How To Overcome Data Onboarding Challenges For Software Products

Companies willing to pay good money for a new piece of software are most likely not starting from scratch. They’re running an established business, with well-built and documented processes. So, they have tons of data to carry over.

As a result, the decision to bring a new app into the fold is not one they take lightly. Internal processes need to change. Getting the team to adopt the new solution can take time. Integrating it with existing systems and external tools can be a problem. Oh yeah, and there’s the matter of compliance to worry about, too.

This means there’s a lot of pressure on new software to provide a top-notch experience from the get-go. Fail to provide companies with a simple and intuitive way to onboard their data and you can expect high rates of customer churn as a result.

If you’re designing a product that needs data from customers in order to be of any value, here’s what you need to know about building out your data onboarding process.

How Data Onboarding Correlates With User Satisfaction

Business software is essentially just an empty box waiting to be filled with its users’ data. Without the ability to flawlessly onboard users’ data, the software essentially becomes useless.

Let’s look at what happens when you get the data onboarding process right.

End User Benefits

If you can nail the data onboarding piece, expect your end users to reap the following benefits:

  • They’ll be more confident in their decision.
    With complete and accurate data transferred into your software, users actually see how valuable it is soon after signing up. This leaves little room for second-guessing their decision, which leads to greater satisfaction overall with the product, and ultimately more money for your business.
  • You’ll get greater team buy-in.
    A positive data onboarding experience lets customers use your product faster, reducing the time needed for them to get value. So, really, data onboarding sets the stage for how your customers and their team will view the rest of your app.
  • They’ll experience more success with the software.
    Since users won’t have to stress about data formatting and cleanup or troubleshooting error-ridden import processes, they can get more out of the product and its features.

Software Developer Benefits

The software provider (you and/or your client) benefits, too:

  • Improve user satisfaction.
    Your end users don’t need to be technical wizards to figure out how to onboard data into your product. When you make light work of this, you reduce churn, attract more users and retain more loyal users over the long-term.
  • Spend less time on customer service.
    You can stop worrying about having to support a faulty data onboarding process as well as taking over tasks like data formatting and validation for your users. Instead, put your time and energy towards building better relationships with customers instead of putting out fires all the time.
    Kelly Abbott, Co-Founder and CTO of Tablecloth, can attest to this:

    “We have cut the amount of time we spend wrangling with files by 95%. We basically had all hands working to solve those problems at times.”

  • Have greater confidence in your product.
    When you have a data onboarding solution that’s flexible and powerful, you don’t have to restrict what data your users can or can’t import. It’s no longer a limitation.
    As Abbott explains:

    “It has made us more contemplative about the data we are asking clients for. We no longer have to avoid asking for data that may require too much time to fix. Flatfile eliminates that problem and has improved our willingness to experiment with different types of data we can incorporate into our analyses. The more time we spend tinkering with different data types, the more likely we are going to uncover the insight that produces additional value in the marketplace. That is indispensable for a startup like us.”

  • Save money.
    Although you’ll have to spend money on a third-party data onboarding solution, you’ll save your company the time and money otherwise spent trying to manage a custom-built data importer, onboarding process and client relationships. (Tablecloth, for instance, saved tens of thousands of dollars when they adopted Flatfile.)

The Challenges Of Data Onboarding For Software Products

Let’s have a look at the common challenges in data onboarding and how Flatfile Concierge removes them:

Challenge #1: There’s A Lot Of Data To Aggregate

When signing up for new business software, users probably expect to do a little work upfront, like filling in basic account information, configuring settings and adding users. The last thing you want to do is surprise them with a data importer that’s going to cause more work for them.

Let’s say, for example, you’ve built a CRM.

Unless the software targets startups and other new businesses, users are going to have a ton of external data to bring along. For instance:

  • Contact info for clients, prospects, vendors, partners and team members;
  • Existing customer data like account and sales history;
  • Prospect data like communication history;
  • Sales pipeline details;
  • Team and individual goals and metrics.

Unless your CRM directly integrates with every one of your users’ previous CRMs, how are they going to move this data over? Copy and paste? CSV templates?

An animation demonstrating Flatfile Concierge data models. Companies can create specific data models as a guide for customers to use when importing data. (Image source: Flatfile)

Plus, you have to think about all of the other sources a CRM pulls info in from. Payment gateways. Spreadsheets that live on a sales team’s drive. Signed contracts that have been emailed or faxed to your company. There’s a lot of data coming from different places and people.

