best practices customer onboarding

This is going to sound familiar to many product managers. And founders. And product marketers, developers, and….

You spotted a market opportunity, figured out what your customers need, built your product, did some marketing or other promotion. Or, to put it more bluntly, you spent time, you spent money, and you spent a huge dose of blood, sweat, and tears. And—amazingly—you find that people are downloading your app or signing up for an account.

Woot! What a good feeling. But then you realize they’re trying it once and not coming back. Or your conversion rates are uncomfortably low. Now that feeling’s a sinking one. What’s going on?

It might be all about first impressions. And I don’t mean just the bling. Getting started—effecting change to entrenched habits or processes—often is the hardest part.

The first few interactions a customer has with an app or a cloud service—the onboarding experience—arguably make up the most important chance you have to win a customer’s buy-in and engagement. Onboarding profoundly influences a customer’s views of a service, and it can make or break an entire customer relationship.

The discipline of user experience design (UX) in software is focused on usability, affective and emotional aspects of the product, making certain desired user activities intuitive, and so on. Designing the onboarding experience is a big part of that. In-app cues, incentives such as gamification, and triggered emails are all major drivers of the onboarding flow.

Most of these best practices apply to both B2C and B2B contexts. But what happens when requirements for getting started go beyond a user’s interactions with an app? For B2B services like SparkPost that power real-world business processes or that integrate with other business systems, onboarding encompasses broader considerations than getting through a series of steps in the app.

At SparkPost’s recent Insight user conference, our own Clea Moore was joined by a panel of customers who discussed their experiences with onboarding in the enterprise context. These professionals shared their (sometimes hard-won) advice about how to hit the ground running when moving business processes to a cloud-based platform. The discussion was wide-ranging and delivered a lot of insight into how to make migrating to the cloud a reality.

Here are some of the take-aways:

  • The cloud allows the businesses to focus on their strategic differentiators rather than managing commodity infrastructure. On this, the panelists were whole-heartedly in agreement. Seth Weisfeld of Pinterest observed that “cloud infrastructure is a strategic choice for Pinterest. It allows us to focus on our real value in content and experience.” Jonathan To of fashion retailer Tobi agreed, “To be able to focus on our customers and their engagement rather than infrastructure is just so great and so important to our business.”
  • Scalability and elasticity are big wins from an technical operations perspective. Travis Wetherbee noted, “I don’t have to worry about adding IPs, adding boxes, adding drive space to deal with peak volumes or to store and bounces.” Jonathan To added, “We’re not a huge company. We’re trying to stay lean. The cloud is a major win for time to market.”
  • Specialized expertise—for example, SparkPost’s deliverability services team—makes a huge difference among cloud providers. For mission-critical processes, cloud providers have got to back their technology with hands-on account management and real operational and onboarding expertise. Seth Weisfeld described, “It’s really huge to be able to trust our provider on issues like deliverability. We couldn’t always rely on that in the past.” Travis Wetherbee concurred, “Beyond the pure technology evaluation, services like deliverability expertise was a big criterion in our decision-making.”
  • Planning ahead makes all the difference for minimizing the risks of unexpected impacts or disruption. That includes technical legwork—Travis Wetherbee called out making sure DNS changes and suppression lists were managed systematically—as well managing the transition from a business perspective. Jonathan To added that “Thinking about the data you want to store means looking ahead and making conscious choices—even if you can’t use it today.” Seth Weisfeld described the importance of looking at the migration as a process, not something that can be done in one fell swoop. His advice was to begin with small, less critical mail streams and then gradually ramp up to the most strategic pieces as the system is proved out.

Learning from customers always has been the most rewarding part of my job. And, of course, getting information about how people actually use technology to solve problems in the real world is essential to every software or cloud product marketer. So, I was really thrilled to hear what the professionals on this panel had to say about their experiences moving their email infrastructure to the cloud.

By the way, in the coming weeks, I’ll be discussing the role of implementation and services teams in the onboarding experience. What do you think it takes for successful onboarding in the enterprise? Let me know—I’d love to hear about your own real-world experiences.

—Brent
@brentsleeper

 

Like this post? Check out some other Insight 2015 session recaps:

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It’s easy to think that email compliance regulations and email engagement are at odds. Engagement makes us think about good marketing techniques.  Compliance sounds like constraints.

You probably know that FCC regulations require you to offer an unsubscribe link and that you need to provide the option for somebody to be able to unsubscribe from all your email lists (these rules apply to bulk email you send, not to transactional email).

