Turning Dreams into Reality
I strongly believe that the Sales team sells dreams and the Customer Onboarding Team must turn these dreams into reality. To equip your onboarding team to carry out this task, ensure that there is constant communication between your sales and onboarding teams. If the sales team is making promises to your clients, then the onboarding team needs to know about them since they’re the ones who have to fulfill those promises.
The onboarding stage of an account is always tenuous since it’s the first time your client experiences your product. In B2B SaaS, your clients may also worry about the potential returns and feasibility of your product. After all, they have a business to run and they can’t afford to invest too much time in adapting to your software. In this post, we will talk about some of the top strategies that your onboarding team can use to keep customer expectations in check.
Let’s explore why transparency matters. Your client has invested a significant amount of money while signing up to use your software and is yet to experience the returns on their investment. At this stage, if your clients ask hard questions and are shown a smokescreen, they lose faith in your company and your product. This erosion of trust at such an early stage can also hamper any upselling/cross-selling opportunities in the future. As per SuperOffice, 42% of businesses invest in customer experience just to increase upselling and cross-selling. Thus it is important to play the long game and not hamper sales down the line.
On a personal level, I have observed that clients are much more cooperative if you are transparent with them. Instead of throwing up a smokescreen or stalling for time, I prefer to explain the cause behind the problem. Subsequently, I also explain to the client how I plan to fix the problem and what I intend to do so that it isn't repeated in thefuture. I have personally experienced that transparency has the power to turn confrontations into collaborative discussions.
Even customers with poor sentiment came to the table and worked with us on finding a way forward after a detailed explanation. The spirit of transparency also dictates that you may need to admit your mistakes. I have found that clients become much more humane if you admit your mistake and show them some humility. I’ve had situations where I have overcome deep mistrust between the client and my team just by using candour and transparency.
Tackling this problem may require a procedural change. Right from the kick-off call, ensure that your onboarding managers maintain the highest degree of transparency. Your firm needs to communicate the expected milestones and their completion date well in advance. Your onboarding team must also proactively provide justifications for any extended timelines or missed milestone dates in the future. Each member of the onboarding team can personalize their interactions and their transparency endeavours based on the client and the situation.
- Saying ‘No’
Saying ‘no’ is often seen as a taboo in customer-facing roles. However, saying yes to everything is never an option and deflecting the question leads to an erosion of trust. Moreover, just kicking the can down the road always ends up compounding the problem over time and may lead to an escalation later. Onboarding teams around the globe need to adopt nuanced ways of saying ‘no’ to a client.
I have found that contrary to popular belief, saying ‘no’ doesn’t lead to an escalation or a severe deterioration of sentiments. I have observed that when you show empathy and express that you understand the client’s problem and what they’re trying to achieve, client’s tend to become accommodative. Subsequently, I explain my position and also highlight why I’m saying ‘no’ to a request. It could be because the request is not feasible, or because it can be detrimental despite the client’s best intentions. A logical argument can go a long way since you’re primarily dealing with business owners in the B2B business verticals. As per my experience, clients are okay with hearing a ‘no’ from time to time provided that it is backed by sound reasoning and explanation. I’ve had clients who’ve come up with flamboyant demands and still accepted a ‘no’ from me after I gave them a solid rationale for it.
The bottom line is that onboarding managers need to explain their position rather than bluntly saying no. I have realised that using phrases like ‘we don’t recommend that’ or ‘we cannot incorporate that as of now’ can help soften the blow. Communication is the key and a nuanced statement along with a logical justification can work wonders and help manage the client’s sentiment. Saying no today can save you from a lot of potential headaches in the long run. Don’t think of onboarding as a stage, but think of it as the start of a long and symbiotic journey of growth.
- Avoid ‘I will get back to you on this’
‘I will get back to you on this’ is a commonly used statement in the customer success domain. CS Managers use it to get out of tight spots or to avoid answering a question. However, that might not be the best idea since it makes you look like you’re not well-informed. Additionally, it can also make your clients feel that you may not be the best person to handle their queries. This can also lead them to feel that they need to speak to someone higher up the chain.
