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In the SaaS industry, a well-executed customer onboarding process has consistently been recognized as crucial amidst ongoing changes.

The process of onboarding SaaS customers is important as it can significantly impact their lifetime value and relationship with the company. The digital consumer is becoming increasingly discerning due to the constant introduction of new software and services. A seamless, user-friendly onboarding experience is now expected as the standard.

Onboarding extends beyond the initial customer touchpoint. The initial impression often sets the tone for your relationship with users. It plays a key role in customer retention by shaping the user experience and narrative that connects with users. Perfecting SaaS customer onboarding is a challenging task for many businesses despite its importance.

This article will examine the significance of onboarding in user satisfaction and business growth, as well as the strategies utilized by successful SaaS companies to differentiate their onboarding experience in a competitive market.

What is customer onboarding?

Customer onboarding is a complex process that guides new customers through your product or services, helping them understand the value of your business relationship. It facilitates collaboration by helping your customer success manager understand customers' desired outcomes and work together to deliver on those objectives.

In the realm of SaaS, customer onboarding involves a variety of activities aimed at helping users effectively start using the product and achieve initial success. This process typically involves several stages in which these activities are adjusted. When onboarding is done correctly, it can lead to a significant 'aha' moment for users, where they gain a solid understanding of the product's fundamentals and accomplish an early-stage goal, demonstrating the software's potential value.

The onboarding process should be customized based on the customer base, business niche, and preferred customer success platform. It is important to consider that these definitions will only be beneficial when applied intelligently according to your specific needs.

The user onboarding experience typically begins with the signup flow, which includes a welcome screen and initial interactions, as well as a SaaS onboarding checklist. The moment when they recognize the value of your product. Users may choose to activate and upgrade from the free trial to the paid plan. Alternatively, they may have a negative experience with the product, leading them to end their usage.

Why does SaaS customer onboarding matter?

An effective SaaS customer onboarding process can help users quickly become familiar with a software product and maximize its capabilities. Users who are proficient in using the software are more likely to continue using it over the long term.

In addition, there are multiple reasons why the SaaS onboarding experience is important:

Churn reduction

A positive onboarding experience can have an impact on reducing customer churn rate. When users have a positive initial experience with the software, they are less inclined to cancel their subscriptions or look for other options. A seamless customer experience is the key to churn reduction.

Elevating growth potential

Customer onboarding is a critical process for any SaaS company looking to grow and retain its user base. It is during this initial phase that customers form their first impressions of the product and determine whether or not they see value in it. A successful onboarding experience can lead to increased customer satisfaction, retention, and ultimately, growth for the company.

Achieving value quickly

Effective onboarding is crucial for SaaS providers because it sets the tone for the customer's entire experience with the software. By guiding customers through the initial setup and showing them how to use the product effectively, providers can help customers realize the value of the software more quickly. One of the key benefits of effective onboarding is that it accelerates the time it takes for customers to see a return on their investment.

Customer loyalty

An effective onboarding process can help build customer loyalty. Users who have a positive initial experience and consistently find value in the software are more inclined to stay loyal, renew their subscriptions, and potentially advocate for the product.

Competitive advantage

In a saturated SaaS market, effective onboarding can set companies apart from competitors. Potential customers may opt for one provider over another depending on the quality of the onboarding experience.

Lesser demand for customer support

User onboarding is important for retention and can help product-led companies reduce costs and save time on customer support. Effective onboarding anticipates user questions, increases engagement with your product, and enhances user experience. According to a survey, 63% of customers consider the level of support they will receive during onboarding as an important factor in determining the value of a product.

Steps to create a successful SaaS customer onboarding system

Developing a successful customer onboarding experience involves strategic planning and thorough data analysis. Before developing onboarding processes, it is important to take preliminary steps to ensure they are based on accurate information.

1. Understand the goals of your customers

The first step in developing an effective SaaS onboarding process involves analyzing your customers' goals. Customers purchase products based on the value they provide in solving their problems rather than just their features. Their goals may include increasing productivity, improving efficiency, cutting costs, or simplifying complex tasks.

By effectively questioning and actively listening to customers, a thorough understanding of their goals can be obtained. The process may include surveys, customer interviews, or analysis of user behavior. The objective is to establish a customer-centric mindset and design a customer onboarding journey customized to their individual needs and goals. When customers perceive a product as beneficial for their goals, they are more inclined to use it, resulting in increased satisfaction and loyalty over time.

2. Identify critical action points on your platform

It is important to identify your customer's "aha" moment when they truly understand the value of your product and see it as the ideal solution for their needs. Discovering the "aha" moment is essential as it initiates the motivation to further engage with your product and establishes the framework for the customer's journey.

Journey mapping is a method used to analyze and visualize customers' interactions with your product for a deeper understanding of product development. Create a customer touchpoint map using a tool like Miro, starting from the sign-up process to the end of the onboarding process, and work in both directions to cover all steps. Mapping out the customer journey can help identify any gaps in the current onboarding process.

