The Step-by-Step Guide to Customer Onboarding

Customer onboarding can make or break your business. Check out our step-by-step guide, best practices and checklist to build the best onboarding process.

Published on December 20, 2023 • Updated on December 21, 2023 • About 10 min. read
A successful customer onboarding

It's not an exaggeration to say that your customer onboarding process can be the difference between success and failure as a business.

Effective onboarding results in customers who understand and value your product or service, and because of this, continue using it for a long period. A poor user onboarding process, on the other hand, leads to a lack of adoption and a dwindling customer base.

In this guide, we'll walk through why the onboarding process is so important, best practices for each step, tools to make the process easier, and customer success metrics to track.


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What is customer onboarding?

Customer onboarding is a process by which a new customer gets introduced to a product or service. It's a systematic approach that helps new customers understand your product, how it works, and how they can begin using it themselves. The goal is to take the customer by the hand, help them take their first steps with your product, and reduce any confusion or uncertainty that they may be experiencing.

Why is customer onboarding so important?

First, a robust customer onboarding process is a critical part of customer retention. A failure to successfully onboard new customers often results in them not understanding the true value of the product or service you offer.

If they fail to experience the benefits of what you offer, they're not going to stick around for long, and your churn rate will be high.

Additionally, effective onboarding helps establish a connection between you and new customers. Customer onboarding focuses on building a relationship between your company and your customers.

Your goal is to build trust with them, get them familiar with your product, make their lives easier, and help them become successful.

This translates into a much higher Customer Lifetime Value (LTV), a lower overall churn rate, and a loyal fan base that actively evangelizes your brand to others.

It's a well-established fact that it costs significantly more to acquire new customers than retain existing ones.


Step up your onboarding

Build an engaging and powerful onboarding with Livestorm.


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What makes a good customer onboarding process

The steps to follow are more or less the same regardless the size of your customer success team.

Client's sign-up

The onboarding process actually starts at the signup process itself, not after. That's when you have your first touchpoint with a potential customer.

You want to create a positive first impression that will set the tone for the rest of the relationship. Your signup flow should be as streamlined and easy to use as possible.

The easier the signup process, the higher your conversion rate will be. The more friction someone experiences at the signup process, the greater the odds of them abandoning it altogether.

Best Practices:

  • Ideally, you want to keep the signup process as short as possible. Only ask for the information that's necessary to get your customer up and running with your product. You can always collect more information at a later point in the onboarding.
  • Validate fields as they're being filled in by the user. This reduces the likelihood of failed signup attempts or confusion when filling in information. Plus, nothing is more frustrating than getting to the end of a page, only to discover that you've filled out fields incorrectly and have to go back and change them.
  • Allow users to sign up using third-party platforms, like Google or Apple. This will save them time and effort and allow them to log into your product using an application or platform they already trust.

Onboarding welcome email

Once a person has signed up for your product or service, they should receive a welcome email from you. This email is important for two reasons:

  • It’s a way to begin building a relationship with a customer after signup. This is where you welcome them to the product and get them started.
  • It establishes your credibility as a company and builds trust right from the get-go.

The welcome email helps set the tone for the relationship and gets them excited to use your product or service.

Best Practices:

  • Thank them for signing up. They've spent time researching your product and signing up for it, so let them know that you don't take that for granted.
  • Include links to helpful resources that will familiarize them with the basics of your product. That way, they'll have an idea of what to expect when they log in for the first time.
  • Direct them right back to your product or service. The sooner they start using it, the sooner they'll see the value.
Customer onboarding welcome email

Client's first connection to your app/website

The first login to your app or website can be a make-or-break moment in the onboarding process.

If a new user feels overwhelmed or has no idea where to go first, it increases the odds of them never coming back again.

The first-time user experience is crucial to the success of your onboarding process, as well as your product or service itself.

Best Practices:

  • Create a clear path from when they land on your website or app. You need to provide clear directions for what they should do next in order to get going with your product or service. Show them what buttons to click, what fields to fill in, etc.
  • Help them get a quick win that will give them a taste of what your product can do. This can be something as simple as creating their first project or inviting someone to collaborate with them.
  • Provide templates with pre-filled information that they can use. This will help them see different uses for your product and help them hit the ground running.
Customer onboarding training

Product onboarding

After the initial connection to your app or website, you need to continue to educate new customers about how they can most effectively use your product or service.

Don't expect them to be able to figure out how to use the various features without any guidance.

Rather, provide them with various resources that will guide them on how to use the most important elements of your product.

Best Practices:

  • Send follow-up emails after the welcome email with helpful tips and resources that will familiarize the user with your product. It's better to send shorter emails that focus on one thing rather than long ones that try to cover too much information.
  • Create clear and easy-to-follow product walkthroughs. This will walk them through each step of various processes and allow them to get familiar with how your product works. Consider offering both screen recordings and written documents with screenshots.
  • Offer live training. This is the most time-intensive, but it will give your customers the most in-depth understanding of how to use your product. You can answer questions in real-time and also get a sense of some of the most common challenges new customers face when first starting to use your product.
product onboarding

B2B/SaaS onboarding

B2B/SaaS onboarding often involves unique steps that aren't present with B2C products or services.

For example, the customer may want to integrate your product with products or platforms they're already using.

Or they may want to import data or integrate specific plugins into your platform.

It's crucial that you're aware of these needs and speak directly to them during the onboarding process. If the customer can't easily integrate your product with the rest of their technology stack, they won't get much value out of it.

