What SaaS Product Managers Need to Know About Customer Onboarding in 2019

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post. Interested in collaborating on Product School’s blog? Email Gabriela Araujo at gaby(at)productschool.com

You got a bunch of trial customers, but just a few of them end up like a premium user. This is a common problem for every Product Manager —and with no doubt, focusing on customer onboarding, improving trial to paid conversions and fighting with churn rates and retention are new growth hacky ways.

Moreover, according to the research conducted by Alan Webber, acquiring new customers can cost up to five times more than retaining them, and reducing your churn rates for 5% can result in 25-125% higher revenue, depending on the industry you’re in.

With no doubt, now is the best time to focus your efforts as a Product Manager to improve customer onboarding.

In this article, we will go through different examples, practices, and statistics on improving customer onboarding. We will show you everything you should know, as a Product Manager, for building successful customer onboarding flows, signup flows, onboarding UX and retaining your users.

Before we dive deep in some best practices for user onboarding, let’s see what exactly user onboarding is, and why it’s so important now than ever before.

What is Customer Onboarding and Why It’s so Important?

Customer onboarding is a set of different in-app processes and flows in your user journey. Based on your product and target audience, you can set up different customer onboarding processes.

For example, your user journey can be focused on offering your trial customers some customer support with real people, or, you can create sets of different in-app events and prompts. Of course, you can also use the mix of the two processes.

The goal and purpose of customer onboarding is to adopt your trial users at the end of their journey.

Every successful user journey consists of four main parts:

  1. Converting your website visitors
  2. Unleashing the “aha moment”.
  3. User activation
  4. Customer adoption

Besides converting your website visitors into trial users, unleashing the “aha moment” is very crucial. The “aha moment” should appear as soon as possible after your trial customer makes an account. This is actually a moment where your trial customer sees the value of your product.

Just after unleashing the “aha moment”, you should lead your trial users towards customer activation. It’s really important here to distinguish the “aha moment” and customer activation.

User activation is a moment where your trial user feels the value. This is usually achieved by forcing your users to use your primary features. You can improve user activation in various ways, and some of them is sending dedicated email push navigations or creating personalized in-app experiences.

Customer adoption is a moment where your customer makes contact with other secondary features and start using your product.

If you want to reduce your churn rates and improve your retention with customer onboarding, this is the basic template you should follow.

It’s really important for you as a Product Manager to focus on improving your customer onboarding now than ever.

There are several reasons for this:

  • The market is crowded – every day we can see a bunch of new startups popping up and trying to disrupt the market —according to ProfitWell, a company who is 1-year-old have 10 direct competitors on average.
  • According to Invespcro, the probability of selling to existing customers is 60-70%, while the probability of selling to new customers is 5-20%
  • Customer willingness to pay and happiness decreased dramatically over time —according to ProfitWell, the average NPS score 5 years ago was 33.8 while one year ago was 10.2 – subconsciously, customers are demanding better products.

And more important, as we mentioned at the beginning of this article, customer acquisition cost increased dramatically over time. According to SignalMind, increasing your retention for just 2% can bring you the same results as reducing your costs by 10%.

Keeping all of this in mind, improving your customer onboarding is crucial if you’re planning to sustain and endure on the market in the next several years.

Now when we know the importance of customer onboarding, let’s dive right in the best practices to improve it!

Best Practices to Improve Customer Onboarding in 2019

Like in every other “product departments”, there are also some best practices and ways you can improve your customer onboarding too.

Keeping this in mind, we will go through several successful examples of customer onboarding by real companies, and see what are the secret sauces behind them.

Personalization Is the Key

Personalization isn’t only important in cold emails and sales outreach. It’s important in customer onboarding too!

For example, Infosys researched backed up this theory, revealing that 31% of surveyed customers desire that their user experienced is more personalized than it’s right now.

Although this is a perfect opportunity for you to gain a bigger market cap since from a recent study by Pure360, many brands are still focusing on simple and basic forms of user personalization, failing to engage with their customers on better ways.

