10 Easy & Effective Strategies to Improve Your Customer Onboarding Process

Amy Nichol Smith

An excellent customer onboarding experience is more than the process of teaching customers how to use your product or service. It’s the beginning of an ongoing relationship between your company and a new customer. 

Customer onboarding is a huge part of the overall customer experience. And CX is often listed as one of the deciding factors for most (73%) users. Get the onboarding experience right, and it can help prevent churn.

So, how do you improve the customer onboarding experience? Start with figuring out the outcome your users want or need and then help them achieve it as quickly as possible.

Sound simple? Not so fast ...

What Makes a Good Customer Onboarding Experience?

The short answer: Any customer onboarding process that helps a customer learn how to use a product and get value from it quickly is a good onboarding experience. The longer answer is a bit more subjective and varies based on your business, product or service, and customers.

The goal of any onboarding process is to ensure your customers use your product continuously. Make your product a part of their everyday life—it should be a need. Once you create that kind of value, your business’ customer lifetime value goes up—and you’re more likely to turn customers into advocates.

The 5 Most Common Reasons Customers Crash & Churn

You think your product is awesome, and it may very well be, but if you can’t quickly show customers the value you know your product has, they’ll move on. Reducing customer churn is important, but you should also know why it happens in the first place. Hint: It might have to do with your customer onboarding process. 

  • Customers don’t know how to use a product
  • They aren’t getting value from a product
  • They’re frustrated with features that don’t work/bugs
  • Customers feel overwhelmed by too many features/poor UX
  • They’ve had a bad customer experience

Churn happens. Some users may take their business to competitors, or they simply won’t need your product anymore. You just want to keep churn as low as possible, while sales and marketing bring in new customers. 

In the meantime, consider our tips on how to improve the customer onboarding process to help mitigate some of that churn—and more importantly, help your customers succeed.

10 Solid Strategies For Improving the Customer Onboarding Process

1. Start Onboarding As Soon As Possible

Does your onboarding process start after a lead becomes a bonafide customer? That may be too late. You should already have an onboarding plan from the moment they download a trial or free tool. 

Even if a free tool you offer has little to do with your paid product, an automated onboarding process is easy to set up, and it’s a bit of an intro to your business (and your customer success team). The sooner someone finds success with a product, the better the chance of them converting.

A product tour can work well to help a customer familiarize themselves with software or services. Make sure customers know where they can go with their questions, or give them occasional tips in their inbox to provide them ongoing support. 

2. Give Customers a Proper Handoff to CSMs

As sales prepares to accept payment, they should also prepare their customers for a customer success handoff. At no point should a user wonder what the next step is. Formalizing the handoff with an introductory meeting in which a sales team member literally introduces the CSM to the customer (and then bows out) can show how much you value relationships, and not just your new customer’s subscription or purchase.

This handoff should also happen as soon as possible. Or, at the very least, the customer’s kickoff call should be scheduled when the contract is signed. 

Using the right customer success management software can help make the transition from sales to customer success easy for everyone. Consider a free tool like Chili Piper’s Instant Booker. You can use it to book that kickoff call with multiple people (internal and external) in a matter of seconds. . Or you can send Suggested Times for said meeting in the body of an email so guests can book in one click. 

3. Personalize the Process for Each Customer

As a lead goes through the sales process, they’re answering questions (via web forms or surveys) about company size and whether they’re a decision-maker. Use this information, and anything else the sales team gets about customers, to personalize the onboarding experience. 

When you get a new customer that only needs to use two or three features of your product or service, you can focus your onboarding process on those features. Later, when a customer is comfortable with using those features, you can show them how other features complement what they’re already doing. 

4. Give Your Users Quick Wins With an Interactive Walkthrough

Having a product tour is helpful, but it’s kind of the bare minimum for any product or service. An interactive walkthrough can be much more valuable to a customer and ensure their success with your product.

Consider working with the product team to set up an interactive training session within your app or product. Let’s say you offer an email app. Have a pop-up that asks a customer to create their first email. Include arrows and instructions to guide a customer through sending their first email to their CSM. After a customer completes each task it could be a trigger for a follow-up email (or another pop-up) that takes a customer through another task.

