Four Challenges of Customer Data Onboarding and How To Fix Them

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A poor data onboarding experience has repercussions. Here's a look at the challenges of data onboarding and how you can solve them.

According to a data onboarding survey that Flatfile recently conducted, 23% of software companies state that it can take weeks or months to import customer data, and 96% reported that they have run into problems while doing so.

Importing CSV files isn’t enjoyable for the customers prepping them, for the developers building the import function, or for the customer service and success teams fielding constant data import questions.

CRMs, ERPs, product lifecycle management software, and inventory management software are just a few of the many software categories that necessitate data importing. Without customer data, they’re useless. Unfortunately, importing customer data into these software tools is easier said than done. Furthermore, a poor data onboarding experience has repercussions.

If an enterprise software provider lacks simple and effective data import capabilities, customer frustration and churn could be the result. Companies typically waste precious time and resources having internal teams format spreadsheet errors, fix validation problems, and generally wrangle spreadsheets on behalf of their customers who are simply trying to import their data.

The Challenges of Data Onboarding for Software Products


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?

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.


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 knowledge-base, 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?


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 customer 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, tend user here’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.


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.

Solving the Challenges: A Build Versus Buy Decision for Importing Data

Your engineering and product teams are busy building out new features that matter to your customers and fixing bugs for critical functionality. Building a data importer that will actually fix the problem instead of adding new issues, is not typically part of their sprint.

When companies build their own data importers in house, the inevitable occurs:

  • The team can’t give a data importer the full attention it deserves so they’re likely to produce something that isn’t intuitive for customers to use and doesn’t offer clear troubleshooting steps when an import fails. Data onboarding, remains unsolved.
  • Maintaining a data importer requires ongoing work. Once a data importer is built, there needs to be dedicated resources to update, fix and add new features to the importer. In this scenario, data onboarding is addressed, but at the expense of the team’s resources.

There is, however, another option. Flatfile is bringing innovation to data onboarding with two B2B products, Portal and Concierge.

Flatfile Portal is the elegant import button for web apps, and offers an intuitive data import experience in minutes. Portal guides customers through a modernized import wizard to ingest, validate, and transact critical business data.

Flatfile Concierge offers no-code, collaborative workspaces for onboarding data. Concierge enables B2B companies to request data from partners, vendors, and customers in minutes. No more emailing spreadsheets back and forth, or fumbling with FTP uploads.

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Eric Crane
COO at Flatfile
Eric Crane
COO at Flatfile

Eric Crane is the Co-founder and COO at Flatfile, whose mission is to remove barriers between humans and their data. Hundreds of enterprises use Flatfile’s data onboarding platform to aggregate, import, and normalize data from disparate and variant sources. Previously, Eric was the first product lead at Envoy, helping thousands of workplaces create delightful office experiences. Other prior work experiences include RentPath, FullStory, RelateIQ, ProsumerGrid, Crimson Hexagon, and Epic. Eric received his BBA from Emory University and received his MBA from Georgia Tech. He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.