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e-commerce platform customer onboarding
Ecommerce • 16 min read

Get off to a flying start: Guarantee the success of your e-commerce platform with excellent customer onboarding

Julie Weye Hemdorff | 28-10-2020

When a new e-commerce platform fails, it’s easy to blame the technology. Sometimes the tech actually is the culprit, but more often than not it’s simply because companies fail to persuade their customers to actually use it.

Building these platforms demands huge investments, in terms of both money and time needed by your employees to figure out all the complex business logic being migrated online. You better make sure you get it right!

Podcast Ep 2: Getting off to a flying start

In the second episode of our podcast series, we also covered this topic. Listen now.


Design Your Customer Onboarding

Customer onboarding relates to every aspect of how you welcome customers to your website and brand ecosystem. Research shows that customer onboarding is extremely important, as it lays the foundation for the relationship you build with your customers. It plays a key part in whether or not they will trust the new online way of doing business with you. If your strategy is based on migrating to an online ecommerce environment and moving your customers with you, onboarding is not something you can afford to neglect – and it doesn’t just happen automatically. However, when done properly it can increase customer profitability, satisfaction, and loyalty.

“When done properly customer onboarding can increase customer profitability, satisfaction, and loyalty. That’s nothing to scoff at.”

What I learned: onboarding 101

Working in the world of digital products, with a focus on releasing them in B2B markets, I’ve noticed a few things about customer onboarding that are important when you’re involved in such a project. Here are my tips, that come straight from practical experience:

1. Plan early

When projects are underway, the infamous go-live date is the main focus for most stakeholders. This often leads to questions such as: Can we make the go-live? Will a specific issue impact the go-live? Are all features ready for the go-live? This date gets so much focus from the beginning, that people often forget to plan for what happens the day after go-live. If you only start thinking about this in a later stage of the project – or even worse, after the go-live date – it can be difficult and costly to correctly control and steer the process. Some questions you should answer early on, preferably in the design phase:

  • Will you be rolling out to all your customers at once? If you have different customer segments with different needs, make sure to design the onboarding to match the release to its relevant segment.
  • Do you need to roll out to different countries? Each country can have very different needs as well – with one of the most obvious being language.

2. Organize yourself

Start the process of training and informing the people that will handle the customer onboarding, such as sales and customer service staff, as early as possible. Research by Userlane shows that employees are not that scared of being replaced by technology, but they definitely have concerns about learning how to use it. They often feel initiatives are just pushed on them, without having a real say. By making sure you involve these people early on, their frustration is likely to be minimized and they tend to be more positive towards the product. Also consider that these people might be able to add new knowledge about your customers, and how to approach the onboarding, so it’s always a good idea to get their input on the topic.

Another reason why we highly recommend training your staff in using the new digital product, is that otherwise there’s a real risk of it not being adopted by customer service or sales. This is a serious problem if the success of your strategy depends on getting your customers online. I’ve experienced that sales reps will keep customers from ordering online by simply taking their order over the phone when they call, because the reps weren’t properly onboarded themselves. If you ensure your staff is comfortable with the product, they can guide customers through the new ordering process over the phone, or through one of the many tools that lets them access the customers’ account and guide them virtually.

3. Communicate clearly

Every time you interact with your customers, the communication should be clear and targeted at their specific profile and segment. Communication, or more specifically lack thereof, is listed by executives as one of the main reasons why onboarding fails.

To make communication as clear and effective as possible, it’s important that you know and understand your customer. There’s usually a good opportunity to get to know your customers better during the design phase of your product. Be smart about it and reuse material and assets here, such as customer journeys and personas. Have another look at these when you’re creating your onboarding strategy, so you know what will work best with your specific customers (such as using instructional videos, emails, calls, or demos).

Depending on the methods you choose, the onboarding can be set up as automated as needed. If you have a small group of customers it might not be worth the effort however, as you can simply call them and demonstrate the new product. But this isn’t scalable when dealing with a large number of customers. In this case, automated onboarding can be designed and integrated into your website through features such as coach marks, that appear the first time someone visits, or tooltips that provide more information about a specific feature or field.

4. Test yourself

When working with digital products, I always underline the importance of testing. When it comes to the importance of onboarding, the same holds true. As mentioned, a strategy can be to roll-out in phases, so you can properly test your product. This way you can have a beta version and very light MVP, which you test with a certain segment of your customers before giving all your customers access. This also allows you to test how your onboarding works. So when collecting feedback from your customers make sure to ask them about their onboarding experience. Was there enough information available, or perhaps too much information even? Did they understand all the steps? Did they like the format of the communication? Gathering and acting on this information increases the chance that the majority of your customers have a great onboarding experience, making it more likely that they adopt your new online channel and stay on board!

5. Measure your performance

As soon as you start rolling out to your customers, you should be measuring customer behaviour too. This qualitative click data can be combined with qualitative experience data, showing you how to adjust about onboarding strategy if needed. In my experience, this is easy to do and will immediately give you valuable insights about how to improve the onboarding.

I always define SMART objectives together with my clients, and use Google Analytics, or a similar tool, to measure progress. This objective can be a specific increase in orders placed online within a set number of months, or getting a higher percentage of customers to return to the site each week.

6. Provide incentives

Providing incentives can be a very effective tool when you want to motivate people to change the way they do things. So if you want your customers to start ordering from the new web shop instead of through offline sales channels, make sure they have good reasons to do so. Incentives I’ve seen used successfully are vouchers for online orders, discounts on products online, or freebies with your first online order.

7. Align with your other channels

Aligning with other online channels is sometimes forgotten, either because a completely different department (often marketing) is responsible for those channels, not the e-com team that manages the new website. This siloed way of thinking can leave a weird impression with your customer – especially if there’s a completely new style on the website that doesn’t match your Facebook page or newsletter for instance. You don’t have to deep dive into an omni-channel solution if you don’t think you’re ready for that, but aligning content and branding is always a good place to start, with low cost and relatively high returns!

Digital is never done

You probably already know this, but in the digital world there’s no real end date. A product is never considered truly finished – you simply keep improving it, until one day you replace it with something even better. You have to do this in order to attract new customers and ensure your existing customers continue to use it. This is achieved through both technical improvements and new features, but keeping the content on your site up to date and engaging is equally important. Don’t let the hero banner read “Welcome to our new webshop” for an entire year. This is confusing for the customer and shows that the site isn’t actively updated, devaluating it and making it less attractive. Make sure your content managers frequently update content and products. This engages your customers and makes your site feel relevant. When comparing our clients’ products, we often see that the ones that manage to do this also generate a steeper increase in average order value.

Conclusion

Customer onboarding is critical to the success of your product, because it’s the first impression you leave with your customers. It sets the tone for the entire online relationship you build with them. Make sure your strategy stays customer-centric, plan customer onboarding early in the process, train your people, be open to feedback, and change your approach when new information is available. You only get one chance at a first impression after all, so make it count.

Screenshot 2020-10-27 at 11.55.22

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Julie Weye Hemdorff

Digital Project Manager

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