The Critical Importance of Customer Onboarding

So many businesses focus solely on getting the sale, but as far as the customer is concerned … the sale is just the beginning.

What comes next can make or break not just that one customer relationship, but the future viability of your business as a whole …

In this episode Chris and Tony reveal:

  • Why your on boarding process is as important, or maybe more, than your sales process
  • The impact that good and bad onboarding processes have on your business
  • Why you should go beyond merely delivering your product to a customer, and focus on the user experience they have
  • What to do to create a fantastic onboarding experience, and which elements can be automated

The Critical Importance of Customer Onboarding

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Tony Clark: This is The Mainframe.

Welcome back, everyone, to our continuing series on the ARC Reactor. How you doing today, Chris?

Chris Garrett: I’m doing good. I’ve been swearing at my 3D printer, so this is actually a good break. Why are my hobbies stressful? I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to doing this podcast today. It’s got to be more relaxing than my hobby, which is weird.

Tony Clark: I know. It’s interesting that when you choose a hobby, you choose one that’s kind of in line with what you like to do. Fortunately, we get to do what we like to do for a living. It’s very much related to technology and work-related stuff, so it’s not really a break. It’s more of just a continuation of what we do every day.

Chris Garrett: Right now, it’s frustrating. I keep burning myself, so that’s not good, is it?

Why Your Onboarding Process Is As Important, or Maybe More, Than Your Sales Process

Tony Clark: So we’re talking about the importance of customer onboarding as part of the ARC Reactor strategy. Your onboarding not only helps with the retention and conversion, but it actually starts at the attraction. It goes through the entire process. As we’ve mentioned several times in this series, and keep trying to reinforce, all of these things are combined. It’s not a, “This is one thing you do here. This is one thing you do here, and this is what you do at this stage.” It’s all combined together, right?

Chris Garrett: Yeah, exactly. What I’ve found with onboarding is the retention of a customer is so important, but so many companies do it wrong. It’s like all they could focus on is just getting the sale. Do you see the same thing?

Tony Clark: I do. A lot of times, I relate it to a pilot episode of a show. Think about some of the shows that ended up being really good, but the early episodes and the pilot aren’t very good. Arrow comes to mind. I love Arrow. It’s one of my favorite shows, but the pilot was kind of meh. Then even the first few episodes were trying to get you into it.

Chris Garrett: Yeah, the first season of The Simpsons was terrible.

Tony Clark: Yeah, and even Buffy. People talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of the greatest shows of all time, in my opinion, but that first few episodes. Star Trek: The Next Generation. There are so many of these where there’s those early episodes. They have to introduce characters. They have to do all this stuff. It’s almost like it’s sort of an onboarding, but this is where people tend to mess up.

They’re trying to put too much into, let’s say, the conversion process. You’re trying to get them on to the next stage. Really, the way you think about onboarding, and this is really what created that ‘aha’ moment for me, was you think of onboarding as an extension of your funnel. It’s not a separate thing that happens after people buy. It’s more a part of your conversion strategy.

The Impact That Good and Bad Onboarding Processes Have on Your Business

Chris Garrett: It ties back into my frustrating hobby because I was sold on all this stuff. The promise is all there, but the frustration of ownership is making me regret my purchase, whereas I’ve got a friend, Steve, who’s got a 3D printer. He bought it from the Windows Store, and it’s basically like an appliance. There’s no messing around. He plugged it in, and he was away printing useful things straightaway. It’s like a toaster. He just plugs it in, presses the buttons, and it does the job.

The experience of ownership versus the experience of the sales process was completely night and day with me. I look at when I worked for an agency. We had a sales team, and then the sales team would hand over to the delivery team. I look back, and sometimes it was almost like a bait and switch, where the sales team would promise all these things that we just couldn’t deliver in the time. I think that’s a lot of where this break in congruence comes from, where the marketing and the delivery are just out of step. Like you say, it’s got to be all one process, all one funnel, and one experience.

Tony Clark: That’s exactly right. You have to think of it as one experience from the beginning. Think about it this way. As you know, I love Disney. We go to Disney fairly often, at least once a year. The entire experience, from the time that we start purchasing and picking out where we’re going to stay, the restaurants we’re going to eat at, and our fast-pass rides, and all online. They’re online experience is very well done, but then that is picked up once you get to the park.

Once you get to the resort, they take you from that point. They continue that experience. They make it very easy to get everything set up, get you into your room, get you on to your next step. Then, that continues on to once you get to the actual park and then your dining experience. Disney does a great job of following through at each of those steps. That’s an example of where you don’t see any drops along the way.

Now, there are other experiences, as you just used an example, but you see this all the time, where maybe an online experience is great, but once you get to the store, there’s not a connected system or something. That’s where everything falls apart. One of the things you have to do is you have to make sure your customer feels successful immediately. By making the purchase, you want them to feel as though they’ve accomplished something and that they’re ready to really dive into this.

