Ever bought a product, only to be left in the wilderness after you’ve parted with your cash?

Irritating, isn’t it?

After converting a prospect into a bonafide customer, the buck doesn’t stop there.

As Carol Carpenter said: ‘We’ve only just begun.’

It’s time to unwrap the essentials of customer onboarding.

What is customer onboarding?

The customer onboarding process is the post-conversion phase whereby companies divert their attention to ensuring they help their customers get the most value from their product.

There’s no room for the antiquated perspective of, ‘conversions are all that matter.’ A well-executed customer onboarding plan can help orgs maintain their relationships with their clientele, whilst helping customers get longevity from the product.

  • A raft of features can be used to enhance the overall customer onboarding experience and improve the likelihood of them sticking around and getting more from your product, like:Implementing step-by-step tutorials,
  • Adding guidance and support sections, and
  • Rewarding milestones.

Whichever process you choose (and it should probably be a combination of all three!), customer onboarding is all geared towards keeping a customer’s feet fixed firmly on the path you’ve built and keeping them happy.

Like the cat that got the cream.

Why is customer onboarding important?

No customer wants to be viewed as a statistic; companies need to make every person they’re serving feel valued.

In the way your first day at school set the vibe for whether your teacher likes you or not, customer onboarding sets the tone for your relationship with your target audience. If you play your cards right, not only can you increase the customer lifetime value (CLTV), but also decrease churn, and add a whole host of new customers into brand enthusiasts.

Still not sold on the benefits of customer onboarding? Try these stats on for size:

Put simply, the customer onboarding process is essential for orgs targeting customer retention and growth, i.e. every company with an ounce of business sense.

Customer onboarding best practices

As is often the case, there are some things to take into account throughout the customer onboarding process; some housekeeping rules, if you will.

These rely on establishing a continual source of contact with your customer, to ensure you’re in a position whereby you can offer a flawless customer experience.

Understand your customer

Every company has an ideal buyer persona in mind, but what’s the point in investing time, effort, and cash to identify your target audience if you don’t understand the intricacies of what they want and how you can help them?

You need to make sure you know your buyer persona meticulously; this will trigger a domino effect in which you’ll be able to build a concrete understanding of your customer.

Whether it’s unique obstacles, pain points, and challenges faced by the customer, familiarize yourself with each, before assessing your proposed and eventual outcome. In doing so, you’ll be able to tailor your onboarding process for your customer.

Define your expectations

Not only should your customer know what to expect before they buy your product, but the sales process should also outline the qualifying factors for using the product.

This needs to be included within your onboarding process, not only to highlight what your product brings to the table from a customer perspective but also to prepare them for any setbacks that could potentially arise.

If your customer encounters a bump in the road, briefing them beforehand will reduce the likelihood of churn, as they’ve been prepared for the possibility of a snag occurring.

Customers value honesty from the companies they’re buying their products from. So, don’t try and pull the wool over their eyes; offer clear-cut definitions of what they can expect from your product or service to allay any potential disappointment further down the line.

Demonstrate value

It’s very easy to get wrapped up in customer praise. After all, companies don’t invest endless resources in search of mediocrity.

While it’s tempting to let your customer get wrapped up in the wonders of your product, it’s essential to highlight the value it’ll bring and exactly how it’ll address their pain points.

Specificity is key, so dig out relevant examples to illustrate your point and always adopt a personalized approach.

The finer details go a long way in creating an onboarding process your customer will remember. These may include:

  • Kickoff calls,
  • Specialized training,
  • Personalized messaging.

If there’s an element of doubt about an approach you’re considering, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Would this appeal to me as a customer?
  2. Would my competitor use this approach during their onboarding process?

If you’ve answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, head back to the drawing board, and reconsider your plan.

Communicate

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it one-thousand times: communication is a fundamental part of customer onboarding.

You may have sent an initial message welcoming your customer, but this doesn’t signal the end of your communication strategy.

Not by a long shot.

It’s highly advisable to use email comms throughout the onboarding process to complement in-app tutorials and guides that may be in use.

At this stage in their journey, it’s most likely email is being used most commonly by the customer. Therefore, sending email messaging can nudge them in the right direction, until your product is considered indispensable and they can be trusted to sign-in on their own accord.

Utilize customer-centric goals

McDonald’s has over 38,000 restaurants throughout the world and serves more than 68 million customers every single day. The restaurant caters to the needs of every person who enters its doors; some order a Big Mac, others a Happy Meal. The point being, every customer is unique.

The same motif needs to be applied when introducing customer onboarding goals; the goals and metrics for each customer will be unique. Orgs need to allow them to define success, before helping them establish measurable milestones to get there with landmarks to hit along the way.

