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Getting Started with Customer Onboarding: Best Practices, Steps and Definitions

A detailed guide to creating a customer onboarding process, with best practices and examples to help customers achieve success with your product

11 min read

What’s more exciting in a business than acquiring a new customer? The answer is, next to nothing. But winning over a new customer is just the first step in the customer lifecycle because the next, most important, stage is onboarding

For B2B SaaS companies, it’s all about how you treat the customer after the sale. Your goal is to create the right first impression and ensure the user starts realizing immediate value from your product, in order to retain them for the long-haul. 

The onboarding process is a bit like welcoming someone into your home. You usher them over the threshold, show them where to put their shoes, and offer them a cup of coffee. You tell them where to sit down and point out where the bathroom is. 

Customer onboarding is exactly the same except you’re introducing them to your product. You show them where everything is and make sure they have a good time. You want them to leave a satisfied customer and come back again and again to use your product. 

In this article, we talk about the importance of customer onboarding and how you can execute a great onboarding strategy. 

What is customer onboarding? 

Customer onboarding is the process of introducing your customers to your product and showing them how to get set up. It’s the beginning of your customer journey which spans the customer initially signing up for your product through to activation and first use of the product. The idea is that customers realize near-instant value from your product and it becomes an indispensable part of their routine. 

Customer onboarding is part of customer success, and success is defined by what is most important to the customer. Onboarding means the customer feels successful with your product and uses it to achieve their objectives and goals. A thorough onboarding process takes into account what success means to the customer and takes them through the steps that will get them there. 

Customers have a problem and they’ve decided that your product is (hopefully) the solution. It’s your job to justify the decision they made in becoming a customer in the first place by showing them how the product is right for them. 

Why you need customer onboarding?

If you don’t have proper onboarding, many of your customers will just churn and never come back. They will fail to reach that “Aha!” moment with your software and simply stop using it, then the next thing you know they’re canceling their subscription.

Without onboarding, your customers will forget about all the juicy benefits they learned about during the sales process, and fail to see how the product will bring advantages to their life. Forget about using your product - the customer may not even get set up. 

It’s not enough to bring in a new customer and expect them to automatically start using your SaaS. You need helpful resources and materials that guide them through the process effectively and ensure they get set up properly. Customer onboarding is all about fulfilling the promise that your business made to your customer that your product would meet their needs. 

Successful customer onboarding introduces the customer to your brand and shows them what it will be like to have a relationship with your company. Onboarding should be the first step in a long and happy relationship and assure customers that they have made the right decision.

This goes back to the fundamentals of why customer service is important.

What are some of the benefits of customer onboarding?

Improves customer retention

Customers who have been successfully onboarded are more likely to stay with you in the long-term. They continue to derive value from your product and use it as part of their daily routine - they can’t imagine life without it. Onboarding your customers properly reduces the likelihood of churn and encourages them to be more loyal. Acquiring new customers costs five times as much as retaining existing ones, so improving customer retention is vital to your business. 

Raises customer lifetime value

When customers are onboarded properly, this leads to them continuing their subscription for many more months, increasing the customer lifetime value that the business earns from its customers. Onboarding helps you to earn more revenue from each individual customer and counteract the acquisition cost. A 5% increase in customer retention doubles revenue, so it’s well-worth investing in your existing customers. 

Creates happy advocates

When customers are happy with how they have been treated by a company, they are more likely to refer your business to others. You can use word-of-mouth marketing to grow your business and attract even more customers who are keen to try your product. 90% of customers are more likely to trust a recommended brand, even from a stranger, so this is a powerful form of marketing with the potential to draw in valuable new customers. 

Putting together a customer onboarding strategy

You wouldn’t launch a customer onboarding process without investing significant time and effort into developing your strategy. You’ll first need to determine the goal of your onboarding process and identify what success really means to your customers. 

If you start with a goal, you can adjust your plan as you discover more about your customers. As you develop your onboarding strategy, keep your particular customers and product in mind and make sure it covers the following objectives: 

  • Get the customer to use the product at least twice within the first three days
  • Encourage the customer to regularly start using the product
  • Make sure the product becomes an indispensable part of the customer’s routine

Like with any strategy, you have to know where you are going before you can get started. It’s important to gather as much information as possible to give you insight into how you can deliver the best onboarding experience, and marketing and sales are an important source of data on your customers. 

While you have hundreds or thousands of customers, each customer is a unique individual who has only one impression of you. You need to make it count and take the time to ensure that every customer has success with your product. 

Customer onboarding process: steps, examples, best practices

1. Welcome email

After customers first sign up to your service it’s important to send them a welcome email to introduce them to your product. It’s worth taking the time to get this right as customers are extremely likely to read this email. 

Welcome email read rates are 42% higher than the average email, meaning this is your big chance to make contact with your new customer and provide them with essential information. 

