For Implementation Stories #14, we spoke to Krishna Kant, Director of Customer Success at Almabase, a SaaS alumni management platform. He’s also the community manager at SaaS Insider.
In this session, Krishna discussed:
This post covers key takeaways.
Almabase is in the alumni engagement space, offering schools, colleges, universities a solution to manage their alumni engagement. Since it's a platform-based solution, there is a mix of front-end (set the site up, customize it for the customer to match their brand, etc.) and backend (data migration/upload, etc.) work during customer onboarding. They ensure the platform is ready to use for the alumni when they log in.
An analysis of their onboarding process highlighted a gap in expectations between the customer and the Almbase team.
Krishna talked about how initially, the onboarding did not include the Almabase understanding the complexity of processes at the customer’s end and the level of resources required for the onboarding. As a result, they couldn’t set the right expectations with the customer’s team. The customers who sign up expected the platform to be ready to use right away.
To fix this, Krishna and his team added a step in their process where they could understand the customer’s expectations. Whenever a customer signs up with them, the Almabase team starts by understanding the deliverables in terms of:
They addressed dependencies on the customer and the resource investment required of them. To ensure the onboarding process was thorough and to provide visibility to the customer every step of the way, Krishna and his team took the project management approach to their customer onboarding process. Almabase also set milestones with the customer for post-onboarding. This milestone would be what the customer wanted to achieve with Almabase at the end of a set period of time, after onboarding.
Based on the information obtained during these exploratory discussions, Almabase divided their customer onboarding journey into three phases: ‘data onboarding’/’content creation’, ‘pilot’, and ‘launch’. Each phase had tasks and activities, timelines for each, and things to be done to complete each task. There were also checkpoints defined for each phase.
Here’s how Krishna applied the project management approach to customer onboarding.
The team started by understanding the problems that the customer wanted to solve. The information they collected were:
They used this information to arrive at short-term and long-term goals.
The team redesigned their kickoff template to ensure they could meet their goal of aligning expectations. They used the template to:
The team also worked the customer onboarding process into their kickoff deck. They designed it to provide a week-wise view of the onboarding plan to the customer. Using feedback from customers, we also incorporated a view of the implementation journey for the customer, which also highlighted the milestones and success metrics. They’d create and share documents that the customer can come back to about their implementation journey—a guide of sorts. This is the document that the customer can refer to for 80% of their onboarding needs. It included information such as their (customer’s) beta site link, the data setup link, the kickoff call slide link, the kickoff call recording link, and other important links and files for them to access during the onboarding phase. The Almabase team also shares checklists of what the customer needs to take care of at their end, along with the ownership aspect of the onboarding journey.
For the convenience of their internal team, Almabase also created a section for change requests and queries that come from the customer during the onboarding phase. This helped the CSMs and the customer support team coordinate and they got on the same page faster.
Talking about creating accountability and transparency within the team and ensuring the customer champions deliver on time, especially during the first 90 days of the customer’s relationship with the team, Krishna said that at Almabase, they set expectations during the kickoff meeting and map activities to specific people. They also email a monthly summary to all stakeholders on the progress of the customer onboarding project. This also eliminates the need to point out issues on either end, which could look like a complaint or an escalation—it’d be part of the summary, although he says it’s not a perfect solution. He says it’s an effective way to manage expectations. He also recommended mapping customer onboarding goals to the KPIs of the team.
Srikrishnan, co-founder of Rocketlane, recommended tying customer onboarding goals to the org-wide goals, so people could see how they’re impacting the business.
Addressing the pros and cons of using WhatsApp or similar platforms create group chats with customers for their onboarding communication, Krishna and Sri recommended establishing early on (say, during the kickoff phase) the channels of communication that the customers can use to contact you for any queries or issues, and also specify a dedicated channel and point of contact for escalations. Using formal modes such as meetings, emails, help keep track of the interactions and decisions made.
Rocketlane X Slack: Collaborate from the comfort of Slack
Sometimes, the expectations created with the customer by the sales team aren’t the same that the onboarding team can deliver. To bring in a pragmatic perspective, Krishna recommends:
Here’s Alex Farmer on how CSMs can contribute towards successful onboarding experiences. Here’s a Deep Dive into escalation and expectation management during the customer journey.
During the onboarding phase, if the customer comes back to you pointing out that a competitor has a certain feature or functionality that your product doesn’t:
If the ultimate users of your product at the customer’s end aren’t displaying enthusiasm in adopting your product, Krishna says it could be to do with the fact that change itself can be uncomfortable—the team could be used to a specific workflow, and are unable to visualize how your product would help them or make it better for them. He recommends:
You might want to look at this Preflight conversation on improving product adoption.
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