The Fix

There are a number of things Flatfile Concierge does to fix this problem.

For starters, it allows data to be imported from a variety of file types:

  • CSV,
  • TSV,
  • XLS,
  • XML,
  • And more.

With this kind of flexibility, your users won’t have to worry about transferring data to one specific file type and then cleaning up errors that occur during the transfer. Flatfile Concierge can handle various file types, of varying data types, and easily validate it all.

Another thing to think about is how your software is going to track and organize each imported file and its corresponding data.

What Flatfile allows your users to do is create collaborative workspaces to place data in. When a team member adds new data to the workspace, a record is captured containing the:

  • Date of upload,
  • File name,
  • User who submitted the data,
  • Number of rows added,
  • Version history,
  • Upload errors.

Flatfile Concierge animation demonstrating notifications for when spreadsheets are imported. (Image source: Flatfile)

This will keep things organized while also keeping everyone accountable to the data they contribute. And with this information readily available from a centralized dashboard, there’ll be no secret as to what’s been uploaded, by whom and when. Import errors can also be fixed collaboratively, without the need to re-upload spreadsheet data.

Challenge #2: Data Is Imported In A Variety Of States

When you give your software users the ability to transfer their data into your product, there’s not a lot you or the software team can do in terms of formatting or cleaning up end users’ data beforehand. Nor should you have to. Your job is to ensure customers see the value in the software; not to struggle with importing data.

You could give them a spreadsheet template, but that would require them to spend time reformatting all their data. You could point them to the knowledgebase, but, again, that assumes that your end users will be willing to do that extra work.

In reality, your users are going to be in a hurry to get inside the new software and get to work. They’re not going to stop to deal with this. That’s the software’s job.

However, many data onboarding solutions don’t handle messy spreadsheets very well. Not only do they have a hard time recognizing what some of the data is (often because the data model doesn’t match their own), but then the application refuses to accept certain spreadsheet columns.

Even if it’s the end user’s fault for not properly organizing or labeling their data or teaching their team how to do so (or just not knowing what to do in the first place), who do you think they’re going to blame in the end when their data won’t import?

The Fix

Flatfile Concierge’s importer is AI-powered, which means that your software (and data importer) really can do the work for your end users.

Using advanced validation logic, the data importer can figure out what the data is and where it goes.

While Flatfile will automatically match columns and corresponding data to your software’s actual data fields, users get a chance to confirm that’s the case before allowing it into the system:

Before this happens, you can do a little work on the backend to ensure that Flatfile knows what to do with your users’ data:

  • Create target data models so Flatfile can navigate complex spreadsheet formats and datatypes your users will likely try to import.
  • Create a template with validation rules so Flatfile’s AI knows exactly how to map everything out.
  • Validate imported data against other databases to help the importer contextualize, validate and clean up the data over time.

Once you’ve done that upfront work, the rest is easy.

The bulk of the work will be done by Flatfile Concierge when it transforms imported data into something clean and useful. In fact, about 95% of imported columns will automatically map to your software thanks to Flatfile’s machine learning and fuzzy matching system.

The end user will have the opportunity to review the parts of their data that contain errors. If they find any, they can repair the errors inside Flatfile, rather than have to fix it in a spreadsheet and re-import.

Challenge #3: Getting And Tracking Data From Multiple Users

When there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, there are a number of things that can go wrong.

Data can sometimes live on team members’ computers, or worse, sent over email, which can be a huge security concern for sensitive data. This can happen if users aren’t given access to the software platform or find the data importer too intimidating to use.

On the flip side of that, with the wrong data onboarding process, it could become like a free-for-all where people add whatever the heck they like to the company’s data. While the data does get imported, there’s no review framework so the company’s database is filled with errors and duplicate entries.

Your end users need to be able to maintain order, control and security when dealing with something as serious as company data — especially if you want your software to be usable.

The Fix

Flatfile Concierge has designed the data onboarding process to be a collaborative one.

As you can see, company admins can invite specific collaborators (i.e. customers) to add data to their workspaces. But this isn’t a blanket invitation to import data.

Admins have the ability to create an approval process. They get to:

  • Ask for specific data sets from team members.
  • Control which workspaces they’re allowed to import data to.
  • Review all data submissions before flowing the approved data into the platform.

Admins can also import data on the customer’s behalf. Flatfile Concierge ensures that data onboarding is never a dead-end for customers.

Not only does this ensure that the right data ends up in the software, but the controlled flow means the data will end up being cleaner and more accurate, too. All of this, while providing a seamless data onboarding experience for users.

