Customer Success | 10 MIN READ

How to create a customer success onboarding playbook?

Want to create a customer success onboarding playbook? Here are some tips to create it and master the best practices for onboarding new clients.

Shoeb Ahmed
Jun 9, 2020

customer success onboarding

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Customer success is one of the hot topics for SaaS companies now a days. Since it is a relatively new field, there is no standard knowledge system built around this topic that everyone can refer to. If you will look closely, all the phases in a customer lifecycle have their own unique challenges and best practices. In this article we are going to focus on the first phase – customer success onboarding.

These days companies are coming up with their own ways of documenting their learnings which is unique for their situation. So far there is no right and wrong because everyone is experimenting, learning. But surely there are proven ways which are working better for one than others. It depends on many factors like the size of the company, their business niche, their customer segment and so much more. 

So what my point is that there is no standard playbook we can create that suits all. Hence, I am not going to give you a sample playbook here. Because that would be too specific and might not be useful in your case. What I am interested in is to design a structure of the playbook. Yes, a kind of blueprint which you can use to create your own playbook. 

Aspects of your playbook

The challenges you face in customer onboarding can be seen from two viewpoints. One from yours and another from customer’s. Your playbook should encompass both. You never want to give a bad experience to your customer during onboarding because that’s the most crucial stage. 

An unsound onboarding process entails a cascading effect on the customer journey. It may result in bad publicity through word-of-mouth and that’s a situation you never want to find yourself in. Hence, maintaining a playbook to document all those challenges during this initial phase is important.

To begin with, here are a few things you should consider while creating your customer success onboarding playbook.

#1 Uniqueness

I have mentioned this point earlier but I am doing it again because this is important. Your playbook should be 100% unique to your company. There could be few areas that may contain some common elements from other playbooks but the details should be unique. 

These details cover the complexity of the product and the onboarding process designed around it. If you are offering multiple products and services in your company then each of them should have different playbooks. Remember that you are going to use this playbook for lifetime and the more discrete and specific it is, the better it is.

#2 Customer orientation

The kind of training you are going to give to your customers must be properly structured in different modules. What are the features you are going to start with, what comes in the middle and what goes in the end. They all must be properly planned to enable easier product adoption

A customer who lacks training during the customer success onboarding phase would not understand the product well. And that would lead to the under-utilization of the features resulting in customer churn in the long run. A customer success manager must include the onboarding training structure for your customers in your playbook. Constantly updating it as and when you change your modules would be useful.

#3 Customer Segmentation

You may have separate onboarding programs for different customer segments. Hence, making separate content for enterprise and smaller customers in your playbook would be useful. 

E.g. for your enterprise customers you may use high touchpoints for the initial orientation like giving service in person. You may hold strategic discussions around setting up the customer expectations and goals associated with the product. 

On the other hand, for smaller revenue customers you cannot afford to appoint CSMs for personalized onboarding. Hence, using low touchpoints through automated communication would be more feasible. 

So, what are the ways you train your customers from different segments should be clearly mentioned in your customer success onboarding playbook.

#4 Standard Operating Procedure

There would be multiple employees in your organization interacting with your customer during onboarding. Someone would be looking after the product configuration. Another on the sales process. Another one on holding strategic decisions with your clients. 

How different teams interact with different stakeholders on the client side should be an important part of your standard operating procedure that goes into your playbook. There should be a proper workflow with diagrams explaining the customer handoffs from one team to another. 

While creating these SOPs, you may improvise in the initial stages to find out what works best for you. Then once you get a hang of it and decide to settle down with the final version, you can document that in your playbook. Of course there is always a scope to revisit it when you encounter further improvements in your SOPs.

#5 Milestones in Customer Journey

What milestones would you want your customer to cover in their journey? Have a clear demarcation of each stage the customer goes through. Now when I say stages, I don’t mean from customer onboarding to product adoption. But what I mean is the stages you set up through the list of business goals they will achieve from your product.

Your customers might come from different business niches, so their business goals could also be different. But when seen from the value your product adds, there can be some common points you can draw from it. These points form the milestones of your customer journey that will go into your customer success onboarding playbook.