If we look carefully, compliance is an opportunity to be a good communicator. There’s the quick and easy approach, where you ask, “Do you want to unsubscribe from all our email?” But why not go further and create an opportunity for engagement? By presenting a list of all available distribution lists (such as new feature information, special offers, and news), and asking, “Do you want any of these or would you like to unsubscribe from all of them?” we encourage a two-way conversation that actually improves our understanding of the customer. Using several mail streams like this also allows you to retain subscribers who want just some of your mail, but who would otherwise be forced to choose between accepting all of it or unsubscribing from all of it.

Tell recipients what email address you are sending to. A lot of people have multiple addresses that funnel together. Make it easy for them to unsubscribe the precise email address in use, rather than forcing them to figure out why email keeps showing up after repeated attempts to unsubscribe.

Compliance is also about making sure that things are set up properly. Doing it right in part defines you as a trustworthy communicator.

  • Make sure that the domain that you’re sending your email from has abuse@ and postmaster@ set up for the domain so that they’re forwarding to you and you can respond to any of those messages.
  • Make sure that you’re using SPF and DKIM email authentication. (SparkPost requires that at minimum you use either SPF or DKIM, but implementing both is even better.)

We know you get better engagement when you stick to these guidelines. Of course compliance is about regulations, but it is also about making you a better communicator.

To learn more:

Opt Forms – Strategies and Best Practices for Deliverability

We’re heading to Customer Engagement Technology World (CETW) in New York on Nov 6-7! And you can join us with a complimentary pass if you register with Message Systems VIP code CEX028!

Customer Engagement Technology World is focused on leveraging technology solutions that enable richer engagement and enhanced experiences for customers and employees.

It’s a place where you can learn to better optimize your campaigns, channels and systems for more effective customer engagement.

It’s also a place where you can ‘Say Hi!’ to us at Booth 505. We’ll be sharing our knowledge on how to engage your customers on their terms by:

  • Communicating via email, SMS, push, and chat
  • Sharing two-way mobile and cross-channel communication
  • Sending timely, relevant and personalized messages 
  • Getting enhanced visibility into messaging metrics

And after stopping by our booth remember to check out the following sessions where we’ll be speaking!

A Multi-Channel Communication Plan: CRITICAL to Boost Your Customer Engagement

Date: November 6
Time: 12:45pm – 1.45pm
Venue: Room 2

Session Chair: Barry Abel, Senior VP, Sales, Message Systems
Speaker: Mark Griswold, Vice President & CIO, The Blue Book Building & Construction Network

Session Description:

Developing a fully integrated digital communication strategy will result in more effective customer engagement. However, few companies are equipped with the necessary knowledge and resources to implement a strategy that caters to the digital communication needs of its customers, who maintain 8-12 digital channels on average. In today’s tech-savvy world, it is crucial that companies learn how to communicate with their customers across multiple channels including email, SMS text, IM, and social messaging. This session discusses strategies and best practices for multi-channel customer communication.

While the session on a multi-channel communication plan is only open to conference attendees, we’ll also be speaking at the following session that is open to all attendees.

How To Drive Engagement By Combining Email With Mobile Messaging

Date: November 7
Time: 11.15am – 11.45pm
Venue: Learning Lounge

Speaker: Jose Santa Ana, Director of Product Marketing, Message Systems

Session Description:

It’s clear that both email and mobile messaging are indispensable tools in the marketer’s arsenal. The true value in utilizing these channels are derived however, not when these are used separately, but when used in tandem with each other — in targeted, coordinated cross-channel campaigns. Organizations can recognize significant business value by utilizing a single message management platform to support all types of digital messaging (email, text, push, IM, social, etc.). Unifying these cross-channel messages under one program makes the program more effective. Attend this session and understand how a unified platform facilitates the delivery of contextually relevant and timely messages that enhance the customer experience — to drive higher loyalty, engagement and profitability.



As you can see, there are plenty of ways to engage with us at Customer Engagement Technology World and we’re happy to do it on your terms. So see you in New York and ‘Say Hi’ to us!

Learn more about what it means to combine email with mobile messaging for more effective campaign results with The New Communications Standard white paper!

The New Communications Standard

Data + Tech + Messaging = Customer Engagement

Email is not just a tactic. It’s a strategic communication channel, one that’s capable of generating an immediate response. With more digital channels, campaigns and data, messaging is becoming more complex, but managing that complexity can lead to deep, long lasting and engaged customer relationships.

