How Simplifying Your Onboarding Process Helps with Customer Retention

User Onboarding

What is an onboarding process?  Onboarding processes are traditionally used by companies to help new hires acclimate to their jobs quickly, but the term has also been adopted by online service companies to describe teaching new customers how to be successful using their platforms, tools, and apps.

Never before has onboarding been more important to revenue than now, especially in subscription-based services.


A customer who doesn’t use your product isn’t going to keep paying for your product.

But, this means the converse is also true.

This is where a swift and simple onboarding process can make the difference between keeping clients and losing customers. Think of it this way, your onboarding process has three tasks:

  1. Teach the user how your product works.
  2. Teach the user to be successful with your product.
  3. Engage the user so he or she will return.

Your onboarding process map

A very simple new customer onboarding process may look like this. In an easy walkthrough, it takes new customers from the login page to the projects page and shows them the Help feature. And, if your product is relatively simple, that’s all you need. However, if your product has multiple capabilities, as so many do, you’ll need to think carefully about how to structure your onboarding process.

The object of the game is to avoid boring or confusing the customer. If you commit either of these cardinal sins, they won’t stick around long enough to learn your software or use your tools. This means that even if your product is the most utilitarian thing in the world, less fun than an Excel spreadsheet circa 1989, your onboarding process should be as engaging as it is easy.


How can you create an engaging onboarding process?

  • By presenting information in a clear, entertaining and interactive way.

And most importantly,

  • By identifying what the user needs to know.

If your app or software only has one function, your job is easy. They wouldn’t have bought it if it didn’t do something they needed. But, if, like Excel, your software can be used for a number of tasks, your onboarding process should address multiple needs.

You may want to consider creating an onboarding process template for each customer segment that addresses their unique needs and wants, arranging lessons around what they’ll need to learn first, and what will help them achieve their goals later on. Essentially, you’re stretching your onboarding process into a value-add with training that advances with the user’s needs.

Onboarding opens opportunities


That makes your onboarding process into a tool not just for customer retention, but for proactive revenue growth. Within your onboarding templates, you can work in cross-sell and up-sell-related activities by offering the products and services that best match each customer’s needs.

How do you find each customer’s needs? By making them an integral part of onboarding with a welcome survey. You can word it any way you like, but the gist should be this.

“We value your business and would like to make sure you get exactly what you need when you need it. Could you tell us which features you’re most interested in?”

Essentially, it’s “help me help you” in a survey form. And customers will be delighted to help you help them. Presenting this activity up front is also a way to begin active engagement since it asks the user to perform an action that’s easy and clearly benefits them.


From their answers, you can begin segmenting your customers and customizing onboarding processes that meet their needs and introduce them to potentially even better solutions (in the forms of cross-sells and up-sells).

When onboarding goes bad

Developing the right onboarding process for retention and revenue isn’t easy – there are many pitfalls to avoid. The first of which is:

False promises and unmet expectations.

If your marketing campaigns and sales teams are setting unrealistic expectations that aren’t met when a user signs on, expect immediately and public reactions. For this reason, and so you won’t bore your new customer, you’ll want to introduce value very early in your onboarding process.

Ignoring the numbers.

Analytics is necessary to turn your onboarding process from a “how-to” into a revenue driver. So, be prepared to collect data from the beginning. Who is logging in? How often? What are they looking for? Then use the answers to better address the needs of your customers.

Treating customers like numbers.

Building into your onboarding process the feel of a personal connection is very important for retention, so while you may want to automate many of the processes, have a real human being touch base with your customers to make sure they’re finding success with your product.

Failure to set goals.

Do you have goals for your onboarding process, and metrics by which to measure your successes? If not, you’re missing a very important way to improve your onboarding procedures for retention.

Same for everybody.

Ideally, your customer onboarding process should be auto-driven by customer behavior, kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Behavior-driven messages during onboarding can help users find value faster by highlighting features and products they should check out and promoting relevant use cases, eBooks or other content.

Creating a simple, engaging, user-friendly onboarding procedures doesn’t have to be hard. We’ve made it easy to create walkthroughs and how-to’s of just about anything. But the strategy to optimize your onboarding process into a revenue-generating, retention machine – that’s up to you.

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Chief Strategy Officer at @Inturact. Moderator at @ProductHunt &@GrowthHackers. Co-Founder [email protected] & @SaaSCommunity. Previously: Growth at @InboundOrg.
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