Onboarding New Customers at 330 Miles Per Hour
As marketers, we talk a lot about the importance of early customer engagement and creating a positive onboarding experience. The most surprising brand introduction I have had was with the National Hot Rod Association.
My father-in-law invited me to the drag races in Englishtown, N.J. My only knowledge of the hot rod sprints was from what I caught on ESPN when visiting his home. My expectations were similar to other sporting events: find a seat, watch the contest and enjoy some over-priced food and beverages.
My experience was anything but ordinary. We arrived at the racetrack at 9 a.m., walked inside the gates, and headed over to the garages. In one long row of trailers stood each driver, race team, and car. The drivers signed autographs, distributed free photos, and answered admirers’ questions. At 10 a.m., the town lifted its noise curfew and the Top Fuel teams started their engines. The smell of nitromethane is a scent I will never forget. This behind-the-scenes access continued throughout the day. I witnessed mechanics rebuild engines in less than 75 minutes between elimination rounds.
As a marketer, I took notes. The speed in which the NHRA created a new brand advocate was as quick as drivers hitting the gas pedal at the starting line. By noon, I had selected my favorite drivers and developed an appreciation for the race team’s ability to build an engine for a single run down a thousand foot track.
Go on green
The NHRA’s unique onboarding experience for spectators translates into revenue growth in three key ways.
- Activation – The earlier an onlooker emotionally connects with a race team, driver, or sponsor, the sooner he or she will share their attention, cash, and enthusiasm with the brand.
- Retention – The value of a positive customer experience reduces the likelihood that attendees will leave the track early. More importantly, the engaging interactions with drivers reinforce why fans should return the following year.
- Cross-selling – With fans fully engaged, the probability that they will spend more money on concessions and merchandise increases.
Recognize reasons for false starts
This type of brand immersion is what marketers strive for, but few achieve. The roadblocks encountered are numerous. Here are a few:
- Misplaced priorities – In a September 2012 survey, RSR Research found that 22% of retail marketers said that building customer loyalty was their lowest priority. This is surprising, as organizations are in a heated competition for the short-attention spans of today’s consumers.
- Lack of guardianship – Few companies have a dedicated position that leads and coordinates onboarding activities across the organization. This job requires a unique ability to assess, make recommendations, and get buy-in from cross-functional departments to optimize customer touch points from the moment prospects hear about the business, until they become raving fans. Without this far-reaching supervision, new customers may miss key milestone experiences where an organization demonstrates its unique value.
- Media preference assumptions – Onboarding strategies often fail to take into account the changes in consumer expectations as their relationship matures with the brand. A consumer who enjoyed following an organization’s Twitter updates when he or she was learning about the company does not necessarily want to continue the conversation over that same channel. Now a paying customer, he or she may want to communicate in a more personal manner through email or SMS.
Get off to a fast start
Attracting new customers is a strenuous process for most marketers. However, it requires the same effort and energy to ensure a customer has a positive shopping experience, develops a deep understanding of the firm’s culture and products, and becomes a brand advocate. Here are three steps to consider in designing an outstanding onboarding program:
- Identify moments to amaze – As marketers build an onboarding strategy, they must plan for ways to exceed a customer’s expectations through rich interactions. The timing of a message’s delivery can have a significant impact on consumer loyalty. This contact may come as a pleasant surprise, or in the case of the NHRA, an ‘under the hood’ look at the product that generates a greater appreciation for the race itself.
- Extend the purchasing experience – If NHRA can turn a 4-second sporting event into a full day of festivities, brands can too. For example, in the travel business, the anticipation leading up to a trip, and the recollection of memorable moments from the trip, can be just as important as the vacation itself. Leading travel companies send clients reminders to make dinner reservations before or offer commemorative merchandise after the journey.
- View data holistically – Data is the lifeblood of any organization. Yet companies continue to struggle with using data properly for effective onboarding campaigns. To be successful, businesses must consider all channels and touch points in the customer lifecycle. Recognize that each communication must explicitly answer the questions, “Why should I care?” and, “What’s in it for me?” Otherwise, the conversation and assistance the brand is sharing will seem disingenuous and disruptive.
Lead rather than push
Temper the need for speed. Organizations must be cautious not to rush new customers. A successful onboarding program is similar to a well-told tale. A great story grabs readers’ attention and instinctively draws them closer to the text. As the story unfolds, book lovers start trying to figure out what will happen next. Yet the patient author only leads the way, permitting readers to make their own conclusions. By anticipating the next plot twist and feeling part of the story, readers are grateful to the author for the experience.
Image via Flickr by goarmyphotos