6 Customer Onboarding Steps to Get Customers Up and Running Fast

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Nick Santaniello ·

Jun 08, 2022

An effective onboarding program guides any effective customer education initiative. This initial experience is critical, as it sets the tone for the entirety of your customer’s lifespan. It’s also the time in which your new relationship is at its most fragile

Launching a new customer onboarding program can seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be a stress-filled endeavor. Below, we'll outline six steps that project managers, customer success managers and learning and development professionals can follow to create and launch a customer onboarding program that drives real results.

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Customer Onboarding Steps

Step 1: Set Goals and Build Your Team

Your first step should be to create the infrastructure for your project. Begin by outlining the goals of your onboarding experience, and ensure they’re aligned to the strategic needs of your business. Then go out and build the best team possible to help you accomplish those goals. If you’re operating as a team of one, you’ll need to be honest about the constraints you’ll face and potentially bring on external resources, depending on your needs.  

Establish goals

The first step is to settle on the goals of your customer onboarding program. Typically, you want to build an onboarding process that accomplishes the following:

  • Teach customers to use your product.
  • Give customers confidence in your company.
  • Guide customers to their first win.

Assemble a Team

Whether you look outside the organization for third-party assistance or take advantage of internal resources, three key roles should be considered right from the start: the subject matter expert (SME), the instructional designer and the project manager.

  • SMEs are experts on the topics you want to cover in your program. An SME may be an operations manager, a member of your customer success team, or even a customer champion for your brand or product.
  • Instructional designers interview and collaborate with SMEs to design content based on their expertise. They'll be experts at conveying information in a manner that's easy for your customers (the “learners”) to consume.
  • Project managers oversee the entire process from start to finish. They ensure the project plan is executed properly, budgets are maintained and deadlines are met.

In many cases, you may be the best person to take on one of these roles. If you’re part of a smaller company or are the first to spearhead an onboarding initiative, you may take on all of the roles at once. In any case, with the right process, people and technology, a customer onboarding program can be created and managed by a team of any size.

Step 2: Map the Customer Onboarding Journey

Once you've identified your goals and assembled your team, the next step is to design and map out the entire onboarding journey. Keep your goals top of mind here; they'll help you create a customer journey that’s intuitive, logical and confidence-building.

Below, we've outlined the steps that comprise a typical onboarding journey. You can assess whether the typical flow will work for your unique goals.

1. Sign-up

When a new customer signs up for your platform, is the process intuitive? Have you removed as many barriers as possible? This includes asking for too much information right off the bat.

Many customers will only be dipping their toe in at this point — give them a moment to see how they like the water before requiring them to jump all in.

2. Welcome email

Your first communication with your customer after they’ve created an account is the welcome email. It may be tempting to pack it full of information, but it pays to use restraint here.

Welcome your new customer, make it clear where they can turn for help, and then direct them to the next step — whether that’s guiding them through a product demonstration, getting them to add more details to their account or helping them to complete the first transaction.

3. Account set up

Again, try to make account set up as effortless as possible. If you really need more information, ask for it. If it’s not central to the core experience, let them know it’s optional and then remind them to return to it later.

4. Product demonstration

Your customer probably knows the basics of what your product does, but it’s unlikely they know all the finer points of how to use it. Demonstrating the product is a critical step in the customer onboarding process, and there are a variety of ways to do it effectively. Some ideas include:

  • Create a series of step-by-step training videos.
  • Create a video product tour.
  • Embed training modules throughout your product.

Try to make this demonstration as interactive as possible, rather than just sharing a bunch of tool tips and features that the customer will have to remember later. Keep the product demonstration short, and let your customer get their hands on the wheel. More tips for creating learning content for your customer onboarding journey is provided in a later section.

5. First transaction

Your customer signed up for your software for a reason. What are they hoping to accomplish? The goal of effective onboarding and an effective first transaction is to get them to their desired outcome as quickly as possible.

