Table of Contents
What is Customer Onboarding?
Customer onboarding is the process of introducing customers to a new product or service and guiding them through its features, benefits, and overall experience. Companies onboard customers to set reasonable expectations, educate them on how to properly use it, and ultimately increase user adoption and success with the product.
Depending on the business and its offering, customer onboarding may include:
- Live demos and product tours
- In-depth documentation
- Support forums and Q&A sessions
- Tutorials and walkthroughs
- Training courses and webinars
The sales process doesn’t end when a new customer signs the dotted line or completes a payment. It’s only halfway done. A sale is only complete when a customer is up to speed and can use a new product with autonomy.
The sales team usually carries out the actual selling and deal closing. Customer success teams typically take over the onboarding process. However, smaller companies will typically have a single team or individual responsible for both.
- New customer onboarding
- User onboarding
- SaaS onboarding
Importance of Effective Customer Onboarding
A solid customer onboarding program eliminates confusion and frustration, builds trust, and helps customers become productive with a product quickly. It can also help your support team reduce the number of customer inquiries. It’s the recipe for success in an ongoing relationship.
Nine in 10 customers say they’d spend more with a company that provides a personalized customer service experience. Onboarding is the very first touchpoint between customer success reps and customers. It sets the tone for future interactions.
Revenue retention — growth within the existing customer base — is one of the most important types of revenue growth. A good customer onboarding program increases customer loyalty. The end result is a steady stream of customers who remain with your business.
As they grow their businesses, they’ll add on new users, find they need more products, and upgrade to pricier plans. That’s how companies achieve net revenue retention over 100%.
Reduces Churn Rate
According to a study from Salesforce, 70% of customers say onboarding is a critical deciding factor in whether a business wins (and keeps) their business. And who could blame them?
If they can’t get what they want out of a product, they aren’t going to start or continue spending money on it. If the customer churn rate is too high, one of the first places businesses should look is their onboarding procedures.
Reduces Customer Support Costs
Every time a current customer sends through a support ticket, it takes time and resources to fix. Many times, these tickets are for simple problems like incorrectly using a feature, rather than a technical issue.
With an onboarding program in place, customers learn how to use the product with ease (and confidence). In successful customer onboarding, the number of tickets related to basic user errors drops almost to zero.
Improves Customer Experience
When a company’s onboarding process is successful, customers complete it with a positive impression of the product and its team. In addition to helping them get the most out of the product, it improves the customer experience from a human perspective.
In addition to providing help content and access to customer support reps when needed, welcoming and helping new customers can help them uncover hidden value in a product. During sales demos, reps have limited time to demonstrate the software, so they choose the most important features to close on. Onboarding is a more comprehensive way to get customers up and running with the product.
New Customer Onboarding Challenges
Customer onboarding, although important, isn’t without its challenges.
Automation and Scalability
Many rely on automated customer onboarding programs to efficiently expand their operations and meet growing demands. Automation definitely has its perks, like smoother processes and increased efficiency.
But let’s not forget, there are limits to automation:
- The lack of personalized attention with automated systems compared to interacting with real humans
- Less context throughout the customer onboarding process
- Potential confusion without someone to guide customers through the onboarding process
- Customer abandonment or disengagement with lengthy digital onboarding processes
While customer onboarding software can do wonders for scalability, companies need to find a balance and make sure customers feel valued and connected throughout the onboarding journey.
Time and Resources
Customer onboarding is a lengthy and resource-intensive journey. Onboarding a new corporate client can take as long as 100 days. And it’s not just about creating content. It’s about ensuring customers truly grasp the ins and outs of the product or service. That means long conversations, countless demos, and hands-on product support.
Even enterprise companies have limited resources to some extent. If teams that handle onboarding tasks are overburdened, they might end up making mistakes or disengaging with the new customer.
Unclear Instructions and Documentation
Businesses often overlook the importance of hiring quality tech writers to create their onboarding materials and documentation. Some users will be tech-savvy. Some won’t. Unless most of the information is communicable to all, widespread adoption is unlikely.
