How to Ensure Customers Are ‘Onboard’ from the Start

Customer experience managers

Carlton Retland, Principal Solutions Engineer at Applause details how brands can successfully identify and remove barriers for new customers.

Poor customer onboarding hurts your bottom line, increasing customer acquisition costs and driving down customer lifetime value. Fortunately, testing your new customer journeys provides insight into the friction points that occur during the process.

Attracting and retaining new customers is critical to business success. Yet all too often, customers get discouraged during their initial attempt to buy from a company or create an account. This trend was brought into sharp focus by a recent survey that revealed nearly two-thirds of consumers have abandoned an account setup journey or online purchase because the sign-up process was too difficult.

We live in an age where people’s expectations are high and they expect nothing less than a seamless customer experience, digital or otherwise. The only way to truly guarantee a satisfactory customer journey is to apply a testing methodology where testers interact with every digital and physical touchpoint within the customer journey, beginning with the onboarding and activation process. These testers can travel through your new customer journeys and offer detailed feedback on the overall process.

Consumer brands can only get so far by testing the customer journey in a lab. There are real-world conditions that cannot be replicated in a lab, nor do internal testing/QA teams fully represent the demographic of the customers interacting with your brand. They need a community of testers that represent their customer profiles in terms of their age, gender, ethnic background and the types of devices they use. Global brands require a larger and more diverse community of testers that accommodates different languages and cultures. These testers can venture out into “the wild” and execute customer journeys in-store/restaurant (BOPIS, curbside pickup, mobile order ahead, contactless payments), at home (OTT with different SmartTVs), in a hotel (mobile-key, mobile check-in) on a flight (in-flight access entertainment with different device types) and more.

Common friction points for new customers 

It’s important for brands to understand the common barriers for new customers and how to remove them. The survey respondents shed light on this by reporting they had difficulty opening a new account. They identified the five most common challenges in the sign-up process:

  • Too many steps/took too long
  • Process was unclear
  • Functional bugs – something didn’t work right
  • Account activation issues
  • Hard to enter the information requested (unclear what data or format a form requires)

Other common issues that customers encounter include problems with using their preferred payment source, linking credit cards or third party accounts for payments or misunderstanding how to complete the process. Security concerns can also lead to onboarding problems. Customers aren’t willing to reveal sensitive information without trusting that it will be safe and understanding how it will be used. So, for instance, if a company fails to mask personal data in application forms, customers may see this as a red flag and abandon the sign-up process. Finally, failing to set expectations regarding:

  • Timelines – how long it takes to get approval for an online credit card application, the customer’s first food order taking longer than expected, or products are delivered later than promised
  • Technical requirements – undocumented requirements for setting up a DIY Smart Home services, or unstated need to download/install additional software/firmware
  • Unsupported payment methods

Customers want to fully understand upfront all requirements, how long it takes, and ultimately what they will get.

While many brands focus exclusively on functional testing, this approach doesn’t ensure a seamless experience. Even if everything in your app works as designed, customers may still get frustrated if it doesn’t operate in the ways they anticipate. In the worst-case scenario, poor onboarding can lead customers to delete your app, return a purchase, and engage with one of your competitors.

User feedback is key to shaping customer journeys 

Friction points and customer expectations vary across different channels and even different industries. As previously mentioned, the best way to test your onboarding experience is to use a community of testers, spanning a range of demographics, that can provide critical feedback. Defining the journey then mapping out steps in the process and the channel where each one occurs, allows you to conduct thorough testing that identifies friction points and offers clear guidance on how to remove that friction.

Using this approach, a major international bank was able to discern that promotional offers for new account holders weren’t working correctly and to quickly rectify the problem. The makers of a home surveillance system learned that 45% of buyers were likely to return the system due to difficulty setting up the cameras, Wi-Fi and app. The company also got insight into what information it could provide to help customers to do these tasks successfully.

Why getting onboarding right matters 

As interactions between brands and their customers rely more and more on quality digital experiences, it’s imperative to make sure new users get off on the right foot. There’s intense competition for customers, with people now comparing sign-up experiences regardless of industry. Customers accustomed to an easy experience with one brand expect the same ease in their interactions with other brands. Smooth onboarding for new customers has become a priority, and that’s why it’s important to rely on real world feedback to help remove friction from the onboarding process and give new customers a smooth start.

About the Author

Carlton Retland, ApplauseCarlton Retland is the Principal Solutions Engineer for Applause’s Customer Journey Testing solution. Carlton works closely with organizations in retail, financial services, and hospitality to understand their customer journeys and how Applause can help them test their customer journeys across multiple touchpoints. Carlton is based in Washington D.C. and has been with Applause since 2016.

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