Customer onboarding process: the complete guide for 2023

• 11 min read

customer onboarding process

Most companies work hard to get their product or service in a position where they can help customers solve their problems. But their work shouldn’t stop there. Businesses need a good customer onboarding process to give their new customers much-needed guidance and information on how to get maximum value from those products or services.

The customer onboarding process is something that all companies need to get right as it’s a critical transition period for first-time buyers. In this article, you’ll learn what should go into a successful onboarding program and what are some of the most effective best practices in customer onboarding.

Why is the customer onboarding process important?

Customer onboarding refers to the time it takes for a new customer who has signed up for a product or service to learn how to use it properly. More specifically, customer onboarding focuses on educating new customers. The aim is to achieve that goal as early and as efficiently as possible, improving the customer experience and establishing a long-term relationship.

Customer onboarding strategies address the core customer needs, goals, and pain points. If effective, they help customers derive the most value from the product and integrate it into their daily processes. The customer onboarding process is important because it sets the tone for the entire relationship between the customer and the company/product. First impressions count for a lot and a good onboarding experience is likely to give clients positive expectations of your organization. In fact, research has found that 25 percent of customers will defect after just one bad experience.

By developing a customer-centric onboarding process, companies increase the likelihood of new clients positively engaging with their products which improves retention and lowers customer churn. During the client onboarding stage, customer success teams should demonstrate the value of the product as early and as often as possible. This will help increase their conversion rate later on.

To put it simply, a good onboarding program will start your customer’s journey off on the right foot. By helping them learn how to use the product/service effectively, they are in a better position to understand how it can address their needs and pain points.

So, what are the most important steps of a successful customer onboarding process?

6 steps for a successful customer onboarding process

There is no one-size-fits-all procedure when it comes to customer onboarding. Depending on the product or service and the customer base, the onboarding process will have different circumstances and accommodations to make. However, there are six major steps that should exist in any good onboarding program regardless of the company, product or service, and client.

The customer onboarding process starts the moment you’ve made a sale. Your customer success team is now in charge of providing the right customer training and support to improve the user experience. Here’s a step-by-step walk-through of how to go about it.

Step #1: Welcome email 

Once the sales team has achieved its purpose and got a new client to sign up for your product, it’s time for the onboarding part of the customer journey to begin. Kick off the relationship by sending customers a welcome email.

Being the first direct interaction with new customers, this needs to have a positive and uplifting message. Here are a few useful tips on how to properly handle customer onboarding welcome emails:

  • Give thanks: Thank and congratulate them on their purchasing decision and for choosing your brand over the competition. This way, they’ll know that you value their decision and will be taking care of their needs going forward.
  • Introduce the company: Take this opportunity to share a bit about your company, its mission, and values. You want your new users to know there’s an entire team behind the product, ready to look after them.
  • Highlight the product’s value: Provide a bit of information about what value new clients can expect from your product or service. You can even add one or two testimonials from happy customers if you believe they’re relevant.
  • Personalize the welcome message: Even something as simple as adding the new client’s name to the email can go a long way in turning new users into loyal customers. Avoid making the email look too generic and impersonal.
  • Share useful resources: The welcome email can also act as a sort of onboarding checklist. Provide links to useful resources to get the customer started. These can include things like video tutorials, step-by-step product walk-throughs, use cases, guides, product tours, chatbots, actionable or informative blog posts, and other partner training material you deem relevant.
  • Get social: You can also link to any of your brand’s related social media channels. This allows customers to connect with your business at other touchpoints like Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.
  • Automate: Automating this process can save your team a lot of time. It also ensures that every single new subscriber receives the welcome email and none of them slip through the cracks.

Step #2: Greeting message 

The greeting message is different from the welcome email. It’s specifically aimed at SaaS (software as a service) customer onboarding as an in-app welcome message that pops up the first time new users log into the platform. The purpose of a greeting message is not only to make the new customer feel valued but also to encourage them to take the first steps in setting up their accounts.

One best practice here is to personalize the message, if possible. Add the user’s name but nothing too intricate. Another tip is not to overburden the new user with too many tasks at once. For example, ask them to do only one thing, like change the password, create an avatar, or turn on email notifications. It’s also a good idea to provide a short guide on how to do it.

