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The Ultimate guide to Customer Onboarding

What is Customer Onboarding

It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped

Tony Robbins


Onboarding

The decisions that you make for customer onboarding set the tone for a customer’s future with your business.

Sounds logical, right? Once you convert your leads into paying customers, the next step is to welcome them to join your business. Customer Onboarding refers to the process that clients go through when they commence their journey with your company. 

The whole customer onboarding process is challenging. This guide will teach you everything from the definition of customer onboarding to creating a successful onboarding strategy!

Why is Customer Onboarding so important for SaaS businesses?

Major reasons for customer churn are either:

  1. * They don’t understand your product/service, and/or
  2. * They don’t gain any value from it.

Customer onboarding can resolve both of these issues. SaaS onboarding comes to foray any time a customer is new to your platform. 

The whole idea behind customer onboarding is to ensure that your customers are engaged and they use your product for as long as possible. It is the nourishing process that gets new users familiarized with your product. 

How you onboard your new customers determines your ongoing relationship with them. It also improves customer lifetime value (LTV), decreases churn, and turns new users into advocates of your brand.

If you still don’t see its importance then please check out the following stats. These should give you an idea of how crucial customer onboarding is to your business.

  • * Most of the SaaS firms lose 75% of their new users within the first week.
  • * 40 to 60% of free trial users will use your product once and never come back.
  • * More than two-thirds of SaaS companies experience churn rates greater than 5%.
  • * Most revenue comes from existing customers.
  • * Happy customers become your top referral sources.
  • * Customer retention reduces acquisition costs (CAC) and increases revenue.

You know about the Pareto principle, right? 

The Gartner Group studied that 80% of the company’s future income can come from 20% of the existing customers. However, it’s unfortunate that B2B companies put only 20% of their marketing efforts towards customer retention. 

In other words, user onboarding is vital to customer retention and, in turn, your business growth.

What is customer onboarding Strategy

If your business customer base has a high amount of churn, then you may have to reconsider how to approach your customer onboarding strategy.

Customer Onboarding Strategy

Ensuring that clients have a great experience, right from onboarding them and providing a satisfactory journey to the ultimate point of retaining them, is a demanding task. 

You wouldn’t onboard a customer without first creating an onboarding strategy; as without a roadmap, it would be difficult to know where to go next. You have to establish a goal and a plan. 

Check out the 3 Onboarding Strategies to Spur User Adoption and Empower Customers!

It’s should be realized that customer onboarding is neither a one-time process nor a standalone process. It should be made an ongoing process. As and when new features are released for your product, the process or the strategy should be revised, and re-designed. 

Let us understand some of the strategies which are adopted by many SaaS companies to streamline their onboarding process. 

Listen to your customer 

Both, you and your customer, need to have clarity on what the product/service can offer. Create specific buyer personas to understand the issues customers are facing, the problems they might have in setting up their accounts, and even their greater motivations. This will help you create a meaningful journey for each customer. 

Understand parameters of the onboarding cycle

A recent survey from Harvard Business Review says an increased focus on onboarding achieves a crucial impact over the lifetime of the product.

Create a must-follow, step-wise customer onboarding process that constitutes the following elements (explained in detail later).

Simple sign-up

Welcome email/call

Product walkthrough

Documentation

Check-up calls

Notifications

Data Import

Excellent Customer Service

Competitor Analysis

Explore your competitor’s content and capabilities before designing your customer onboarding process. This will be a nice strategy if you can reach out to your competitor’s support team to evaluate how they are onboarding their customers. Try signing up for free trials of the rival firm’s product and figure out what they’re doing differently. 

The Sign-up process- first milestone

Better to have an easy and simple product sign-up process for users. It will help them easily finish their registration and start using your SaaS product/service. A 2-step sign-up process for collecting basic level user info with an email verification process could get you more customers to onboard.

Not all the features at once

Okay, you might be tempted to showcase all of your product’s features once they sign-up. However, there is no point in introducing all the features at once, just to display your product strength. Since the new users can’t process them just right at their first interaction with the product, it will be intelligent to rather introduce the core feature first. 

Customer Support

Train your customer support team on every product feature and release, so they can handle all sorts of technical and functional doubts from customers. Hence, round-the-clock support services must be an essential part of your onboarding strategy. 

Build loyalty

Studies have shown that successful customer onboarding will ensure long-term customer loyalty. Gaining customer trust is one of the most critical priorities of any SaaS company and this helps in building a loyal customer base. 

What are customer onboarding best practices


Proper onboarding isn’t done to prevent churn; it’s done to ensure the customer achieves their desired outcome. Retention comes from that.

-Lincoln Murphy


Put the following principles into action and see the clarity with which you’ll identify gaps in your system. If identified correctly, it will solve most of your onboarding issues. 

