7 Ways to Succeed With New Customer Onboarding

Once you acquire a new customer, you can't afford to lose them. Here are 7 ways to build engagement quickly with recently acquired customers.

It has never been more difficult or costly to acquire a new customer. The level of customer churn is lower than in the past, and the competition for new deposit, lending and credit card customers is fierce. In fact, most organizations will spend upwards of $200 for a new checking account.

So, once a new customer is acquired, it is imperative that a bank or credit union quickly get the new household to use their new account as fully as possible.  A successful onboarding program is the first step to getting customers to use your product and thus stay with your organization. The value of each retained household exceeds $400, when the cost of acquisition is added to the value of a new customer relationship.

While there are many steps that can be discussed regarding how to build a successful onboarding program, here are 7 simple steps to get your organization started:

1. Determine the Scope of Your Onboarding Process

There is no place where the saying, “You only get one chance to make a good first impression” has more applicability than with an onboarding process. And since customer and member engagement begins with onboarding, you need to get this communications process right … no matter how expansive (or minimalistic) your onboarding process is.

The initial communication (regardless of scope and channel(s) of onboarding process) should do the following:

  • Establishes a relationship between the customer and the author of the letter
  • Begin the process of identifying any unique needs that the new customer may have
  • Set the stage for what’s coming

To ensure your onboarding communications process is effective, your first step should be to define the scope of your program.

Traditionally, the post new account opening period was seen as the transition of a customer from the sales/marketing team to the product or service delivery team. Today, as opposed to having multiple, uncoordinated sales messages bombarding the new customer from multiple product teams, the onboarding process is usually managed centrally. This allows for an integrated, and well organized, communication flow that is more customer-centric than product-driven.

In determining the scope of your onboarding process, it is important to determine what defines a successfully onboarded consumer. Is it the sales of one or a pre-defined assortment of additional ‘sticky’ products (bill pay, direct deposit, mobile banking, etc.) or is the process completed after a certain level of deposit and withdrawal activity is reached? Whatever onboarding engagement goal is set, it is important that all communications to the new customer focus on the achievement of this goal.

In addition to determining the goal of your onboarding efforts, it is important to determine the sequence and cadence of communication desired to reach your objectives. For some organizations, all that can be budgeted is a traditional direct mail welcome letter. For other organizations, the onboarding process includes a multi-step, multi-channel communications sequence than can span a period of 6-9 months. JD Power has found that the most effective onboarding programs reach the new customer between 6-9 times over the first 6 months of the relationship.

Finally, an organization needs to determine what customer groups will be onboarded. While the discussion around onboarding usually relates to new checking customer engagement, onboarding also should be done for new loan, credit card and time deposit customers. Remember, you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

TD WelcomeRead More: 21 Steps to Onboarding Success in Banking

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2. Personalize the Experience

When a consumer has decided to establish a new relationship with your organization it is usually after they have shopped extensively and determined that your offering best met their individual needs. So, when that prospect becomes a new customer, it is important that your messaging reinforces the reasons they chose your organization over other competing banks and credit unions.

Unfortunately, this is often where the disconnect often begins. While we did everything in our power to project the impression that we provide friendly, personalized service during the acquisition marketing communications, our post-sale communications often sounds ‘corporate’ and lacking the personalization we promised. The new customer often becomes a victim of a flawed and disjointed onboarding experience … one that’s not consistent with the brand you initially projected.

Usually, while everything is about the customer and how the marketed product or service will make a difference in the consumer’s life before the sale,  after the sale, it all becomes about the product. New customers may react with skepticism, or worse yet, may never fully switch their account from their previous bank or credit union.

The key to continue to reinforce why the product purchased (and additional engagement services) will benefit the new customer. In addition, you need to make sure the message relates to their specific lifestage situation as opposed to generalizing the message. Personalization can be around insights collected as part of  the new account opening process, demographic data, product usage insights acquired as the account is used over time, and even real-time contextual engagement delivered when a need is identified.

Some firms even send a simple welcome email with quick help links that allow the new customer to define their path of engagement. By monitoring the customer journey, you are able to better determine future message timing and content.

The ability to demonstrate personalization of communication builds with each successive message. It becomes a multi=staged building of trust and improved customer experience. When delivered in a timely manner using multiple channels, the power of differentiation is as strong as what consumers are used to with Amazon, Facebook, Apple and other successful digital organizations.

Chase Welcome

Read More: New Customer Onboarding Goes Beyond Slick Marketing

3. Provide Alternative Journeys

Wells Fargo Engagement VideosWhile the use of checking accounts, savings accounts, loans and credit cards seems relatively straightforward to most bankers, the addition of digital channels and many new engagement options can be confusing to some customers. For instance, while it may be easy to describe mobile deposit capture to a new customer in person, using only words may be confusing to some. You want to make the engagement process as simple for your customers to understand as possible, understanding that oversimplifying doesn’t help much either.

