Unlocking the Hidden Value of Onboarding

Media and Entertainment and Communication
By: Tony Doocey, Rob Sherrell

How to maximize customer value and satisfaction in the telecommunications B2B onboarding experience. 

At a glance: You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Internet service providers come in dead last in the 2015 American Customer Satisfaction Index. The US Postal Service ranks higher, as does the airline industry.

Meanwhile, the telecommunications (telecom) industry sits at the epicenter of disruption.

Competitors who weren’t on the radar five years ago are circling the already saturated market, and giants like Google are offering superior services as loss-leaders to fuel alternative revenue streams or growth objectives.

The epicenter is wide. However, the industry faces some equally huge upsides. Usage is up. The Internet of Things is opening new markets and hints at a wealth of new product and partnership opportunities. And the Experience Economy— where nothing, not even price or product quality, matters as much as the experience you offer— opens opportunities for telecom providers to not just differentiate, but to be insulated from competitor product and pricing disruptions.

In our work with telecom providers we’ve identified one critical point in the telecom customer journey that is often mismanaged or overlooked: onboarding. Providing business telecom customers with a positive onboarding experience is crucial towards establishing a mutually beneficial, and valuable, business relationship. To prove this, we conducted a survey of over 200 business buyers of telecom products and services in the US and UK to determine which onboarding activities are most likely to boost renewals, product add-ons and referrals. The resulting data paints a powerful picture of the industry today, and provides guideposts for B2B telecom providers seeking actionable strategies for driving experience-based differentiation.

The resulting data is compelling. Findings show, for example, more than half of customers say that products do not meet expectations set in the sales process. And while many providers believe customers are most concerned with product quality, many note customer care and support as more important. These findings, among others analyzed throughout this report, paint a powerful picture of the industry today, and provides guideposts for B2B telecom providers seeking actionable strategies for driving experience-based differentiation.

Key Findings: North Highland B2B Market Research, October 2016

It takes 12 positive customer experiences to negate the poor impression left behind from one unresolved, bad experience.

Telecom executives clearly understand the importance of the onboarding experience. In a separate North Highland-sponsored research report with Harvard Business Review, more than 80 percent of executives said that an increased focus on onboarding offers moderate to significant positive impact for revenue, client renewals, and client referrals over the life of the contract. Another 85 percent agreed that successful customer onboarding will ensure long-term customer loyalty.

What is less clear is how to improve a process that is rife with technical challenges, numerous cross-functional touchpoints, and long lead times between sales, delivery, and installation. This important piece of research focused on the B2B telecom customer helps give providers the clarity to ensure the onboarding period is designed to maximize client renewal rates, increase client referrals, and positively influence enterprise revenue potential.2

Our research revealed three key findings related to the B2B telecom customer onboarding experience, each of which we explore in this piece by dissecting our research findings and providing actionable advice and “best-in-class” examples.

1. Telecom customers crave customized, high-touch onboarding activities: Telecom customers value three things in their onboarding experience: empathy, relevance and ease. At the heart of delivering on these value drivers are highly tailored onboarding experiences, heavily focused in high-touch activities, such as on-site support and assigned sales and support representatives.

2. Providers are underutilizing customer insights, leaving critical revenue-driving and customer experience benefits on the table:

“Being understood” is cited by customers as one of the most important characteristics of an onboarding experience. Yet only 12 percent of telecom customers agree that “providers know my organization inside and out, and they tailor and customize their onboarding approach to the unique needs of my organization and our employees.” Among small businesses, this number drops to just 3 percent.

3. The most common and critical onboarding issues could be remedied with improved communications and functional alignment:

Service, product quality, and installation time are the most commonly cited issues by business customers during the onboarding period. While seemingly technical in nature, at the root of each and every one of these issues is poor communications or lack of alignment.

In onboarding particularly, poor communication and disjointed functional silos contribute to missed expectations, confusion, distrust and dissatisfaction. These negative experiences are extremely difficult to overcome, regardless of long-term performance and support, once the onboarding period has been tainted.

1. By the numbers: Telecom customers crave customized, high-touch onboarding activities

A powerful customer experience is rooted in four core dimensions: empathy, ease, relevance and orchestration. In the telecom onboarding experience most providers are falling short of sufficiently delivering on the dimensions that matter most.

When B2B telecom customers were asked which of these characteristics were most important during the onboarding experience, they made it clear they value all of them, though company size has some influence over the characteristics they value most.

Small companies in particular value empathy. They seek understanding, and the inherent benefits that go along with that. Mid-size companies are more likely to value relevance and an experience that provides them with the products they need, when and where they need them. Large companies value orchestration at rates sharply above their small and mid-size counterparts.

The Four Dimensions of CX

In onboarding, telecom customers most value experiences that deliver empathy, relevance, and orchestration. The fourth dimension, ease, rounds out North Highland’s fundamental requirements for exceptional CX.

EMPATHY: Experiences are based on an in-depth understanding of customer behaviors, feelings, and motivations.

RELEVANCE: Solutions and services add value through utility and by meeting basic customer needs—all at the right time and the right place.

ORCHESTRATION: Specific interactions and touchpoints are designed and delivered as an end-to-end experience versus a discrete transaction.

EASE: Experiences are apparent, accessible, effortless, and uncomplicated, and it is simple for customers to derive value.

Among the various onboarding mechanisms, high-touch reigns supreme. Low-touch tactics are required and valued by customers, but services such as dedicated on-site support and tailored training sessions are considered most effective and successful.

In addition to being most effective, high-touch onboarding mechanisms, specifically dedicated on-site support, are the primary reasons customers would renew a contract, add products and services, or refer a service provider to colleagues.

Despite its clear value-driving potential, only 36 percent of customers overall report having been offered on-site support.

When broken down by company size, large customers report greater access to most forms of support, especially on-site support.

Notably, only 31 percent of small customers report having access to general training sessions, a support mechanism that should be simple for providers to make available to all customers, regardless of size.

To view the entire piece, including case studies and further insights, click here or the "Download" button at the top right of this screen. 


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