Implementation Stories

Samantha Wong on Scaling Customer Onboarding at Front

How onboarding evolved at Front, and lessons from their CS journey
May 6, 2022
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In this session of Implementation Stories, we spoke to Samantha Wong, Head of Onboarding Programs and Services at Front. 

Samantha Wong enables CS teams in a high-velocity business environment to achieve growth, retention, and adoption goals. She has developed and operationalized the CS department at Front. Used by over 7500 companies, Front is a customer communication hub that powers connections between teams and customers. It brings email and apps together in a collaborative customer communication platform to enable both operational efficiency and a focus on customer relationships.

In this session, Samantha talked about:

  1. The evolution of onboarding at Front
  2. Customer Success and Onboarding: roles and responsibilities
  3. Developing goals for the Onboarding team
  4. The three lessons learned from Front’s CS journey 

In this post, we share key takeaways from the session.

The evolution of onboarding at Front

In the early days, the CSM who handled expansion, onboarding, and retention spent most of their time on expansion activities (given the targets they had to chase). 

The creation of a separate onboarding function and role 

The first structural change within the CS team was making onboarding a separate function and creating a separate role - that of the onboarding manager. This focus on implementation allowed the team to hire for the project management and change management aspects/skills that implementation needed.

Separating Account Management from Customer Success

The team faced another challenge: CSMs hired for their hunting and expanding skillsets also needed to nurture adoption and drive customers’ technical success.

This resulted in the second structural change - a separate account management function (placed under Front’s global sales function), created to deal with all commercial aspects of the customer lifecycle. Salespeople were hired for this function with a role incentivized to cross-sell, upsell, and drive renewals.  

This allowed the CSM to focus on long-term adoption and health, beginning at the post-implementation stage, driving adoption, and going all the way to renewal. This included managing feature requests, engaging in roadmap conversations, and adoption motions such as training and workflow tweaks. This approach, where every role is aligned to a domain (Customer Success, Account Management, Onboarding), has shown outstanding business results and improved engagement from employees.

In addition, two onboarding models (high and low-touch) were created. The high-touch model eventually became onboarding paid services; low touch became the programmatic model. 

Roles: Onboarding Manager vs. Customer Success Manager 

At Front, onboarding managers are trained to be product experts. Each Onboarding Manager is trained on the product, and the pros and cons of all architecture/designs, so they can take a consultative approach to all their onboarding projects.

The six areas of focus for onboarding managers are:

  1. Product expertise: Best practice consultation for optimal workflow designs
  2. Project management: Deployment using proven program design, communication strategy, and customized rollout plans 
  3. Training: Training admin and end-users through customized sessions
  4. Technical consultation: Deliverability and configuration support/advice
  5. Change management: Deep admin partnership and guiding end-users through change management to increase adoption
  6. Ongoing guidance

The onboarding team meets for a deployment/onboarding pipeline meeting every week which they use for peer coaching and to discuss current challenges and change management issues. Onboarding managers at Front work on a base + bonus model.

CSMs and their role in onboarding

CSMs don’t participate in every customer call during implementation, but make sure to attend the:

  1. Kickoff call
  2. Onboarding EBR (executive business review) so they know what to focus on in the post-implementation stage 
  3. Any high stake or complex workflow discussions

CSMs have a target earning model with split targets (including an NRR target).

Onboarding goals 

The Front Team has three goals for onboarding: 

  1. Launch metric (Time to value): A timebound metric that measures license utilization within 90 days. This is a percentage of utilization (irrespective of customer’s size). 
  2. CSAT: This service-level metric (collected after every onboarding) is used to understand performance and areas of improvement 
  3. Product adoption: Focused on pushing new features and ensuring their adoption. This is not to be confused with upselling, as it focuses on adoption within the current plan. 

Lessons learned during Front’s onboarding journey

Lesson 1: Tribal knowledge does not scale. Build repeatable motions 

Document everything so you can:

  1. Articulate the process to internal stakeholders
  2. Share the process with customers
  3. Train the internal team efficiently 

As part of new employee onboarding, new employees shadowing colleagues are encouraged to draft conversations for their colleagues to send to help them internalize the process and build muscle memory.

Invest in talent and initiatives that help ramp Onboarding Managers. For example, the Front team worked to create:

  1. Templates for repetitive tasks
  2. Mock sessions to expose team members to expected situations and 
  3. A culture of radical honesty to facilitate peer feedback

Invest in a project management tool to:

  1. Standardize projects 
  2. Ensure timely reporting 
  3. Get function-wide visibility into progress and blockers

Lesson 2: Relationships matter.  Build bridges between close collaborators 

The team surveyed the sales teams to understand their conversations with customers. This helped them design better training and best practice documents (also reviewed by sales teams).

They also set up a cadence to regularly meet:

  1. Functional leaders and present feedback
  2. AEs/AMs to explain (and update them on) the onboarding plan and process

Lesson 3: Customers don’t always respect your services. Assign a dollar value to what you do. 

  1. Start with a document that outlines the challenges you have as a team and the goal you’re working towards
  2. Ensure there is cross-functional alignment on it (with involvement from Finance, Sales, Ops, Marketing, etc.)
  3. Take the lead on packaging and pricing. Then involve other teams for feedback.
  4. Focus on change management initiatives and create resources to support selling

Onboarding best practices  

Collecting customer feedback 

Separate product feedback from service feedback. For instance, use NPS for customer feedback from a product standpoint and use CSAT to capture the effectiveness of the onboarding service.

Keep post-implementation surveys short (approximately 60 seconds, five questions). Example questions include: 

  1. How would you rate the onboarding ‘service’?
  2. Which conversation during the journey was most beneficial?
  3. A free-form question for qualitative feedback

Onboarding Executive Business Reviews

Revisit the goals and outcomes discussed at kickoff and present quantitative findings on ROI. Focus on further roadmap conversations.

QBRs are stupid. OBRs are smart

Sales to Onboarding handovers

Set up a high-touch handoff, so customers don’t end up repeating conversations.  Ensure that every handover involves a 15-minute sync call and a handover record filled by the Account Executive/Manager.

Hiring for change management

Ask candidates to walk you through a change management instance from their experience. Probe them to understand 

  1. the habits they needed to change for rollouts
  2. if they can articulate and implement a formal order of operations
Like what you read? Join Preflight, our private, invite-only Slack community and attend the next Implementation Stories session. You will also gain access to peers and share knowledge on customer onboarding, implementation, and customer success.

More resources

  1. Implementation Stories from Preflight
  2. Customer onboarding resources from Rocketlane
  3. The Launch Station - a podcast for all things customer onboarding

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Usha Kalva
Community & Partnerships @ Rocketlane

Usha is a Community Manager at Preflight. She's been an EIR, runs a successful restaurant, and is inclined toward the social sciences. In a parallel universe, she'd have been a wildlife photographer.

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