Look at the flow of customer interaction on your website and mobile apps to help set the foundation for how simple (or difficult) different stages of the onboarding process may be. Look not only at the flow within the website and mobile applications, but also the abandonment rate on specific pages. Also monitor the customer service calls, social media discussions and branch engagements to better understand the challenges new customers may have.

It is possible that your customers possess different levels of technical skill-sets and so you can’t generalize. This is useful information, especially if you can determine specific segments of your customer base that may need certain levels of assistance.

The key is to provide alternative journeys for different customers. In some cases, this can be achieved through email communication with different engagement tools such as videos, calculators, shopping comparison tools, etc. Wells Fargo has found the use of short (mobile-ready) video tutorials helpful to teach consumers about more complicated services and as a way to determine which customer segments may need more assistance with their engagement process.

4. Use Emails … a Lot

While most organizations begin the onboarding process with a direct mailing, reacting to the importance of early tactile communication, the most effective (and utilized)channel for successfully subsequent onboarding communication is definitely email.

You can easily use email for the majority of subsequent communications. Beyond being very efficient, email can provide massive preference insights beyond delivering targeted, personalized messages. With embedded video links and links to other locations on your website, email is the workhorse of the onboarding process. It also allows for the capture of insights as to the effectiveness of messaging and engagement tools.

You can also plan an autoresponder or retargeting series to get your customers onboarded easily and also to keep them engaged while they’re just finding their way around your product set. The immediacy of email makes this channel perfect for building engagement and dialogue.

Bank of America Welcome

Read More: Busting the Top 5 Onboarding Myths

5. Leverage All Potential Channels

To get onboarding right, build a plan that takes advantage of all available channels you believe could impact the new customer. Beyond direct mail and email, organizations have very successfully improved results by integrating outbound phone, SMS texting, online banking messages, mobile banking messaging, statement inserts and even personalized in-branch messages prompted by in-branch sensors.

Once you identify all the potential channels of engagement, your next step is to build customer journey maps and test different combinations of channels to determine the most effective mix for each product sale. While this may appear to be highly complicated (it is), new marketing communication software makes this test and learn process within the reach of most financial organizations. The key is build the correct communication for the right channel. Obviously, what works in an email, may not work within a mobile banking platform.

It is also important to understand the way consumers absorb different communications. For instance, the majority of consumers open their emails on their mobile device. So, make sure your emails can be read easily on a smartphone and that any links, videos, tutorials, etc. can be easily watched and processed on a mobile device.

Finally, remember that the most effective onboarding programs from an ROI and customer satisfaction basis are those that connect with new customers more than 7 times during the first 6 months. Therefore, onboarding communication sequences may require 10 or more contacts to impact the new customer the desirable seven times.


Read More: Bank Onboarding Should Integrate Digital & Mobile Channels

6. Focus on All Engagement Services

In the past, most financial institutions thought that the only ‘engagement services’ were online banking, direct deposit and online bill pay. As channels and digital services have expanded, so have the ways in which a new customer can become more engaged with their new product.

For instance, while getting a new customer signed up for online banking is definitely a goal, getting the new customer to sign up for (and use) mobile banking may be a more effective engagement tool. Remember, we want the new consumer to access their new account as frequently as possible early in the relationship. So even the checking of balances on their mobile device (and potentially seeing a targeted message for an additional engagement service) is important.

Beyond these easily identified engagement services, other important engagement tools include sign-up and use of a debit card, ATM use, the customization of alerts, participation in a rewards program and attaching an overdraft protection relationship on the account. We have even seen mobile deposit capture and P2P payments be effective in solidifying a new customer relationship.


7. Help the Customer Help Themselves

When building an onboarding process, you need to be aware of how different segments like to engage with new experiences. For instance, according to a study from Aspect Software, 69% of Millennials ‘feel good’ about a company when they can solve a problem on their own. The same study adds that 73% people would like to solve problems on their own.

To appeal to this section of your audience, you need to put a lot of attention to self-help options like forums and FAQs where people can find answers to their questions and debug issues themselves. Many organizations have developed new customer subsites dedicated to the opportunities available for new customers who want to more effectively use their new account.

Of course, the traditional support channels should be present in the background, but you don’t want to get in the way of people who want to do it themselves.

Getting Started

It should be realized that there’s no such thing as the perfect customer onboarding solution. Each organization is different as is every customer base. The important thing to remember is to try different channels, use different messages and see what works best for your organization. You don’t need to ‘boil an ocean … you can begin your onboarding program with a single message on a single channel and build from there. The important thing is to not settle until you have a system that’s both effective and scalable.

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