Step #3: Product setup guide

The product setup guide is like a tutorial or setup wizard that takes the customer through a step-by-step setup process. It allows new users to familiarize themselves with the product.

Workflows generally work well for this purpose. They provide a clear and structured way of going about completing the task. They’re great when multiple steps need to be completed in a particular sequence. Additionally, you can also modify these workflows to better suit any specific customer needs or product changes over time.

One important tip here is to make the product setup guide optional. Allow the user the chance to skip the tutorial if they want to.

Step #4: First log-in

Even if your customer has watched a product tour or demo video, the initial log-in will still be their first hands-on interaction with the product itself. This is when they’ll get a real impression of how it works and experience all the functionalities. The value of your product should therefore be apparent from the start.

The best way to highlight this during the first log-in is by making it easy and seamless to operate. Several tips here include:

  • Make everything obvious: The moment new users log in, they should know what to do next. This includes both the welcome message and setup guide but you should take it a step further and “hold their hand” all the way through.
  • Give them quick wins along the way: Getting customers to experience the value of your product early requires them to engage with it quickly and regularly. Design the process in such a way that it lets them achieve quick wins. These so-called gamification elements don’t need to be too over the top. Even something as simple as completing the product walk-through, setting up an avatar, or inviting a new colleague should be enough.
  • Follow-up emails: Another useful tip here is to send them a follow-up email after a few days of inactivity. If too many days pass and the new user doesn’t engage with your product, the chances of them forgetting about it increase.

Step #5: Interactive customer training 

One of the most important aspects of any successful customer onboarding strategy is training. It doesn’t only teach new users the value of your product and how to obtain it but also helps with customer retention and engagement over the long term.

According to the McKinsey Next in Personalization 2021 Report, at least 76 percent of customers have chosen, recommended, or repurchased from a brand that offered personalization. Making the training customizable through interactive elements helps the customer fit the product to their specific needs and allows them to take ownership of their learning experience.

Some people prefer to learn by reading, others watch videos, and some perform better through a more hands-on approach. This is where blended learning comes into play. It’s a mix of face-to-face teaching with asynchronous e-learning that’s capable of providing a more flexible customer onboarding experience. Interactive sessions and live webinars are great for providing a formal learning course. On-demand videos, microlearning techniques, and gamification features all help learners stay motivated and engaged.

With a customer onboarding platform like Docebo, you get all these benefits by offering a customer-centric approach to e-learning.

Step #6: Knowledge base

A knowledge base is ideal to help customers with in-the-moment solutions for small problems. It provides product knowledge and answers to frequently asked questions. It also helps users solve their problems quickly, efficiently, and autonomously.

Professional learning management systems like Docebo can help you create knowledge bases for your customers so they can quickly and effectively access the information they need whenever they need it. If possible, you can also integrate chatbots into the mix. They add a touch of personality and aid the user in finding answers to their questions without having to personally go into the knowledge base and look for themselves.

By including these elements in your user onboarding, you are sure to boost customer satisfaction and retention. Now, let’s take a look at some best practices to implement into your customer onboarding strategy.

7 practices to improve the customer onboarding process

To create a truly effective customer onboarding program, you need to have a plan of action based on tried-and-tested processes. Here is a guide to customer onboarding best practices.

Get to know your customers

Be it in sales, onboarding, or customer support, the first step to any successful endeavor is to know your customer base. Without a clear idea of what customers want or need, you won’t be making any real headway.

A good place to start is to design a buyer persona. This is the image of the ideal customer. You can factor in things like age, gender, job position, salary, and geographical location. You should also factor in psychographic information like interests, motivations, concerns, challenges, pain points, preferences, and more. Then, you can build your onboarding process to fit your customer demographic specifically.

Say, for example, that your ideal customer prefers email communication over phone calls and tends to learn better through microlearning and learning pills than formal teaching. You’ll design your onboarding program to reflect that.

You can gather this information from all touchpoints with your existing customer base. Some learning management systems (LMSs) like Docebo also provide analytics data that you can use to discover e-learning trends from existing customers.