If you have an educational product, you want to make sure that the next step is that first little win, that first little bit that they can learn so that they feel like they’ve accomplished something. If you have a software product, you want to make sure that it’s easy to set up, so those first steps can start to get them on their way. That’s really what onboarding is. It’s basically continuing that conversion.

You’ve started an attraction. You’ve made a promise, and you’ve got them into the system, into the funnel. You have retained them over time to where they’re ready to convert, and that conversion doesn’t stop at the sale. It continues on. You want to make sure that they really feel accomplished at that early stage.

Chris Garrett: Yeah, that feeling of accomplishment and achievement is so vital. It reminds me back in the 1980s where computer games and arcade games were so much more difficult, more frustrating. They had this sea change. I think it was probably Nintendo that did this, where the first levels of the game would actually teach you the game in a fun way.

You see it now where kids can pick up Angry Birds on a phone, but I remember hours and hours of frustration of my character dying over and over again. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know how to get past it. The feeling of accomplishment after that, obviously, was massive. But how many games did we put down and never look at again?

Easing people in in a fun, interesting, and achievable way is so much better an experience. It’s more rewarding and, as we’ve seen with computer games, more addictive. People feel like they’re actually progressing. They might not be perfect straightaway. They might not achieve all of their goals right away, but they feel like they have something that’s valuable instead of buyer’s remorse.

Tony Clark: Exactly. That’s the other side of this, the overwhelm that can happen when you’ve purchased something new. You used the example of Angry Birds, but a lot of iOS games or other games do a great job to the fact that you actually notice it when a new game that you’ve purchased doesn’t have that sort of initial walk-through tutorial to get you up to speed, so you can start playing right away.

There’s been several games where it didn’t have that initial beginning. I didn’t want to take the time to learn it because, heck, this is a time-waster game or a fun game to do while I’m sitting around waiting for somebody. I’m not going to take the time to go try and figure this out. Having that little beginning piece that in a fun way gets you past the overwhelm, that’s the same type of thing you need to do with your products.

We have two things that we’re talking about here. You want people to feel successful that they made the right purchase so there is no buyer’s remorse, and you don’t want them to feel overwhelmed. You have to walk this fine line between too much information and not enough information. That’s what we’re really talking about here — this next phase of conversion, which is onboarding.

Chris Garrett: When you get it right, the customers feel successful. They feel satisfied with their purchase. They tell other people. You get case studies and great testimonials because your testimonials really should be, “These guys deliver on the promise. This actually does what they’re saying it will.” They get good word of mouth, and your business is successful because you made your customers successful.

On the other side, if you don’t do this right, your customers are overwhelmed. They’re frustrated. They procrastinate. They doubt you. You lose some trust. They have buyer’s remorse, so you get chargebacks, refunds, and bad word of mouth. The choice is yours, but we’ve all seen it on the customer’s side. You need to do the best practice on your side.

Why You Should Go Beyond Merely Delivering Your Product to a Customer, and Focus on the User Experience They Have

Tony Clark: That’s true. You can track all this, and actually, you should be. You should be tracking your after-sale conversions, which is the onboarding process, just as much as you’re tracking conversion rate. You’re going to see it in refunds and you’re going to see it in support requests when you’re having trouble with that onboarding.

We’ve done this over and over again, from the early days of Teaching Sells all the way through to Rainmaker now. We really follow a plan of tracking where people are having trouble. That’s where you focus your onboarding, and you make them feel immediately successful.

In the early days of Teaching Sells, anybody who’s been part of that program knows how much information is there. There’s tons of it. Basically, we’ve taken an entire approach to a business strategy and built a course around it, the way we have done it in the past. That is a lot to take in initially. So one of the things we found is having that initial start-here, walk-through phase let people feel accomplished and comfortable right at the beginning. We’ve done that with every product we’ve released.

Now, sometimes in the beginning, there’s almost a test period, which is why we like to do pilot releases. What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to get a group of people together. The product is not beta. It’s finished, and it’s working. But this pilot group, you’re going to have to let them understand that you’re trying to understand the nuance of what it is they need when they first start up.

Of course, you don’t want to start off with nothing, but you start off with the basics. You refine it over time, tracking the feedback you get from your initial pilot group — just like you would on anything else that you’re tracking for a product. You can see where people are getting stuck. You can see where you need better documentation, where you need clear hand-holding, and other types of things you can provide to help that onboarding experience, help them through getting started.

Chris Garrett: The key things to remember at this point is it’s as much part of your sales-and-marketing process as the sales copy and the conversion rate. If you don’t do this, you are not going to get customer achievement, which means you’re not going to get your own success. Start small, and incrementally improve. Let’s now go deep into exactly how to do this and what people should be looking out for.

