If you want to keep your customers satisfied, prioritize the steps you take after the sale.

Customer loyalty is earned through attentive onboarding, said Arke VP of Strategy Margaret Wise. Onboarding helps customers achieve their desired outcome and helps companies retain the customers they spend so much to acquire.

Customer loyalty now is tenuous at best. According to Salesforce’s recent “State of the Connected Customer” report, seven out of 10 customers said technology has made it easier than ever to take their business elsewhere.

Today’s buyers will happily switch from brand to brand to find an experience that matches their expectations unless you give them a reason to stay. This new reality is placing “harsh and unfamiliar demands on institutions, requiring changes in how they develop, market, sell, and deliver products and services,” Forrester noted.

But businesses can take steps to keep customers satisfied, Wise said. They just have to understand the whole customer journey, and then highlight moments within that journey where they can wow their customers.

Last week, Wise explained how Attentive Customer Onboarding Helps You Create Brand Advocates. Today she continues the conversation by answering four commonly asked questions about customer onboarding.

Why Onboarding Matters

How can the right onboarding help organizations retain customers?

Wise: The way you treat your customers after the initial sale defines the overall experience. Attentive onboarding keeps your customers engaged, and demonstrates to them that they are getting the value they were promised as they move through their journey with you.

Today, we need to be thinking more than ever before about the outcomes our customers are trying to achieve. Why? Because this is how they are measuring us. This is how customers are deciding whether they made a good purchase or not, and determining if it pays for them to keep giving us money.

They’re not just looking at the features or your product or service and evaluating whether the features work as described them. They’re looking at the outcomes of the purchase they made and comparing the value they are receiving against the expectations they had when they entered into the relationship.

Through attentive onboarding, you can respond to questions or concerns, educate and inform your customers, and reassure them that you are providing not only what you promised but also what they need.

How to Optimize Onboarding

What steps should an organization take to ensure more effective onboarding?

Wise: Start by considering what the absolute optimal onboarding experience in your organization would look and feel like. Then look for some internal greenfield opportunities to create that. Perhaps you can design a new experience around a product or service launch and test that on a small percentage of customers. Look for some way to create a small sample set, validate it, and then implement that across the organization.

It’s also helpful to implement a voice of the customer program. You need to listen to what your customers’ think about what you’re doing and how things are working. Make it easy for customers to provide feedback, and act on that feedback appropriately.

How can you engage your customers in conversation? Phone calls are still excellent ways to connect. But you can also use text surveys or social media to solicit feedback.

Balance Expectations With Reality

What should you do if your customer’s expectations do not match what you can actually deliver?

Wise: Great question. This is a common challenge because every business today, large or small, competes against the expectations being set by Amazon, by Domino’s pizza, by Delta, by other leading customer-centric businesses. Even though these companies represent just a sliver of all business, they shape customer expectations. They raise the bar and make it harder for other companies to keep their customers satisfied.

It really comes down to setting expectations clearly and accurately. Most disappointment is tied to surprises. So do your best to eliminate surprises. Be clear about what you can and will deliver. If the customer is a group or a board, you may want to poll the members ahead of time to understand their various needs and expectations. That way, you can set an appropriate agenda ahead of your meeting, clearly outlining roles and responsibilities.

It’s always important to set expectations early in the process. You may not always tell customers what they want to hear. But telling them what you can and cannot do is the foundation of a trusted relationship.

Remember, knowledge is power so empower your customers by being transparent and factual.

Satisfied Customers or Lost Loyalty?

In addition to poor onboarding, what other problems can cause customer churn?

Wise: There are obviously opportunities and challenges at each stage of the customer journey. These can all create loyalty or, conversely, loss of customers.

One of the worst things you can do is break your customer’s trust. If you don’t know the answer to a question, I recommend letting the customer or prospect know that you don’t know. Be direct, but assure the person you will get him connected with someone who can help or point him to resources where he might be able to find the information he is seeking.

Another thing to consider is the way the customer is handled around renewals, whether that’s regarding renewal of a contract or around a potential reengagement after consumption of a product or service.

This is an excellent time to really listen to the voices of your customers. Why do they buy from you? Are they value conscious? Is it more about your service or quality? Whatever the reason, you need to anticipate when your customers will be ready to buy again. Ideally, get in front of that process to retain them.

You can’t start the conversation too early or aggressively. But you also can’t wait so long that customers feel ignored. So it’s a fine line to keep them satisfied. But if your company can master it, you have a great opportunity to do a service for your customers and retain their loyalty at a time when it is easy to lose them.

Want to learn more about best practices for retaining your customers? Email Arke VP Margaret Wise for more information.

About Arke

Atlanta-based Arke develops strategies and implements digital technologies for better brand experience for your customers.