3. Create a customer welcome series

Welcoming customers after they sign up is an important practice as it helps set a clear starting point for their onboarding journey. A welcome email series can guide customers to specific features, educate them, and remind them about your platform if they haven't logged on in a while.

Welcoming customers both inside and outside of your platform can enhance the overall experience. Product demos and welcome messages are commonly used to greet new customers, as they provide a clear focus and are attention-grabbing.

For example, you can use Fable to create personalized interactive demos that can be easily integrated into your welcome emails to educate the customers about various features of the product, etc. The demos can be tailored to meet the needs of the stakeholders who will be using the product. Providing a product demo tailored to their needs can improve the onboarding experience.

4. Select an onboarding model

After analyzing the data and identifying customer needs, the next step is to select the model that will guide customers through the user flow. There are a variety of models available for use.

  • Self-service onboarding: Self-service onboarding is a hands-off approach that works effectively for products that are simple or do not require extensive time or explanation to start using. This method involves creating a contextual onboarding flow, such as a getting started guide or walkthrough. Afterward, customers can progress independently with the help of a guided, in-app user onboarding checklist. This onboarding method is a common practice for social media networks and many mobile apps. Users typically receive a few screens of information to get started before exploring the product on their own.

  • Low-touch onboarding: Low-touch onboarding incorporates self-serve features with additional onboarding elements such as product demos, checklists, step-by-step interactive walkthroughs, and getting started tutorials. Low-touch onboarding offers customers limited human support options without dedicated support for individual customers. This onboarding model is suitable for products that are moderately complex and involve multiple steps without the need for extensive guidance for each step. Low-touch onboarding is commonly used by many successful SaaS companies today.

Pro tip: Use Fable to craft customized interactive demos and see your onboarding process improve!

High-touch onboarding: High-touch onboarding can be beneficial for complex products, as they require multiple steps for initial setup, or demand a significant amount of time to understand. This method involves catering to customer's individual needs through personalized, one-on-one experiences and often includes the development of customized onboarding materials. 

5. Provide continuous support to the customer

Despite the ease of use of intuitive software, customers may still encounter challenges. Ensuring consistent and easily accessible support during the onboarding process is essential.

Different forms of support are available, each with its advantages. A knowledge base or FAQ section provides efficient solutions to frequently asked questions. Live chat or chatbots offer real-time assistance, aiding users in overcoming obstacles as they come up. Utilizing direct customer support through email or phone can assist in addressing more intricate issues and ensuring customers feel acknowledged and appreciated. Creating a user community for customers to share tips and best practices could be beneficial.

The objective of ongoing support is not only to address issues as they come up but also to proactively prevent them when feasible. Proactive support, such as regular check-ins or tips for common issues, can help prevent small misunderstandings from escalating into significant problems. A seamless onboarding process increases the likelihood of customers remaining and utilizing your software to its fullest extent.

6. Implement a cycle of measurement, iteration, and improvement

Evaluating and enhancing your onboarding process using both qualitative and quantitative data is essential for developing an effective onboarding strategy. Optimizing the onboarding flow is an ongoing process with opportunities for continual improvement.

Regularly monitor your analytics to track any changes in your churn rate. Engage with customers through conversations, surveys, and regular user interactions. Create a system for continuous feedback and idea generation within your organization. Schedule regular reviews to analyze both qualitative and quantitative data, and use this information to enhance your onboarding processes.

Best practices for customer onboarding in 2024

Implementing recommended strategies in developing the structure of your onboarding processes can lead to a successful user experience. Consider these key points to optimize your onboarding process and boost SaaS user adoption.

Reduce friction during the sign-up process

Ask for only the necessary information for a positive initial experience. If the information you want to collect isn't crucial to the user's initial interaction with your product, consider delaying the request until a later time.

When creating your onboarding program, consider the necessary information needed to efficiently familiarize users with your product. For optimal efficiency, consider including only the necessary information, such as a customer's name and email address, on the sign-up form. It is recommended to gather more personal details, such as job title or industry, after the individual has completed at least part of the onboarding process.

Highlight product value immediately

The speed at which your product can demonstrate problem-solving solutions correlates with user engagement. Creating quick wins through baking in features can generate momentum and convey ease of use to users.

Prioritize value by identifying opportunities for quick wins. To identify what your customers perceive as successful outcomes, analyze your data to pinpoint where customer turnover significantly decreases - this indicates where customers are achieving their goals. If your product has a singular focus, a simple strategy might be guiding users through the process until completion, such as composing an email and clicking the send button.

Keep a simple onboarding

Streamlining individual journeys to reduce time has a significant impact on customer satisfaction. It is recommended to keep guides and instructions concise and straightforward, avoiding the temptation to overexplain every feature of the product in a single step, as this may lead to customer confusion and potential delays or setbacks.