It’s also worth noting that some organizations fail to create product documentation altogether. With only an onboarding call or webinar to rely on, customers are left to remember all the notes they took (and contact support when they can’t figure something out).
When the customer onboarding experience is more a source of internal stress and frustration than a real help to customers, it’s not doing its job. Every minute that occurs, the chance of customer attrition increases.
Of course, technical issues are always a possibility, even with a perfectly-executed customer onboarding strategy
Technical problems can happen with any kind of software. These issues are particularly common when companies overly rely on automation without thoroughly checking their processes for errors and bugs.
During customer onboarding, experiencing downtime, incorrect data entry, and other technical challenges can eventually result in losing customers. To prevent this from happening, QA testing should be a focal point of product and customer success teams.
Customer Onboarding Process Best Practices
Onboarding is one of the most important parts of the customer journey because it sets the stage for their overall product experience. Let’s take a look at a few best practices that create long-term loyal customers.
Create an Onboarding Checklist
The first thing every company should do is create a standardized checklist for onboarding. It should include:
- An introduction to customer success reps
- A product tour or demo
- Guidelines for resolving technical issues
- System implementation and deployment
- Hands-on product orientation and best practices tips
- Setup with customer support channels/resources
- Tips on how to further engage with the product (e.g., webinars, live meetings)
Keep it Short and Simple
Don’t bombard customers with tons of steps or loads of information all at once. Instead, break down the onboarding process into smaller tasks and present them step-by-step. The quicker customers can finish the onboarding, the less likely they’ll lose interest and give up.
For example: instead of presenting users a 15-point checklist, break it into three 5-point checklists and spread them out over the course of weeks. That way, they can solidify their understanding of each component and gradually build on their knowledge.
Provide a Seamless Experience
Ensure that each part of the customer onboarding experience is easy to understand and navigate through. This means providing clear instructions with in-app guidance, unified content, and help resources (like videos, FAQs, and tutorials).
Focus on Product Value
Perceived value plays a major role in the purchase journey, and it’s a significant driver of customer retention. On one hand, a company wouldn’t make it to onboarding a new customer unless the customer saw value in the product. On the other, that value can dwindle quickly.
To focus on value, consider the following:
- Explain product features clearly
- Highlight the advantages of each feature
- Showcase how customers can benefit from them
- Give examples of customer success stories
- Point out quick wins and tangible results
Another essential part of highlighting value is sending (and creating in the first place) the right content to new buyers. Blog posts, video tutorials, and eBooks can help customers stay engaged with the product and learn how to use business-critical features.
Throughout the process, it helps to create a feedback loop. Contiuously benchmark the status of customer onboarding through surveys, one-on-one conversations, and usage analytics.
In the case of B2B SaaS companies, which often sell products to entire teams, it also helps to have conversations with the product’s heaviest users, which may not be the decision-makers or team leaders. For example, a sales executive might be the primary point of contact for the product, but the team of 20+ sales reps would be the ones using it every day.
It’s common for those in charge of onboarding to overlook lower-level team members, but they’re main concerns when it comes to user adoption. If they’re less productive, nobody in the company will benefit.
Offer Interactive Training
The easiest way to offer interactive training is to build it into the product. For software products, it’s as simple as creating guided user flows with popups each time the backend registers a first-time user.
Companies should also offer intuitive digital onboarding modules to help new users understand the intricacies of the product. Interactive training can also come in the form of webinars, conference calls, and other types of live support.
Use a Knowledge Base
Take the most common customer queries and create a central repository for them. Creating a knowledge base saves customers time and helps support teams handle more complex questions.
A well-built, user-friendly information repository can also be integrated with customer onboarding processes to provide instantaneous help. For example, an onboarding email with product use information could contain hyperlinks to relevant how-tos that add further context.
