In this episode of The Support Automation Podcast, Donna Weber, The Customer Onboarding Expert at Donna Weber Springboard Solutions and Principal of KickStart Alliance, joins Justin Schmidt to discuss the role of support automation in customer onboarding and the benefits of taking a low/digital touch approach.
Justin Schmidt: Welcome to The Support Automation Show, a podcast by Capacity. Join us for conversations with leaders and customer or employee support who are using technology to answer questions, automate processes, and build innovative solutions to any business challenge. I’m your host, Justin Schmidt. Donna Weber, good morning, and welcome to The Support Automation Show.
Donna Weber: Thank you so much, Justin. Good afternoon to you.
Justin: Yes, where’s this podcast finding you?
Donna: I’m in Palo Alto, California in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Justin: Love the Bay Area. I spent a couple of years in San Francisco and I miss it. Probably once a month I have some “I miss Northern California” moments. You have a very interesting career journey in customer success, and customer enablement. You’re currently doing your own consulting and also you are writing books. You’re doing a lot of interesting stuff. Why don’t you give us a little bit of background on how you got to where you are and how specifically you got into customer-facing roles?
Donna: Oh, sure. I grew up in the Bay Area. This is where I’m from. I’ve lived in other countries, including the UK. When I moved back from the UK my first job was in high tech and working at startups. I’ve been working in high-tech startups for some time. I often built customer-facing organizations from scratch, customer education, customer success, and customer enablement. I’ve had a lot of experience with that. What I found was there’d be a lot of talk to these companies about the sales and marketing engine. How are we going to try and drive prospects down the funnel?
Then I hear a lot about the product. There’d be talking about the product and the next release and then the sales and marketing. I was always like, “Hello, what about the customer?” When I was in sales leadership meetings, I’d be the one raising my hand saying, “Hello, what about the customer?” I’ve always had that concern and care for the customer throughout my career.
Justin: It’s interesting because a lot of times when people talk about the sales funnel, the customer journey, the prospect journey, you end up in this world where the handoff between marketing, sales, and then customer success, customer support, the areas get gray in between those where eventually marketing hands off to sales. Eventually, sales close the deal and customer success takes over. The relationship is more of a loop than it is just a one-way street. It’s definitely been a big change, at least from my point of view, in the last five or six years of really understanding the symbiotic relationship between those three disciplines, versus everyone just chucking someone over the fence as they move from prospect to customer.
It’s very exciting because it means that there’s a lot of innovation. There are a lot of business processes, and a lot of education happening in this space. Someone like yourself is at the forefront with it having seen a lot of this stuff become en vogue, implement a lot of these things and see the technology involved in customer success change. That’s where I want to start this interview, which is where I start every interview, and that is when you hear the phrase support automation, what does it mean to you?
Donna: Support automation means to me delivering the right touch to the right user at the right time. It may be a digital touch in the sense it’s automated because it’s digital, but it may be a higher touch, but it’s automated in the sense that it’s orchestrated and that it’s really baked into our process.
Justin: This gets into a topic you proposed and we were going back and forth on this that it’s really interesting, and that is understanding those touches and fitting those touches in the right place with the right medium, the right stage along the onboarding process, or whatever it is and how technology and automation can serve that. If you don’t mind, double click on that a little bit for me and help me understand how you look at where technology can help deliver onboarding in a low touch and digital approach.
Donna: Yes, absolutely. I’ll share some examples of companies I’ve worked with. I have an onboarding fast track and I’ve worked with some. These examples both come from big data platforms through different companies. One of the platforms we’re building out is completely self-paced, the tech touch, digital touch onboarding for 50% of their customers. It wasn’t for just one small segment. The goal is that it’s a digital journey. However, when I interviewed internal teams and I interviewed customers of this company, I kept hearing them say over and over, “Well, we need to be able to ask questions and we need to be able to get answers,” because their platform’s very complex.
