Pre-launch cancellations were at 18%, which was a significant problem for the overall health of the product. We researched and identified opportunities to improve the new client onboarding process, which when tested, saw a nearly 90% decrease in pre-launch cancellations.
We didn't really know. But here's what we did know.
TORCHx's two main objectives for 2017 were to improve client retention and the end-to-end customer experience. This meant providing enough value to clients so they stay with us beyond the 3-month trial period, and increasing the percentage of clients that we launch within 30 days. In the fall of 2017, one metric the product team had been tracking had become particularly worrisome: pre-launch cancellations were at 18%. This meant that almost 1 out of 5 clients were cancelling during the trial period, before they even got to use the product, considerably affecting our bottom line. Solving this was important to the business, but it could also help us address our two objectives for the year.
We initially hypothesized that this was due to the average 4 weeks it took to launch a new client's account (over 60% of clients weren't launching within 30 days), increasing the time it took for clients to see any value from their purchase. We had to dig deeper and see if we could back up our assumptions, so our next step was to interview customers and the internal teams that were involved in the launch process.
I put together a research plan detailing our objectives, research questions, hypotheses, logistics, and research participants. We started by interviewing three groups of current and former clients:
After our interviews, we organized our findings and were able to group those client experiences under three themes:
“I thought the site would go up in 2-3 days, but it took 3 months.”
“They promised they would take care of everything, but later I found out I would have to buy my own domain and email, go to my realtor association and get my own IDX.”
“My concern was wasting too much time to begin, and at the same time they already have my money.”
“The [process] that your backend team had to navigate was a surprise to them...I’m the one left holding the bag. I paid all this money upfront...it was deficient.”
“After the site was live, I waited close to 10 days for the first training call...”
“We only had 30 minutes to train a team of 10 agents, I wish we had an hour.”
“I don’t have a lot of time to go in the back-end and learn that [after my site is already live].”
The pain points were becoming a little more clear, and these interviews helped us define the problems we wanted to tackle:
Furthermore, it became painfully obvious that we didn't really have an effective onboarding process given our clients' experiences. We also interviewed team members who were involved in the launch process, and mapped out what that looked like for both clients and TORCHx employees:
This map helped illustrate several problems with our launch process:
You've probably interacted with a MLS without knowing it. Simply put, MLSs are databases of regional "listings" (e.g. homes for sale). Agents use these databases to populate their websites with real estate listings. In most cases, accessing this information is free for the public (people like us!) because an agent or brokerage is paying the MLS fees to use that data. MLSs are a great tool for both the agent and homebuyer. The issue lies in their number - there are over 600 MLSs in the United States, each with their own processes and regulations. So for a product like TORCHx to scale nationally, it needs to find efficient ways to work with all the different MLSs. But this is easier said than done.
Armed with this information, as well as research on successful onboarding processes, we ran a brainstorming session with team members from Customer Support, Sales, Configuration and Fulfillment. Here's the solutions we aligned on, along with the new timeline we wanted to test:
This proposal took some convincing just so we could run a test with a group of new clients, since the changes affected many teams, and rolling out the new process to all new clients meant we would have to do some additional work with our internal tools teams that manage our email marketing and CRM platforms (Marketo and Salesforce). I think it would have been much harder had we not taken a collaborative approach to coming up with these solutions and hadn't done our research with both customers and internal stakeholders.
The new onboarding experience was tested in October of 2017 with a cohort of 50 new clients that were sold during that month, along with a control group that was given the "old" onboarding experience. We didn't set a success metric, since we didn't have data to inform us of what that could be. When the test concluded, we were pleasantly surprised by the results:
2% churn rate
16% churn rate
We were flabbergasted - we expected a drop in the churn rate but not such a massive one! Additionally, a few other metrics we were tracking were positively affected, including training call completion rates and even a tiny improvement in launch time (not because we addressed the issue with MLSs, but because some delays were historically caused by unresponsive clients). We also interviewed Customer Support Representatives and they felt clients were more engaged during the new onboarding process.
One drawback with the new process was that clients were seeing their website before it was fully built. Even though the bulk of the training is on the CRM, they were still exposed to their website which didn't have any images and hardly any content, since we had moved the training up to start on Day 1. We did hear there was an increase in client concerns with the "look and feel" of their website, but these were eventually assuaged when their training was complete and the site build was finished.
Thanks to the success of this test, the new onboarding process was launched to all new clients in December of 2017. We've been monitoring churn rate over time, and while it was never as low as the 2% rate we saw during the test, the rate has now hovered around 8%-10% which is a drastic improvement to our bottom line and the clients' overall experience with our product.
After the test concluded, we called several of the clients that had launched through the new onboarding process to get their perspective on it. Overall, they didn't have complaints (beyond the time-to-launch) and they felt like they were ready to use the product as soon as their site was launched. One aspect of the new process that didn't seem as successful was the "Onboarding Status" page. Clients we spoke to couldn't recall ever seeing or using this page, even though it was used as a reference during their training and follow-up emails included a link to the page.
This page was cobbled together by yours truly since we didn't have engineers to support us during this project. Using rudimentary HTML and CSS, I built a page that we could easily scale to the 50 test clients, and so Customer Support Representatives could also build the page using a tool within the CRM ("Custom Pages"). It's easy to see why this page (left) was likely ineffective, with problems ranging from poor hierarchy to cognitive overload.
Fortunately, we're now revisiting this page with an improved design that will hopefully help clients better understand where they are in the onboarding process, and what information we need to collect from them (right).
Personally, I had two key takeaways from this project: