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Nailing the Handoff: Part One – Onboarding

Posted on December 18, 2019 , by Steve Bernstein
Nailing the Handoff:  Part One – Onboarding

[This week’s post provided with our thanks by Paul Piazza, head of global Customer Success and Support for Reciprocity Labs, providers of ZenGRC.  Thank you Paul, for documenting this excellent best-practice with your awesome results!  Click here to see the full -size of the above image]

Customer relationships are constantly evolving.  From the first contact to the end of the contract, and, hopefully, well beyond, we are reaching milestones, making course corrections, responding to developing needs, and improving our service and our connection.  During that lifespan, there may be several “handoffs.”  The sales team hands off to the contract team, product is delivered with an onboarding team.  Onboarding completes their tasks and is replaced by Customer Success (CSM).  Nailing the handoff at each change is essential to customer satisfaction and retention.  Time-to-value and onboarding are inarguably the most important customer-sentiment evaluation sets of the first-year lifecycle of each contract.  That’s why these are perfect times to measure and baseline the overall progress and readiness of the customer:

  • Are they ready for value?
  • Has the onboarding process met their expectations?
  • Do they have a clear understanding of what their first value point looks like?

Experience has taught us that failure in these critical moments in the customer lifecycle can increase customer churn by 80%.   

The handoff between onboarding and the customer reaching that first value point is also a great time to get a baseline measurement of customer experience to prepare CSMs for their role in the account, the next stage of the lifecycle, which is where value should start to be realized. With that baseline assessment, CSM is set up for success and can assist the customer every step of the way with tailored strategy and account management.  Moreover, each customer experience expands our own understanding of the adoption process:

Phase 1: Setting Up

Set this up as a “tracking” program.  In other words, be sure you are understanding how sentiment of the same accounts and contacts change over time. Know what is changing sentiment from the root-cause by understanding customer expectations.  This is a critical part of driving the optimal improvements across the business. KPI’s should focus on the change, not the point in time of intermediate process.  Keep the metrics focused on customer participation for trustworthy, representation feedback data that can be actioned.

  • What are the overall impacts of the onboarding experience?
  • Where are the pitfalls?
  • How can this area of the process be improved for the customer?

Once sentiment is meaningfully assessed, necessary course corrections for issues uncovered by the onboarding feedback become apparent.  Leadership looks for patterns in the feedback across similarly situated customers while CSMs investigate within each account to optimize the onboarding process and discover root drivers of retention and expansion.  Onboarding feedback will become the cornerstone for ongoing customer satisfaction.

People talk.  When they do, they’re either promoters/advocates, passives/neutrals, or unhappy detractors (whether silently disconnected, or overtly discontent).  Because the onboarding process generally involves a series of complex steps with a variety of persona, the impact on customer sentiment is equally complex.  Onboarding affects people at all levels from the decision-maker to the end-users.  And each of those personae will have valuable feedback about the process.

  • Was each person satisfied with their “view” of your  onboarding process?
  • Did all feel their needs were met? Were questions answered fully?
  • Were problems fixed or just patched?
  • Have we created promoters… or detractors?
Phase: Assess Sentiment

Avoid the word “survey” – who enjoys participating in surveys?  Instead, allow the customer to provide you with “assessments” of their experience and success with you.  Let them know you will be providing a questionnaire that enables all key contacts to provide feedback from their own perspective which you will be using to address and prioritize concerns with the account.  Remind them that the rest of the company will be able to “hear” the voice of the customer by getting the unadulterated data.


Each persona has a different relationship to the product. Responses to negative feedback must be nimble, genuine, and effective.  Course corrections must be calculated to create actual improvement, not just motion.