Data scientists, data analysts, data admins. When I interviewed customers and I learned from them, “Tell me about a great experience you’ve had with another vendor?” One of them shared about having in-app chat. We were building out this self-paced journey, but this is providing a high-touch moment within that journey to deliver to maybe somebody’s confused or there’s two paths to go down and they can be really clear. They can ask the question they need at the moment, so they can continue on the journey and reach their goals ideally with less support from the team. That’s where we have an automated journey, but a high-touch moment.
Justin: Is the goal to approximate the manual way of doing this where you’re having phone conversations or Zoom calls as we do in these modern times, or is it to maybe approach it entirely differently, but maybe the outcome is the same, you know what I’m saying? A lot of times technology comes into place to try to recreate some real-life environment versus the same and different means.
Donna: Yes. They have like a tryout version journey which was really not working. I think 75% of people were dropping off pretty early. I went through the process myself, and one of the challenges with that was you might land somewhere in there like, “Oh, here’s four links for information.” I’m like, “I don’t want four links. Just tell me what I need to do next.” They integrate with AWS, Amazon Web Services, and Azure, for example. Then there might be– if I’m using my Azure platform then there’s a place where I would land in the all of Microsoft everything learning library. That doesn’t help me.
You need to know, when you’re using automation, who your user is. Are they an admin? Are they an analyst? Are they scientists? Are they a business user? Are they an executive? You need to know the persona and you need to know what behavior that you’re trying to drive. You don’t just give them a lot of information that doesn’t help anyone. You need to provide that right content or the right experience for the right persona at the right time along their journey. That’s what’s key. You’re making that a seamless journey and then it can be automated, but it feels personalized.
It’s not just like, “Oh, I just gotta figure this out,” or, “Oh, they don’t get me.” It’s still to be a personalized journey, but it’s automated. As appropriate a higher-touch moment to really deliver or drive some behavior.
Justin: That’s a great way of putting it in that you save your human touches for the most important parts of that journey. You have a book you wrote, Onboarding Matters, love the cover art, by the way.
Donna: Oh, thank you.
Justin: I’d like to have it looped for the triple infinity thing there. In it, you mentioned this concept of orchestrated onboarding. I’m curious from your perspective onboarding versus the ongoing management of the customer relationship. Maybe if you can speak a little bit about what it is about the onboarding section of that relationship specifically that has such power and maybe one little takeaway for people on the larger concept of orchestrating that onboarding.
Donna: Okay, great. The orchestrated onboarding framework is based on the fact that not all customer interactions have equal importance, have equal weight. I think a lot of customer-facing teams think, “I’m managing,” and they count it. “I have to do all these touches along the journey,” and that they’re equal in the way that their customer perceives them. As you and I know, first impressions matter. Even though we might be dealing with a big multinational multi-billion dollar company, the reality is that we’re still dealing with people.
When we first interact with someone, the limbic brain gets involved and that deals with feelings. We go into like, are we safe? Can we trust this person? We go into fear and doubt and even though your customers might seem rational and logical, the reality is that most people go to the negative. That’s just our natural reaction because we’re always looking to– we’re scanning the environment to make sure we stay safe. If you do not deliver a positive experience immediately, that customer’s going to start dwelling in fear and doubt, they’ll start spinning, ruminating, creating stories.
How often do you create awesome stories? Usually we worry. I don’t know about you but I’m always like, “I’m worried about this part of the– ” and Mark Twain said, famous quote, “I’m an old man who’s had many worries or many troubles but most of them have never happened.” We worry so if you’re not engaging a customer immediately they’re going to start worrying, wondering, “Did I make the right decision? What’s going to happen next? Where are we going from here?” You need to really jump in there and deliver a valuable moment immediately.
I was telling you about two big data platforms. The second one is they have a very high touch. They were working with very technical success managers, data scientists, but then we delivered an automated moment right at the beginning when the deal closed with a welcome email. Now, “Hey this is what’s coming. Welcome.” Maybe it has a photo of the technical success manager. There’s a technical moment so that you engage them immediately and you’re not waiting two or three weeks for your first meeting with your TSM. Another way we’re delivering some automation because these technical success managers are so smart, but they’ve been going over basic foundational training with every new customer.
