Asynchronous Customer Onboarding: A guide for CS leaders

The Dock Team
December 28, 2023
January 23, 2024

Traditional customer onboarding is about direct interaction with real-time communication, typically in the form of an onboarding call (or a series of calls). 

This became the standard in B2B SaaS for a good reason–it’s really effective: 

  • The personal interaction means the onboarding can be easily tailored to the customer you’re talking to. 
  • You have the ability to address any issues immediately. 
  • If they show up, it also guarantees the customer will have dedicated time to engage with your product. 

That’s great. But it doesn’t scale.

Asynchronous customer onboarding does. 

Once you design a great process for one customer, especially one that mimics the same high-touch feel that an in-person onboarding might, it’s exponentially easier to replicate it with other customers.

While there’s still a place for customer onboarding that’s primarily driven through synchronous methods—which usually takes the form of a call with a CSM—most businesses today would be better off defaulting to a more asynchronous approach. 

At the very least, it’s smart to treat asynchronous customer onboarding as an additional tool in your arsenal that you can use strategically when and where it makes sense for you and your customers.

What is asynchronous customer onboarding?

Asynchronous customer onboarding is the process of integrating new customers into a product or service without requiring real-time, simultaneous interaction between the customer and the business (usually the Customer Success or Onboarding team).

It offers a way for customers to progress through the onboarding steps at their own pace, supported by action from their CSM or implementation manager.

This approach relies on content formats other than meetings—shared workspaces, forms, instructional videos, and self-paced tutorials that guide customers through the onboarding process. 

Asynchronous customer onboarding isn’t the same as product-led or completely self-serve onboarding, although it shares common elements with both of them:

  • In product-led onboarding, the product is the primary interaction point. The product's design, UI, and in-app guidance are structured to facilitate adoption without the need for much support.
  • A completely self-serve onboarding is a tech-touch model and has zero direct interaction with a CS team. It uses many of the same tools that you’d use for async onboarding (self-guided resources, videos, and so on), but relies far more heavily on robust knowledge bases, because the expectation is that customers need to find solutions themselves. 

An async customer onboarding experience combines the best of these approaches with the best of the traditional approach. Customers still have access to a CSM and can connect with them when needed. 

Asynchronous customer onboarding can still include periodic check-ins and other touchpoints with a person—it just defaults to enabling customers and CSMs to complete onboarding tasks when it works best for them. 

Why more customer onboarding activities should be asynchronous

Many customer success teams have a ton of success with traditional onboarding (although honestly, sometimes it feels like pulling teeth too, right?)

The challenge is that when you start scaling, you can’t scale your customer success team fast enough to keep up with your customer growth. You start limiting the business.

The last thing you want to do is tap the brakes on your sales initiatives. But you also don’t want to throw brand-new, untrained CSMs on live onboarding calls with customers. 

Async onboarding can make a massive difference here. It brings many benefits: 

  • Save time for CSMs. Onboarding calls are time-consuming for CSMs.

    They usually include a significant amount of repeated info. Since you’re dealing with a brand new customer every time, you’re forced to reiterate the same information about your product over and over. It’s even worse with a technically complex product that requires multiple onboarding calls.

    Asynchronous customer onboarding means CSMs can spend less time on these calls, and more time proactively engaging with customers where it’s really needed.

  • Easily scale a personalized onboarding experience. Personalization is an essential part of great customer onboarding, but scaling while offering onboarding calls for every customer gets wildly expensive.

    Asynchronous onboarding offers the best of both worlds. It can still be tailored to each customer, while also being scalable and repeatable.

  • Faster time-to-value for customers. Async onboarding enables customers to progress through the onboarding at their own pace and in their own time.

    That typically means they can get through many of the onboarding steps faster than if they had to wait for a scheduled call—which enables them to experience your product and see it in action faster.

  • More flexibility and choice for customers. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Some customers, usually senior leadership, might still prefer a traditional onboarding approach because it blocks time in their busy schedules and holds them accountable.

    Other customers, like devs or tech-savvy people, might opt for async onboarding because they’d rather figure out your product independently over sitting in a meeting.

    Designing an onboarding experience that works for both personas means both of them will be satisfied.

Tips to onboard customers asynchronously

Asynchronous customer onboarding comes with its challenges (but so does the traditional approach to onboarding).  

If your customers get stuck somewhere and help isn’t immediately available, that could damage their overall experience. Or they might find it hard to get started because they’re overwhelmed by the volume of information you provide to them.

Fortunately, these challenges are easy to overcome if you build out your asynchronous onboarding program thoughtfully. 

1. Standardize your onboarding process with templates

A standardized onboarding template is the foundation of asynchronous onboarding.

A good onboarding template:

  • Provides a consistent experience that covers the same foundational information for every customer.
  • Is easy to replicate so you can efficiently onboard multiple users concurrently—without compromising the quality of the experience.
  • Is built in a modular way, making it easy to adapt to different segments with minimal effort and time.

Templates also save your CSMs a ton of time and reduce inconsistencies.

This is one of the issues that Rachel Jennings-Keane, Global Head of Customer Success at Assignar, experienced when they were trying to scale. “For the kickoff call, we would create a different deck for every customer. That took time. And I felt we weren't driving home the most important points on those calls.” 

Templates are a quick and easy solution to that. 

With Dock, you can create a centralized customer onboarding plan that’s both internal and client-facing, ensuring that your team and customers are aligned and know which stage the onboarding is at at all times. 

You can also create as many templates as you need for the different customer segments you’re speaking to. 

