Posts Tagged ‘welcoming’

My new least favorite word: Onboarding

September 17, 2009

Two weeks ago, I saw some twitter conversation that included the word “onboarding.” Every time I see this word in print, or hear it in conversation, I put bandages on my ears in a futile attempt to stop the bleeding.

“Onboarding” is a new term that financial institutions and other businesses are using to refer to their processes for welcoming a new customer or client. The goal of “onboarding” is to earn revenue for the company by selling more products and services in the critical initial phase of the new customer/business relationship. There are valid reasons both for and against using the term. Let me see if I can do justice to the “pro” side; feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts! If I’m missing great arguments for the pro side, I’d honestly like to hear them.

Pro: How a business handles contact and communication with a new customer can be complicated. We need a term that encompasses this process, and onboarding is much more than simply welcoming a new customer. If a business “onboards” a customer correctly, it will result in additional revenue for the business. Onboarding methods, processes, scripts, and materials can be evaluated to gauge maximum effectiveness.

Cons: Onboarding is consultant-speak or business-speak substitute for the perfectly valid word “welcoming”. There is no place where the word “welcoming” or “welcoming process” would not be a better word than “onboarding.”

One problem I see arising from using “onboarding” is that words intended for internal use frequently make their way to the members/customers. Onboarding will be no exception. I’ve seen a newsletter where the marketing department asks members to evaluate their “service levels” and “service behaviors,” and also talks about a certain promotion being available only for “new money.” These words make sense to management, but really don’t make sense to a customer. You may think that it’s preposterous that someone on some front line somewhere will use the word “onboarding” to a customer, but trust me, if management keeps using the word, it’s GOING TO HAPPEN.

But even if no front line person EVER utters the word “onboarding” to a member, the more important ramification is in the attitude that it fosters within the organization itself. By using this de-humanizing impersonal word, management is conveying to people within the organization that it really doesn’t care about its customers as people. That attitude may be fine for a bank, but doesn’t fly for a credit union. So let the banks have this word. Maybe it reinforces for bankers that it’s all about the bottom line, and people just happen to be walking money factories. In the credit union world, people are not *supposed* to be a means to the bottom-line end, so it would behoove credit union management to carefully weigh if they want to feel “cool” and “superior” to their members by using impersonal jargon for a process that ought to be VERY personal.

In World 2.0, successful businesses are ones that listen to their customers (or members). Therefore, there is only one welcoming technique that works. It’s not about trying to sell them more things (which will only serve to alienate them, no matter what you call it.) It’s about making them very comfortable with their current decision, whether it’s to open a checking account, get a loan, a credit card, or make a deposit. Only when they are VERY happy with you will they want to purchase even more items from you. In fact, that may be the very thing that customer/member is testing your organization for in the first place.

Sharp business people know that when trying out a new business supplier relationship, you start with a small test project to see if you are going to get along with your new business partner and that expectations of quality and timeliness are going to be met. Once the small project goes well, then more and more business will be done with the new partner. The same is true with new business/customer relationships. The customer is going to try your business out in a small way, by bringing just one small piece of their business to you. Only if they are really happy, will they bring you more and more of their business, and ultimately completely switch to you from whoever was their previous supplier. So they might very well be testing you to see if you are a pushy salesperson for more of their business, in which case your efforts will backfire.

As far as I’m concerned, the right thing to do to welcome a customer to your firm is to thank them for the business, ask them how it’s going so far, ask them if they have any questions or concerns, and then LISTEN. If they have more business to do with you, they will let you know. If they have a problem or concern with what’s transpired so far, it’s a great opportunity to learn something new about your business that you didn’t know previously, in which case you should thank them for bringing it to your attention.

But I don’t know, maybe this whole “onboarding” process is much more complicated than I think. Your thoughts?


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