Unlock Success with 7 Customer Onboarding Tips

Change is hard, and the fundamental challenge of customer onboarding is that people have to change the way they do things. Successful onboarding is about recognising users needs and fears while helping them get value from the product with good product design, documentation and customer support.

6 months ago   •   5 min read

By Leo Moore

There is an old adage that the best kind of customer is one who actually pays for your product but these days that is not enough. In reality, the best kind of customer is one who keeps buying your product as it shows that the customer continually sees value in your product or service. This is the fundamental premise behind Software as a Service (SaaS), at some point be it monthly, quarterly, annually or multi-annually the customer has to decide to renew the subscription or at least to not cancel it.

However, the first challenge is to get them using it in the first place. The most critical time is at the start when the Customer has little knowledge about the product and have to invest time and effort to get up and running so they can gain the benefits. This is more challenging than you think, as can be seen in the 2023 KPMG Global Technology Survey which found that 51% of technology executives has not seen any increase in performance or profitability from their investments and the main reason is that users do not engage with the new technology.

The solution to this issue is successful customer onboarding.

What is SaaS Customer Onboarding?

Customer onboarding is a process of guiding and assisting new customers to become familiar with your products and services. The primary goal of customer onboarding is to ensure that customers have a smooth and positive experience as they begin using a product or service, ultimately leading to their success and satisfaction which encourages adoption. The aim is to demonstrate the most useful features and the benefits that can be gained by using the product frequently.

User onboarding is the process of helping people to see, experience and adopting the products's value to improve their lives

Most SaaS companies have a defined section or department called Customer Success and it is their job to help the customer to get up and running with the new application. We will look at ways this can be done later but the first thing to understand is that all customers are different and even within your customer each user has different characteristics and needs.

A crowd of penguins looking all the same

Every Customer is Different

Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration. While customers are different they will all have similar needs as a collective organisation but that not all users in the organisation are the same and they can have competing agenda's within a client organisation.

User Personas

User personas play a helpful role in user onboarding. By creating detailed user personas, you can tailor the onboarding process to meet the specific needs and preferences of different user groups to increase user engagement and drive customer success. Here are some common user personas in SaaS user onboarding:

User Persona Characteristics Needs Onboarding Approach
The Novice User New to the software or technology, limited technical skills Simple, step-by-step guidance, clear instructions, and basic training to get started Provide interactive tutorials, tooltips, and beginner-friendly content to ease them into the platform
The Tech-Savvy User Comfortable with technology, quick learners Efficiency, advanced features, and shortcuts Offer shortcuts, keyboard commands, and advanced features demonstrations. Focus on time-saving features
The Decision-Maker Holds budget and decision-making authority, often not the primary user Understand the platform's value, ROI (Return on Investment), and benefits for the organization Provide high-level overviews, case studies, and emphasize how the software addresses organizational challenges
The Data-Driven User Relies on data and analytics, seeks insights In-depth training on data-related features and integrations Offer specialized training on data manipulation, reporting, and analytics capabilities
The Collaborator Works within a team, values communication and collaboration Features that facilitate collaboration and team workflows Highlight collaborative features, team setup, and integrations with popular team communication tools
The Small Business Owner Runs a small business, multi-tasker Cost-effective solutions, time-saving features, and scalability Showcase how the SaaS product helps save time and money while accommodating business growth
The Enterprise User Part of a large organization, complex workflows Scalability, robust security, customization options Provide enterprise-specific training, focus on integration capabilities, and emphasize security measures
The Support-Seeker Frequently requires customer support assistance Accessible customer support channels and resources Highlight available support options, provide access to FAQs, chat support, and customer communities
The Compliance-Conscious User Works in a regulated industry with strict compliance requirements Guidance on using the software while maintaining compliance Provide compliance-related training materials and documentation

7 Tips to Improve Customer Onboarding

There are a number of ways we can help with customer onboarding

  1. Listen to your customer's needs, recognise that everyone's needs and objectives are different and tailor the onboarding to the key people in the organisation.
  2. Look for quick wins where the customer can see value in their personal work. This could be being able to produce a complex report or doing some tedious task in less time or cheaper than before. Each person that you help will improve the chance that people will invest the time to make onboarding a success.
  3. Simplify your product design to avoid over burdening customers with too many options and buttons at the start. A complex product can make beginners intimidated and make them less likely to use it. You want them to feel confident so that they explore the product. Apple are the masters of simple designs which minimise visibility of advanced features to avoid overloading a new customer until they are more familiar with the product. I recommend having a look at the excellent book on product-led onboarding from Ramli John and Wes Bush.
  4. Don't skimp on documentation. Users sometimes need a little help. This does not necessarily need to be a 100 page manual. It could be a frequently asked questions. or blog posts on common tasks or even a moderated Stack Overflow topic or Reddit community.
  5. Help with data import. The biggest barrier to helping users get value is often that they have a legacy system or systems with data that needs to be extracted, transformed and loaded into the new system. Once this data is there, lots of opportunities to show value are often available.
  6. Measure product usage to determine user and customer engagement. The more they use the product them the more opportunities for them to find and appreciate the value that is on offer.
  7. Continuous improvement. It's important to continuously gather feedback and refine the onboarding process. Needs change, and user's expectations change and often your product is changing all the time too.

Measuring Customer Onboarding Success

There are a number of ways to track the progress of customer onboarding such as:

  • Activation Velocity which tracks how quickly new users find product value.
  • Average First Response Time which measures how quickly you respond when a user has a support issue. This is particularly important when a new user is looking for help and can be critically important for onboarding.
  • Average Resolution Time, which like average response time is important. Not much point in a quick response if you cannot help the customer to resolve the issue.
  • Customer Health Score tracks the overall health and satisfaction of your customers. This is an overall measure of how well the customer is interacting with the product, the company and your wider community.
  • Net Promoter Score is the overall measure of customer satisfaction and asks the question if the customer would recommend your product to someone else. If they are are not getting value from the product then it is unlikely that they will recommend your product.


Change is hard, and the fundamental challenge of customer onboarding is that people have to change the way they do things. That can be both scary and exciting at the same time. Successful onboarding is about recognising both the users needs and fears and helping them achieve what they want to do, first through good product design, then documentation and finally customer support to help them get value from the product.

A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all — Michael LeBoeuf

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