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Chris Garrett: Okay, Tony. What should people do first?

What to Do to Create a Fantastic Onboarding Experience

Tony Clark: Remember, the whole idea is to remove barriers to entry. Literally, to entry, to entry into your product, entry into your educational system, into your membership site. You want to make that process as smooth as possible. Everything has to be congruent with what you’ve been saying all along.

That’s one of the biggest missteps people have. There’s an inconsistency or an incongruence between what is on the sales page and what is in the early phases of the process, in your attraction or your retention strategy, and maybe even in the conversion strategy. Then once they get inside, it’s different. That gap is what causes a lot of problems.

One thing that’s very important to do is to look at your marketing copy, then look at your educational copy that’s on the inside, and make sure they’re congruent. A lot of times they are. One of the things that we’ve done in the past is actually take some of the documentation that we’re putting together for the initial steps of how to get on board and start using the product, and that actually gets pulled out and integrated into the marketing copy at the conversion page — for example, on a landing page. You’re actually seeing very specific things.

Another thing to do, the whole idea that we’ve talked about over and over again, is benefits. If you’re highlighting benefits in your landing page, make sure that those benefits, as they apply to features once they get into the product, are readily apparent right when they get in. Again, if it’s the thing you’re highlighting in the sales copy, it’s probably going to be an important part of your product that they need to get up to speed on.

Basically, you’re delivering on the promise that you started way back in your attraction phase, moved on through retention, and moved on through conversion, and now, you’re delivering on that. You want to make sure that’s very clear.

Chris Garrett: Yeah. Delivering on the promises is one place where you’re going to get absolutely hammered in social media if you don’t. I’ve bought some educational products in the past that I’ve felt cheated on because the sales copy will say, “The secret to … ” and you’ll find out that the delivery on the promise is one sentence in an audio. It could be as simple as, “Oh, yeah, I used this plug-in that you can get from the WordPress Repository.” It’s like, “Come on. I paid $1,000 for this, and your secret is this free plug-in.”

So you have to make sure that it’s a satisfying answer to a promise. Don’t just tick the box. It has to be valuable. If it’s not going to be a valuable result, then don’t promise it. There’s only so much trust. It’s so easy to lose that trust and so difficult to gain it.

Tony Clark: That’s true. What will be apparent here is the benefits you’re highlighting. You need to make sure that those are the real benefits of the product. Everything here works together. By showing those benefits in your sales copy, those are the things they need to be able to check off first when they get into the new product — or at least see clearly that that’s what they need to do. Really, what you’re trying to do, the next secret to this, is getting them to use the product and feel like they are getting value out of it right off the bat.

You’re driving them through conversion into this delivery of the promise, on to, “I’ve actually done something.” Once people have done something, they feel committed. Tour refund rates will go down. Your support requests will go down. People will feel like they’re able to get it. Even if they are, let’s say that you have a complex product. The initial set-up is probably fairly easy that you can create a nice onboarding process for, either through documentation or walkthroughs or for videos, and you get them through that initial setup.

Now, let’s say the next step is a little bit more complex, and they do have to submit support requests. By that point, they’ve already accomplished something. They feel like they’re part of it, so the onboarding piece moves on into support. You need to make sure your support team understands part of this onboarding process. They are an important aspect of this phase. They are helping in those phases and that strategy is making people feel accomplished.

Chris Garrett: Yeah. That accomplishment spills over into what they say to others, and it has some social proof. If you see other people achieving things, then you can believe it for yourself. Don’t have everything hidden. Have an ability for people to talk to other people and have a community around your product, and you’ll see that there are people more willing to take a chance on it. Also, they feel more satisfied when they share their successes.

An example of this that I see over and over again is Sean D’Souza, who runs Psychotactics and writes occasionally for Copyblogger. He doesn’t just have courses about marketing. He’s got one about drawing and cartooning. One of the pieces of the course that I think is so fantastic is the homework people have to share. They’re sharing it a lot of the time on Facebook, and you can see their progress.

So all the people that were on the fence about, “I don’t know if this is going to work. Can you really take a cartoonist from zero to be satisfied with the results?” You can actually see their progress in real time. That means the next phase of customers are going to be more confident about buying into it. It’s not just achievement for the individual. It’s also all the people that are watching it at the same time.

Tony Clark: That’s true, and this becomes part of your social proof. You start to see how all of these things combine together. At each stage of this ARC Reactor strategy, you’re actually setting up different ways for people to win. They’ve made the purchase. They’ve moved on. They have their initial understanding of what it is that you really provide, this value, and they’re actually using it. All of these things are the way to make them feel comfortable.