Creating Onboarding playbook through a customer success platform

When it comes to creating a playbook, you cannot simply rely on traditional tools like Excel. You need to have automation as an important part of the playbook. An automated onboarding playbook should be able to show you the following details:

  1. List of all the activities identified under onboarding stage. This may be unique to each organization for the kind of customer success onboarding process they want to execute. Hence, a CS platform must allow you to configure your own activities relevant to your business. It must be comprehensive enough to document all the customer onboarding KPIs and steps so that even a newbie can work around executing the whole process on their own.
  2. What kind of activity it is, basically the category of the activity. This defines if the activity is an internal task or a touchpoint which needs customer interaction. There might be lot of configurations you need to do internally on your CS platform for a new customer account. These kinds of activities would fall under internal task category. Another category which is called as touchpoint includes anything for which you have a dependency on customer, e.g. holding strategic discussions with the customer that may include goal setting for near-term and long-term.
  3. To whom each of the activity is assigned. This includes the person responsible for conducting each activity. There could be a team assigned with different responsibilities. e.g. implementation specialist for setting up the configuration at client’s technical environment, CSM for holding strategic discussions, CSL for supervising the whole onboarding program, etc.
  4. What is the due date for the completion of each activity. Assigning a due date makes the whole onboarding program trackable and measure the progress. Onboarding must be completed as soon as possible so that the customer starts realizing their first value at the earliest. This would ensure an early product adoption. Hence, time-bound activities in onboarding make all the sense and should be a necessary part of an onboarding playbook.

Creating Playbook Steps

On our SmartKarrot platform, there’s an option called Success Play through which you can create customer success playbooks for any stage of a customer journey.

Overview – defining basic details

Below is a screenshot of first screen or step for creating an onboarding playbook. The first screen allows you to create a template with any name – ‘onboarding’ for this instance. Here you can provide description along with selecting an option as manual or event-based which means it will be triggered based on any event that is defined in your product setup.

onboarding playbook overview
Screenshot – 1

Setting up the activities and details

The second screen below, Screenshot-2, will allow you to setup the activities that fall under an onboarding phase. This is where it allows personalization where you can add your own activities and as many of those as you deem fit through “add activity” button on the top right corner.

Each activity can be categorized as a task or touchpoint along with number of days assigned for its completion and finally, the person responsible. If you select a CSM or CSL here, the system would know who that CSM or CSL is based on the customer account setup already done on this platform.

You can also provide description for each activity along with the weightage (from 1 to 10) it carries in the overall onboarding phase.

Screenshot – 2

View Summary, Save and Exit

Finally, when you have done all the setup, you must be able to view summary before saving and exiting. The below screenshot shows you that summary screen. You have the option to enable or disable this success play. Note that each of the activity shows its weightage in the last column. This weightage is essentially helpful in calculating the progress made at any given point of time of the entire onboarding process.

onboarding playbook screen 3
Screenshot – 3

Final take

A playbook can include all the best practices that work for you but if it doesn’t contain the rescue measures for when any situation goes wrong, it won’t be complete. There can be many cases when customer veers off the path during the onboarding phase. What measures you take to offset those situations should form an integral part of your playbook.

The playbook you maintain should be central to all other teams as well. The marketing and sales teams should be able to draw useful insights from it to target the good fit customers. Likewise the product team should glean insights from it to get the feedback on how the customer is using the product.

A customer success onboarding is an evolving process like the customer success field itself. Hence, you should constantly revise the playbook to document the valuable learnings gained in the ongoing processes. Remember, it takes little time to document the learnings while you are working. But in the long run it would give you an immense sense of accomplishment for creating something tangible out of all the invaluable experience you gained from your work.

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Originally Published June 9th, 2020, Updated January 22nd, 2021

Shoeb Ahmed

Shoeb lives and breathes Customer Success and SaaS. He has a passion to research on the latest innovations happening in SaaS and Customer Success. Shoeb hails from a Software Architecture background where he worked for many years with Indian Tech Giants like Wipro and ITC building software solutions for their MNC clients in the UK and Denmark.

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