Welcome emails should be a positive experience for the customer, where you convey your excitement at having them as a new customer. 

Best practices

  • Show some appreciation - customers have gone out of their way to sign up for your product so the least you can do is say thank you. 
  • Link back to the product - the biggest call-to-action in your welcome email should be a link to log in to your product to get them started. 
  • Keep it short and to the point - you don’t want to overload your customers with information and the aim is to simply introduce them to your product. 
  • Include some help resources - this could be anything from a video demo of your product to help center articles with answers to common questions. 

Team collaboration software Confluence sends its new customers a welcome email letting them know what’s possible with their platform. It includes a prominent call-to-action urging customers to “Get started” and avoids confusing customers with unnecessary information. 

2. First sign in

The time when your customer first logs into your app is their true first impression of your product. You don’t want to leave them wondering what to do or scratching their heads, or they might just log back out again purely to simplify things. 80% of users say they’ve deleted an app because they didn’t know how to use it. 

You should get customers set up and ready to start using your product with a guided tour or set-up wizard. You should provide them with concrete, actionable steps they can take to make your product start working for them. 

Best practices

  • Give your customers a clear direction - you shouldn’t present your customers with an empty screen when they initially log into your product. Provide them with a prompt that shows clearly what steps to take. 
  • Provide early milestones - your customer will be more motivated to use your product if they realize initial value from it. The more they use your product, the better it will be. 
  • Keep it simple - you don’t want to overload your customers with everything your product can do all at once. Show them just enough to get them started. 

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Ecommerce giant Etsy introduces new customers to the platform with a setup wizard that gets them to input all the necessary information needed to launch a new shop. There’s a progress bar that tells customers exactly how far they have to go which also breaks down a complex process.

3. Product tutorial

Then you need a guided tutorial that takes your customer through how to use all the key features of your product. It’s critically important for your customers to learn by doing and understand the full benefits that the product can bring them.

55% of customers have returned a product because they didn’t fully understand how to use it. You can more thoroughly onboard your customers if you teach them about your product. While your product should be intuitively designed enough that customers can discover most features for themselves, a tutorial should speed up the process and ensure customers are getting value right away. 

Best practices 

  • Make the product tutorial optional - some customers may already be familiar with your product if they’ve already used it with another company or watched someone else use it. Don’t force them to go through the setup if they already know what to do.
  • Make it so they can go back to your tutorial later - sometimes customers won’t be interested in completing your tutorial right away so you should provide a simple way for them to come back later. Everyone learns at their own pace. 
  • Offer a way for them to get extra help - it could be that the product tutorial isn’t comprehensive enough for some customers who are interested in learning more. Include the contact information for your support team somewhere obvious so that customers can get in touch. 

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Time-tracking software Toggle takes its new users through a product tutorial that introduces them to all the main features of the product. Toggle makes it possible to skip a step in case users are already familiar with what to do, and tells them how many steps are left to go so users know what to expect. 

4. Documentation

40% of users prefer self-service over human contact. No offense meant to your customer success team, but nearly half of customers will attempt to solve problems on their own rather than reaching out to a human. It’s important to provide a fully-functional, self-service knowledge base to help onboard your new customers and teach them the ins and outs of your product. 

Providing a self-service knowledge base means that customers can learn in their own time and have access to a wealth of information about what makes your product unique. Documentation allows customers to troubleshoot any issues outside of your business’s operating hours and ensures that customers can keep using your product. 

Best practices

  • Make your knowledge base searchable - a prominent search bar provides an easy way for customers to find content in your knowledge base. It’s good to use software that searches the article title and body content so it’s quicker for customers to find relevant information. 
  • Don’t forget to update your documentation - releasing new versions of your product means that all your documentation has to be updated. Don’t leave these updates until the last minute or you’ll run out of time to make the changes. 
  • Share relevant knowledge base articles with your customers - your customers won’t use your self-service knowledge base if they’re not aware of it. Make sure they know about articles that can help them in getting more out of your product. 

Help Scout offers a beautifully-designed, clean and intuitive knowledge base that customers can use to search for informative articles. The search bar is prominently displayed, as is a link to contact their support team in case customers need further help. 

5. Follow-ups

Now you don’t want your customers to think you’ve forgotten about them. Sending a few follow-up emails is key to keeping your customer interacting with your product and learning more about it. 63% of customers say that the level of support they receive post-sale is an important factor in whether they make the decision to buy in the first place, so they’ll appreciate you getting in touch. 

Your welcome email is just the start of your communications with your customer. Your follow-up emails should keep your customers logging back in after that first time and capture their attention. Follow-up emails should be unique to every customer and prompt them to take a new action with the software. 

