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How onboarding impacts customer health

Meera Kanani
2 min read

It’s every Success leader’s worst nightmare: seeing churn rates increase. 

Triaging the root cause of churn is not easy because there’s rarely a single trigger. For some it might be a frustration with the product, while for others it’s the quality of service. And for others it might be macro shifts in their business. Worst of all, not all customers will clearly express why they’re leaving. 

Customer health scores, when implemented thoughtfully and tracked diligently, can unearth these root causes and make diagnoses faster. Even better, they can yield early signals before something has gone entirely awry. 

What is a customer health score?

Customer health scores are a way to quantify how much value a customer is getting from a product and their level of engagement. The metric will look different for each company, but the goal is to predict which users are likely to continue using your product and which are at risk of stopping.

How healthy are your customers?

Healthy customers come back to your product frequently and engage deeply. Many companies will use “session length” as a proxy, but be mindful that long sessions might indicate that a user is struggling to accomplish their workflow goals. A better indicator is the breadth of functionality that a customer uses. Your product team should have a sense of which features are more “core” and correlate to more value.

Healthy customers are a valuable group that you can use to test new features without a risk of losing them, providing you a unique opportunity to learn and iterate before a widespread launch. 

Unhealthy customers are the opposite — they rarely return to the product, or they spend little time on it when they do return. That said, different customers and different personas should have different levels of engagement. 

For example, a workflow where a user type is an “approver” shouldn’t be expected to adopt a wide range of features. Similarly, a customer who’s primarily using your product through an API might be very “sticky” but demonstrate low in-app feature engagement. But in general, customers who use very little of the product are more likely to churn. An unhealthy customer is unlikely to renew their contract since they aren't receiving the value they expected.

Once you have identified an unhealthy customer, the next step is figuring out how to remedy the situation. Often that starts with a conversation around the gaps between expectations and realities, and augmenting either with additional training and adoption plans, or with feedback to the product team for improvement.

But what most experienced Success leaders will tell you is that this is too little too late. The most critical period of time to shape a customer’s health is actually during their initial onboarding, and any lessons learned about why customers churn should be incorporated into how to prevent future customers from ever getting there.

Use onboarding tools to improve your customer health

Given this, what can you do to proactively keep customers healthy? At Bento we think heavily about onboarding experiences, whether hand-held or in-product. But the in-product experiences are some of the hardest to achieve because it always requires cross-functional collaboration, and is often blocked by engineering and product resources. And since it is Customer Success teams who most often look at health scores, collaborating with product on how to make in-product onboarding more effective is a key area of focus.

For companies who already invest in in-product onboarding there are 3 common patterns that keep users from as much success as they could have.

  • Make the onboarding simple. The whole point of onboarding is to create a clear path to value. A fast way to undo that benefit is to overload the experience with too many steps, or steps with far too much language and details. Keep things simple and clear and link out to help center articles as necessary for more details. 
  • Tailor to the persona. No user needs to understand every feature in your product. Instead, divide your customer base into persona’s and onboard them to help them reach their goals. 
  • Let customers revisit help. Users should be able to re-engage help content as they need in their product journey. By giving them the option to return to certain steps in the onboarding process or sprinkling guidance throughout the app, you let them learn features easily, when they want to, preventing churn.

Successful onboarding is a key lever to ensure healthy customer engagement

While a successful onboarding experience for new accounts is only one input to the customer health score, it’s clear that customers can’t achieve activation and health without effective onboarding – whether that comes in the form of hand held interactions or great in-product experiences. 

By focusing on customer solutions and onboarding in first interactions can reduce churn by 67%. 

So instead of letting your onboarding initiative get deferred another quarter, consider doubling down here and creating strong foundations for the rest of the customer’s journey.

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