Challenge #4: Data Security Is Always A Concern

When it comes to web and app development, user privacy and security are top priority. If our customers and visitors don’t trust that their information is safe from prying eyes (and isn’t being sold off to advertisers), they’re going to stop using our solutions in the first place.

The same thing happens with software — though it’s not just the company’s personal data they have to worry about securing.

Often, when companies import data into software (like the CRM example), they’re importing their customers’ private and sensitive data. Allow that to be compromised and you can kiss your software goodbye.

So, yes, the software itself needs to be secured. That’s a given. But so, too, does your data onboarding process. It’s a huge point of vulnerability if left unchecked.

The Fix

The first thing Flatfile Concierge does is to encourage users to move away from sharing sensitive data over email, FTP, and other unsecured platforms by providing a user-friendly data onboarding solution.

The second thing it does is provide an authenticated and compliant workspace for users to import, validate, and post their data to your software.

Here’s how Flatfile Concierge secures its workspaces:

  • Each collaborator enters the data importer through an authenticated invitation.
  • Data is encrypted in transit and stored in an encrypted Amazon S3 bucket.
  • The data onboarding platform is 100% GDPR compliant.
  • Flatfile is HIPAA and SOC2 compliant and can adjust for other compliance requirements as needed.

In addition, once data is successfully migrated into your application, it’s deleted from Flatfile. This way, you only have to worry about securing your data within your software and not on previous platforms it’s touched.

Wrapping Up

With an insufficient or error-prone data onboarding process, you, the software provider and its end users are going to spend too much time manually cleaning and validating spreadsheets. This won’t just happen during the initial user signup either. If the data importer isn’t up to the task, you’re all going to be throwing away a ton of time and resources every time data needs to be uploaded or transferred into the platform from existing customers.

Of course, this all assumes that your importer can even get user data into the software. (Sadly, this happens with too many custom-built solutions.)

Needless to say: Your data onboarding process must be flawless for your team and customers. It’s the only way to keep user churn rates low and user satisfaction high.

Data onboarding is a really complex process to handle. Save yourself the trouble in trying to develop your own data onboarding solution and the time trying to troubleshoot the problems with it. With an AI-powered data importer like Flatfile Concierge, everything’s taken care of for you.

Manual Texts Recover 21 Percent of Abandoned Carts, Says LiveRecover Founder

Dennis Hegstad believes the best way to recover abandoned carts is via text messages. But his messages are not automated or bot-driven. Hegstad’s company, LiveRecover, sends one-to-one texts from a real person to folks who have left an ecommerce checkout without completing a purchase.

“It’s peer-to-peer texting,” he told me. “We’ll send messages from a real person. It’s not a drip campaign. About 55 percent get replies. Our total recovery rate on average is about 21 percent, which is really good.”

The notion of using SMS for abandoned carts is not new. But using humans to do it individually is unique. I recently spoke with Hegstad about his company and the rise of commercial SMS, among other topics.

What follows is the entire audio of our conversation and a transcript, edited for length and clarity.

Eric Bandholz: Tell us about LiveRecover.

Dennis Hegstad: We do SMS marketing with a focus on recovering abandoned carts for ecommerce businesses on Shopify, WooCommerce, and other platforms.

It’s peer-to-peer texting. We’ll send messages from a real person — “live texting agents” is what we call them. It’s not a drip campaign.

The agents are mostly based in the Philippines. They can type a certain number of words per minute, they speak English as a first language, and they’ve had some ecommerce experience.

Bandholz: How do you convince recipients that the message is coming from a human and not a bot?

Hegstad: We encounter a lot of people who will joke with our agents and say like, “If you can prove that you are real, I’ll buy.” And then we’ll respond with a funny SpongeBob meme, such as, “Give me all your money” or something like that. And they’re like, “This is so cool. I thought this was a bot. You guys have great customer service.” But, for sure, many people assume that it’s automated.

Bandholz: So your agents send messages to abandoned carts. How many of those are converted to orders?

Hegstad: About 55 percent get replies. Our total recovery rate on average is about 21 percent, which is really good.

We don’t text 24 hours a day. There’s a quiet period when we cannot text. No one’s texting after 9:00 p.m. and before 8:00 a.m., per the recipient’s time zone. There are regulations around that.

Bandholz: Can shoppers text your service for general queries? Or is it just purely abandoned carts?