I’m like, “You guys are too smart to be doing that. Let’s automate some of that enablement by having customers take some prerequisites through their academy before it– maybe the TSM engages, they say, “Hey, here’s your prerequisite so take those,” and now that TSM can really focus on what’s unique to this customer and delivering their expertise to tailor the product for their customer’s needs rather than going over the basics over and over.
Justin: The concept of a little bit of pre-work on the customer side on going through something in the training academy or onboarding classes kind of stuff, this is a really interesting concept to me because oftentimes when people make an investment in something, they become more attached to the return of that investment. It’s one thing to have a new application or a new product– let’s talk software because I spend all my time in the SAS world. It’s one thing to have a new SAS application foisted upon you, to use a Larry David term. It’s another thing to have an application brought into a business and then I go through a certification process.
Now I am educated in that platform and I have become invested in it intellectually beyond, just this is the tool I’m going to be doing in my work with. Have you seen a rise in the amount of SAS companies that are employing some customer training university as part of the onboarding process, or do you think that is still a relatively niche to large enterprise SAS-type products?
Donna: Well, I think that most companies are doing some kind of customer enablement or training during onboarding, but they’re not doing it in the right way. The wrong way is that each customer’s just what I was telling you about, this example I was just sharing, that each customer success manager is going, “Hey Justin, let me show you around the product,” and they’re doing it very one on one. Now let’s say Justin knows how to use the product but maybe the rest of the team doesn’t, or maybe Justin moves on and now the new person doesn’t know how to use it.
A lot of folks are doing these basic repeatable tasks in a one-to-one approach and it’s not impactful. It’s not delivering the impact it should have because they’re giving product walkthroughs, or, “Let me show you how to navigate,” or, “Let me help you log in,” whereas if they leverage experts who know about customer enablement and education, it’s about really driving again the right content, to the right user at the right time. There’s this concept about jobs to be done where I’m not just showing you about my product but I’m helping you to do what you need to do, what you hired my product for.
We can do that in a scalable way which is maybe self-paced or maybe it’s one to many classes in person, or online, or tailored for your organization, or maybe it’s what I’ve done for enablement is train the developers before they engage with the consultants and customize the product. Then we train the admins before the product is deployed so that they can set up users and permissions. Then once we go live then we train the business users. Again it’s all about the timing and delivering the right content to the right user at the right time.
Justin: Switching gears a little bit, in customer-facing organizations, you have customer success, you also have customer support. While obviously both of these groups help customers through the journey and work to keep churn low and expansion high and all that, they’re different functions. How do you recommend businesses align customer support and customer success?
Donna: Well, I think there’s a huge amount of opportunity and I’m going to include customer education in there as well. For example, you might have– or rather than support is answering the same questions over and over, can they point users to some existing content or courses so that there’s that answer? The reality is most support queues are filled with “how to”, “how do I” questions. You can move a lot of that. “How do I” to the education or the CSMs so they cover a lot of that, and so support can really be about helping users do more complex things than, again, these basics over and over.
The CS and CEE and support organizations can really align around that so that they’re driving users down a journey. If anyone’s doing anything over and over, find a way to automate that and make that more scalable. Then what does not fit in CS and product and support and education. I’m a big fan of in-product guidance when appropriate. I’m talking with the customers of a company where it’s like they’re not really in a user interface. In-product, in-app guidance may not make sense there but if you had more of a business user where you can guide users along the journey with workflows or checkmark so that they’re getting their a job to be done and not just giving them a tour, but they’re really getting some value into your product.
That’s a great way to automate it. That might be you learn what the customers need to do from support and some of those common initial support questions that come in during onboarding. That would be a great way to start.
Justin: I love something you said there on a bunch of “how do I” questions. If your support queue, if your help desk tickets are a whole bunch of “how do I”, those should be fed into the programming during onboarding so that people don’t end up asking the “how do I” questions right?
Justin: Unless they’re very esoteric. One of the things that I find interesting about being in the software space is how often I see evidence of people like myself in our platform, and what I mean by that is I pride myself on a talent of being able to get into very esoteric weird use cases with something where–
Donna: You get yourself into trouble.
