Implementation Stories's High-touch Onboarding for Experienced Customers

Apoorva shares how she designs differentiated onboarding journeys for different customer segments
March 25, 2021
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Krishna Kumar

In this episode of Implementation Stories, our guest, Apoorva S from Branch Metrics, shares how she designs customer onboarding journeys for different segments, including those converted from a POC stage. 

Apoorva started her Customer Success journey in 2015 at Belong, an HR tech startup that followed a high-touch, one-to-many CS approach, focusing on customer education and adoption. During her next stint with Hortonworks (now a part of Cloudera), a big data firm, she worked with large enterprise accounts on a low-touch CS model closely aligned to Sales and Support. Since 2018, Apoorva has been working as a CSM with Branch Metrics, a deep-linking and attribution analytics startup. Her current role is a mix of sales, customer education, onboarding, and support.  

Though Apoorva has been in CS roles for over six years, her roles have vastly differed in terms of scope. In this free-wheeling chat, she shared some of her experiences, challenges, and learnings from her Customer Success journey. 

Note: We have edited the conversation for brevity and clarity

What has been your most significant learning about Customer Success in your current role? What has that changed for you? 

I've realized that customers who have already seen our product or used our dashboard do not need the conventional customer journey we have in mind for them. So I’ve learned to be more open to making changes to the ideal customer journey based on the customer’s experience with our product. 

For example, instead of a dashboard walkthrough that I have on my implementation checklist, I may need a cheat sheet for customers already familiar with our dashboard. 

Is there an implementation horror story that you can share with us? 

There was a customer who had come to us after a POC. They’d told us that they had used our dashboard, that data integrations were up and running, and they already had live campaigns on our platform. 

I saw that they were already deriving value and were set up to see success. So I went ahead and set up a cadence for our future catch-ups, assuming that they were good to go. 

That was a mistake. 

It turns out that their POC and technical implementation had been done a while ago, and as a result, they weren’t properly integrated with the current setup. I would have caught that if I had done a tech audit when they came to me. 

Now, I perform a tech audit irrespective of the stage they are at—even if customers claim to be comfortable with the product. 

What are some of the differences in approach that you’ve seen in your stints—in cases where CS is, say, aligned to Sales and Support? 

At Hortonworks, CS was not seen as a function that brings in revenue. It was a low-touch approach focused more on support. The KPIs revolved around NPS and CSAT

Onboarding for the dashboard was mainly offline, with PS teams or big data teams managing it on site. CS would do dashboard training but was mostly looked to for support. 

In your current CS role at Branch, how are the journeys different for different customers, specifically those with and without POCs?

If the deal size is picked, we are involved in the pre-sales process. 

In the case of POCs, there is a pre-sales engineer who leads the integration and the setup for the customer; CS doesn't get involved mainly due to bandwidth constraints, given that multiple POCs are in progress every quarter. 

We get involved during the handoff from Sales to CS and lead customer onboarding from thereon. 

For non-POC customers, we look at where the customer is currently. For instance, if they have used certain aspects, we skip those. Instead, we identify what touchpoints will bring them value and customize accordingly, making it an adaptive journey based on gauging the maturity of the customer. 

How do you go about adapting the customer journey? Is there a playbook or a checklist you use? 

We don’t have a playbook right now. It’s on Google Sheets and draft/canned emails. 

We look at customers in three categories: those coming after a POC, those that have signed up fresh, and those switching over from a competitor. For the third category, we focus on differentiating our product from the competitor instead of focusing on customer education

In my personal experience, one-to-many does not work for us—even for customers in non-competing spaces. 

What do the conversations around value/ROI look like?

In our case, the pre-sales and post-sales approaches are very different, with pre-sale activities being number-driven—focused on the dollar difference, LTV, ROI calculations, etc. 

At the CS stage, we find that every customer sees value in different aspects, so we tie the value back not to the dollar but to the various open projects. For instance, in our quarterly business reviews, we show our customers the new things they’ve been able to do using our product.

How do you go about scoping? Where do you start, and what do you recommend? Is there a way you push back when customers prefer complex use cases?

In the first meeting, we show them everything we have—the whole range of what they could accomplish with us. I do this for different buckets: engagement, improving UX, etc. At the end of this, we’ve seen that they can pinpoint two or three things that excite them.

Sometimes, customers pick up use cases/features/functions that don't necessarily make sense for them at their current stage. We push them to reconsider by asking many questions and digging deeper into the ‘why’. It helps to draw from our experiences with other customers while doing this. 

Do you measure TTV? How long is a typical implementation, and how different is that from TTFV? 

At Branch, CS has become more focused on technical account management and implementation over pinning down ROI. We don't measure TTV. Our average implementation duration is ten business days or two weeks. 

Are there any tips and tricks to get customers to the point of completion faster?

I've seen Trello boards work well for customers from SE Asia. What has not worked is using Google Sheets to assign tasks to customers. I guess that’s probably because a Trello board makes the process appear more collaborative, while Google Sheets could give the impression that we’re washing our hands off those tasks. 