Best practices 

  • Use this as an opportunity to understand customer hurdles - encourage customers to reply to your emails with any questions they may have so you can personally get them going with using your product. 
  • Include useful suggestions and support - these could be articles on your knowledge base, an introduction to a product’s feature, or anything else. The goal is to give your customers little nuggets of wisdom that keep them logging back into your SaaS. 
  • Keep it short and frequent - restrict your follow-up emails to just one topic per email to avoid overwhelming your customers. Plus, if your email is short then your customer is more likely to read it. 

    Knowledge base software Document360 sends its customers regular emails alerting them to features they can use. This particular email introduces the links status checker which helps them find and fix broken links in their knowledge base. It’s a good way to educate customers on new features of the product and keep them engaged. 

Troubleshooting your customer onboarding process

What do you do if your churn rate starts to rise? You might need to audit the initial onboarding process to look for hurdles that your customers are struggling to overcome. For an existing product process, consider an audit and map the current journey. Identify the points at which customers are churning and see if there are any common themes. 

Sometimes product teams become alienated from the product that they have become so familiar with. Take it upon yourself to take the product for a test drive and see where the “aha moment” is for you. Consider whether the user interface is confusing or overwhelming customers and think about making changes. Screenshot the steps you have to take to onboard so you have a clear picture of the journey your customer is taking. 

If you have it, look at some data to see where the fall happens. You have to get an idea of what actions are completing before they churn and understand the point at which your software is losing customers. Look into Google Analytics, Heap or Mixpanel to understand the metrics that can tell you about customer churn. Track user behaviors that predict long-term success and eliminate moments that prevent users from activating with your product. 

Conduct some competitor research or best in class research to see where your product stacks up. Is there anything you can learn from your competitors that will improve your onboarding process and help customers stick around for longer? 

Spend as much time as you can fine-tuning the onboarding process to ensure you retain as many customers as possible. Look for opportunities for improvement so your customers decide that your product is the right fit for them. 

Who should be involved in the process?

The onboarding process is not just the responsibility of one team. Multiple teams should have a stake in onboarding and be invested to see it being a success. 

Customer success

You should have a customer success team dedicated to helping customers get the most out of your product. They will lead the charge when it comes to encouraging customers to install and configure the product, get properly set up and start using it right away. Customer success proactively contacts the customer and checks that they have everything they need. They take a holistic view of the customer and seek to thoroughly understand their goals and desires, ensuring that the product meets their needs as promised. 

Customer support

Customer support teams are the first port of call for customers when they are experiencing problems. They’ll find it easy to spot if there are any flaws in the onboarding process and be able to feed this back to the product management team. Customer support teams should be aware of how the onboarding process works in case they need to assist customers with it. They deal with customers on a case-by-case basis without necessarily taking into account the full context of the customer’s experience with the product. 

Product management and development

Product management and development can bring their expertise on the product to bear on the onboarding process and help ensure it is the best it can be. They are a font of information regarding how the product should be used and the steps customers need to take to realize value from it. They can also gather feedback on how customers are actually using the product to find improvements that will make it more intuitive and user-friendly. 

Live chat

Onboarding specialists use live chat to communicate with customers who are going through the onboarding process. It provides an immediate way for specialists to find out if there are any problems and head them off before customers start considering cancellation. If a customer cancels their subscription, the team can send them a message to try to re-engage them and see if they will return to the product. 


Cobrowsing technology like RemoteHQ allows you to collaborate within a product so your onboarding team can train new customers in using the software. It’s an alternative to screen sharing that allows multiple participants to control an application, all within the browser. They can click, scroll and type during the session and all without downloading any software. 

Make use of video

Customers are much more likely to engage with video when it comes to your user onboarding. 97% of customers think video is an effective tool to welcome and educate new customers. Customers are relieved when they have access to a video that helps set them up for success with the product and the fact that it’s only four minutes long. 

Shorten your messaging

While an onboarding process should be in-depth and thorough, the actual messaging you use should be short and to the point in order to keep your customer’s attention. A customer is much more likely to complete a product tour that is three steps long rather than one that is six steps long. If you have long product tours, the customer is likely just to click through to the end without learning anything. 

Allow customers to onboard at their own speed

Customers will appreciate you giving them the freedom to take the product tour in their own team instead of forcing them to go through a rigid onboarding process. Allow customers to dismiss walkthroughs, tutorials, and tours but keep the information available for them to access when they want to. Some customers may be interested in just playing around with your software at first and want to save the tour until later. 


Your customer onboarding process is your chance to make an excellent first impression on your customer with your product. How you treat your customer during this critical period sets expectations for how your company will behave during the customer’s entire journey with your brand, so it’s important to get this right. 

Customer onboarding covers the period between first signup, first use of your product, repeated use and then leads into customer retention. Without onboarding, customers may fail to see the full value in your product and then churn, a scenario that you want to avoid at all costs. 

Not only is customer onboarding important for your company, it’s also a feature of your product that customers expect. How they are treated after the sale is a critical factor in whether customers are going to choose your product in the first place - it’s a chance for you to differentiate yourself from your competitors.