Justin: Yes, and then I send a note to our AE or our CSM and Marketo or whatever it is. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked about this. This is a great question. I just feel this immense sense of pride, but your support queue should be full of those kinds of questions, not “How do I reset my password?” Right?
Donna: Well, for example, when I worked at a company what I found– and I find that often customer success managers they’re not being proactive enough. They’re going, “Hey Justin, what do you want to do? Whatever you want to do, well, I’ll make that happen.” Instead of giving the guidance and being proactive in prescription like, “Hey Justin, this is what you need to do so that you get the most value from our product.” I found out from my prior company that we let customers fend for themselves, and then they’d end up in these dark holes or these dark alleys lost and confused, and then support would have to have to dig them out and it was like, “How the hell do you get down there?”
I believe that when we have an orchestrated onboarding process where we’re driving customers to value, to milestones and not hoping they get there, then we keep them out of those dark alleys in the first place and guess what? They’re going to log a lot less support tickets and those support tickets might be, “Great, I got to that initial value, how do I get to the next level?” Or, “I want to tweak it just this way,” rather than just wandering off in the dark and lost.
Justin: Yes, you should never want your customer to end up like the dog who lost his toy behind the couch or something and he can’t get to it. You’re like, “How did you get that back there?” He just looks at you, “Please just get me my ball.” [chuckles] Switching gears again a little bit, and I want to be respectful of our time. When I think about technology and support automation and how these things have evolved throughout the evolution of the customer journey, I really get excited about what is happening now and what’s going into the future. When you think about the future of AI technology and the promises it can bring in customer success, what gets you excited the most?
Donna: You mentioned Marketo earlier and Marketo was instrumental in defining this world of marketing automation and Salesforce was instrumental in really getting the sales journey defined. Then with those tools, the buyer’s journey or the sales funnel have become this very data-driven and content-driven journey often automated, with the right higher-touch moment at the right time. What I get excited about is seeing the opportunity for post-sales, customer-facing teams, to create that alignment and that kind of journey post-sales, because right now, the deal closes and then often companies use hope as a strategy.
Oftentimes, those customer-facing teams are in silos and they’re starving for data. They don’t have that data-driven journey. Yes, the data is going to help us deliver the right, as I’ve said many times, the right touch at the right moment at the right time for the right user. Then ideally we get the systems aligned, because right now, we’ve got CRMs, we’ve got customer success platforms, we’ve got support tools, there’s a new domain of onboarding tools, but it really needs to be aligned so that everyone’s working together for the customer. That’s where I see the gaps are. That’s where I see we’re going.
It’s exciting we’re in this maturing industry and sales and marketing teams used to be very siloed and attacking each other. Now they work together to really– they create this journey and they really know what’s happening every moment along the journey. That’s where we need to be on the post-sales, customer-facing side.
Justin: Yes. I liked your comment there too about really understanding how all the different tools fit together. You could have a CRM, a marketing automation platform, a customer support platform, a customer success platform, and all four of those can send an email to somebody if you want them to.
Justin: In a world where you have all these tools getting into each other’s territory so to speak on feature and function, it becomes really, really important to design the jobs, design your team, design your processes so that you don’t get caught in this tool lust for lack of a better word on buying a bunch of different stuff and trying to stitch together and then the next thing you know, you’ve got 17 different apps that can send an email. This has been a great conversation, Donna, and I really appreciate your time. To wrap up, I want to do our famous quick-fire round that people who’ve listened to more than one episode of this know that every episode I could try to come up with some way to brand this last segment, but I just can’t get it.
Maybe the fact that it isn’t branded is the brand but other than your own book which is obviously one that you’d recommend people read on Onboarding Matters: How Successful Companies Transform New Customers Into Loyal Champions, other than Onboarding Matters, what’s a book that you recommend to people the most?
Donna: Oh, well, can I give two?
Justin: You can give as many as you want.
Donna: One is, Deep Work by Cal Newport and it’s all about really allowing ourselves the time to shut down distractions and do some focused work which is so one, productive, but two, very nourishing for the brain and body. That was instrumental in helping me write my book, and the other– I’m a big fan of Cal Newport. The other is for women, for female leaders is the book Playing Big by Tara Mohr. It really helps women to step into what is playing big for them and owning their dreams more than their fears.