The best way to get out of a tight spot is to think on your feet. You don’t have to give your client a commitment or a firm response, just discuss your preliminary thoughts with them. My clients have been more receptive to unfavourable outcomes as long as I heard them out and discussed my preliminary thoughts with them. When you’re doing this, it is important to highlight that you’re just having a discussion and not making any promises. I have personally used the following phrases to walk that fine line between a commitment and a discussion:
- ‘I can’t give you a firm commitment, however, I feel that…’
- ‘I will need to discuss with my internal stakeholders, but it seems to me…’
- ‘I’ve gone over your thoughts, and before I take this further, I would like to understand your rationale’
- ‘This is not something we intend on taking up currently, however, I do admit that your idea has some merits like…’
This will make your clients feel heard and they will be more receptive to whatever the outcome is. It will also give your clients the confidence that the person they’re speaking to is the right person for the job. Keeping your client’s trust and confidence in these tough situations can help you better retain and onboard clients.
- Acknowledge the Problem
If a client comes to you with problems, don’t try to dismiss the problems or give immediate workarounds for them. First, show your client that you understand their problem and that you’re committed to finding a solution for it. Customer empathy can go a long way in helping you onboard your clients in a more efficient way.
In my experience, clients become more cooperative and accommodative if you show them that you understand their problem. I’ve had great success with handling escalations whenever I’ve been able to demonstrate to my clients that I understand their pain and their problems. Moreover, I’ve been able to prevent churn despite major problems with basic workflows just by highlighting that I understand the problem and that I’m working with my team on a fix. Even clients with a lot of revenue at stake have been receptive when I gave them the confidence that I understand and that I’ll get it done.
Another useful tactic that I’ve used in the past is that I’ve highlighted how a few hours or days of inconvenience will be inconsequential compared to the time that we will be in business together. Even if I had a solution in mind, I always took the time to hear out my clients and let them vent their frustration before giving them a solution to it all. This worked wonders as clients felt that I was directly responding to their frustration and complaints.
The priority of and the kind of issues will vary based on the customer profile that you’re dealing with. The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that it exists. The problems can be related to your product performance, usage or workflow. Solving a problem doesn’t always require a developmental effort. A lot of problems can be solved by workflow optimizations or workarounds. However, directly demanding that your client accommodates your input can backfire. To get your clients in an accommodative state, you need to be empathetic. Show them that you’re there to help!
- Understand the Criticality of the Problems
In my experience, a frustrated client will bring you several problems. Most of the time, the clients themselves are not aware of which ones are the most important. I’ve found that prioritizing your client’s problems for them makes them see things clearly. While prioritizing, I also take into account which problems are the easiest to solve. By tackling the easier problems first, I was able to demonstrate progress to my clients and then buy time for solving the problems that required more effort. Additionally, if the team’s bandwidth was available, we worked on quick wins and long-term problems simultaneously which allowed us to show progress as well as solve mission-critical problems. Demonstrating progress allowed me to retain clients for months despite critical workflow issues which we then solved over a few months.
Towards the end of this process, your clients may not even remember the minor inconveniences that they were facing. By doing this, you will also give your clients the confidence that you have strong execution skills. They will also start trusting your problem-solving skills and discuss their reservations more openly. This might sound controversial, but I’ve noticed in my experience that clients didn’t want to hear ‘Sorry for the inconvenience’ or ‘I apologize for this’. They just wanted to hear that I understood the problem and that I’m looking into it. The fact that I used to voluntarily give them updates on long-term projects and fixes further helped in fostering trust with my clients and myself.
No matter which strategy you choose, ensuring that your onboarding team and your clients are in sync is imperative. If your clients are up to date about the projected milestones and the progress on them, they’re less likely to bother you or doubt your onboarding process. You can have your team manually send regular updates and reports to your clients to accommodate this. If you’re looking for a better way to do this, you can explore interactive dashboards that give your clients live visibility whenever they want it. This is especially relevant as 75% of customers prefer self-service models rather than relying on company executives. Armed with this knowledge, it is now time for you to inculcate these top 5 strategies within your onboarding processes!
About the writer
An engineer by profession, Anchit Ghai has spent the last year working in Customer Success in the US SaaS industry. Moreover, Anchit has held several leadership positions during his stint at Toastmasters International and won several accolades for public speaking. Anchit is committed towards contributing to the CS domain and is a huge proponent of value-based onboarding. He is an Impact MBA scholar at the Global Governance Initiative and he is currently pursuing the coveted MSc in Management degree at Imperial College London.