way of explaining the role onboarding plays in fostering customer loyalty is to look at some of the most common reasons consumers churn in the first place. While numerous surveys and studies have discovered a wide variety of reasons that customers churn, these reasons typically boil down to the following:

  • The customer doesn’t see how the product or service provides value to their life
  • The customer doesn’t understand how to get the most use out of the product or service
  • The customer has a poor experience with the company’s service or support teams
  • The customer has reached their initial goal, and sees no reason to continue using the product or service

In this article, we’re going to look at how each of these instances applies to the onboarding process and discuss some ways in which you can preempt these things from occurring – and, in doing so, increase the chances that your newly-onboarded customers will become loyal brand followers as quickly as possible.

How the Onboarding Process Affects Customer Loyalty

Thinking of loyalty as a phenomenon that builds over the course of a relationship with a given customer is a bit misguided. While it’s typically true that customers who have stuck with a brand for longer periods of time are more likely to make repeat purchases in the future, this isn’t simply because they’ve been with the company for so long; it’s because they’ve had such positive experiences throughout their relationship with the brand in the first place. A customer’s longevity with a company isn’t a cause of their becoming loyal; it’s a byproduct of it.

This is all to say that:

You can – and should – focus on fostering loyalty right from the very onset of your relationship with a new customer. In doing so, you’ll increase the chances of them sticking with your brand for a long time to come. Let’s discuss the ways in which the onboarding process can immediately place new customers on the fast-track to long-term loyalty.

Making Your Value Immediately Apparent

Think back to the last time you downloaded a new app, subscribed to a new service, or purchased a hot-ticket item for no other reason than you wanted to “try it out” – even though you really had no idea how it would impact your life (if at all). Chances are, you immediately deleted that app, cancelled the subscription, tossed that brand new item in the garage to collect dust – leaving you with a huge case of buyer’s remorse. Maybe these things seemed valuable from an objective standpoint. But, when it came down to it, they just really didn’t offer much value to you. And so, you essentially erased every trace of evidence that you tried to use them in the first place. Needless to say, you didn’t become a loyal follower. The lesson from this scenario is that you need to be certain that your new customers understand exactly what they’ll be getting out of your product or service once they purchase it.

Appboy’s Myles Kleeger explains:

“You need to have an onboarding program built into your (product/service)…that shows new customers how to use it effectively and clearly demonstrates (its) value proposition.” While Kleeger refers specifically to apps and other software, the sentiment holds true for products and services in all industries. Take a look at the following landing page from Trello:

(Click image to enlarge)

Here, Trello newcommers are immediately provided with the information they need to determine whether or not the software will be of any value to them. Between the demonstration video and the combination of features and benefits listed below the fold, prospective Trello users will quickly understand what the software can help them achieve. Because the landing page front-loads visitors with Trello’s value proposition from their very first engagement, it’s safe to say that the vast majority of people who download the program will be rather serious about incorporating its use into their daily lives. On the other hand, had the people behind Trello not made the software’s value apparent, it’s likely that the vast majority of people who downloaded the program (without really knowing what it’s for) would end up deleting it within a couple days – if that.

The takeaway is simple: Make sure your prospective customers know exactly what your product or service will do for them. This will increase the amount of people who check your product out “just because,” but it will also allow you to focus your energy on providing value to those who are truly serious about using your product in the first place.

Bringing New Users Up to Speed – Quickly

You’ve made sure your prospective customers know what they’re going to get out of your product, but if they aren’t sure how to use it, they’ll throw in the towel rather quickly. Even worse, since you’ve made them aware of what they’d been missing, they’ll likely end up checking out your competitors’ products to see if they’re any easier to use. As Kleeger explained, your onboarding program needs to instruct your new customers on exactly how to use your product or service to its maximum potential. Of course, depending on the complexity of the product or service, your new customer’s path to success will likely be equally as complex. With this in mind, there are a number of things you can do to keep them on the right track throughout the learning process.

First, you should provide your new customers with a roadmap “quick wins.” Customers should receive some type of feedback as they begin using your product correctly, so that they know for certain they’re moving in the right direction. (For more on how to identify “quick wins” for your product or service, check out this post from Growth Hacking Pro.)

Some customers will need significant instruction and support, while others will be ready to hit the ground running all on their own. Provide your new customers with as much information as they need to get started, as well as giving them the option to skip ahead. Let’s take a look at how Trello handles this part of the process:

(Click image to enlarge)

Trello uses Trello to teach people how to use Trello. As you can see, the instructions are separated based on varying degrees of complexity – allowing for a scaled learning experience for users depending on their individual needs. What’s more, this meta-tutorial is completely optional; new users are free to jump in and begin creating their own organizational board right from the get-go. Lastly, you must provide support to your new customers as they begin navigating their path to success with your product or service. Your ability (or lack thereof) to quickly solve a new customer’s problem or issue will almost certainly factor into their decision to continue working with your company – or to defect to a competitor’s.

Continuing to Provide Value

Your goal during the onboarding process is to get your customers acclimated with your product or service as quickly as possible, allowing them to overcome their initial pain point. But your overarching goal isn’t just to make an initial sale; it’s to keep your customers on board as long as you can. You need to continue providing value to your customers long after they’ve gotten what they initially paid for from your company. Here’s where onboarding and retention intersect.

We’ve talked before about the idea that onboarding should never truly stop. There should always be something more for your customers to get out of your product or service; if there isn’t, those who have gotten what they came for have no reason to stick around.

Let’s go back to Trello:

(Click image to enlarge)

The screenshot above shows just a sample of the “Power-Ups” Trello offers its more advanced users, allowing them to get more out of the app than they had initially hoped. By allowing users to integrate other apps within their Trello sessions, the company ensures these individuals will continue to utilize their software on a regular basis. But does it work? In a word: Yes. Trello currently boasts over 19 million total users (up from 4.5 million in 2014), sees over 1 million daily active users, and in 2017, Atlassian purchased the company for $425 million. If you view the onboarding process as a straight line, your customers may “fall off” the line once they’ve reached their initial target. Ironically, though you may feel as if you’ve succeeded once you’ve “officially” onboarded a customer, claiming victory at this point could potentially cause said customer to immediately defect to a competing company.

That said, it’s best to view the onboarding process as a cycle, in which you introduce additional value to your customers the moment they experience their first major success with you. You’ll ensure your customers are always looking forward to what you have in store for them in the future and they’ll likely stay on board for some time to come.


Matt Duczeminski

Matt is a professional writer specializing in helping entrepreneurs improve relationships with their customers. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Sarah, and he'd probably get a lot more work done if his cat would stop bothering him.

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