Hegstad: Right now, it’s just abandoned checkout recovery. I say “checkout recovery” because we collect the phone number at the checkout, not in the cart. But we are adding live agent support, so a merchant could have a widget that says, “If you have a question about this order, text in, and our agents will support you.” But that requires us to get more integrated with the stores on a customer service level because if shoppers are asking things live, we need answers on hand.

Bandholz: We did a little bit of that at Beardbrand. We had our live chat box that was connected to a bunch of people overseas. They didn’t necessarily understand beard grooming questions. Plus, those widgets are intense resource hogs. They add so much time to loading a page. So we killed our live chat altogether.

So, instead, we published a banner that says “Text ‘style’ to this phone number.” We have an in-house community manager who will receive the text and reply to that.

Hegstad: That makes sense. We’re in this wild west era of SMS marketing, which is fun and exciting. Everyone’s rushing to do SMS, whether that’s abandoned cart recovery or creating an SMS list, or winning back a customer.

But we don’t know what the long term value will be, what the duration of a customer subscription is on email versus SMS.

SMS is great now, but it’s going to become less commercial and more concierge, real-time, and personalized, versus just being a transactional machine that reminds you to buy stuff. I don’t think consumers really want that. They want to have questions answered. So, you have to be a little sensitive about how you’re using SMS for the long term.

Does Beardbrand use SMS for abandoned cart or welcome series?

Bandholz: No. For SMS, all we do is consultation. But we’re going to test promotional texts soon. We’ve got a new product launch coming up. We may do an SMS campaign to let people know about it. It would probably link straight to the product page, especially mobile.

But your company doesn’t offer a promotional text service?

Hegstad: No. We want to be the best at abandoned checkout recovery.

Bandholz: How do phone numbers work? If I’m a LiveRecover customer, can I pick a phone number for my texts?

Hegstad: There are two types of phone numbers. One’s called a short code, which is essentially a three, zero, three, zero, three, which is a commercial phone number where you can send tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of texts per minute.

There’s another number called a long code, which is a more standard phone number. If you send hundreds of texts per minute from that number, you’ll get flagged by a carrier, which will likely impose a cool-down period when you can’t use the number.

So for LiveRecover, our customers don’t pick their phone number. We do all that for them. But they do get a number that’s used in relation to where the customer is. So if you live in Texas and you abandon cart, you would be getting a text from a Texas number. If you live in Florida, you’d be getting a text from a Florida number. One customer doesn’t have a dedicated number. They’re rotated out in a big pool amongst all our customers.

And, yes, there’s a much better reply rate with a local number because people recognize it.

Bandholz: Does LiveResponse have copycats?

Hegstad: Yes. It’s a bit annoying, but at the end of the day, no one is going to be in first place by chasing the person in front of you. And we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel either. Mailchimp was here when we launched, as was Attentive and SMSBump. Now there’s a slew of competitors. We’re not upset with that. We think, “Good for you guys. You did a great job.”

But when people copy and paste the copy that our team wrote and bid against your keywords on Google, that’s just scummy. I’m cheering for Postscript, for example, which is a competitor. But I’m not cheering for anybody that’s copying and pasting my work.

Bandholz: How can people connect with you and learn more about your company?

Hegstad: is the website. We offer a $500 free trial. You don’t need a credit card to sign up. If you want to talk about SMS or listen to me about life, go to @dennishegstad on Twitter.

The Value of Personalized Marketing for Ecommerce

A well-executed personalized marketing program may resemble person-to-person conversations like those a shopper could experience in a brick-and-mortar retail store.

It is easy to recognize a genuinely good customer experience when you have it.

Imagine you visit a top-notch kitchen boutique in a posh shopping area. The inquisitive associate in the store helps you select an espresso machine, recommends espresso beans, and offers tips for how and when to clean and maintain the machine.

Then, a week later, when you come back into the store, the associate recognizes you, asks about the espresso machine and the beans, and genuinely seems interested in your answers and feelings.

This simple act of remembering who you are — in the sea of customers the associate sees daily — makes you feel like a valued customer. That experience makes you appreciate the store and the associate. So when she asks about your family, what you might be cooking tonight, or if you’ve ever tried a Scanpan CS+ skillet, it feels like a conversation with a trusted advisor, not like a sales pitch.

Photo of a retail store employee

Like an associate asking questions in a store, businesses interested in personalized marketing need to think of data collection as a conversation.

Personalized Marketing

In effect, this conversation is personalized marketing. A textbook would define the term differently. It would say personalized marketing uses data analysis and digital technologies to provide new or prospective customers with individualized messages and product offers.

