Solving for complex onboarding: Paving a path to value for your customers
Product teams often fall into the trap of spending most of their time on the core functionality of the products they’re building.
But focusing on the core product can often come at the expense of deeply considering what the onboarding process – the real-world process customers have to go through to start getting value from the product – will be like.
Onboarding is critical to the success of your product
At Intercom, we aim to deliver outcomes. Without an accessible onboarding process, customers may never reach the stage where they can use the game-changing features your team has worked so hard to build, making outcomes difficult to achieve.
Focusing on the onboarding process at the beginning of new product development is critical to overcoming this. This is especially true when you’re building for mid-market and enterprise customers. Businesses use buying committees to make the decision to use a new product. These committees are essential, even if the product is free, because every new product necessitates a process change.
“As companies get larger, process changes impact more people, and the buying committee tends to grow”
In a small startup, the “committee” could be a single person. But as companies get larger, process changes impact more people, and the buying committee tends to grow. Larger buying committees mean more people and steps involved.
It’s easy for customers to stop onboarding at any hurdle the buying committee experiences. At best, poorly thought out onboarding could mean customers take weeks or months to start using a new product. At worst, a poor onboarding experience could prevent them from ever getting started.
We experienced this first-hand while building our WhatsApp integration. In the early days of the beta, we realized it was taking a long time for customers to get started – with no clear answers as to why.
“We had spent the majority of our time focusing on day-to-day features customers would love, but not the processes they would need to go through”
We had spent the majority of our time focusing on the day-to-day features customers would love, but not the processes they would need to navigate to begin using those features. We had to adjust course to understand (and simplify!) the onboarding process, but lost precious time.
We created a simple framework to understand the onboarding process
When we transitioned to building Switch, our latest release, we knew we needed to incorporate our learnings from WhatsApp right away. We considered two perspectives from the very beginning of our product development:
- What core features does the product need for our customers to use it every day?
- What does the onboarding process look like for the customer in real life, and what can we do to make it easier?
While we were used to thinking about the core features, defining the onboarding process from the outset was new for us. We developed a simple framework to understand it by outlining three things:
- The people: Who’s in the buying committee and what is their role in it?
- The steps: What steps does each role need to take – both in the product and in their organization – to get started?
- The questions: What questions do they have at each step?
We worked with a small number of enthusiastic customers to define these three things. We directly asked them who needed to be involved, what questions they needed to answer, and what their next steps were.
We also observed their behavior and the hurdles they encountered as they went, asking ourselves “Where are they getting blocked?”; “What’s slowing them down?”; “Where are they confused?” – and iterating on our onboarding process with every learning.
For your customers, installing your product is just one of many steps
There’s a lot of change management involved in introducing a new product to a team. Outlining the people, steps, and questions can not only meaningfully impact what you build as a product team, but also heavily influence where marketing and sales focus to streamline onboarding.
As we outlined the onboarding process for Switch, we found multiple factors that were slowing customers down, and worked cross-functionally to solve them.
Educating our customers about Switch’s use cases
We identified that support team directors were the key decision-makers when it came to getting started with Switch. They frequently had questions about how Switch might improve their customer experience and lessen the burden on their support team. They needed tangible examples to quickly grasp it and be enticed to get started.
We felt the most impactful way to answer these questions would be in how we marketed Switch. We worked with the marketing team to produce clear marketing materials showcasing Switch’s real-life applications and benefits to support team leaders.
Removing technical barriers within the onboarding process
While support directors were the key decision makers to get started, implementing and testing Switch often fell to project managers. These individuals weren’t technical and often didn’t have access to engineers. This didn’t align with our first prototype of Switch, which required technical skills to implement.
“We introduced a new way to integrate Switch that required no code to set up”
To solve this, we introduced a new way to integrate Switch that required no code to set up. Not only did a no-code integration appeal to project managers, but it also worked with a wider range of phone systems.
Finding a champion to implement Switch
Yet, despite no-code ways to get started, it still took customers a lot of time to start using Switch.
We learned that project managers had to work with a new person – the phone system admin – to make the necessary changes to their phone system. Once we identified this, we started having “implementation calls” directly with the phone system admin to guide them through the implementation.
This massively sped up the process, but clearly wasn’t scalable for our product team beyond the beta. So we enabled the sales team to identify this new phone system admin persona to both accelerate and scale the process.
Enabling our customers’ testing step
Once we got customers through implementation, we realized no one went straight from zero to full usage. Testing was a critical step and customers had lots of questions they had to answer manually.
“We noticed project managers were manually reviewing every single conversation that started from Switch to understand its impact and effectiveness for the customer”
We noticed project managers were manually reviewing every single conversation that started from Switch to understand its impact and effectiveness for the customer. This was tedious so we built a new section to compile all the information they needed in one place. We called it “Monitor”, and it answered the critical questions our customers were asking at this step:
- How many calls were switched?
- How many people wrote to our team after their call was switched?
- What did they write about?
- Did our team handle it correctly?
- Was the customer satisfied with the resolution?
This enabled the project manager to evaluate how effective Switch was for their team more quickly. It was a crucial aspect, and scope we would have missed if we hadn’t identified the testing step and associated questions.
Weaving onboarding into the development process is key to a great customer experience
No matter what kinds of customers your company is targeting, a smooth, accessible onboarding process is critical to bring the entire buying committee along and unlock the value of your product.
Outlining the people, steps, and questions customers have from the earliest stages of product development is key. It ultimately reduces the time it takes a customer to integrate your product into their company processes and increases your product usage.
Ultimately, we went through four iterations of Switch onboarding, applying the knowledge and feedback we gained at every stage to create a smoother process across R&D, Sales, and Marketing, ensuring our customers were supported at every point of their Switch journeys.
“By the time we arrived at the wider release of Switch, we were confident that we had built a robust onboarding process that addressed the real needs of our customers”
By the time we arrived at the wider release of Switch, we were confident that we had built a robust onboarding process that addressed the real needs of our customers, facilitating a smooth journey to full usage.
Reduce your customers’ wait times by allowing them to switch to messaging – learn more about Switch.