Learning to Be Proactive When Appropriate in Customer Onboarding

Ever walk into a shop to browse and immediately regret your decision? "Anything I can do to help you?" is immediately shouted from the corner. Eeek 😣

Of course, they're just doing what they were trained to do. But why are they taught this? To me, it's a prime example of being proactive at the wrong time. When you're just looking around, you're not looking for anything in particular.

My favorite shops are when they don't ask at all.

It made me think about the onboarding experience we used to offer. In our initial onboarding process, we asked the customer—who'd just signed up—whether there was anything we could help with by email. Like, right away.

Unsurprisingly most of the time, we didn't get a response or just a friendly no thanks. It's probably the same reason why I'm not too fond of it in a shop. It's too much to start with. The customer was browsing.

From the other side, as a marketer or product manager, you're thinking, "Hey, what if this person has a question to ask?". The truth is when the customer has a question, they will usually ask on their own time.

Timing is Different for Each Customer

If right away isn't the right time to ask—when is? After their trial? A few days into their trial? For SaaS, it can get complicated, so I'm gonna be a coward and answer "it depends"😅

At HelpDocs, we prefer to be hands-off and give the customers the opportunity to self-serve. We don't offer 1-on-1 demos, and we don't offer white-glove onboarding treatment. Besides our own Knowledge Base should be enough and it's a good way to dogfood our own product.

A comic made by Dilbert

One customer might like to be reached out to 1-on-1 with someone dedicated to looking at their event analytics to see if they're getting stuck. This type of proactive treatment could either be seen as fantastic or creepy. It'd probably be the latter for me.

A different customer might like to be left alone altogether. Instead, they might sign up for a  trial, use the product, invite their teammates, and sign up for a plan. Getting in the way with an offer of assistance might even annoy them.

You can't tell whether someone would want help and when they'd want it. So you have to make an educated guess.

Proactive Support Based on History

The most sensible way to make an educated guess is to look through past customer interactions, data on when people lose interest during a trial, and what type of events commit people to go ahead with your platform.

We know for sure we want to keep a hands-off approach and focus on making our self-serve documentation the best it can be. So that's a good place to start because it means we won't offer proactive help right away.

You might find your product is well suited to having a more hands-on approach.

For example, let's say you run a SaaS which lets other companies send email sequences to their customers. This is a pretty complicated one for customers to set up with a high-risk level—let's face it, we've all sent the wrong messages with the wrong info 🤡

You should also test the timing out. If you have a big enough pool of customers, why not go ahead and create some AB tests? For example, try an email right at the start, in the middle, or at the end of a trial. Or base it off triggers.

Someone mashing their mouse? Send help. Someone creating and deleting a lot of stuff? Send an email.

Basing this stuff on real data is a lot more reliable than making an uneducated guess.

Hitting Pause on Proactive

For now, we've hit pause on offering proactive help. We offer onboarding emails, but we're gonna keep an eye on the data to see what time is best to send help. It might even turn out we don't offer it again.

But of course, we'll always be here to offer help when customers reach out themselves and in the end that's the best kind of support 💖