One of the best parts of working with Dock templates is that they can be quickly and easily personalized to that customer as well.

You can:

  • add the customer’s name and logo using dynamic variables, making it feel like white-glove treatment, without needing to invest extra time to prepare the onboarding materials. 
  • drop in resources and helpful content that’s relevant to specific pain points the customer expresses or where they’re at in their journey.
  • drop in a quick personalized Loom video to introduce them to their onboarding workspace.

Generic links to your help center typically don’t offer the same value a targeted link or video could.

2. Deliver onboarding materials in phases

How you present onboarding material matters as much as—if not more than—the content and information you’re presenting. 

Customer onboarding materials have to be structured, easy-to-follow, and should break down what exactly your customers need to do. Checklists are great for this because they naturally present information in this way (and everyone loves crossing stuff off their to-do list). 

If you’re trying to make your entire onboarding process async, there’s a real risk of it turning into an info dump that overwhelms your customers. 

Will Yang, Head of Growth & Customer Success at Intrumentl, oversaw the development of their asynchronous customer onboarding program. 

“We found that people were more likely to actually use the training if it was delivered in small chunks. This way, they could do one piece at a time and feel like they were making progress on their new skillset.”

That perception of progress helps customers build confidence with your product, which pays off in their overall engagement.

David Godlewski, CEO of Intelliverse, faced a similar challenge.

“We realized that overloading customers with excessive information was a pitfall in our asynchronous onboarding. Initially, we thought more resources would be better, but it ended up causing confusion and disengagement. We changed our approach by offering a more focused and streamlined set of onboarding materials.” 

A successful asynchronous onboarding isn’t about bombarding customers with tons of information, but delivering the right, relevant content that helps them learn what they need to know.

Another approach to reducing the information you’re providing at one time is to only break off some parts of your onboarding process to do asynchronously. This enables you to shorten the onboarding calls you do with customers. 

Dock is a great tool for either of these approaches. Here’s what that might look like in Dock:

  • You can split an onboarding workspace into multiple pages to make it more digestible
  • You can hide pages and sections until the customer is ready for it
  • You can embed content in the order you want customers to consume it
  • You can assign tasks to customers so they know exactly what to do next
  • Ask them to try out particular features or prepare something specific.
  • You can show a timeline to highlight how much progress your customer has made. 

3. Give customers the option to self-serve

Asynchronous onboarding might not work for some of your customers. 

Some people will embrace it and be happy to dive into your onboarding materials at their own pace. Others might struggle to carve out time to go through a self-paced tutorial or watch a Loom video that you’ve prepared. 

Brittany Soinski, Manager of Onboarding at Loom, offers the option to choose a meeting or not at every stage of the process.

“In our onboarding guide in Dock, we have the steps of onboarding listed out, and under each, we started asking customers, ‘Would you like to do this async or would you like to have a meeting?’.”

This gives each customer the opportunity to tailor the onboarding experience to their needs. It also means the asynchronous option doesn’t feel like the lesser option.

4. Save meetings for high-value conversations

You shouldn’t kill all your meetings outright.

Some discussions are simply more effective live. Reserve your live calls for substantial topics like strategy and goal alignment, business reviews, and serious or escalated situations.

A good customer onboarding tool makes it easier to prepare for strategic meetings. 

Your Customer Success team can leverage a tool like Dock to share materials beforehand—like onboarding guides and detailed agendas—allowing participants to arrive well-informed and ready to engage in meaningful dialogue.

Rachel from Assignar attests to the effectiveness of Dock in preparing for meetings.

“We share the Dock workspace before the call so the customer can start to get an understanding of what to expect with a video or visual of the five steps that we go through with them. That way, the kickoff call is much more focused on, “Here’s what you bought. Here’s why you bought it. What are your goals? And here’s what we need you to own for the next step.”

Using Dock to help with meeting preparation allowed Assignar’s team to save 20 minutes per kickoff call, because it enabled them to quickly drill down on the things that mattered most to their customers. 

5. Communicate time savings as a value-add 

The value of asynchronous customer onboarding isn’t always readily apparent to customers.

If a customer is looking forward to a live interaction with someone from your team and you suggest an async meeting, that can feel disappointing—which is exactly the opposite of the effect you want to achieve. 

Instead, make it clear that you’re offering this as an option because you value their time as well.

Brittany at Loom found that this made a significant difference. “This is a really good way to instantly show our value during onboarding. We’ll say, ‘We're gonna do this asynchronously so that we can save us all 60 minutes from hopping on a meeting to walk through your workspace settings. We've pre-recorded this. You can watch it at 1.5 speed."

6. But don’t lose a personal touch

Look for ways to maintain a personal touch throughout the onboarding process, even when you default to asynchronous methods.

Loom videos are a perfect example of this. 

You can take an extra two minutes to record something personal and direct for that customer. It’s low effort, but it creates a personal touch and a moment of human connection. And it’s far easier than scheduling and prepping for a meeting.

A great asynchronous onboarding may need some intermittent real-time touch points with your Customer Success team, but you might be surprised at how rare this becomes necessary once you’ve built out a robust async onboarding system. 

Scale your customer onboarding through asynchronous means

Asynchronous customer onboarding is a strategic tool. 

It helps your customer success team scale your onboarding process to manage a large customer base, while establishing a consistently high-quality experience across the board. 

At the same time, your customers can benefit from its flexibility, having a streamlined onboarding experience, and ideally a faster time-to-value.

Sign up for a free trial of Dock today to transform your customer onboarding experience.

The Dock Team