As a small business owner, generating leads and gaining more customers is at the forefront of your mind.

You’ve got processes in place to reach these new prospects, and are constantly reviewing those processes to ensure new business comes your way.

But what happens when these customers do come onboard?

Do you have a time-saving, profit-increasing strategy to ensure they not only stick around, but are also informed, happy, and loyal?

If the answer is no, it's time to find out exactly what customer onboarding is– and how to implement it for maximum results.

What is Customer Onboarding?

Customer onboarding isn't some fancy business term-- it just means introducing new customers to your business in an effective way.

When a new customer signs up to your services or purchases from you for the first time, it’s the perfect time to build a relationship of trust and loyalty-- whether that's through emails, phone calls, text messages, or some other avenue. It's also a great opportunity to teach new customers how to use your products or services.

[pullquote]Customer onboarding is making a good first impression.[/pullquote] It's a process that should save you time and money while keeping your customers happy and loyal.

Sound good so far?

Why You Need A Great First Impression

The events and interactions within the first 90 days of a customer coming onboard are crucial to the success of the customer relationship, according to Pitney Bowes Software. This initial period is also a window of opportunity in terms of immediate and future sales.

Even if you have an onboarding process in place, an ineffective, unstructured one can be detrimental to your sales cycle, profits, and the loyalty of your customers.

Having an onboarding process that educates your customers on exactly what you can do for them is critical to the long-term success of your small business.

Wait. Does My Particular Business Really Need an Onboarding Process?

Almost every business can benefit from a solid and structured customer onboarding process, but there are certain businesses where onboarding reaps the most rewards.

How to Implement The Perfect Onboarding Process

Whether you’re a one-(wo)man band or have a small team working for you, the characteristics of a highly effective customer onboarding process are essentially the same.

Have a structured process in place and make it mandatory

Effective customer onboarding processes will of course differ from business to business. If you’re in the business of providing software solutions to a niche market, your onboarding process will naturally be different to that of a real estate agent.

Don’t forget, you know your business better than anyone, but your customers know what they want more than you do.

In light of this, the best way to set up an effective onboarding process is to integrate feedback from your customers. This could simply mean collating the customer questions you repeatedly respond to and sending out a welcome email answering this list of common questions.

It could be that you need to take a more proactive approach by asking your customers for feedback via surveys and then creating video tutorials or blog posts about your products or services.

Whatever your individual business and customer feedback dictates, ensure your new process is implemented for every single new customer as standard.

Swap reactive for proactive customer service

At the onboarding stage, it’s more important than ever to nurture your relationship with your customers. This means you need to be responsive to their questions, queries, and needs. While it’s important to make yourself available to customers, there is a way to provide outstanding customer service while cutting down on time.

Automating could mean something as simple as sending out an autoresponder email campaign to welcome new customers and to introduce them to your products or services. This can easily be set up with email services such as AWeber and MailChimp.

Being proactive and automating all or part of your customer onboarding process will drastically reduce the amount of time and resources you spend on customer service queries.

As an added bonus, this also has the effect of presenting your small business as proactive, professional, and reliable from the get-go. Far from feeling impersonal, this proactive approach often has the effect of reassuring new customers and adding more value.

Measure and monitor the process

Set goals, benchmarks and measurable objectives for your onboarding process. Again, using the email autoresponder example, this could mean monitoring the open rates of your welcome emails and experimenting with email subject titles.

It could mean focusing on the click-through rates of your emails, which might link to pages on your website that educate customers about your products or services and present upsell opportunities.

Whatever you’re measuring, don’t make the mistake of monitoring but then neglecting to take action on the results. Instead, be prepared to alter your onboarding strategy accordingly.

Don’t ignore feedback from your analytics any more than you ignore feedback from your customers.

Measure, monitor and adjust. Then rinse and repeat.

Keep things simple for the customer

In all cases, but particularly if you offer a service or product that requires some knowledge to use it, keep things simple for the customer. The entire onboarding process needs to be made as clear and simple for the customer as possible, otherwise all your efforts might well be in vain.

Just as with strategy, the delivery of customer onboarding will differ from industry to industry and from business to business. You might find the simplest way to introduce new customers to your products or services is to create a white paper for them to download and read through. Equally, you may only need one or two simple lines in an email to get your point across.

The important thing is to keep it as simple as possible in relation to your individual business and customer needs.

Structured, Responsive, and Awesome

While no two customer onboarding strategies will be the same, the common characteristics of a successful onboarding process are universal. It needs to be structured, proactive and responsive to customer and analytical feedback, and delivered in a simple yet informative way.

Implementing an effective customer onboarding process will lead to more profits, less time spent on customer service and, ultimately, happy customers who will use – and recommend – your products or services again and again.

What small business owner doesn’t want that?

Your Turn: How do you introduce customers to your business? Any helpful hints or tools you'd recommend to others?