A helpful suggestion is to begin your onboarding process by highlighting your product's key features and providing an explanation of how they function. For complex products, it is recommended to create an onboarding journey for each product section and to keep instructions concise.

Segment users for a customized onboarding process

Personalization in SaaS onboarding is a helpful tactic for users to achieve their goals more efficiently. However, not many SaaS companies effectively personalize their onboarding processes. The focus should be on understanding user needs and customizing flows accordingly, rather than simply adding "personal touches".

Utilizing the initial microsurvey from the welcome screen allows for personalized SaaS user onboarding tailored to the user's persona, role, goals, and use case.

Segmenting your audience based on user attributes and events is an important part of personalizing your SaaS onboarding process. The answers to the microsurvey on the welcome screen are important to consider, along with other factors that may be relevant depending on your product, plans, and number of user personas, particularly during the later stages of the onboarding flow.

Utilize feedback to continuously improve

Analyzing and enhancing your onboarding process with qualitative and quantitative data is an essential component of your onboarding strategy. Optimizing the onboarding flow is an ongoing process with opportunities for improvement.

Regularly checking your analytics is recommended to monitor changes in your churn rate. Communicate with customers, administer surveys, and frequently engage with users. Implementing ongoing customer feedback and ideation processes within your organization, with scheduled reflection periods on both qualitative and quantitative data, can lead to enhancements in onboarding processes.

Automate recurring tasks

SaaS customer onboarding automation focuses on streamlining the onboarding process through automated messages and contextual in-app assistance.

Examine your customer onboarding procedures to identify opportunities for automation. Simplifying the signup process can improve customer satisfaction. Consider optimizing your welcome page with automated welcome messages or surveys.

Don't overwhelm your users

Overwhelming new users during SaaS customer onboarding can have negative implications for various reasons.

One potential consequence is the possibility of frustration and a negative initial experience, which could ultimately discourage users from fully utilizing the software. In addition, an overload of information or complicated procedures can result in confusion, making it difficult for users to understand the main features and advantages of the software.

Achieving a balance between providing necessary information and features while also considering user experience is important for better comprehension, user adoption, and a positive onboarding process.

Regularly update onboarding material

As the SaaS market changes, it is important to update your product and onboarding materials accordingly. Regularly reviewing and updating onboarding content helps maintain its relevance and effectiveness. Any new features, changes to the user interface, or updates in product offerings should be incorporated into the onboarding experience.

In addition, updating your onboarding materials regularly helps in refining your strategies. Utilize user feedback and analytics data to enhance and adapt your onboarding process, improving its effectiveness over time. Achieving excellence and customer satisfaction requires continuous effort, not just a one-time commitment.

Celebrate user achievements

Recognizing user accomplishments can act as an effective motivator and enhance customer confidence. It indicates an understanding and appreciation for their efforts to learn how to utilize your product. One way is by sending congratulatory emails when users reach certain milestones or unlock advanced features during the onboarding process.

These celebrations serve to reinforce positive behavior and enhance the overall experience with a gamified approach. This approach enhances the learning experience and fosters a more personalized relationship with the user.

Follow-up after onboarding

The completion of the onboarding process marks the start of a customer's journey with your product. It is important to ensure that users continue to find value in your software, so following up after onboarding is crucial for maintaining engagement. This may include sending emails with supplementary resources, offering tips and best practices, or providing guidance on advanced features. Offering ongoing support following the onboarding process can play a crucial role in decreasing customer turnover and cultivating lasting relationships.

Be readily available to the customer

When a customer makes a purchase, it is assumed they are satisfied with their decision. To maintain customer engagement post-sale, it is important to reach out to them within 24 hours to keep the momentum going. Without consistent motivation, customer focus may decrease as other projects and priorities arise.

In the worst-case scenario, the customer may feel regretful about their purchase and doubt their decision. The top three reasons for customer churn are lack of engagement, poor onboarding, and a wrong product fit.

Conduct A/B testing on your onboarding process and consistently improve

When it comes to onboarding new customers onto your SaaS platform, it is important to constantly evolve and improve your process. One effective way to do this is through A/B testing, which allows you to compare different versions of your onboarding flows and see which one resonates best with your users.

A/B testing involves creating two (or more) versions of a particular element in your onboarding and testing them simultaneously.

Craft a seamless customer onboarding plan

Customer onboarding continues to be a critical process that will impact customer and business success in the years ahead.

The analysis above highlights the potential for growth through dedication to creating a positive, welcoming, and brand-defining customer experience during their initial journey.

When a product caters to various user personas or use cases, it's important to incorporate personalization during the onboarding process. You can create personalized interactive demos according to different user personas with the help of Fable.

The demos created with the help of Fable can serve as a useful tool for integrating into onboarding emails for new users. The demos are versatile and can be featured in your help center or embedded in the app for users to access them as needed.

Take Fable for a test drive today! and see your customer onboarding process get better!

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