Master the Art of AI-Powered Customer Onboarding


The Gist

  • First impressions matter. Onboarding is crucial for setting the tone of the entire customer experience, influencing feedback, engagement and success.
  • AI transforms onboarding. Utilizing AI in onboarding can personalize experiences, predict needs and automate tasks for a more efficient process.
  • Strategic onboarding objectives. A well-planned onboarding process should set engagement pace, demonstrate professionalism and focus on accelerating time-to-value.

From the moment a sale is made, the customer onboarding process is your first opportunity to demonstrate the value and commitment of your brand, ensuring customers feel welcomed, informed and ready to succeed with your product or service.

Further, and possibly even more important, onboarding has the potential to be foundational to every aspect of your CX strategy, including feedback, engagement, success, advocacy and customer-centered transformation.

What Is Onboarding and Why You Should Care

Let’s start this with a definition. This may not be your definition or even a generally accepted description of customer onboarding. It’s ours:

Customer Onboarding:engaging customers immediately post-sale to deliver the order and position them for the successful attainment of desired outcomes. It is the onramp for each customer into your CX strategy.

First Impressions

First impressions tend to be lasting impressions. This is so regardless of whether your customers are consumers, businesses, patients, passengers, students, citizens or investors. The point of a CX strategy is to ensure that your customers gracefully get past the commercial transaction and enjoy (or at least tolerate without plugging their nose) a painless experience with what you sold them so as to reap the rewards they were promised.

It’s generally easiest to envision this in a B2B environment. Given that many B2C transactions entail nearly simultaneous sale, payment, delivery and attainment of value, the notion of consumer onboarding often isn’t as intuitive. But it’s there, and it’s important, and we’ve seen it transformed by AI.

Like Buying a Car

Think about the onboarding process for buying a car. The thrill of buying the car is often more than offset by the pain of the paperwork and the complexity of the actual handover of the product (after spending an extraordinary amount of time in a dingy little “financing” office).

Hospital and clinic admissions can be equally brutal. Think of how long it takes to get from an emergency room admission to a hospital bed. Or from a hospital bed to a skilled nursing facility. Or from diagnosis to procedure or surgery.

Or from student enrollment to course completion and then a job (or enlightenment!). In a completely different and possibly less dramatic scenario, consider what it usually takes to travel the road from ordering software to receiving, installing, configuring, deploying and then optimizing its use to realize the intended value.

Customer and sales assistant shaking hands in a car showroom interior.
The thrill of buying the car is often more than offset by the pain of the paperwork and the complexity of the actual handover of the product.Prostock-studio

Onboarding is everywhere:

  • The sale of a house is one part contracting and one part onboarding.
  • Checkout at the grocery store involves sorting, price verification, payment, packaging of goods and more.
  • Getting a haircut, at least for me, includes adding my name to the queue and selecting a stylist on an iPhone app and then driving to the shop, waiting in the physical queue while watching a bit of baseball, confirming what services are to be delivered and then getting my remaining hairs cut.
  • Buying a book, either online or in an actual bookstore, similarly means price verification, selection among price and delivery options and payment.
  • Boarding an airplane or train is, well, onboarding.

And, as with most other aspects of commerce, there is a plethora of AI applications or use cases for onboarding.

Setting the Tone

From a CX perspective, setting the right tone for our customers in these initial interactions sets the customer on the right track for success, conveying the right impression of your customer centricity and commitment to painless (even pleasant) customer outcomes. Methodical, straightforward, speedy, proactive and even educational are the adjectives that should describe the ideal onboarding experience. And, yes, advanced AI can help design and deliver this.

Look at Salesforce in the B2B space. The company exemplifies the use of AI in customer onboarding through its Einstein platform. Einstein AI integrates across the Salesforce customer success platform to personalize the onboarding experience for business customers. By analyzing customer interactions, service history and business needs, Einstein provides tailored recommendations for additional products, setup configurations and educational content. This personalized approach not only accelerates onboarding but also reveals new upsell and cross-sell opportunities while doing so in a customer-centric manner.

Related Article: Successful Customer Onboarding: A Quick Guide

But First: Strategic Objectives of Onboarding

Customer onboarding can cover quite a lot of ground, especially when you think of it as the onramp to an entire CX strategy. To keep us focused, here are the essential features or objectives of a strategic onboarding program:

  • Set the pace and nature of your customer engagement model: For every new customer it’s important to demonstrate not just a level of continuity but a sense of momentum beyond the promises of the sale and into the realization of those promises. To the customer, this must feel less like reengagement and more like a continuous process from sale to delivery to attainment of outcomes.
  • Demonstrate the professionalism and customer outcomes-orientation of your organization by efficiently and effectively engaging with the customer and introducing new players and processes that are homogeneously committed to fulfilling the customer’s objectives.
  • Setting the stage and the right expectations within your own organization by demonstrating how a systematic, coordinated approach to putting the client at the center of how products or services are delivered creates value for both parties — your customer and your own company.
  • Collecting and propagating customer data (and more qualitative characterizations) that will be key to helping that customer effectively take delivery of the product, attain their objectives and be forward-looking about future value contributors.
  • Focusing everyone involved on acceleration of time-to-value through effective and efficient product adoption, as well as value realization.

A Critical Part of the Journey

For Ruth Veloria, chief strategy and customer officer at University of Phoenix and Experience Alliance member, “Onboarding for students is a critical part of their journey because it sets the stage for each consecutive experience. Students need to build the confidence that they can be successful. We use several pieces of information about our students to better prepare them: Do they have previous credits? Are they the first in their family to go to college? Have they started somewhere before and had to take a break? Today, we use this approach to prescribe an in-depth onboarding process. In the future, we will enhance our assessment of student engagement with more tools, such as advanced AI and predictive analytics, to deliver personalized nudges that will accelerate student progress from the earliest days of onboarding through the entire student lifecycle.”

The University of Phoenix approach to onboarding is focused on every one of the strategic objectives defined above: setting the pace, demonstrating an outcomes orientation, setting high expectations within the university, taking maximum advantage of data and accelerating time to value for students. Check, check, check, check and check.

Related Article: Designing a Winning User Onboarding Experience

Lots of AI Use Cases for Customer Onboarding

Consider the different types of AI use cases: data analysis and insights; predictive analytics; automation; coaching, training and education; content development; and personalization. The world is awash with AI opportunities, and all aspects of CX are no exceptions as interesting targets for thoughtful and impactful AI.


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