Who will own the onboarding process?

Right customer onboarding is one of the important factors in determining whether the customer will be successful or not as the highest churn happens during the onboarding process.

Onboarding is complete when the customer achieves an early value. That is time the customer goes WOW and starts believing in the potential of your product.

Since many CSMs have to manage so many customers, they would not be able to properly onboard the new customers. This is where Onboarding Specialists play a crucial role Since their only job is to properly onboard the customer they’re able to help the customer achieve an early goal. Onboarding specialists make sure that they are always available to handhold the customer in case of any difficulties.

Understand why your SaaS might need an onboarding specialist?

Onboarding can be done by a customer success manager (CSM), an onboarding specialist, or some other department (sales, support, etc) depending on the specific requirements.

The key here is to identify the person/team who will be managing the onboarding. 

Pro tip: Who should manage customer onboarding in a SaaS company? 

Identify your product goals

This is relevant because each company is different. The goals, teams, customers, their desired outcomes will be unique. By creating onboarding goals, your team has a clear path in building the same for your customers. The important point to note here is you need to identify exactly what is your goal! 

Determine how customer onboarding will take place

There are, mainly, 3 onboarding models. Pick one based on the profile of your customers and the complexity of your service. 

Model Characteristic
Self-service model This model allows customers to onboard themselves at their own pace. Ideal for small businesses with B2C products.
Low-touch model This model, generally, involves chat support and automated email campaigns, but not dedicated success managers. Good for SaaS businesses with a little complex product.
High-touch model It provides meticulous and diligent service of customer onboarding. This often includes customized onboarding strategies and a dedicated customer success team. It is suited for large SaaS companies with a huge customer base.

They need to understand customer expectations is important if you want to confirm which model would suit your customers the best. As you recognize their desired outcomes, you’ll develop a clearer sense of which model of onboarding they’ll need.

Measure onboarding success

Onboarding success must be measured by relevant metrics which assist you in monitoring onboarding red flags and thus make modifications as needed. 

The best approach to carry out this exercise is to collate data from multiple metrics. This will give you a holistic picture of your customers’ behaviors.

Stay in constant contact with customers

Continue using email and chat support throughout the onboarding process in addition to the tutorials and guides. At this point, email is probably your customer’s preferred channel of communication.  

Your intention with every interaction is to create a similar positive experience that made your customers sign up in the first place. 

Set Clear expectations

Expectations aren’t easy to understand. It is a tough and demanding process that requires a strong focus. Understand that one size does not fit all. You have to first understand your customer. Once you do that, it will be a cakewalk for you to set the process accordingly. 

Create customer-centric goals

Customers have their objectives to achieve and they’ll be unique to every everyone of them. Let them define success, then help them create quantifiable milestones to get there with touchstones to hit along the way.

Avoid Customer Onboarding Drop-offs

Most of us face this, sometimes more so if your product is solving a complex problem and requires some education and learning at the customer’s end. 

Know more about Customer Onboarding- How to prevent drop-offs. 

Pro tip: Do check out the Secrets of successfully onboarding a B2B SaaS Customer

How do I onboard a new SaaS client?

Customer Onboarding entails the process of proactively tutoring your new customers through your product to get them started and stay engaged. 

Your goal, here, is to empower your customer by providing them with all the possible resources to onboard them. You need to pick and choose which tools and channels suit you and your customers. 

You can follow these 5 Steps to defining a perfect Customer Onboarding process for a SaaS Customer.

Onboarding a new SaaS client

If your firm just gained a new B2B customer, an unwavering focus on performance in  the first days or weeks of serving that customer can boost the LTV of the relationship.

Here are the main elements of a user or customer onboarding you should focus on: it et us

1. Signup

You don’t want your potential clients to quit even before they sign up, right? Well, then ask only for relevant information. This will make the process simple and easy. 

  • * Avoid lengthy and infuriating procedures which have the power to drive away prospective customers. 
  • * Go that extra mile to offer customers multiple options to sign-up. Social buttons and CTAs are a great way to push the customer to sign-up.

2. Welcome Email

This is your first contact or touch-point after the customer signed up with your product/service. Congratulate them on choosing your product along with introducing yourself. This is not the right time to bombard them with too much information as it will overwhelm them. 

A few elements to include in your welcome emails: 

  • * Congratulate and thank them. 
  • * Keep the information crisp and simple. 
  • * Offer resource materials such as blog content or video tutorials for them to access.

3. Kick-off call

Once you’ve sent the welcome email, now you need to have a call with the customer to agree that both parties are on the same page with regards to the product expectations. You can discuss what the onboarding process will be like and what the expected timeline will be.

4. Product Guides or Tutorials

Once they have signed up, you need to create a guided tutorial to take them through the setup process, step by step. Tutorials are an important component of an onboarding process, especially if you have a product with tons of features.