Agree on who’ll own the onboarding process

Determine who will be in charge of the customer onboarding process. You’ll want both a dedicated customer success manager and a customer success team to implement the strategy and improve it over time. This support team can also handle any additional questions or issues the new customer may have. This team will be in charge of:

Display your product’s value

You can’t expect your new clients to know right away the value of your product and how they attain it. Aside from the welcome email that highlights it once they make the purchase, you also need to reemphasize the product’s value over time and frame it based on their unique case.

Hold a kickoff call and present specific examples of how your product or service will address their specific needs and pain points. Personalized training and a comprehensive and easy-to-navigate knowledge base should help display the product’s value further.

Determine the goals of the program

As with any other program or strategy you initiate, you need to set clear goals and expectations in terms of what you want to achieve. You won’t be able to determine if your customer onboarding program is working properly if you can’t keep track of your progress or don’t have a specific goal to aim towards.

This is why it’s a good idea to follow a SMART format when planning your goals. This means that goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

So, for example, instead of setting a vague goal like “More of our customers need to upgrade from free to paid,” go for something SMART-er like, “The number of free users who upgrade to paid should increase by 15 percent by the end of the quarter.” This gives your customer success team a clear goal to strive toward and a realistic time frame in which to achieve it.

Maintain continuous communication

Communication is key to any long-term relationship. If you want loyal customers, you’ll need to keep in contact with them. Conduct regular check-ins to make sure they’re able to derive the most value from your product. In the beginning, email may be the most-used form of communication. Later on in the relationship, particularly once your product becomes a mainstay tool, you can move on to Slack and communicate with customers more directly.

The point is to always check the relationship’s pulse and always let them know that they can reach out to you with any issue or question they might have. Make it easy for them to do so and your customer retention rate will surely increase.

Keep track of KPIs

Keeping track of customer onboarding metrics and KPIs (key performance indicators) is essential in determining what works, what doesn’t, and what areas need improvement. Key customer onboarding metrics include things like customer retention and churn rates, product adoption, time-to-onboard, customer lifetime value, customer engagement, completion rates, and more.

Yet none of these metrics and KPIs can reveal anything too insightful by themselves. It’s only by taking them together that you get a holistic view and can uncover trends. These, in turn, provide you with actionable data for better decision-making. Customer onboarding software like Docebo and other analytics tools can help you track these KPIs to continuously improve your onboarding processes.

Gather customer feedback

Customer feedback should be the go-to tool for every effective customer success team. Who better to ask about the effectiveness of your onboarding program than the very customers who’ve undergone it?

Not only will your customers know that you care about their opinion, but asking for their feedback will also provide you with insights into the program’s success. It will also allow you to tackle their problems better, improving their own experience in the process.

With a post-onboarding survey, you can also generate a net promoter score (NPS). Put simply, the NPS is a customer experience metric that determines the loyalty of your clients and can also gauge the success and efficacy of your onboarding program. It’s essentially a method of putting an actual numerical figure on customer feedback, which you can then use to improve your other onboarding metrics and KPIs.

Use a powerful LMS to onboard your customers 

Clients’ needs change over time and therefore, the customer onboarding process needs to be constantly updated to keep up with the latest trends. This is not a set-and-forget process. You need to keep a constant eye on your metrics and design your customer training to constantly improve the user experience. The right LMS can take your onboarding process from okay to stellar. Schedule a demo with Docebo today and get the most out of your customer onboarding strategy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some quick answers to your questions.

Q1. When should customer onboarding begin?

The customer onboarding process begins with the sale. Once a new customer decides to try your product, you need to start helping them get the most value out of it as soon as possible.

Q2. How is customer onboarding implemented?

Although there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to customer onboarding implementation, the best way to do it is to standardize as much of the process as possible without sacrificing personalization. An onboarding LMS is usually the best approach as it helps you achieve both things.

Q3. Who should own customer onboarding?

A small organization can typically get away with one or two people handling the onboarding process. Larger SaaS companies, on the other hand, may need a dedicated customer success team.

The team is in charge of applying the process and helping customers get the most value out of the product. They would also need a customer success manager, who handles the broader picture, tracking KPIs, and formulating the overall onboarding strategy.