Best Practices:

  • Automate wherever possible. Integrating your product into their existing systems or migrating data from one source to another can be difficult. By providing tools that automate these processes for them, you remove friction and make it much easier for them to start using and benefiting from your product.
  • Provide support along the way. There will be times when, no matter how hard they try, a customer just can't get something to work. You want to make it easy for them to get help. Offer both self-serve resources as well as live customer support so that they can get their problems addressed as quickly as possible.
  • Don't make steps mandatory. It's okay to have certain steps that will help customers get the most out of your product, but don't make them mandatory. Not every customer needs to use specific integrations or import data.

Regular checkups with clients

It's important to have regular check-ins with clients even after the initial onboarding process.

This helps ensure that customers are still benefiting from your product and allows you to address any challenges they may be facing.

Offering an in-person checkup call can be extremely effective as part of the onboarding process.

It gives customers a human touchpoint at your company, which goes a long way in making them feel valued.

Best Practices:

  • Check-in regularly (but not too often). There are many options for how often you should send out these checkups, but it's usually best to do so at least once every three months. This will allow you to discover any potential problems early on before they become more serious issues.
  • Make checkups interactive. By sending out surveys or forms with each checkup email, your customers can tell you any specific issues they're facing, and you can address them. This also allows you to get valuable feedback on how customers are using your product, what they want to get out of it, etc.
  • Celebrate when customers hit particular milestones. If a customer reaches a certain goal when using your product, celebrate this with them. This can be as simple as a short email or in-app notification. They will appreciate knowing that their success has been noticed and they're not just another number.

The perfect Customer Onboarding Checklist

Now let's bring everything together into a customer onboarding checklist that can be used as a reference.

  • Make the signup process as simple as possible
  • Validate signup fields
  • Allow signups with third-party platforms
  • Send an initial welcome email that includes links to helpful resources and directs them back to the app or website
  • Create a clear path forward the first time they use your product or service
  • Help them get a quick win the first time they use your product or service
  • Provide templates with pre-filled information
  • Send follow up onboarding emails with valuable tips and information
  • Create clear, easy-to-use walkthroughs and documentation
  • Consider offering live training
  • Automate as many tasks and processes as possible
  • Provide robust support to help with any problems a new customer encounters
  • Conduct regular, interactive check-ins with clients
  • Celebrate when customers hit milestones

What are the best customer onboarding software and tools?

There are numerous onboarding software platforms and tools that can make the onboarding process much easier and more effective.

Here are 10 tools to consider using in your onboarding process:

Livestorm - All-in-one video engagement platform for online meetings, live and on-demand webinars, virtual events, and more. Learn more on how to optimize your onboarding with webinars and videos.

Proof - Helps increase the conversion rate during the signup process by showing real people who have recently signed up for your product or service.

AuthO - Provides single sign-on authentication and authorization for new customers, simplifying the signup process.

Zendesk - Offers a wide range of customer support and feedback tools, including an onboarding option.

Intercom - Allows you to use in-app messages and targeted push notifications to provide information and assistance when customers need it most.

Userpilot - A contextual onboarding tool that allows SaaS companies to create highly customized onboarding experiences based on user behavior.

Loom - Allows you to easily record and share screen-sharing videos, such as product demos.

Appcues - Lets you easily build in-app walkthroughs and onboarding campaigns that guide new users regarding what steps to take next.

Pendo - An analytics tool that allows you to track user behavior patterns and use that data to inform onboarding efforts.

Mixpanel - Enables you to identify how different user segments perform various onboarding actions.


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What customer onboarding metrics should you be tracking?

To ensure that your onboarding process is effective, there are a number of key metrics that you should monitor closely.

This way, you'll keep clear from most customer success problems.

Churn Rate

Churn rate is the percentage of users that stop using your product or service within a certain time frame.

This is one of the most important metrics to track since it provides insight into whether or not your onboarding process is actually working.

A high churn rate suggests that there's either a problem with your product or a problem with your onboarding process.

Either way, you've got a serious issue that you need to fix quickly.

Customer Lifetime Value (LTV)

Customer lifetime value is the total amount of money that a customer will spend with your brand over their entire relationship.

Tracking LTV helps you evaluate the effectiveness of your onboarding efforts, with a higher LTV indicating that customers understand and value your product.

Retention Rate

Similar to churn rate, retention rate is the percentage of customers that are still using your product or service after a certain period of time.

Tracking retention rates over time can help you identify areas where your onboarding process needs to be improved.

For example, if a significant amount of churn happens within the first two weeks of signing up, that should be a key area of focus.

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Net Promoter Score is an overall rating that considers how likely your customers are to recommend you.

It's essential to get this customer feedback and monitor the results since customer referrals can be a significant revenue driver.

A low NPS can be the result of a number of things, one of which is your onboarding process.

If customers don't have success with your product, they're not going to recommend it to others.

Conversion Rate Of Free Trial To Paying Customer

If you offer a free trial period for your product, it's essential to track the percentage of users that end up converting from a free trial to a paid subscription.

This can help you determine how effective your onboarding process is at encouraging conversions, and make necessary changes if the conversion rate isn't high enough.

Onboard Your Way To Success

You've probably heard the oft-cited statistic that it costs around five times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to retain an existing one.

This highlights just how important the customer onboarding process is. Better onboarding results in higher retention rates, lower churn rates, increased Customer Lifetime Value, and ultimately, more revenue.

So while creating a robust onboarding process might not be as sexy as rolling out a sleek new marketing campaign, it's just as, if not more important.

After all, a sleek marketing campaign is worthless if customers walk in the front and right out the back.

Go out there and onboard your way to success! And don't forget : it's only the first step to success.

A successful onboarding needs to be part of a broader customer education strategy.