Consistency is key

Every interaction you have with customers needs to generate the same positive response they had that prompted them to sign up with you in the first place.

They’ve put their trust in you and your brand - the very least you can do is deliver the goods they’ve come to expect.

Remember, when you perform well, your customers will spread the word of your performance to others.

On the other hand, perform badly, and you’ll be ruing the decision to cut corners.

Track your performance

As is the case with many other practices, there’s no point devoting time to a process if you can’t establish how well it's performing.

Customer onboarding is fundamental for your customers and your business; you need to have a clear-cut understanding of what’s working well, and what can be improved. It’s important to:

  • Consider customer feedback,
  • Identify friction points,
  • Track OKRs.

Physical vs SaaS onboarding

While the onboarding process applies to both physical and SaaS products, there are differences in their respective approaches.

The onboarding process for SaaS companies is comparatively more straightforward, given the data they have at their fingertips. This makes it easier to create and track metrics throughout the onboarding process; they’re able to track what’s working and what isn’t, what areas of the app people are and aren’t using, and so on, before adding steps where necessary.

Comparatively, this differs from the typical onboarding process in place at some physical companies, with Jenkin Lee, Chief Product Officer at Baze.

“At a high level, our onboarding process includes collateral including registration instructions and a welcome letter, as well as a questionnaire (we are a health & wellness product).

“In addition, we also use how-to video, as well as an ongoing CRM.”

Customer onboarding examples

Before we take a look at an example, let’s do quick a rundown of the benefits of customer onboarding:

  • It improves a customer’s chance of success with your product because they’ll be able to better navigate their way around and be self-sufficient,
  • It ensures customers understand all your product’s capabilities which can help them get more value from it and reduce churn,
  • It sets a good first impression and lays the groundwork for a positive and lasting relationship, and
  • It saves you and other business teams time by cutting out some of those “Where can I find this?” and “How do I do that?” requests.

So, let’s take a look at a great example of onboarding from Slack. At the start of the onboarding process, Slack makes it super simple for people to signup; after all, there’s nothing off-putting about this sign-up form, is there?

Once the prospect has inserted their details, they get a glimpse into their soon-to-be workspace with this message:

Once you’re in Slack, the Slackbot then starts to introduce you to what you can do in your workspace.

It then backs those instructions up with super simple tooltips for absolute clarity:

And also cleverly makes use of what would be whitespace by letting users know what will be there when they and their team are active.

So that’s one example. We didn’t want to make it all about us and this isn’t a not-so-subtle plug, we promise! But to give you a flavor of onboarding live in action, next we’re going to show you a short video of what we show people when they sign up to our membership plans to make sure they know their way around and how to easily access everything.

We know they’ve both been more SaaS-related examples but onboarding does apply to B2C companies too. Take a look at Facebook for example, we signed up to their account and within the app, got pointers to how the tabs at the top could help:

Their privacy tour talks the user through features of the platform:

Customer onboarding templates

Having explained what customer onboarding is and what it brings to the table, we’re sure you’ll agree it plays a fundamental role for any company, irrespective of their industry or customers.

Customer onboarding templates not only save product marketing teams a bunch of time, but also give peace of mind that the tools they’re using have been given the thumbs up by experts in the field, like this one 👇.

Product marketers with a PMA membership have access to a whole host of templates and frameworks, with onboarding templates amongst the goods on offer.

Customer onboarding checklist

Fingers crossed, you’ll be inundated with customers chomping at the bit you need to onboard. In which case, you’ll need to establish a streamlined onboarding process.

So, here’s a checklist of onboarding essentials to ensure nothing slips through the net:

  1. First impressions are crucial. So, put together an automated email to welcome your new user when they sign-up.
  2. If the account has been inactive for two-days, send a follow-up email inviting the user to login. A little prompt never hurt anyone!
  3. Double-up on in-app notifications and emails to increase the likelihood of your messages being read.
  4. Include a greeting message including a CTA for the first step.
  5. If a user doesn’t know how to use the product, it’ll ruin their whole experience. Therefore, include feature callouts that’ll pop up when a user enters the app for the first time.
  6. Generate content for all of your empty states.
  7. Update FAQs frequently.
  8. Schedule tasks for regular check-in calls or emails with your new customer.
  9. Trigger a celebratory notification to go off once a client hits a milestone. For example, in language learning app DuoLingo, the user receives a notification when they complete X amount of lessons and access the next subject.

Refine your onboarding acumen

In this article, we’ve outlined the quintessential elements of the customer onboarding process.

But, what if you want to learn more about onboarding, as well as other areas of product marketing, whilst earning your product marketing certification?

Product Marketing: Core, our accredited PMM certification includes a full module on onboarding, with the course available on-demand, as well as live and online.