Messaging can fall into the categories of being focused on the product, brand or offer. Data enables customer profiling, advanced segmentation, precise targeting, dynamic customization and unique 1-to-1 messaging.

Matt Vernhout, Chief Privacy Officer and Manager of Deliverability at Inbox Marketer outlined the parameters for his presentation at Interact 2013 with a formula for customer engagement – leveraging a combination of customer data, messaging technology and digital messaging.  Through a series of case studies, he highlighted how brands were able to more successfully engage customers.

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Case Study 1: Walgreens Demonstrates The Value of Combining Data Sets

By getting data from the Centre for Disease Control, Walgreens was able to provide value for their customer database by sending coupons to people in places of high flu density.  Walgreens’ success stems from the following:

  • Going beyond clickstream
  • Combining data sets
  • Profiling, segmenting and targeting customers
  • Leveraging on insights to drive behavior change

Case Study 2: SureBaby Provides Useful Information for Mums-To-Be

SureBaby, an online community for mums-to-be places subscribers into automated stream. Aside from sending a welcome message, SureBaby tracks the progress of their subscribers’ pregnancies and sends relevant emails based on the number of weeks a mum-to-be is pregnant.

Case Study 3: Petro-Canada Reactivates Customer Purchase Behavior

Petro-Canada runs a Petro-Points Loyalty Program for customers and enters declining purchasers into an email program. Through the automation of a dynamic eFlyer that pulls products and offers based on customer location data and postal codes, Petro-Canada were able to streamline their team and channel resources to more needed areas, going from a team of 7 to 3 people managing the program. A third of declining purchases also went back to their normal behavior.

Matt talked about how it was necessary to set up a messaging blueprint once so as to fully understand the program and what data can tell you.

Relevant content is critical, so optimize messages / campaigns, and send messages based on behavior by:

  • Automating data flow (2 ways)
  • Automating messaging
  • Using triggers and business rules
  • Designing for all devices

Case Study 4:  Publix Created A Sense of Urgency With Real-Time Messaging

Publix, a supermarket chain, created a sense of urgency among customers for their products by allowing them to sign up for alerts the moment fresh fruit reached shelves.  An engagement stream was created where customers received six touches over 31 days through email and SMS. There was a retention stream, where customers received relevant product eAlerts, as well as a loyalty stream.

Publix was able to succeed in their campaign through dynamic customization. They created personalized content using dynamic blocks, were relevant and the smarter messaging approach they took led to customer engagement and behavior change.

Case Study 5: M&M Meat Shops Targeted Behaviors To Change

Having done a lot of research, M&M Meat Shops discovered that while their customers’ lifestyles have changed over the last decade, the company had done little to keep up with those changes.  With the goals of increasing shopping frequency in a key segment and upselling new products and categories, M&M Meat Shops decided to move away from the “one size fits all” messaging approach.

They created an eMax eFlyer, which was one publication that was intended to satisfy 10 objectives. The eMax eFlyer incorporated 20% loyalty messaging, 10% new product features and 20% on brand and lifestyle messaging. It had content geared towards:

  • Purchase: Recipes, Product Suggestions
  • Segments: Content, Images
  • Shopping: Promotions, Offers

Matt concluded his presentation by emphasizing the need to tap into data, technology and messaging to become a leader in the industry:

  • Combine and condition data
  • Set up message automation and triggers
  • Segment audience to deliver relevant messaging

While personalization appears to be key to customer engagement, Matt was also quick to warn about the creep factor – mainly don’t freak your customers out by sending them information that is too personal. Remember Target?

Yep, we do too. No one wants to be confronted by an angry dad, so pretend that you know less than you do so as not to creep out your customers in sensitive situations!

It’s that time of the year again where NetFinance 2013 is upon us.

As the world’s #1 multi-channel marketing conference for financial services, it’s pretty much the event to hear some of the foremost experts and industry leaders talk about the trends in multi-channel marketing.

This year, NetFinance is focusing their lens on three key topics:

Day 2 on multi-channel engagement is of particular interest to us as we’ve always been focused on the benefits a multi-channel strategy can bring to the brand. Being able to engage with customers according to their preferred communication channels? Golden.

Here’s a personal example from my own travel experiences. I was on my way to Columbia for a conference recently and my flight was delayed.

Instead of being told over the PA system that my flight was delayed, which I might have missed for some reason or other, I was informed by the airline through three separate channels of the delay: email, sms and voicemail.

