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Jerry Osteryoung: Customer 'onboarding' is important for business

"Once you've managed to persuade customers to come onboard, what do you do with them? Customer onboarding is about cementing loyalty early and leveraging that critical honeymoon period in the relationship to build trust."

-- Pitney Bowes Corp.

During a meeting the other day with a very successful builder, I asked him about his biggest challenges. His response was "bad customers." He went on and on about how customers these days seem so much more demanding and just do not understand the building process.

I asked him if he laid out the building process for his customers at the outset, and he said his sales folks took care of that. But they were not doing a very good job of it because they were more focused on showing how easy and problem-free the process is, trying to close the sale.

Clearly this builder was not doing an adequate job with onboarding. Onboarding is the process of laying out for the customer what they can expect from the process. This helps align the customer's expectations with the reality of delivering the product or service.

Pam Butler, co-owner of Aegis Business Technologies, personally goes over what the experience is likely to be with each new customer. She even covers potential problems and how they will be overcome. She chose not to

have her sales staff handle this, as they tend to be overly optimistic in terms of setting expectations. Now that she has adopted this practice of onboarding, customer concerns have decreased significantly.

Onboarding should happen within the first 60 days of bringing a new customer on. This is the time that the customer trusts you the most and will be the most receptive to your advice.

During onboarding, you must present content that is useful and beneficial to the customer in a way that is easy for them to understand. In the case of the builder, his staff should not be talking about the BTUs of a heating system during onboarding. Rather, they should be showing the customer how to operate the system, telling them when to change the filters and who to call if they have a question or concern about the unit.

In my opinion, AT&T Wireless really understands onboarding and does it well. I bought an iPhone 6 from them recently, and even before the phone was delivered, they sent me a customized video that showed me how to activate and operate the phone as well as who to contact if I had problems.

Getting your onboarding process just right will take time and experimentation. Just keep tweaking until it feels right for your customers.

Jerry Osteryoung, a consultant to businesses, is Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University. Reach him at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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