Onboarding Research: Research Techniques to Track Effectiveness of Stabilizing New Customer Relationships

As we explored in an earlier post, 3 Types of Customer Interactions Every Customer Experience Manager Must Understand, there are three types of customer interactions: Stabilizing, Critical, and Planned.

The first of these, “stabilizing” interactions are service encounters which promote customer retention, particularly in the early stages of the relationship.


New customers are at the highest risk of defection, as they have had less opportunity to confirm the provider meets their expectations.  Turnover by new customers is particularly damaging to profits because many defections occur prior to recouping acquisition costs, resulting in a net loss on the customer relationship.  As a result, customer experience managers should stabilize the customer relationship early to ensure a return on acquisition costs.

Systematic education drives customer expectations beyond simply informing customers about additional products and services; education systematically informs new customers how to use services more effectively and efficiently.  Part of this systematic approach to create stabilizing service encounters is to measure the efficacy of customer experience at all stages of this stabilizing process.

Onboarding Research

The first step in designing a research plan for the onboarding process is to define the process itself.  Ask yourself, what type of stabilizing customer experiences do we expect at both initial purchase and at discrete time periods thereafter (be it 30 days, 90 days, 1-year)?  Understanding the expectations of the process itself will define your research objectives, allowing an informed judgment of what to measure and how to measure it.

Specific recommendations vary from industry to industry, however, typically, we recommend measuring the onboarding process by auditing the performance of the process and its influence on the customer relationship.

Performance Audits

Mystery shopping is an effective tool to audit the performance of the onboarding process.

First, mystery shop the initial sales process to evaluate the efficacy and effectiveness of the sales process.  Be sure to link the mystery shop observations to a dependent variable, such as purchase intent, to determine which sales behaviors drive purchase intent.  This will inform decisions with respect to training and incentives to reinforce the sales activities which drive purchase intent.

Beyond auditing the initial sales experience, a mystery shop audit of the onboarding process should test the presence and timing of specific onboarding events expected at discrete time periods.  As an example, a retail bank may expect the following onboarding process after a new account is opened:

Period Events
At Opening Internet Banking PresentationMobile Banking PresentationContact Center Presentation

ATM Presentation



1 – 10 Days Welcome LetterChecksDebit Card

Internet Banking Password

Overdraft Protection Brochure

Mobile Banking E-Mail


30 – 45 Days First StatementSwitch KitCredit Card Offer

Auto Loan Brochure

Mortgage/Home Equity Loan Brochure


In this example, the bank’s customer experience managers have designed a process to make customers aware of more convenient, less expensive channels, as well as additional services offered.  An integrated research plan would recruit mystery shoppers for a long-term evaluation to audit the presence, timing, and effectiveness of each event in the onboarding process.

Customer Perspective

In parallel to auditing the presence and timing of onboarding events, research should be conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of the process in stabilizing the customer relationship by surveying new customers at distinct intervals after customer acquisition.  We recommend testing the effectiveness of the onboarding process by benchmarking three loyalty attitudes:

  • Would Recommend: The likelihood of the customer recommending the brand to a friend relative or colleague.
  • Customer Advocacy: The extent to which the customer agrees with the statement, “you care about me, not just the bottom line?”
  • Primary Provider: Does the customer consider the branch their primary provider for similar services?

These three measures tracked together throughout the onboarding process will give managers a measure of the effectiveness of stabilizing the relationship.

Again, new customers are at an elevated risk of defection.  Therefore, it is important to stabilize the customer relationship early on to ensure ROI on acquisition costs.  A well designed research process will give managers an important audit of both the presence and timing of onboarding events, as well as track customer engagement and loyalty early in their tenure.


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About Eric Larse

Eric Larse is co-founder of Seattle-based Kinesis CEM, LLC, which helps clients plan and execute their customer experience strategies through the intelligent use of customer satisfaction surveys and mystery shopping, linked with training and incentive programs. Visit Kinesis at: www.kinesis-cem.com

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