5. Create a Self-Serve Onboarding Process

The tip above leans into the self-service type of onboarding. Some users may prefer to figure it out on their own. Give them a checklist in an email or within your product of things to do, but don’t hold their hand through it. 

Many users prefer to find the answer to a question they have on their own—more than 90% of customers watch videos to help them understand a product or app. If you don’t already have these support sections on your site, consider adding them: 

  • Knowledge base of how-to articles
  • FAQs with the most common questions and answers
  • Search function
  • How-to videos for every feature of your product

6. Show Customers Their Progress Through Onboarding

Whether your users prefer the DIY approach as above or they want help along the way, an easy way to make sure customers feel you value their time is to offer an update on their progress through onboarding. Setting and noting milestones visually can give your customer the same boost of dopamine that crossing an item off their to-do list does. 

7. Reach Out at Milestones & Offer One-on-One Meetings

We can’t tell you what milestones to include or when because everyone’s product is different. The key to setting milestones is to understand what the customer’s desired outcome is, or what they’re hoping to achieve with your service or product.

So, if your ideal customer needs your email app to send bulk emails to their clients. Work backwards to create a roadmap for them toward the first bulk email they’ll send. Once they do so successfully, congratulate them on a well-crafted bulk email. From there, encourage them to use additional features to make their emails even better.

8. Consider Gamification to Keep Customers Engaged in Onboarding

How to improve the customer onboarding process and potentially increase conversions? Turn onboarding into a game for your customers. Gamification has a lot of promise in various ways, including the learning process. It’s a great way to engage customers and you can offer them rewards for completing tasks or reaching milestones. 

TalentLMS’ research showed that 83% of employees said gamification motivated them to complete training. That could similarly translate to onboarding for customers. Make it fun and rewarding for your customers to achieve their goals. 

Consider trying these gamification ideas: 

  • Let customers create an avatar that looks like them and include a progress bar that shows their avatar going milestone to milestone
  • Create a point system that allows users to earn points for completing tasks in onboarding—at the end, they can redeem their points for branded gear (t-shirts, stress balls) or an extension of their trial
  • Add fun quizzes at each milestone with questions about features customers learned about during onboarding and offer rewards for high scorers

9. Ask for Feedback About the Product & Onboarding

Improving your customer onboarding process is going to be tricky if you don’t know what’s working and what isn’t. If you have a CS ops team, it can help improve the customer journey by asking customers what they liked and didn’t like about the onboarding process specifically. Reach customers in various ways, such as: 

  • Call them for a check-in to see how they’re liking the product and onboarding
  • Include a short survey in your product that triggers after a customer uses a particular feature you want feedback about
  • Send an onboarding survey via email to ask for feedback about the process

Follow up on the feedback you get to let customers know that their opinion matters. If there’s something you can do immediately to answer a question or make the onboarding process better, do it. 

Even if a customer has stopped using your product altogether and has essentially churned, you still might want to reach out. Some of the most valuable information comes out of a churned customer interview. Plus, you can throw in a few questions about the product or features to help out the product team.

10. Track How Your Customers Use Your Product

Hopefully, you’re tracking how customers interact with your product or service. Keep an eye on the last time customers logged in and how long they were active. Are they using all the features? 

These data points will help you personalize outreach to customers who are struggling with a tool or to find value in the product at all. In addition to helping individuals use your product or service, the data on a whole can help identify the biggest pain points so you can change things. 

How to Know Your Customer Onboarding Process Works

Keep your finger on the pulse of every step in your process to know what’s working and isn’t. Pay attention to the time it takes to complete onboarding, where people get stuck or give up, and address each issue as needed.

Improving your customer onboarding process is an ongoing endeavor. You may need to rework it every time there’s a new feature added, or if you make big changes to your product or service. A thoughtful customer onboarding experience is a big part of the overall customer experience, and both can help customers reach their desired outcomes and build loyalty to your brand.

About the author
Amy Nichol Smith

Amy Smith has more than 20 years of experience as a writer for TV news, newspapers, and technology companies. She's tested and reviewed a variety of software, robot vacuums, video cameras, and SaaS. Her content has been featured in Tom's Guide,, L.A. Times, Reader's Digest, and more. When she isn't testing, researching, or writing, she's usually exploring a small town somewhere, cooking and baking, or playing video games.

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