Which Elements Can Be Automated

Tony Clark: Here’s where you start talking about the Reactor pieces. These are where you can start automating things. A lot of your initial onboarding can be automated. You need to understand two things. You need to understand what is the path most people take, and what is the path you want them to take? Then you have to close that gap. The way to do that is through education. That can be done through an automated sequence of emails. That can be really well done. You can provide videos, and you can set it up so that the videos are sent out at certain times. They can also be triggered.

One of the things that is effective about a product, especially if you have a membership site or a SaaS product, is you can actually track progress of things people are doing within there. Then use things like adaptive content and automated sequences to send out or trigger certain things to happen based on things people have done or have not done.

The more you can automate that process, the easier it is to get people through those first steps and the first wins. They feel like now they’re really part of the product. They really are ready to move on and continue down the road and really become a true consumer of your product.

Chris Garrett: Yeah. That shift from it being the customer successful, the customer win, as Tony says, versus your win, I think is crucial. It’s all about making the customer feel successful, whereas you’ll see, even a lot of the gurus, it’s all about getting the sale. Really, it’s not about the sale. The sale is the start of a process, the start of the middle of the process really. Getting the customer to be successful for your long-term goals and for their immediate goals is the vital piece.

If you can use automation to give timely help, to encourage the customer, give them motivation, and give them support, then that’s a good use of automation to make it feel personalized, make it tailored to their needs, and get it there at the right time. Every delay is another opportunity for frustration versus success.

Tony Clark: Exactly. One of the things that you need to keep in mind through this whole process is the idea that the more successful your customer is, the more successful you are. Now, that may seem like an obvious statement, but it’s true. There’s a lot of really gray area or kind of scammy things out there that really they’re going for quantity. If they can get a bunch of people talked into buying their crap, maybe 50 percent or 40 percent stick around because they don’t want to make any waves or they’re too lazy to ask for a refund.

There are people that do business that way. We know people that do business that way. Back when we started Teaching Sells, a lot of the information products, that’s what they did. They were going for, “If I can get enough people in here, I won’t have to worry about having a 50 percent refund rate,” where our process all along has been, “Let’s not only sell something of value. Let’s provide quality, but let’s make sure that they understand the value and quality they have right from the beginning so that they know, once they put in that credit card and they get to that first stage, they feel like, ‘Wow! Okay, I got my money’s worth.'”

That’s really what the whole onboarding experience is — this continuation of your conversion, of your retention, and allowing them to really feel like they’ve made the right choice in purchasing your product.

Chris Garrett: Yeah, that narrative that we’ve had all the way through our entire podcast, but especially the ARC Reactor series, is delivering value, getting your personality across, giving comfort, removing anxiety, being credible, proof — it all comes back into play. The more you can do that, the more it can be consistent and congruent, the better the overall customer experience is going to be, but also the more comfort they’re going to have with you in the future and the more of a long-term relationship it’s going to be.

It actually causes good retention at the same as reducing a lot of the nasty effort that comes from those bad businesses. You want the support experience to be happy. You want the after-sales experience to be happy. You want those good word-of-mouth referrals, so it’s not just a warm-and-fuzzy thing. It’s actually really good business, right?

Tony Clark: That’s true. That’s really what this is all about. Once you have a customer, you can keep that customer happy. Then they may become a customer of another product you offer. You’re developing a relationship. Onboarding is that early first-date part where you really have to do your best to make sure that you are delivering on your promises. That’s really what it comes out to. Say what you’re going to do. Then do what you’re going to say.

You need to do that through your entire ARC strategy — through attraction, through retention, and through conversion. Then you can automate it at different stages based on behavioral things that they do, on actions they’ve taken, or just on different times through the process so that you know that you’re giving them what they need exactly when they need it.

Chris Garrett: Let’s sum this up with what are the concrete things that people can start to do in their own business to get their onboarding strategy right?

Key Takeaways

Tony Clark: First, you need to remember that onboarding is one of the most critical stages of this. It’s actually part of conversion, not separate. You need to focus on letting the customer feel like they have accomplished something, that they’ve made the right choice and purchase, that they’re not overwhelmed, and that they feel like they can do this, or that they feel like they can really utilize the value that you provide in your product.

The second thing is to remove barriers so that they can move through those stages. You want to deliver on the things you’ve promised on. You drive them through, so they start using the product. Once they start using it, they’ve made a commitment. It makes it easier. You do that through quick wins through the process.

Finally, the most important thing is make sure you have congruence through the entire ARC Reactor strategy. Make sure that the things that you’ve said on the landing page are things they see when they first get in, things that you’ve promised in the early attraction stages are things that they are actually getting value from in your process, keeping all of this through your entire funnel, and continuing that funnel through with onboarding.

Chris Garrett: Great stuff. In the next episode, we’re going to go deeper into that adaptive content. We’ve mentioned it a couple of times. We’ve mentioned it today about how it’s going to help your onboarding. We’re going to go deeper into how adaptive content can help you create a better experience all the way through your ARC Reactor series. Catch us then.