============= SidebarCase Study from Reciprocity =============

Reciprocity strengthens customer relationships while increasing CSM team productivity by 50%

TopBox provides Reciprocity’s CSM’s with actionable insights when preparing for customer meetings. They are much more prepared because of them and have complete confidence in the discussions around priorities and concerns. The insights gained from TopBox’s visualizations, reporting, and analytics make customer concerns clear, enabling CSM’s to focus on what’s most important to the customer for better, more productive customer meetings.  According to a CSM, “TopBox gives me actionable results. Before we started using the program, I would have limited insight into what the concerns were. It’s a template for customers to express what’s working well and what needs improvement. Plus, it provides a lot of discussion topics of value for us and our customers.”

Click here for more…


Critical Positioning

Your ongoing Customer Engagement program needs proper positioning, beginning with the Onboarding phase:

Position the assessment/feedback around the customers’ expected outcomes. Overall satisfaction on its own isn’t helpful.  To what extent does the customer feel that the onboarding experience enabled them for success?  Capture the outcome, sentiment, and what drives those outcomes consistently over time.

Benefits include:

  • Proactive “account engagement” so there are no surprises come renewal time
  • Creating, identifying, and activating more promoters (advocates) to accelerate profitable growth:
    • Happy customers buy more and stay with you longer
    • Happy customers are less costly to serve
    • Happy customers tell colleagues about your offering(s) that brings more leads in the door that close faster

Tying genuine improvement (by tracking over time) to company strategy and tactics (execution of initiatives) makes it easy to see what investments are paying off and which aren’t, i.e. the effort makes it easy (or at least “easier”) to prioritize the right investments at the C-level.  When everyone is aligned to the customer perceptions of what is/isn’t working there is far less “vibration” internally with faster time-to results.

The Nuts and Bolts

For Reciprocity, a key question in onboarding is, How well did the onboarding experience prepare you for success with [our product] ZenGRC? 

Of course, it’s critical to be sure the customer feels like they got what they needed, and Reciprocity is there to follow-up to ensure every expectation is met.  But then we trend against the follow-up assessment 6 months later (and every 6 months, automatically through the TopBox integration with Salesforce) by asking 2 questions:

  • If a colleague asked for a recommendation, how has your ability to recommend Reciprocity changed over the past 6 months?

We want to measure whether the customer feels that things are better, worse, or about the same. Of course, we trend this against the actual customer responses over time, but it’s always good to see if the customer perceives or feels a change.

  • If you were in a position to do so*, how likely would you be to recommend Reciprocity to colleagues?

This is trended against onboarding and other key moments-of-truth to be sure everything is moving in the right direction.

[*Note the B2B-specific version of the Recommend/NPS question, where it’s important to add “If you were in a position to do so…” because B2B folks aren’t likely to find themselves in a position to recommend (as opposed to B2C where we all have experiences in consumer markets).]

The analysis is made easy with TopBox. All analysis is able to be done by customer persona relative to how they work with Reciprocity (decision maker, champion/coach, end user, business influencer, etc.). We look at feedback from the collective “buying committee” in each account to understand if there are any lurking issues from anyone’s perspective that might get in the way of making the account successful for Reciprocity (“successful” is defined as driving positive word-of-mouth and retention  down the road).   We don’t evaluate feedback across accounts as a single group – it is always done from the customer’s context, and most importantly their role/persona.  We want to know what all our Decision Makers think about our ability to tee them up for success from the onboarding experience.   If we aren’t 100% sure what the role/persona of the person that is providing the feedback/assessment is, then we make sure to ask if the person that is providing the feedback about their role:

To ensure the questions we’ll be asking you are most efficient, please select the sentence that best describes your relationship with Reciprocity.

Our list of sentences includes duties normally associated with varying persona.  In this way, we get a clear picture of each person’s relationship to the product.

With so much at stake, customer sentiment assessment following the onboarding process is essential to the vitality and longevity of each account.  Responses must be clear and authentic solutions that will actually solve the issues that are troubling the customer.  Onboarding is a challenge.  It is the time when expectations are either realized or disappointed.  Customer sentiment assessment at this critical time can help us to create champions instead of detractors.