Now I’ve been on delayed flights before, where I gloomily haunted the boarding area for new updates on my situation. However, through the multi-channel strategy employed by this particular airline, I was able to amble around the airport window shopping or grab a meal without fear that I might miss an update on my flight status – whether due to a crackling static filled announcement or being too far away from the boarding gate.

A Multichannel Strategy: The Role of Transactional Email or Text in Financial Services

Aside from the travel and hospitality industry, transactional messages play an incredibly important role in the financial services industry. Transferring money? You want a notification to tell you that your money transfer has been successful. Bought something through PayPal? You want an alert that confirms this transaction. Much as the story of transactional messaging is about real-time confirmation and notification of transactions, it’s also a story about security.

If for some reason someone gained access to your PIN number and withdrew a significant amount of money from your bank account, you’d want an immediate notification from your financial services provider to halt the transfer of your assets immediately.

NetFinance 2013 and Multi-Channel Strategy from the Customer Viewpoint

A key challenge financial companies face in implementing a customer-centric multi-channel strategy is due to technological limitations of disparate legacy systems. It’s all about customer personalization these days. Brands are struggling to provide that experience, which can prove impossible without redesigning their infrastructure.

Here’s where we can provide some guidance. On 1 May at 10.45am at NetFinance 2013, Message Systems will be participating in a panel on multi-channel technology:

Redesigning Corporate Structure To Be More Customer-Centric

Our SVP Barry Abel and Greg Cunningham, SVP Product Head-Digital Channels of City National Bank will take to the stage and talk about how to:

  • Evolve systems & structure it around customer needs in a multi-channel world
  • Redesign systems and records to provide end-to-end customer support
  • Discover technology that provides management of customer communications across multiple channels from a single integrated platform
  • Understand the role compliance plays in a multi-channel environment

Multi-channel doesn’t need to be a Rubik’s cube where only geniuses can get right. Start off with the right technology and get your business on the right foot with customers from the get-go. If you’d like a sneak peek of what might be to come, check out our guide on The New Communications Standard.

The New Communications Standard

I put up a post on permissions and deliverability a little less than a year ago in which I argued that marketers need to regard permission as transient: a point-in-time indicator of a desire to engage. To me, the more important principle is positive engagement: if you’re communicating an offer or information that’s relevant to that customer, then permission is implicit.

I bring this up because the permission concept of ‘forced opt-in’ came up recently in an exchange with an industry colleague. There are varying definitions of ‘forced opt-in’ but by whatever term you use, it’s a widespread practice. Customers opt-in for something of interest, but their permission is propagated across an enterprise or partner network under a not immediately evident data sharing provision. And before long they start receiving offers they didn’t ask for or want (spam by their definition) with no easy way to opt-out.

The practice can be rationalized as an attempt to better meet customers needs: “Given you’re interested in that, we thought you’d want to know about this…” It’s a quick and easy way for marketers to fulfill their legitimate relationship-building mandate. Unfortunately, many follow-on offers aren’t well targeted. They’re driven more by a simpleminded list-growth ambition or revenue scheme associated with lead capture.

So therein lies the challenge. When performed well and with the right customer-centric mindset, the practice can be justified as a way to deepen the relationship serving the interests of both parties. But when performed poorly, it has the opposite effect.

As I’ve argued in the past, the issue isn’t so much about permission but relevancy — relevancy to the customer’s needs, not to the marketer’s objectives. So I believe the principle that should be applied here is simple: if you share in the gain, you also share in the pain. What I mean by this is that there should be a reward/risk dynamic. If you share data or receive shared data, you’re gaining something — a reward of sorts. Fine. But you should also share in the pain of losing something — the risk — if the customer reacts negatively at any point along the permission propagation chain. Opt-outs should be applied upstream and downstream. Seems only fair and reasonable to me. The problem we’ve got today is that there’s really no risk associated with poor data sharing practices.

So in my view, the remedy to permission propagation is permission de-propagation. And the party that should be held accountable for de-propagation is the one who the customer entrusted with their permission in the first place and chose to propagate it. While tricky to apply, such a principle would keep all parties ‘honest’ by forcing them to focus both on the reward and risk of data sharing.

 

In the first whitepaper in the Message Convergence series, Preparing for Message Convergence, David Daniels and I put forth the rationale for Message Convergence. We spoke of the new communication norms — individualized, cross-channel, real time, interactive, increasingly mobile and customer controlled — and how they’re altering the ways companies and customers engage with each other. We also proposed five principles for implementing Message Convergence, with advice on topics ranging from organizational structure and metrics, to systems readiness and practices at customer touch points. (more…)