“So, who should own user onboarding: customer success, sales, product, or something in between?” It's a question that tends to pop up when I chat with decision-makers and leaders at product-led organizations.
Now, for the honest answer: It depends. Team functions and roles vary from place to place, and companies have different approaches to onboarding their customers. But I also think as product-led companies mature, the customer success (CS) team is best suited to own user onboarding.
Let’s break down why.
CS as onboarding owner: making the case
In a mature product-led (PLG) organization, the product is the driving factor behind (most) acquisition, growth, sales, and retention. Continued growth boils down to 2 things: improving acquisition (Accio, more customers!) and reducing churn in the most efficient way possible.
But of the 2, which of these levers should you focus on?
In a word: retention. It’s generally agreed upon that retaining customers is more cost-effective than acquiring new ones. Retention is the magic bullet behind higher LTV (lifetime value) and can be a powerful part of your marketing engine.
But that’s only true if you’ve got happy customers—and the best way to ensure your customers are happy is to make their onboarding experience as frictionless as possible.
Let’s dig into why CS is best suited for that (IMO).
1. CS usually works across functions already
Silos are great for grain, less so for user onboarding.
We’ve talked before about why user onboarding is a team sport. It’s a core reason CS is best suited to own onboarding—they’re already positioned between all the right groups, giving them the knowledge they need to succeed.
CS’s constant interfacing with real customers and product people gives them both product and customer use case knowledge. In others words? They’re right where they need to be to successfully own onboarding.
Jessica Haas, VP of CX at Appcues, says CS is positioned at the “right junction" to run point on onboarding. That's something that comes with a host of benefits.
“You generally get more of a human touch (as a CS pro)," Haas says, “so you can create a sense of community and sometimes even connect customers with each other as well.”
The CS team's advantage becomes more apparent when you compare their unique level of product and customer knowledge with that of other teams. Take product marketing, for example—a role that often wears many hats and strives to unite product stakeholders and others on cross-functional goals. The thing your average PMM lacks compared to a CS pro, though, is direct exposure to customers’ problems.
“(Product marketers) aren’t usually close enough to specific customer problems (to tackle onboarding), and they're not specifically tuned into what that user journey actually looks like,” Appcues Director of Customer Enablement, Lyla Rozelle, says.
2. They’re closest to the customers
This brings us to our second point: because CS is so close to the customers, they’re like genuine business partners, going shoulder-to-shoulder with their accounts to tackle whatever challenges may arise.
This direct experience results in a robust working vocabulary of specific use cases. For instance, if a customer comes in and says, “Hey, I need to decrease time to value for my LMS product,” CS is the team most likely to know how another company in the same space approached the issue.
“The CSM (customer success manager) will often have an excellent understanding of the friction points,” says Okello Carter, Appcues Director of Customer Support. “When a customer is learning a product, they really understand the pitfalls to avoid. Being able to anticipate those challenges and address them head on ensures there's success from day one.”
3. User success results in customer success
The customer success team succeeds when the customers do. (Duh.)
The focus of CS is right there in the name. In nearly every case, across virtually every industry, these teams are goaled on one major thing: retention. And happy customers that get things done with your product are likely to stick around.
Other teams, like product or product marketing, are going to be more focused on building products than keeping users happy—which is a good thing.
“When hiring, you have to pick one goal that they're going to impact for the business and you have to hire for that profile,” Okello said, “you're just not going find somebody who can do sales and marketing and training all with the technical know-how they need. It’s a recipe for burnout.”
Having a team that’s purely dedicated to your customers throughout the onboarding process just makes good business sense. No team is better primed to do that than CS.
The bottom line
Of course, nothing in business is ever this black and white—which is what Kaylee Plaut, VP of Customer Operations at Machinemetrics, says:
"The team that's best for onboarding does depend on the organization ... I think that internally, if you have an organization where the relationship between product and customer success is one where information is passed efficiently, it can absolutely work with product owning the onboarding process.”
TL;DR: there’s more than one way to do the job, and you shouldn’t assume CS is the only functional team that touches onboarding. But one thing’s for sure: Being product-led doesn’t necessarily mean your product team is best poised to run the onboarding show.
Everything PMs would need to own user onboarding already passes through CS. That's why, in a PLG environment, you shouldn't be afraid to let your CS team do what it does best—help your customers succeed. Onboarding included.