When looking at the whole topic of customer engagement, can there be any more important point in the engagement process than the very first point? Clearly, the initial contacts with a prospective customer and the initial experiences as a customer set the tone for the relationship, for good or ill. Yet, how many companies pay particular focus to the initial customer experience? It seems like common sense, but companies that are in a moderate to high volume business all too often pay little heed to the critical onboarding process for a new customer.
One company that does focus strongly on the client onboarding process is Constant Contact. I can state this personally since I experienced their onboarding process when I relaunched my newsletter, but I had the pleasure of hearing (and moderating) a talk led by Larry Streeter, Vice President of Customer Support for Constant Contact, at a First Wednesday Group meeting.
Constant Contact’s target market is small business — very small businesses. Through a suite of complementary products, they help these businesses stay in contact and market to their customers. The flagship product — and the entry point for cross-sales — is the email newsletter product for which the company is best known. They send millions of emails each month on behalf of their 400,000+ clients.
They have an explicit onboarding process that is co-managed by the Direct Sales and Customer Support departments. Its goal is to get clients to the “wow moment,” which they view as when the client sees recipients of their newsletter clicking on links. The clicks show that the newsletter is creating engagement with the recipient.
The Start of the Customer Onboarding Process
The onboarding process starts with having a good engaging website at Constant Contact that draws prospects to a free trial period. Within 24 hours of the start of the trial, the prospect receives a call from a sales associate who helps get them set up and answers any questions. The purpose of the sales team is to create a level of engagement between the customer and Constant Contact that, hopefully, leads to the trial person becoming a paying customer. In fact, the sales associate will not even ask for a credit card number during the initial call.
If the prospect poses questions that are very technical, the prospect will be handed off to tech support. Mind you, at this point the person is still a prospect, not a paying customer. About 10% of tech support calls fall into this pre-sales area. Whether a pre-sales contact or a contact from a paying customer, the goal of tech support is to “leave the customer wanting nothing.” The agents have no talk time goals. The focus is to support the revenue stream by creating highly satisfied customers.
The Four Stages of Customer Engagement
In fact, Constant Contact views customers as being in one of four stages of engagement: At Risk, Vulnerable, Secure, and Advocacy. By default without information to the contrary, they assume a customer is At Risk. An explicit goal of the onboarding process is to move prospects and customers from the At Risk stage into a higher level of engagement.
Tech support is a key player in creating Secure customers and Advocates, especially during the first three months of a subscription when calls to support are most frequent. Support is delivered through internal resources using multiple contact channels, and the support group has a first contact resolution rate of greater than 90%.
I can personally vouch for the nature of the tech support interactions. I did have several questions when I was building my first newsletter, and the techs took considerable time to answer my questions and even made suggestions to enhance the look of my newsletter. I never felt like they were rushing to get off the phone to take the next call in queue. And no, I didn’t tell them I knew Larry, but I did tell them I wanted the tech notes named after me for some bigs I identified for them.
To make sure the positive onboarding process is staying positive, Constant Contact, which has a survey module, conducts both relationship surveys and closed incident surveys.
A challenge that Larry said they are facing is how to engage with long-standing customers. These are customers who have ongoing subscriptions but are not contacting the company with any questions — and may not be using their subscriptions very fully. These are indications of a vulnerable customer.
What if they do lose a customer — and this is a business by whose nature there is some natural churn. The Save Desk folks explicitly ask for feedback about why a customer is leaving, and tech support conducts a lost customer survey. So, in addition to creating positive experiences by design right from the start, Constant Contact is also capturing and applying customer feedback to improve the customer experience.
Onboarding is More Than a Cost Center
Onboarding as a critical first step in customer experience management isn’t rocket science. It’s really a common sense approach applied to the entire life cycle of a customer relationship. Places where the company engages the customer are not considered cost centers where costs should be minimized, but rather these engagement points are considered critical to providing an ongoing revenue stream. They are managed for their effectiveness and not just their efficiency.