Justin: That’s awesome. I love that. You mentioned the Deep Work, I bet you have come across hundreds, if not thousands of productivity, tips, hacks, tricks, tools, methods, et cetera. What’s a really good habit or trick, hack if you wanted– we’ll make scare quotes for people who aren’t watching video. What’s a good productivity tip that you’ve brought into your workflow that has really made a difference for you?
Donna: I’ve read– it’s just a short little book called the Pomodoro Technique. It’s setting a timer– and I did that today. I was writing an article this morning, and it really helps me because I’m very easily distracted and there’s emails and there’s texts and there’s articles online to read. When I set that timer, it really helps me go, “Nope, I get to do that in three minutes. The timer’s still going.” Today I set my timer for 25 minutes to write, and then guess what? I got in my zone and hit my flow and then I wanted to keep going.
You can download free timers or you can buy one to sit on your desk, but it just really helps me go, “This is what I’m doing for the next– ” might be 10 minutes, might be 15, it might be 45. It doesn’t matter, but it really helps me to go, “This is my focus for now.”
Justin: Yes. I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique and other similar timebound productivity ideas. There’s an adage that human potential or productivity fits the confines in which you give it. If you give yourself a year to finish something, it’s going to take you a year to finish it. If you give yourself 25 minutes, [chuckles] you’ll get a lot done in that 25 minutes. In terms of the amount of resources and community and websites and groups and all that that’s out there for people who are wanting to better themselves from a customer success and customer experience, customer-facing role perspective, what’s a site, blog site, community, LinkedIn group, et cetera, that you’d recommend for people?
Donna: Wow. I would say just LinkedIn in general, I learn so much. The thing is with customer success, there’s so many different communities available now. It’s really hard to narrow down. I would say the company ClientSuccess, they have some really great webinars I’ve learned from. They have some really great sessions there. Let’s see. What else? There’s not one, it’s more spread, probably too thin these days. [laughs]
Justin: donnaweber.com is really good too.
Donna: Yes. Thank you. [chuckles]
Justin: No, it is. You’ve got some great blogs and past webinars you’ve done and video– all sorts of stuff on there. That’s a resource I’d recommend anybody to check out.
Donna: Thank you.
Justin: Last question for you, Donna. You can take anyone out from a business leader or someone that inspires you for either a coffee or a cocktail, depending on the time of day. Who is it?
Donna: I’m going to go with Ed Power. He’s a colleague, a customer success leader who enlightened me about the neuroscience of customer onboarding and he’s a wealth of knowledge. He just inspires me to keep learning about neuroscience. I’m fascinated by it. That is who I’d like to spend more time with.
Justin: There’s a extremely valuable link between psychology and neuroscience, the way the brain works and the way customers and businesses should interact that is we abstract a lot of those learnings into business books and masterclasses or whatever, but the fundamental understanding of the brain and how it reacts to certain things is super valuable for people in our position, because you get the fundamental reason why people are delighted or frustrated or whatever it is. Love it. Donna Weber, this has been an amazing conversation.
Thank you so much for your time. For those out there listening who are wanting to read more about you, interact with you, et cetera, what website, social media handles, et cetera should they visit?
Donna: Yes. My website is donnaweber.com. That’s D-O-N-N-A-W-E-B-E-R.com. As you said, there’s links to lots of articles, podcasts, webinars, interviews I’ve done. Then LinkedIn, look for me there. Also on Twitter, I’m @donnaweb and I’m also on TikTok and Instagram as a customer onboarding expert.
Justin: Love it. Donna Weber, thank you so much for coming on the Support Automation Show.
Donna: Thank you so much, Justin. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Justin: The Support Automation Show is brought to you by Capacity. Visit capacity.com to find everything you need for automating support and business processes in one powerful platform. You can find this show by searching for Support Automation in your favorite podcast app. Please subscribe so you don’t miss any future episodes. On behalf of the team here at Capacity, thanks for listening.