However, at its core, personalized marketing may be a conversation.

If the conversation doesn’t go well, the customer’s experience can be jarring. If you have ever received an email message from a retailer that starts with the line “Hello %%%FIRST NAME%%%” you understand just how damaging a poor conversation, a poor attempt at personalized marketing can feel.

This same sort of disconnect can happen between an advertising campaign and the transactional emails a customer receives after a purchase. A shopper who is drawn to a retailer because of the latter’s funny ad campaign may notice if it turns out that the brand’s email messages are bland.

The Calm App

“I am going to use one of our customers as an example; [it is] Calm, the meditation app,” said Garin Hobbs, director of deal strategy at Iterable, which makes a growth marketing platform.

“Most app marketers would tend to segment their audience in, probably, fairly broad swaths: those who use it for free; those who’ve seen the value to pay for premium,” Hobbs said, adding that this is not enough. Calm saw engagement rates fall significantly even after customers paid for a subscription. Customers were drawn to Calm from its ad campaigns but then experienced a disconnect.

“So let’s think about what might draw people to a meditation app, like Calm. You’d think meditation is a shared value. But different reasons draw each of us to it.

“One person might do it for stress relief or to reduce anxiety. Another might do it to have an opportunity to step away and unplug for just five minutes every day. It’s just finding that inner peace and the opportunity to come back to the center. That’s very different from stress or anxiety. A third person — such as an athletic-minded person who does a lot of physical training — because of the mental training aspect. A person might come to develop this new sort of intellectual habit. Then there might be a person who is adopting a more new-age lifestyle, and for whatever reason, he feels like meditation is a part of that. Finally, we might have someone looking for ways to feel more fulfilled and relaxed but might feel like meditation is a little crunchy. It’s for people who hide crystals around their house. I’m not really sure if that’s for me,” Hobbs continued.

“So now we have six different people who are all drawn to the common value of meditation,” Hobbs emphasized the word “value” with air quotes as he spoke. “But subjectively, there are vastly different things that drive them here.”

Give and Take

Here is the challenge. Marketers who want to identify what is driving each customer to shop and engage should ask questions like the inquisitive store associate mentioned above.

Some of these questions might come as part of an initial sale when a merchant’s ecommerce software collects a name and address. The give and take of conversation could continue in a welcome series. It might be as simple as asking a shopper if she prefers email messages or text or if she would rather use an app or the mobile web.

This conversation continues with each new purchase and new interaction. It is holistic because the conversation takes place not just in email but on the store’s website and in its app when a customer interacts with a customer service agent.

Ask for Clarification

Once a question is asked, or behavior is observed, it needs to be understood. If the customer’s response or behavior isn’t clear, clarify it.

There is an inherent risk in making a wrong inference. A business could cause the conversation to fizzle or, worse still, alienate a customer.

“If I see that somebody’s entire data history is purchasing men’s clothes, but all of a sudden I see a dress, what’s the significance of that dress?” Hobbs said.

“If we’re using straight inference, I might infer that it is either a gift for somebody else or it’s for themselves. It’s 2020, and we can’t roll the dice on questions like this. That dress could be for the customer, and you need to ask or discover that respectfully — in a way that makes the customer feel safe, that makes the customer feel like a desired part of your brand audience, but it also has to be asked in a way that is very genuine and authentic to brand values,” Hobbs said.

This might mean using polling on a merchant’s website, progressive profiling via email, or other ways to ask for clarification. It is not unlike how a good store associate might try to understand what is really important to a customer and what his or her motivations are.

Leading to Loyalty

“The field of competition for any category of ecommerce retail — goodness, for any category of anything — is extremely dense. The internet has created such an equal opportunity for anybody with an idea … to go out and compete with even the very largest brands. Consumers are absolutely spoiled for choice,” said Hobbs.

“Think about even just a single item, such as a Patagonia puff jacket. I could easily list off a dozen places right now where I could buy that same jacket at the same price and still get things like free overnight shipping. So what’s to draw me to one brand versus the other?”

“The real answer is two-fold: value and experience. And those two qualities are highly subjective. But as we think about how consumers interact with brands, value and experience are usually the qualities that matter. That’s what draws us. That’s what keeps us. It is less about habit and more about the many, many different psychological and physical things that go into loyalty and help create preference.”

An individual’s feelings and preferences influence a subjective view. And one of the best ways a merchant can discover those feelings and preferences is through the give and take of a customer conversation.