All Aboard For Onboarding

A great onboarding makes all the difference

By Mark Riffey

I experienced an onboarding recently. It was good, but it could have been great. A great onboarding takes some thought. It takes thinking like a customer – a NEW customer. Sometimes we have a hard time taking that time machine back to when we were newbies.

Making it good

Making an onboarding good is work. You have set context for the very foundation of operating / using whatever you’ve sold. You must teach the fundamentals.

No matter what you sold – software, an RV, a boat, or a 10000 GPM industrial pump – someone has to operate it. Even automated equipment requires someone to track and maintain it.

When we’re designing an onboarding, we’re not too bad. We know the fundamentals. We can step someone through what each knob is for, how it works, what to do, and what not to do. It’s easy to miss the details a new customer really needs – as they’re one step beyond that.

Jargon and clarity

My world is a maze of jargon and acronyms. Between software, structural engineers, and other things – work life tends to include a constant flow of jargon.

Oh, but it isn’t only my world. The things you sell and service most have their own language, buzzwords, jargon, and acronyms.

Go over your onboarding. How many ways are there to say the same thing? Even accountants have these problems. Is it net profit, EBITDA, or net income? And what’s the difference? Is there are difference?

Ask any three people and they’ll likely explain them with some similarity – but will they be sure about the difference or that there IS a difference?

In your customers’ world, the same problem exists. If you describe the same thing with two different terms, or two different acronyms (or both), does a new customer know you’re referring to the same thing? Or will they say “No questions, we’re good” when you ask?

No questions, we’re good

I saw this happen firsthand late last week. Someone was explaining the fundamentals of a complex piece of hardware. Of course, it wasn’t complex to them – they knew all about it. It was complex to us because it was new equipment to us, and we were absorbing a firehose of new details to attend to.

What happened when they said “Any questions?” We said “No questions, we’re good for now”, like good little students.

As an expert in your field, you have to know what this means. It doesn’t mean “I got it. I know everything I need to know.” No, it means “I’m absorbing this as fast as I can. I don’t know what to ask.” It’s a great signal you’re at the right place to make your onboarding great.

Making a good onboarding great

When a customer says “No questions, we’re good” – they don’t know what to ask. They often don’t know they don’t know what to ask – they simply don’t have any questions.

You know what they should be asking because you already have this information.

It’s the frequently asked questions you get from customers starting to adopt your product or service. That’s when the questions to ask become obvious to the new customer.

You know this, but these aren’t good questions to ask during the first part of onboarding because you’ll firehose the customer. “Firehose” means you’ve provided so much information that they’ll not hear (or learn) most of it. Imagine someone asks for a drink of water and you turn a firehose on and point it at their face. They’re no longer thirsty, they’re overwhelmed to the point of shutting down.

Note that I introduced some jargon (“firehose”) and then explained it. You have to do the same. Too much at once overloads your orientee. Adding lingo increases the difficulty – and it’s usually not needed in the early going.

You know this, but these aren’t good questions to ask during the first part of onboarding because you’ll firehose the customer.” is better stated “You know this, but these aren’t good questions to ask during the first part of onboarding because you’ll overwhelm the customer.”

The difference? “Overwhelm” doesn’t need a three paragraph explanation. Stick to common language until you need to get more technical.

Consider that difference as you decide how to provide the “Oh now I know what to ask” questions and answers. How you present them makes all the difference when moving an onboarding from good to great.

Mark Riffey is an investor and advisor to small business owners. Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on LinkedIn or Twitter, or email him at [email protected].