Personalizing, Usage Reports and a Conference App Can Help Onboarding

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Successful onboarding can take on many looks. For Elizabeth Petersen of Simplify Compliance, onboarding for events is important. For their critical documentation improvement specialists audience, they created a conference app that helps to start conversations between customers before the event.

Then "people started posting who they wanted to meet and what they wanted to see. Then they started posting pictures of their dog wearing a conference tee-shirt. And a drink they were having before they got on the plane. And so they were onboarding one another because they were hearing from their peers what their peers were going to get out of their event."

Note: Event attendees must have been sent a tee-shirt when they signed up—more onboarding. 

Here are some other onboarding successes, in SIPA and out.

Send a personalized "gesture." I just renewed as a member of the amazing Museum of African American History & Culture here in Washington, D.C. Before I did, I responded to an email they sent about why I was taking time to renew. I wrote back that I felt I wasn't being alerted about events and thus was getting shut out. They responded and said it would be fixed. Last night I received an invitation to an upcoming member night. Onboarding? Check.

Build up your champion. "There should be one person [at the customer's organization] to spread the word about your company," said Bill Haight, president of Magna Publications. "They're not going to renew if they're not using your stuff, so you have to keep reminding them. We send out a certificate to that person. It looks professional and valuable and something that shouldn't be thrown away." He'll remind them that "you are the group administrator, and it's your job to let others there know about the resources you have." If their job changes, make sure they let you know. "You're the champion of this product."

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."

Design matters. "We don't think of onboarding as a discrete activity," said Aaron Steinberg, publisher at insideARM. "It's the beginning of our ongoing member service and engagement. We want to be in touch with our customers all the time, and we do a good job of that." He spoke about the importance of design in the customer service chain. "Our materials are good, our onboarding is good, but in the middle there was a design" on the website that needed to be clearer. That changed, thanks to that good customer communication.

Ask questions about your product. "Customers who are engaged in helping to build our tools and features and what kind of content we created, they become invested in our product," said Christina Karabetsos, executive VP, QCSS Inc. "Your customers can help you more narrowly define your value propositions and come up with new and more interesting use cases. They may be using your product in ways you haven't envisioned, and their unique use case will often help to guide future development of your product."

Always be available. "We introduced an online chat function," Farley said. "People who will not call customer service will engage in an anonymous way. Since we started it, our call volume went down, and our revenue up." Someone will always be available—a key to this feature.

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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…