Have a Plan [Early], Define Your Vision; Thorough Onboarding Is the First Step to Success

“EMPLOYERS: I’m going to let you in on a secret about employee retention,” Hebba Youssef, chief people officer at Workweek and a prominent speaker at BIMS 2023, tweeted recently. “Most employees know how long they’ll be committing to a job by the end of their first month. Translation: ONBOARDING MATTERS.” The advice Youssef then offers happens to feel pretty sound for customer onboarding as well.

In an accompanying article, Youssef—who will present about Workweek’s content-creator-led strategy at BIMS 2023 in Orlando, Feb. 23-24—offered three tips for improving your employee onboarding: 1) “Define your culture, mission and vision: What exactly are employees doing here and why does it matter?”; 2) “Have a plan for the first 30, 60, 90 days”; and 3) “Survey: the first 30, 60, 90 days should conclude with a survey at each milestone. While that feels like a lot of surveys, this time is the most crucial to get right! If something is not going well at the 30 day mark, you still have the opportunity to make some improvements.”

Interestingly, I wanted to write about member/subscriber onboarding. But when I read Youssef’s advice, it’s not really that different. You should be defining yourselves to the new member in terms of the opportunities available to them to engage. And “have a plan” is pretty obvious. The idea of surveying may, as she writes, feel heavy but better early in a membership or subscription than late, right? And I’ve found that reaching out in a caring, non-intrusive way is never a bad thing.

That also leads to the first of six more tips for onboarding:

Monitor early. “If a subscriber doesn’t have at least 10 page views a month, we run campaigns to engage with them, send them letters from the editor and the CEO, try to understand what they are looking for, and make relevant changes,” said Vaibhav Khanna, senior manager, subscription growth, for The Indian Express and formerly Bloomberg Quint. In a retention study last year from the American Press Institute, the biggest gap between what publishers deem valuable and what they aren’t doing well is in identifying at-risk subscribers—83.5% to 19%. The next two are using metrics to evaluate churn—82.6% to 28%.—and track what subscribers read—75.7% think it’s important but only 30% believe they are good at it.

Come up with clear questions to ask. Youssef suggests these—the brackets are how I would change it for subscribers/members:
I know what is expected of me [programs you offer];
I have the resources I need to successfully do my job [engage with you];
I understand the [your] company culture;
My goals [for our subscription/membership] are clearly defined;
My manager [contact with your organization] has set expectations about my role [our membership].

Perfect your welcome letters. I recall one open-rate survey that had welcome letters far ahead of any other type of communication. We like to be welcomed and made to feel special. The more value you can throw in, the better. And the more people you can welcome will also help you come renewal time. Almost everyone (90%) encourages new subscribers to sign up for their newsletters. However, only some publishers send educational information about how to use their products (46%) or send personal notes from a person in the newsroom (43%).

Dedicate specific space on your site. The Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA) created a new member guide and a special page on their website with practical tips for new members. During the pandemic, HIDA went away from sending out physical packets but then heard from members who preferred receiving something tangible in the mail. Perhaps you could get a sponsor for that.

Provide the breadth of what you do. During the pandemic, customers may have come to you for one special thing, be that COVID coverage or ways to move forward perhaps. So it’s important that you expose them to everything else that you do now. “If you are one of the almost a million people who subscribed to our COVID-19 email newsletter, what are the other newsletters that may be valuable to you?” asked Jeremy Gilbert, then of The Washington Post, now of Medill, early on in the pandemic. “What kinds of coverage did you click through from the email newsletter and how can we use those interactions with our site or native apps to get you to stay?”

Show and tell. In the personalized onboarding webinars that Lia Zegeye, senior director of membership at the American Bus Association, conducts, she “shows a short promotional video from ABA’s tradeshow, providing a testimonial about the value of the event. Zegeye said she often gets thank-you notes from those webinar attendees who say, “Wow, I had no idea you guys did all of these things!” “It’s a great way for me to connect with our members.” On their website, there’s a pdf guide titled How to Access and Utilize My ABA. The webinars immediately put a face with a name.

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