When companies are building new relationships with customers, they start with customer onboarding.

Customer onboarding is essential to a successful business-customer relationship in the software as a service (SaaS) context, says Dave Gilbert at GrowthHackers. Yet customer onboarding can be particularly difficult for SaaS companies. In order for customers to fully understand the software’s functions and benefits, they must learn a great deal of new information in a short time. When customers don’t have access to this information or are overwhelmed by it, they may churn, or abandon the relationship, rather than continue it.

That’s where conversation bots come in. They can help businesses reduce churn and build trust with customers during the onboarding process.

Why Onboarding Matters

Onboarding lays the groundwork for a user’s relationship, both with a product and with the brand itself.

Some companies measure customer onboarding with a time frame: the first 30 days with the customer, for instance. But this metric does not indicate what value the customer is receiving or what value the customer perceives in maintaining the relationship past the 30-day mark, says Lincoln Murphy, customer success consultant and author of “Customer Success: The Definitive Guide.”

A more effective onboarding process leads to increased value, says Karin Ronde, manager of customer success for UberEats. “The customer who’s successfully onboarded will come back with fewer issues because they got the info they needed early on, not halfway through.”

When a company’s onboarding strategies don’t align with the customer’s needs, the customer may abandon the product altogether, says Rachel Orston, CEO of OpenView Labs. In some cases, though, SaaS companies don’t realize the customer is struggling with the decision to leave until they have left

OpenView studied this and identified the three top concerns for onboarding teams that are seeking effective methods to address customer frustration before churn occurs:

  • Scaling the onboarding process.

  • Measuring customer success.

  • Building accountability into the onboarding.

Conversation bots can help with all three goals.

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How Conversation Bots Boost Customer Success

Because they can be customized for each company, process, or purpose, conversation bots can meet a number of needs. They can help companies meet a wide range of goals too, from scaling quickly to achieving negative churn, Andy Mura notes at Userlane.

As a company grows, its commitment to personalized service may not change. Its ability to provide that experience solely through human endeavor may, however, be stretched thin. Conversation bots help take some of the load off customer success staff.

For instance, bots can help set realistic expectations for customers, Murray Newlands notes at Entrepreneur. The excitement of novelty pervades the onboarding process, but if customers’ understanding of the product or service doesn’t scale with their investment in the process, the customer can get overwhelmed or disappointed. A conversation bot can emphasize the benefits the product provides and connect customers with product tutorials that allow customers to see the product in action.

Understanding the Customer Through Data Analysis

Conversation bots can make it easier to track and meet KPIs through data analysis, as well. For example, conversation bots can gather customer information from the first interaction.

As onboarding progresses, the bot can organize, store, and analyze data. It can also learn from this data, says Chris Knight at Chatbots Life. What the conversation bot learns will brands provide a more personalized experience for customers in these vital early stages of their relationship. The bot’s ability to gather and understand data allows it to act as an intermediary, informing customer success staff about key points that are relevant to future interactions.

As a customer transitions from onboarding to adoption, conversation bots can gather product usage data. Conversation bots can even provide training or tutorials, Julia Borgini at Learndot says.

Building Relationships: How Conversation Bots Help Companies and Customers Connect

The insights gained via the conversation bot allow onboarding and customer success teams to improve their accountability in reducing churn, says Acquire.io CEO Laduram Vishnoi.

By understanding why customers seek out a product or service and what they do with it, companies can pinpoint the “eureka!” moment that represents ROI for the user. Brands can learn from this to improve the way they operate.

Conversation bots also make it easier for onboarding teams to demonstrate care and accountability toward customers in the early stages of the process, Blake Morgan writes at Forbes. For instance, conversation bots offer round-the-clock, automated follow-up capabilities, allowing the company to deliver prompt responses to questions and complaints.

Which Onboarding Process Best Supports Your Customer Success?

Onboarding processes can be classified as self-service, low-touch, or high-touch, based on the level of communication between the company and the customer. Your product and your customers’ expectations will determine the level of communication you need to provide during onboarding.

  • Self-service is ideal for customers who understand the product or service and know what they want. It’s the basis of some conversation bot use cases like ordering takeout, notes Ekaterina Novoseltseva at Apium.

  • Low-touch onboarding connects customers with human support staff at key points in the process. Conversation bots provide an opportunity to transition to a “tech-touch” model, in which some or all of these onboarding touchpoints are managed by the bot, rather than by a human customer success associate, says Asra Sarfraz at Amity.

  • High-touch, or white-glove, onboarding typically accompanies products or services with an extensive implementation process, making it more common for SaaS companies, Chase Clemons at Support Ops notes. Frequent person-to-person contact ensures that customers can navigate a steep learning curve when adopting a new product or service.

At each level, onboarding teams must consider customer expectations for conversation bots and design their bots to engage these expectations productively, Lisa Braziel at Ignite Social Media says.

For instance, self-service or low-touch onboarding may attract customers who are content to handle most tasks with the conversation bot. High-touch onboarding may involve customers whose primary interest in the bot is as a means to quickly contact a human representative.

Leveraging the bot’s ability to collect data can help companies determine how their conversation bots should interact with customers during the onboarding process.

Putting It All Together

Onboarding poses unique challenges for companies. Brands certainly want to build excitement about products and engage customers, but excessive hype can result in customer disappointment.

That’s a recipe for churn. In fact, customers most often churn because the onboarding process fails to engage them, says David Skok, venture capitalist and general partner at Matrix Partners.

A clear, cohesive onboarding strategy can reduce that churn rate, and conversation bots can play a key role within that strategy. Conversation bots make it easier to scale onboarding efforts, to provide information at a personalized pace, and to keep customer success staff accountable for the fledgling relationship between their business and the customer.