To extend the value of a central repository, adding an AI chatbot to the website can help companies resolve low-level customer queries without getting a team member involved. Rather than reaching out to customer success, a struggling customer can click through a few canned responses and find info they’re looking for without much effort.
Follow Up With New Users
Whether it’s through email, chat, or phone calls, it’s important to reach out to customers after onboarding and ask for feedback. Check in with them a week and a month after they’ve been given access to the product.
If there are any unresolved issues, followup gives the business the opportunity to fix them before they become a bigger problem. Customers should also have the chance to provide feedback on their onboarding experience or ask any lingering questions they might have.
Leverage Onboarding Tools
Onboarding tools are the perfect way to streamline the onboarding process and ensure customer satisfaction. From email auto-responders to learning management systems, there are a variety of tools that can help teams quickly get new customers up and running.
- Email — Use email automation to send drip campaigns with product tutorials, walkthroughs, discount codes, and other onboarding-related content.
- Learning management system (LMS) — Create interactive courses with detailed video lessons and tests to assess understanding. Larger companies with complex products build their own, but there are plenty of third-party LMSs to choose from.
- Guided onboarding workflows — Use a product-focused tool like Appcues, Pendo, or Chameleon to create visually appealing onboarding flows within the app itself.
Customer Onboarding Metrics to Watch
Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)
Customer lifetime value (CLV) measures the total amount of revenue a customer generates for your business over the entire duration of their relationship with your company. An increase in CLV a year after implementing an onboarding program would be an indicator of the program’s success.
Time to Value (TTV)
Time to value (TTV) represents the time it takes for a new customer to realize the value or see the benefits from using a product or service after purchase. In other words, it’s the span from the moment of purchase to when the customer achieves their first significant result or ‘aha’ moment with the product.
A shorter TTV implies a more efficient and effective onboarding process. Since all products have varying complexity, it’s a subjective metric. A company should examine its own and work to improve it per its customer’s needs.
Customer churn is a direct indicator of lackluster onboarding. If customers are leaving at relatively high rates, something is almost always being left on the table during onboarding.
It’s important to keep an eye on the churn rate for any trends or sudden spikes, especially if it’s higher than the industry average. Aside from involuntary churn, most causes of customer attrition (e.g., poor fit for the product, bad customer experience) are easily identifiable in a hands-on onboarding process.
Net Promoter Score (NPS)
Net promoter score (NPS) measures how likely customers are to refer other potential customers to a company. Generally, companies with higher NPS scores have an easier time retaining existing customers and gaining new ones through word-of-mouth referrals.
By regularly surveying users during the onboarding process, customer success teams can gain insight into what customers think of their business, products, and services. Post-onboarding surveys can help them understand what the company missed during onboarding.
Knowing how likely a customer is to refer another to the company is one thing. But how many actually are?
Word of mouth is one of the most powerful sales tools. The number of hot leads coming in through referrals is a good indicator of how happy customers are with the product. If they’re using the product as they’re supposed to, you can chock it up to good onboarding practices.
Reviews of current and past customers are perhaps the clearest indicators of onboarding success. Not only do they give a concise summary of customer experience, but they also act as an indirect marketing tool for businesses that want to attract new customers (if they’re positive).
Use a social listening tool to capture keywords and trends in how your customers perceive your product. You can use this information to address common challenges during customer onboarding.
People Also Ask
What is a customer onboarding checklist?
A customer onboarding checklist is a document that lists the tasks and activities associated with bringing on new customers. It should include everything from gathering customer information to training customers on how to use the product or service.
What is the difference between user onboarding and customer onboarding?
User onboarding and customer onboarding are often used interchangeably. User onboarding primarily refers to the onboarding process (e.g., tutorials, interactive content) within a software product. Customer onboarding typically describes the entire engagement process from sign-up to post-sale activities (for any product or service).
Who is responsible for customer onboarding?
Large companies typically have a dedicated customer success team that handles onboarding. In startups, sales team members usually handle it. Multiple teams within an organization might be involved in customer onboarding depending on the size and structure of the business.