These guides are kind of an interactive walkthrough because the user gets to interact with you at each stage of the process. 

Product guides & tutorials are there to support your users during their whole journey with you. A few things to note:

  • * Ensure the tutorials are skippable.
  • * Make it easy for customers to come back to it later when they desire.
  • * Create an “in-app” learning center. 

5. Documentation/Educational emails

This is a little self-help sort of a section. Documentation is a resource pool in itself. Customers can come and educate themselves if they feel stuck at any point before they reach out to you for help. 

Educational emails, from your end, can be sent to the customers as an additional touchpoint, It can include information about the next step, a little guidance, etc.  The following points, about documentation, can make a great impression:

  • * Easy accessibility
  • * Knowledge support
  • * Simple to understand 

6. Check-up calls

This can have a significant impact on the overall onboarding experience of your customers. Why? Because it makes your customers feel valued. 

A quick call or chat with your customer goes a long way in making his/her journey with your business remarkable! Feedback received in time is definitely worth the effort put in. 

Next time, don’t hesitate to simply pick up the phone and connect. 

7. In-App messaging and notifications

Sending timely notifications to customers has a huge impact on the onboarding experience. This is the best way to re-engage the customers who’ve been disengaged with your offering for a while. Critical things to note:

  • * Find a balance between sending timely notifications and spamming. 
  • * Don’t overload information at a time.
  • * Ensure that the user has an option to choose the frequency of notifications as it suits them. 

8. Data Import

Most of the B2B tools require customers to integrate their data with other third-party applications to optimize their usage.

In such cases, customers need to import their data to be able to connect with other systems. This could be a major blocker in the onboarding process. 

Making it easy for customers to connect their data without much hassle will help them see value in your product.

9. Mini Celebrations

Celebrate as and when your customers achieve their important milestones. This will make them feel valued, appreciated, and make them happy. 

The celebration can be in the form of a congratulatory email, in-app notification, or a quick call.No no, metric, no trick, nothing is as important for you as a happy customer! 

10. Excellent customer service

This element needs no introduction. One of the important building blocks to support the strength of your product in the SaaS industry is your customer service/support. Ensure your support teams are available round the clock with email support and call services, live chat to provide uninterrupted customer interactions. 

Bonus tip: How can the right onboarding process increase the renewal rate?

What are SaaS onboarding KPIs

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it

                  – Peter F Drucker

SaaS onboarding KPI

Most of the SaaS products start as a trial version, but most of the customers drop off or quit after the trial period ends. Hence, you need to ensure the best product experience to customers in their first trial itself! Now, this is where the impact of onboarding can be significant. 

Check out the 4 customer onboarding metrics for SaaS companies

Churn Rate

Customers who do not use your product regularly may have decided to stop using it as it doesn’t feel worthy! In other words, it is the rate of customers that cease their relationship with a company. The more indispensable you can make your product, the lower your churn rate will be.

Completion Rate

The rate indicates the number of people completing the onboarding process. A low number may indicate a complex, lengthy and annoying signup process. Once you know the problem, you can work on a solution.

Completion Time

Similar to the metric mentioned above, completion time indicates the time taken by the customers to complete the onboarding process. 

Time to Value

It is sort of ROI. The time or steps or clicks taken by a customer to obtain value from your product. Effective onboarding can help users achieve this value sooner.

Usage Time

This metric shows how long do the users use your application after being onboarded. Lower usage time may indicate that the customers do not derive any benefit from your product. A check-up call or an in-app message or notification might help get the users back on track.

Daily Active Users

No need to expand on this. The higher the number, the better your product is. This number should be growing, otherwise, you may need to re-energize your marketing efforts.

What are SaaS Onboarding Software characteristics?

Turning new customers into promoters of your product is a great way to keep your customers paying and improving the possibility of making upgrades, upsells, etc. Adopting a user onboarding software can help you do just that.

No need for technical knowledge

You are selecting a user onboarding tool because you don’t want to automate the process. The tool that you are going to pick should be uncomplicated and anyone from any department in your firm should be able to create and edit tutorials as they see appropriate.

Customized experiences for users

A user might have a different language, might have unique requirements, might be a different type of user in your websites with different permissions. The user onboarding tool, you pick, should allow the owner to choose what will work and what will not for different users. Personalization is a trait that should not be compromised upon as it can break or make your impression on users.

Optimal utilization of Onboarding elements

One of the great advantages to using an onboarding tool is that they offer ample features to make your job easy!. Checklists, Tooltips, Hotspots, Surveys, and Help Centers are some of the different features that help you optimally utilize various onboarding elements.