The goal of your onboarding process should be to help your users hit their “aha” moment — the moment when use of your product clicks for them. Facebook, for example, considers that moment reached when a user adds at least seven friends within the first 10 days.

To find your own “aha” moment, take a look at your customer data. Is there a noticeable cliff after which customers are more likely not to churn?

6. Map your customer onboarding process to milestones

When Bell Canada discovered that a high percentage of repeat calls to their customer service team were due to downstream issues related to the original call, they mined their customer interaction data to find connections between customer service issues and trained their staff to head off future problems.

This includes things like giving a quick tutorial about key related product features or sending a series of follow-up emails to help customers through upcoming steps. By planning ahead for future milestones, Bell Canada reduced their “calls per event” by 16% and customer churn by 6%.

When designing your own customer onboarding process, don’t look at each event in isolation. What can you do at each touch point to prepare customers for success further along in their journey? One way is to create quality content to support them on this path.

Step 3: Create Learning Content for Customer Onboarding

Now that you’ve mapped out your customer journey, it's time to develop the courses for your onboarding program.

This is where the SMEs and instructional designers on your team shine. Together, they'll create a rough outline of the lessons and content that will be most important to the learner. They will collaborate to organize the curriculum in a logical manner and decide on its format. 

Step 4: Implement an LMS

At this point in the process, you’ll want to involve the instructional designer (and, optionally, a graphic designer) to convert your course content into graphics, quizzes and other interactive elements using a course-authoring tool. In collaboration with the SME and instructional designer, the designer also maps out the navigation and tracking embedded in the eLearning.

The courses are then uploaded into a learning management system (LMS). If the eLearning program contains several different mediums, such as video and text, select a LMS with enough capacity to handle all those different file formats.

When choosing the authoring tool and LMS, research whether SCORM compliant customer education software is vital to the program. Essentially a coding roadmap, SCORM assures your learning content is designed to integrate with your LMS.

Step 5: Edit, Test and Pre-launch

Before you launch, every element of your onboarding program must be double-checked. That includes not only troubleshooting any possible technical glitches but checking the grammar, formatting and overall quality of your learning content. This is an important step in the process, so don’t rush through it.

Once all obvious corrections have been made, it’s time to test your program. Gather a group of beta testers, which can be employees, outside experts or long-time customers, and have them run through the onboarding as a customer normally would. The feedback they provide may prove to be invaluable in shaping improvements to your program.

The final step before your program goes live is the "pre-launch." The goal of this exercise is to garner interest in your program before it even begins. Create an eager audience by helping them understand exactly how your new onboarding program will help them. A pre-existing and well-informed audience will help your program's official launch find greater success.

Step 6: Launch the Onboarding Program

Now it’s time to officially launch your new customer onboarding program. But the hard work isn’t done yet. Going forward, you'll want to regularly check in with customers to determine whether they’re experiencing any pain points. You should also refer back to the goals you set out to achieve with your program to ensure the program is delivering results. 

Optimizing your program for a better learner experience or superior business outcomes is an ongoing process. If you find yourself constantly seeking new ways to improve your onboarding program, don't fret; you're doing it right.

Following Up and Digging Deeper

Learn to drive better results from your customer education efforts with the “Building Effective Customer Education Programs” ebook. 

After going through the onboarding process, your customers should have the basics of your product down. But the journey process doesn’t stop there — your next goal is to transform customers into power users and brand ambassadors.

Begin to look outside of your onboarding program for other ways to educate your customers on your product and related topics that will make them more effective in their work. Shopify, for example, created a customer academy to teach their customers how to build more successful businesses. 

Are you ready to turn customer education into your next competitive advantage?

So are we. Schedule some time to chat with a Northpass representative today. You'll see why we're the learning platform of choice for companies like Uber, Shopify, and Airbnb.


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About the Author
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Nick Santaniello

Nick Santaniello heads up content at Northpass. He would like you to know that he feels most at home while reading or wandering through the woods. He's passionate about learning and Villanova Basketball, and thinks you should be, too.

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