SaaS Customer Onboarding: a Step-by-Step Guide (+ Examples)

Chayanika Sen
November 30, 2022
min read
September 19, 2023
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Are you a SaaS strat-up founder looking to quickly onboard clients, add them to your system and train them on your solutions? This is the ultimate guide that you need!
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You have built a great product! But until you have customers who love to use your products, the product hardly has any value. While a customer goes through various stages in the customer onboarding journey, customer onboarding is probably the most significant. And why not? 

“Eighty-six percent of people say they’d be more likely to stay loyal to a business that invests in onboarding content that welcomes and educates them after they’ve bought.”— Wyzowl

What is customer onboarding?

Customer onboarding is a proactive nurturing process where you guide your new customers through the product until they find the AHA! Moment of your product. The focus of a customer onboarding program is to help the customers transition from beginners to habitual users of the product. 

Customer onboarding is super important, especially for the SaaS business, because it sets the right tone to establish a positive relationship between your customer and your product. Done right, and you earn a loyal customer for life. But go wrong, it can lead to churn and can damage your brand reputation too. 

This article will help you understand how you can build a solid customer onboarding program for your SaaS customers, the benefits of doing so, and examples from brands who are killing it with their top-notch customer onboarding programs. 

The process of SaaS customer onboarding from start to finish 

You need thoughtful consideration backed by data to build the most effective customer onboarding program. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you get started.

Identify the critical action points

Look into your software’s workflow. Identify the areas where the workflow is breaking, and the customers are hitting the wall.

Also, look for areas that tick with the customers. Which are the wow moments for the customers? Finding that, Aha! moment is super critical because that’s where you create the hook for the product. 

For example, VEED creates an immediate Aha! Moment right on their homepage by creating a flawless signup flow. 

Why it’s too good: The team focused on pinpointing the customer pain point right at the beginning. Making a video is hard, especially for someone who is not comfortable creating a video. And because of that, many people think they might be unable to create a video. VEED recognized this point and addressed it with their messaging — Anyone can make a great video. That means you. Further, their CTA is right on point and simple — they don't need any credit card or account to start creating your first video. You will get access to full features and an interactive demo of the tool that will help you to see how easy the tool is to use. 

Verdict: VEED encourages users to sign up for their product by keeping it simple and user-focused. 

(Source: VEED)
(Source: VEED)

2. Focus on creating a customer welcome series

After a new customer signs up, start with a thank you note. They have taken time to sign up for your product, so let them know that you value them! You may consider sending them a welcome note along with helpful resources to help them get started.

For example, you can share product FAQs (check here if you like to know How to write an FAQ page), a Scribe page to understand the process and the workflow, Knowledge-centered support articles, or a product tour video. Finally, add a CTA link to log in to the product because that’s your main goal. 

Here’s a welcome email example from Slack.

Why it’s good: The CTA to open the Slack workspace is right in the middle with clear, bold fonts. The welcome email also has important tips that can help the user to get started. 

Verdict: Slack keeps it user-focused and relevant, which creates a great onboarding experience. 

3. Create an onboarding model

Once you identify what your customer needs to see and how your product adds value, you must create an onboarding model for the user. You can choose from various onboarding models. 

“We started by manually onboarding every user on a video call where I would walk them through the process step-by-step. Then we used that data to design a self-serve onboarding process in our product that mimicked what seemed to work from the manual onboarding process. This resulted in us being able to onboard 2,000 users within the following months with high activation rates. Users love the fly-out "quick start" guide readily available from the left navigation bar.” — Corey Haines, Cofounder of SwipeWell. 

4. Self service onboarding

If you have a straightforward product, then self-service onboarding can be a great way for your customers to start using your product. You can create a step-by-step guide using Scribe embed them in a Scribe Page.

Scribe is a screen recording tool that lets you create simple process documents and workflows in minutes. Just start the tool and conduct your usual operations. Scribe captures and converts your process into a detailed process document in seconds. 

5. Low touch onboarding

A low-touch onboarding is an add-up to a self-service onboarding. You can add checklists, product tour videos, getting started tutorials, etc., for a smooth onboarding process.

The model works fine for medium-complex products. Many popular SaaS brands like Shopify, Canva and MailChimp have a low-touch onboarding program. 

6. High touch onboarding

A high-touch onboarding process works best for complex SaaS products. It involves a human-first method where you support your customer before and after the sales process.

It's a guided onboarding process that requires 1-1 support from customer success managers. 

Benefits of SaaS user onboarding

A research report by Recurly suggests that the churn rate across SaaS companies is almost five percent. A customer today dont raise grievances or complaints if there is a single inconvenience. They churn immediately. Implementing a strong customer onboarding program can reduce the churn rate if you can create the magic of ‘love at first sight.’ 

By that, we mean to create an onboarding program that not just wow the customer but turn them into lifelong loyal customer. Here are some more benefits of customer onboarding to consider:

Create a deep-rooted impression

Proactively helping the customer to get started with the product is a great way to show that you value your customers genuinely. If done right, you can set the tone on the right note for a lifelong relationship. 