Ability to fully customize every element to suit your product

Every element in the onboarding process is important and personalization of each element is necessary to create a successful experience for users. The tool which can give this option, of course, ranks higher in terms of choice.

Guides and Tutorials accessibility

Customers need the help of guides and tutorials to understand the application or the product clearly. They should have access to the same as and when needed. 

Access to in-depth analytics to measure performance

Data is the most important tool that gives you the measure of your product’s performance. Hence, it is vital for the tool that uses contain the analytics which provides you with the relevant data. 

What is a SaaS Onboarding Framework

In the hyper-competitive SaaS world, no matter how high your growth is, if you are unable to control your churn rate, it is difficult for your company to sustain. 

Customer Onboarding is nurturing your new customers, cultivating their friendship,   and getting them acquainted with your product/service. This involves active guidance, user-friendly tutorials, and a great support system. 

Value

The whole purpose of customer onboarding is to get your customer accustomed to the product/service which you’re offering. Hence, it is important to emphasize the value it will bring to the table for the customer. 

It becomes tricky here because different customers buy the same product for different reasons.

Once you know what value your customers are looking for, you need to find the shortest path to help them reach their goals as soon as possible. Hence, we need to ensure that each feature that we train our customer on is crucial to reach the goal

Treat your customers as your friends

Yes, you read that right. This friendly approach of yours is going to take you a long way in your customer relationship journey. The earlier mentioned components of a customer onboarding checklist will help you with this approach. 

Overcome Communication challenges

You want your customer to come back to you to re-purchase the product., right? 

After your welcome email, you must continue the bond through several other touch-points. This will help you to be in constant touch with your customer and any proactive support will ensure customer loyalty.

Usually, communications can be very challenging in any organization, and many

times what the customer wants at one level is not what they need at another. Hence, consistent and productive communication is imperative to resolve this recurring issue. 

Customer-Onboarding-Framework.

Pro tip: Designing a Customer Onboarding Framework for B2B SaaS

You can download a custom-made Onboarding Framework for your onboarding process. 


Does your business need a Customer Success Onboarding Checklist?

Out of all the post-sales functions, customer onboarding is one of the critical functions that decides how fast your company will grow.

No matter how good your product or your sales team is if the customer is unable to gain value during onboarding, s/he is likely to churn.

Thus, to make sure that you provide proper onboarding, it is important to have a customer onboarding checklist.

A customer onboarding checklist will make sure that you don’t fail to recall anything as you welcome your new customers onboard. 

The checklist should contain the components of the onboarding process based on your product features and your business goals. Remember to consider the following points when creating your onboarding checklist. 

  • * Simple, Easy, and In-built Processes
  • * Checklists for measuring progression
  • * In-depth documentation to support the guides and tutorials
  • * Start with simple and achievable tasks
  • * Easy to access Support system

Pro tip: Why is it important to have a Customer Onboarding Checklist?


How to optimize your Customer Onboarding Experience

Businesses that optimize customer onboarding are more likely to encourage customer retention and brand loyalty. Let us understand the following points and know how to optimize your onboarding experience. 

 

  • * Ensure you’ve established goals and target the right customers.
  • * Gather, Understand and Adjust customer needs
  • * Optimize communications and welcome emails
  • * Create your onboarding process
  • * Celebrate Early Successes
  • * Choose the right tool for your onboarding process
  • * Thoughtful documentation
  • * Collating feedback to revise and upgrade strategies

Onboarding vs Implementation

Customer Onboarding is the most important phase which has the potency to make or break your relationship with the customer. Hence success managers have a strong focus on the same. 

Implementation, of your product or platform into the customer’s business, is just part of the onboarding process. It is most probably the biggest part and often the most complex but it is still a piece of the bigger pie.

Implementation is a specific, “technical” part of the onboarding process. In some cases, an implementation may require engineers or solution architects that would work alongside the CSMs. 

The key takeaway is that you can easily get lost in the implementation phase but forget that you’re onboarding people, which is an entirely different skill.​

 Onboarding vs Training?

What a lot of people don’t seem to understand is the difference between onboarding and training, as they are not the same thing.

Customer Onboarding is welcoming new customers, whereas training is to teach the new users about the product features. One of the best-kept secrets has been that you need to onboard your customers much before you train all the users. 

Bonus tip: Can customer onboarding replace the training process?

Conclusion

Customer Onboarding if done correctly can be a game-changer for you and your business. Onboarding is your customer’s first hands-on experience with your products, so it needs to be a positive one. This is the reason why we’ve come up with such an exhaustive guide on customer onboarding. 

Although creating a customer onboarding strategy is critical, it’s won’t work if you don’t have a reliable customer success manager (CSM) or an onboarding specialist to run the entire process. Check out our 10 Interview Questions to hire the best Customer Success Manager (CSM) to build a customer-centric onboarding team.

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