Customer Success for Ninjas: Tips for Scaling Customer Onboarding (and Walls!)


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When I ask Customer Success practitioners at all levels what is the most important priority for their team, it’s common to hear that successfully onboarding new customers is at or near the top of the list. And even those who feel they have a good process in place, or are onto something that will work, often wonder aloud how they’ll manage to sustain it as their incoming customer flow grows and their onboarding team does not.

In most cases, the initial stage of a SaaS customer’s lifecycle warrants the highest level of individual attention. During onboarding, the focus is on ensuring that each customer…

  • Gets lots of personal love right out of the gates,
  • Is properly set up to achieve top-notch value quickly,
  • Is enabled to get ongoing returns from using the application, and
  • Is therefore likely to be retained as a customer in the long run.

But coming from that sound mindset, it can be difficult to find ways to scale such a process. If you’re stuck trying to build or adjust your onboarding operation for better scalability, here are five effective tactics to the rescue.

1) Use your customer data to learn what really matters.

In order to make well-founded decisions on how best to scale, you need to know:

A. What are your onboarding customers doing…

  • In the application
  • In terms of results achieved
  • In scheduling or attending coaching sessions
  • In providing feedback on surveys
  • In their interactions with support
  • In their consumption of self-service resources
  • In any way you can track

B. Do any of those factors, in isolation or combination, correlate with customers…

  • Gaining first value from the application the most quickly,
  • Establishing a positive trend of results that continues to improve over time, and/or
  • Sticking around and renewing!

C. If so, then you’ve got an important finding to act on. Now you need to answer: Which of those factors can best be bolstered by 1:1 interactions in the early days, and which can be approached from a lower-touch, more automated methodology?

Okay, so those are complicated questions to answer… but it can be done! The key is bringing as many as possible of the various customer data streams together in one place, then doing analysis from that holistic viewpoint to explore the correlations. (Shameless plug: I can personally recommend Frontleaf as ideally suited for the job!) With the right solution that offers flexible integrations and intuitive visualizations, you don’t need a PhD in Statistics to find important trends, patterns, and opportunities to fine tune the balance of your onboarding programs for greater scalability.

2) Encourage, remind, beg, cajole, and incent your new customers to utilize self-service resources (Knowledge Base, User Community, Ideas Forum, Recorded Trainings, Best Practices Papers, etc.).

Sound repetitive? It is. Most customers, especially while they have a personal connection to reach out to, will skip doing any initial problem solving themselves. This is natural, and onboarding coaches should never brush their customers off, or just point them to a resource and leave it at that. But every time a question is answered, support ticket is resolved, or coaching session is facilitated, always include gentle reminders of where and how to find the information the next time. Even if you’ve said it before, and even if you’re likely to again.

Establish the self-serve habit up front. The more your onboarding customers learn to serve themselves and love doing so during their onboarding phase, the less they’ll be leaning on support down the road, after their personal coach might no longer be as available to them.

And it goes without saying: Ensure your self-service resources are stellar, well organized, easy to access, searchable, and up to date. If not, no amount of pleading will get your customers to utilize them.

3) Consider what aspects of your onboarding flow could be managed in customer cohorts vs. individual touchpoints.

At a previous SaaS company, we had an initial call – dubbed the Welcome Wagon – with each new customer individually within a day of their purchase. This served to thank, welcome, and orient them, and help them understand next steps. After that, they participated in weekly calls together with other customers who had started the same week. In those cohort coaching calls, we walked them through the typical onboarding, training, and best practices as they were getting up to speed on the application. Our finding: not only could we accommodate more customers with fewer coaches, but the customers also interacted with and learned from each other, and reported enjoying doing so.

We also created a specialized online Onboarding Forum, closely monitored by our most senior Customer Success team members, and accessible only to customers in the midst of their onboarding phase. It housed a combination of onboarding-specific FAQs, dialogues between customers at similar companies and/or facing similar implementation scenarios, technical tips pertinent to getting set up properly, and so on. Much of the information was available in our broader Knowledge Base, but this special forum was designed to distill that into what mattered most at the outset, and make the information very easy to find and interact with.

4) Make scheduling stupidly simple.

It seems mundane, but I’ve always found that one of the aspects of onboarding – or of any 1:1 business interactions, really – that gets everyone the most bogged down is the trickiness of scheduling. Luckily, there are tools available to help (such as Doodle), and more and more of them every day. Look for a solution that makes it easy and transparent for customers to see when their coaches are available for calls, automatically offer time options to book them, provide quick ways to update or reschedule appointments, etc. Obliterating this hurdle can mean night and day in terms of productiveness for your team and seamlessness for your customers.

5) Get comfortable with the fact that some aspects of onboarding cannot and should not be scaled.

For many SaaS applications, new customers need, deserve, and benefit greatly from at least a little personal touch and guidance at the outset. This is not a bad thing. As we all know, you can make or break a customer’s entire lifecycle experience just by virtue of their initial opinion on the personality, knowledge, accessibility, helpfulness and responsiveness of the people they are interacting with in the early days. So don’t shortchange the importance of putting the right people in that role, empowering them to fulfill it with excellence, and staffing up when needed. Just look for ways to scale – using the tips above or others – so that every single interaction doesn’t fall on their shoulders and they can manage more and more customers per coach over time.

Rachel English
Rachel is a long-time customer success leader, and is Co-Founder & VP of Customer Success at Frontleaf. She has built and led thought-leading SaaS customer success teams, and has developed a proven philosophy and methodology for creating customer value. Rachel believes that companies and their customers are only truly successful together, and she understands the building blocks and the details required to compound that effect.


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