Better chances of customer retention & renewal

Ask a SaaS founder, and they will tell you that there is nothing better than customer retention and renewal for your business growth in a SaaS business. That’s because the customer is already aware of your product and knows how to use it, is aware of the upgrades, and above all, loves using your product ( hence they decide to renew the subscription!) Retaining your existing customers is a lot easier than acquiring new leads and is cost-effective too! 

3. Earn brand loyalty and brand advocacy

If your customers are content using your product, they will most likely refer it to their peers, write great reviews, and publicly praise it on social media.

You attract potential customers through word of mouth and referrals, which can be a significant advantage for your business. 

5 Examples of successful SaaS onboarding programs 

1. Flipboard

Flipboard offers a great personalized onboarding experience for its users. They offer their users a choice to choose the kind of content they want to see!

2. Asana

Asana empowers its users with all the helpful resources from the beginning so they can self-learn and use the tool without minimum external help.

They have created The Asana Guide, the brand’s centralized content hub for best practices. The Asana guide also offers live Q&A with trainers and self-paced online courses for better user onboarding. 

3. Calendly

The online time scheduling tool Calendly makes user onboarding a breeze by keeping everything simple.

It doesn't collect unnecessary information — all you need to provide on its homepage is an email address, name, and password, and you are also set to create your custom calender. 

(Source: Calendly)
(Source: Calendly)

4. Klaviyo

The marketing automation platform gathers a few details before you are set to use the platform. The tool has broken down the entire process into mini steps to reduce friction. Once you offer all the inputs, you are directed to their dashboard. 

5. Airtable

Airtable helps you keep your data organized. It works both as a productivity and a workflow tool — a better alternative to spreadsheets.

The tool has a clear CTA on its home page, and the onboarding process is simple.

The best thing about its onboarding is it takes you directly to the UI without asking for email verification.

This gives the tool a brownie point in reducing friction. The UI is simple. It has helpful resources for self-learning. It also offers a user persona questionnaire to learn more about the user. 

Take a look here

SaaS customer onboarding challenges + solutions

To find the answer to this question, I did a quick poll on LinkedIn, and marketers spoke up! SaaS onboarding challenges are real. Let’s look at some of the pressing challenges. 

1. Too many support requests

Forty percent of responders in the poll mentioned that too many support requests were one of their major concerns. If you’re getting too many support requests during onboarding, it may not be a good sign.

However, you can solve it easily by including self-onboarding guides! For example, you can use Scribe to capture your screen and automatically create written instructions to share it with the user.

You can create a Scribe Page with a collection of screen records to show the user how to navigate or set up the system step-by-step. 

2. Missing feature adoption

Twenty percent of the responders said missing feature adoption was one of their main challenges. Remember, user onboarding is not for telling your customers about all the features and functionalities of the tool. Bring in personalization. Find out why the user signed up for your tool. What problem are they trying to solve? And then show them the exact feature and how it can solve their problem.

“We set up personalized onboarding guides for every customer. Our guides include a checklist, training videos, and documentation." — Alex Kracov, CEO and co-founder of Dock.

3. Not receiving feedback

Many SaaS founders complain of not receiving enough user feedback during onboarding. So, if your users are not coming up with feedback, reach out to them proactively to gather feedback.

Ask them simple questions like how much you will rate the user onboarding program on a scale of 1-5. Or, something like, which features do you think are the most helpful ones? Gathering feedback proactively and working on them is a sure-shot way to improve your onboarding g program. 

4 Signs your SaaS customer onboarding process needs revamp

  1. If you notice that users are not completing the sign up process, it is a cause for concern. They might be taking too long to experience the Aha! Moment and you need to address it.
  2. After paying their first invoice, many customers leave. You may want to leverage the user engagement tool to understand how much time customers spend on the tool on average and how you can improve the metric.
  3. If you’re noting a nonreturn of customers after the free trial is over, it’s a big red flag. Fix your user onboarding to drive a better engagement rate. 
  4. Users aren't upgrading to a paid account. This can happen if the user is not finding value in your product. Understand their problem and highlight particular product features that convince them to pay for the product. 

SaaS onboarding best practices

  1. For the best onboarding flow experience, start speaking to your users. Communicate the product benefits instead of focusing too much on product features. Remember, in SaaS, every opportunity is an opportunity to speak to the user about their needs and how your product will solve it. Leverage that. 
  2. While onboarding your B2B SaaS client, encourage them to sign up by showing progress. Use a progress indicator to inform the user about their progress status. Here’s an example from Canva.

3. Make a connection with your user before pursuing them. Form a bond with a warm welcome message, a personal note, or a welcome video from the founders.

Here’s an example from Userlist. 

Make your customer onboarding like a movie trailer

A good SaaS onboarding program is like a movie trailer. Show your customers the highlight of the product and encourage them to try and explore it!

Remember, user onboarding is not about teaching your customers how to use your product— rather, it’s letting them use it to solve the problem they want to solve badly.

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