David Skok has said one of the top two reasons for churn is “failure to successfully onboard the customer.” And think about it: We’ve all experienced friction when using a new app or service for the first time. Whether it’s a complex log-in process, an interface that is anything but intuitive, or any other combination of annoyances, the outcome is usually the same: You have little interest in continuing the relationship or using the product.

Although there are some SaaS companies that mistakenly believe that adding complexity to the customer onboarding process actually improves user adoption, the fact of the matter is that onboarding is a make or break time for new users. When the process goes smoothly and customers realize time-to-value and achieve business outcomes quickly and easily, they are more likely to stay — and if it’s a case of converting from a free trial to a paid user, then the onboarding process is even more important.

There are many ways that you can improve the customer onboarding process to increase customer retention, starting with the initial design of your product. However, there is one tactic that many companies overlook that can actually make a significant difference in reducing friction: personalizing the customer onboarding experience.

The Basics of the Customer Onboarding Process

Onboarding customers to your product or web-app is more than simply getting them started using it. It encompasses several key tasks, including:

  • Showing them how to get started, via training sessions, tutorials, guided tours, and live help
  • Driving quick time-to-value for customers as it relates to their business needs
  • Engaging users within your product so they continue to use it

In short, onboarding is the first step in creating a positive customer experience and continuing the customer’s journey beyond the sale into the adoption and retention stages. When done well, your customers become loyal advocates more quickly, are more likely to contribute to your revenue growth, and less likely to churn. How well you onboard customers can set the tone for your entire relationship, so it’s important to do it well.

Personalizing Customer Onboarding

Part of creating a great experience and fostering growth is developing a customer onboarding process that is meaningful and doesn’t feel like an impersonal checklist of tasks. Customers want to feel heard and know that their needs matter, so it’s important that you understand these needs and develop a process that comes from this perspective. Not to mention that customers today are well aware that in-app personalization is possible, so it’s become a standard expectation for most users.

One of the best ways to learn more about your users is by implementing user segmentation strategies. When you segment your users into cohorts, you’ll have an easier time digesting usage data, developing engagement strategies, and personalizing their experience. We segment customers based on the types of milestones we expect them to achieve, which you can read more about in our blog on our user segmentation strategies.

Building a strong personal relationship with your users is critical from the start. By gathering information from the user (not just the buyer or the customer account as a whole) about how they will be using the product, what they hope to achieve, and what success looks like to them, you can then tailor demonstrations and trainings to those factors and put users on the right path from the start. Some companies, like us, have found success by helping customers to set milestones, showing how they can use the product to reach those goals, and delivering in-app messages that drive them to those goals and congratulate them when they achieve success.

You can also keep the momentum going during the onboarding phase by using a platform that allows you to send specific messages based on pre-determined criteria. For example, when a user logs in for the first time, that can trigger communication from your onboarding team or system that highlights core features, provides some troubleshooting resources, and reiterates your excitement to be a partner. Even a simple personalized email welcoming a user to your brand, and making it easy to access the account, can go a long way toward reducing onboarding friction. In fact, research indicates that an email that contains a personalized subject line is 26 percent more likely to be opened than a generic message.

Excellent onboarding takes that even further. Later, when your dashboard indicates that a user has been working with specific features, that will trigger additional communication about those features and how to get the most from them. Offering help when necessary and relevant is also important. Consider activating an invitation to ask questions once users spend a certain amount of time on a specific page or task. The idea is to make this personalization as seamless as possible, reaching your customers when they need the communication the most and creating a streamlined, friction-free customer onboarding process.

Successful onboarding continues even after the initial use, though. You want to stay in contact with your customers and give them a reason to keep your product top-of-mind. A personalized approach to customer relationships that includes everything from handwritten thank-you notes to invitations to join a referral program can help maintain customer engagement and provide the personal touch that reduces friction. When you do, you’ll reduce churn by creating an experience that customers want to return to again and again.

Want more? Check out our complete guide to customer onboarding for processes, strategies, tools, and more.


Want to find out how scalable your onboarding process is today? Take the customer onboarding grader.