10 Ways to Successfully Onboard Your Customers

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In a clever article titled How to Lose a Member in 10 Days on the MemberSuite site, marketing manager Kelli Eidson wrote, "Day Two: Have a lackluster welcome strategy. It is critical to personalizing the member's experience right off the bat and making them aware of their benefits. A good welcome packet will have everything a member needs to engage with [you]... Without it, they're likely to churn."

Bill Haight, president of Magna Publications, addressed this head on in his session during SIPA's full-day Customer Onboarding and Retention: Increasing Loyalty, Lifetime Value and Profits event here in Washington, D.C. earlier this year. (Members can access all the day's great session recordings here.)

"We get customer service instructions out week one," he said. "Welcome and confirmation letters. Here's a tip: Let a good promotional copywriter take a look at the confirmation and renewal letters and let them put a little personality in them. So often confirmation letters are written by customer service people. They're factual. 'Here's how you do this.'

"For example, a conference welcome letter might say, 'Our registration will be open 12-5.' [Why not try,] 'Be prepared to start a real adventure that could be life-changing! Come down to our conference check-in table, pick up a badge and meet the exciting people you'll be with the next couple days.'"

Haight added one more example. "Do a tune-up on all those letters and put a little pizzazz in them. Instead of 'Here's how you distribute the access code to your colleagues,' try, 'Be a hero, and your colleagues will love you when you show them how easy it is to access these wonderful resources.' So keep that selling personality in all your communications," Haight advised.

Here are a few more onboarding tips that he offered:

1. Let people know how to use the product—the log-in, mechanics. "If they can't get to it, nothing else matters," Haight said. "We had a case with colleges where one person was purchasing, someone else made the decisions, and all the rest of the faculty may not have even known about it."

2. Keep people satisfied and develop a relationship with your customers. Make sure they understand the usages of your product.

3. Get a champion. "For us that would be a college administrator, somebody who will spread the word [about our product]." Haight said. "Somebody has to keep people informed that this product is out there and available to them."

4. Develop usage reports of your products. Haight said they started doing this based on customer requests. "But it's good to know how many people are using this product." The down side could be when usage is low, but Heather Farley, COO of Access Intelligence, said that, "We'll look at those usage reports and then reach out to the super users—the people who are using our products a lot—trying to understand [the best path to take]. 'How are you using it, what are you doing [based on it]? Are there other people in your organization who you think could benefit?'"

Haight agreed. "Super users can share good ideas. There's nothing better than [their saying,] 'here's what so and so did at another college, and everyone on campus is excited about it.'" Farley added that they've also done webinars where "we walk them through training in how to use our product."

5. Send ongoing reminders and tips for how to use the product. Make phone calls. Sometimes that's the only way to find out if someone has left their job, Haight said. "When there is turnover, you have to restart the onboarding process. At least quarterly we do some kind of check-in call. Are there problems?"

6. Give your champion or super user gravitas. Magna will present them with a very nice certificate. "This is a big deal for us," Haight said. "They have a big responsibility; their institution spent a lot of money. We want to convey that it's an important duty to be champion of this group subscription."

7. Send a manual. Magna sends a Campus Administrators manual to show users how to use their subscription, how to create a new account and access their benefits. "Get the most from your Magna Online subscription." They'll also offer ideas for staff development through their higher education newsletter.

8. Keep continued contact with your customer coordinators. "If that person disappears it is critical. I can't emphasize how important it is to us" to keep track of those people," Haight said. "There are always new features we can talk to them about."

9. Call people if they have a particular comment from a survey. "Again that's our sales person doing the calling," Haight said. "[Someone might say], 'I didn't like one speaker because he swore too much.' Well, the sales person can't do too much, but he can acknowledge that we're listening. 'People planning our next conference are well aware of this and will look at it.'"

10. Do all you can to understand the customer. This will be huge come renewal time.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…