Qapita was using multiple tools for their customer onboarding projects. Switching to Rocketlane made their implementations efficient.

Is using Trello or Google Sheets etc., harder with enterprise customers?

I think so. I have seen tech-savvy startups are more open to it. On the other hand, enterprises would rather get on a working session on Zoom or a phone call instead of filling up a Google Sheet. 

Any tips on handling customer expectation mismatches or situations where customers were promised something during the sale but couldn’t be fulfilled during implementation?

Our product team has a three-page document that talks explicitly about the technical details of what does not work even before the paperwork is done. We ask our customers to sign off as an acknowledgment of this document. 

We also have a team that approves deals after looking at their technical scope, so only after they approve the deal can the paperwork be closed. 

Do you use any metrics to measure the complexity of a project?

We track the number of open implementations; since our product can be used to do multiple things, this is a good indication of complexity. We also look at projects that customers switch from another product as these can be more complex owing to data import needs, etc. 

Do you rate the implementation score and use it as, say, an input for churn forecast?

We started doing this recently based on how long the implementation took, how effective it was, etc. It is a good leading indicator, but we’ve found that customer sentiment often fluctuates based on factors sometimes outside our control in our sector. Tracking support tickets has been a better indicator of customer sentiment for us. 

How do you use the community and academy for onboarding low and high-touch customers?

CSMs typically handle high-touch accounts. For example, engagement leaders use the community and academy. 

Summary and Takeaways 

Here are the key takeaways from our conversation with Apoorva and inputs from other participants: 

1. During the sales process, provide technical documentation to the customer explaining what works and what doesn’t in your product. It is a good idea to obtain an acknowledgment of these terms and conditions before you begin onboarding and implementation. 

2. Adapt your onboarding journey based on the maturity and the needs of the customer. Having a conversation with your customer will help you to gauge their maturity level. For instance, if the customer is familiar with your product or has worked on a POC with you, a regular product walkthrough may not be as helpful as a cheat sheet or FAQ. 

3. Even for mature customers, it helps to perform a comprehensive audit for their technical implementation to make sure you don’t miss anything.
The difference in the onboarding journeys between a POC and a non-POC customer should depend on how familiar the POC has made them with the product. Identify touchpoints that can still create value for the customer and work them into your onboarding journey for them. E.g., for the attribution analytics product from Branch, “attribution fraud” is a topic around which conversations reveal the maturity of the customer.

4. During the initial conversation with your customer, explain your product and highlight some useful features/functionalities based on your experience with other customers. In cases where customers choose more complex use cases, probe deeper and ask questions to understand why they need those use cases. If the customer is switching from a competitor, focus on educating them on the differences between the products and explaining how they gain more value from you.

5. While using tools for accountability and updates, use tools that have a collaborative approach that shows who is responsible for which tasks, allows changes from both sides, and is easy to update.  This helps retain (and build) customers’ confidence since such tools indicate to the customer that you, too, are committed to their work. 

6. The metrics and factors below can help you understand the complexity of an implementation project: 

  1. Number of open implementations
  2. If the customer is switching from a competitor
  3. Platform incompatibilities for data integration

7. Here are some factors that influence customer sentiment and can help with churn prediction: 

  1. Implementation duration vs. implementation process delivered
  2. The value gained by the customer during the process
  3. Number of support tickets raised by the customer

8. Other best practices discussed: 

  1. Onboarding Business Review: AppsFlyer has a scheduled onboarding review built into their CRM. Their onboarding process starts with a kickoff call where the customer explains their reasons for purchase, what success looks like to them, etc. Onboarding ends with an Onboarding Business Review (OBR) to review and reflect on how the onboarding was done. The OBR is an opportunity to revisit what was pitched, what was delivered, and how long it took to complete onboarding. The OBR meeting is attended by Sales, Customer Success, Support, and the customers’ leadership team. 
  2. Using one-to-many models for customer sessions: These work well from a feature-education or marketing standpoint, but a hackathon approach might work better for onboarding since customers often expect more attention and support. 
  3. Low-touch onboarding support: The CS team at AppsFlyer has also successfully created an onboarding portal for low-tier and mid-tier customers. This portal hosts resources,  videos, and webinars that the customers can watch at their own pace and learn how to use the product.
If you found this useful, consider joining our private, invite-only Slack community and attend the next Implementation Stories session or just access more such resources. You will also gain access to peers and share knowledge on customer onboarding, implementation, and customer success.

More resources

  1. Top customer onboarding metrics to track 
  2. Establishing successful KPIs for implementation
  3. Packaging your services and creating the right offering for your customers 
  4. Richard Benavides on how Crew reinvented its SMB onboarding from high-touch to self-serve

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Kirthika Soundararajan
Head - Content Marketing @ Rocketlane

All things content at Rocketlane. I run on coffee and cat videos. Follow me on Twitter @kirthikasrajan

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