In customer onboarding, everything is about showing the right messages at the right time to the right people.

Context-driven in-app experiences will help you engage with your customers, retain them and improve customer onboarding. Even more, it will help you improve user adoption.

The first thing you must do towards building personalized in-app experiences is understanding your customer’s roles, interests, and behaviors.

A lot of tools can help you achieve this. Based on your needs, you can use Mixpanel or Fullstory for example. Now when we know our user’s behaviors. It’s time to see how can you implement personalized in-app experiences in your customer onboarding.

The first way to personalize your customer onboarding is asking your newly registered users the right questions.

Pinterest and Netflix are great examples of this.

As soon as you register on their platforms, both of them will ask you different sets of questions.

Netflix personal settings

By choosing your interests or the movies you watched, Pinterest and Netflix will personalize your feeds, so you can enjoy in your experience in the best manner!

The second way of using personalization in your customer onboarding is sending contextual and personalized in-app messages.

Hubspot is winning the game when it comes to customer onboarding. We can use it as an example of various types of user onboarding practices.

When Hubspot’s users try to copy/paste texts to email bodies, Hubspot sends them notification informing them about one of its features:

Hubspot popups

Do you see the correlation here?

Hubspot pushes its context-driven personalized in-app message (in this case template features) only after its users try to copy/paste text.

This is also called A to B user activation—the process when you’re trying to activate your users during customer onboarding for event B only after the customer makes contact with event A.

When it comes to implementing personalization in your customer onboarding, literally everything is based on your imagination. You can find out numerous examples of this on the internet.

For example, honestly, have you ever tried to use your customer’s name in your in-app messages? It’s a good trick for attracting your customer’s attention.

Optimize Your Customer Onboarding with Self-serve and Human-based Customer Support

Support has a very significant role in user journey and product adoption. With no doubt, every customer will need some kind of support during their customer onboarding journey.

You can support your customers in two ways – with self-serve support and human-based customer support.

Implementing self-serve support in your customer onboarding will help you reduce your time-to-value, lead your customers towards the “aha moment” and later activate and adopt them.

According to Social Media Today, 70% of customers prefer to use a company’s website or knowledge base to find answers before they pick up the phone with customer support.

Great way to implement self-serve customer support in customer onboarding flow, is creating dedicated knowledge-based pages for your users. According to Econsultancy, 51% of customers prefer technical support through the knowledge base.

Long story short, the purpose of knowledge base pages is to make it easy for your customers to find out answers they need. Clean and easily researchable UX design of knowledge base pages is a must.

Inspectionxpert is a great example of how to create an easily understandable knowledge base for your customer onboarding.

Inspection Xpert screenshot

As you can see, it’s really easy to navigate through Inspectionxpert’s knowledge base. When implementing the knowledge base in your customer onboarding flow, you must keep two things in your mind:

  • Answers must be easily accessible
  • Answers should provide an in-depth and actionable solution to your customer’s problems.

Helpshelf is a great tool for supporting your users during customer onboarding.

It allows you to automatically send personalized answers, guides, and how-to’s to your users whenever they need your help. These kinds of tools will help you reduce your time-to-value and support requests and unleash the “aha moment” faster and reduce support requests.

You should also try to implement human-based customer support too because in most cases, self-serve support isn’t enough.

According to Salesforce, 78% of millennials moved their service somewhere else during poor customer support, while according to Econsultancy, 31% of customers demand online help instantly, while 40% of them want online assistance in the first 5 minutes.

From the statistics above, we can conclude that good customer support must satisfy at least two things:

  • Users should have easy access to answers
  • The value you provide to your customers who have problems must be quick and it must answer your customer’s questions

When it comes to human-based customer support, implementing callback software in your customer onboarding flow might be a good thing to do.

Callback software like Limecall can find its purpose in almost any department of marketing. It can help you improve your website conversions, or bring personal touch in your customer onboarding and reduce time-to-value.

Use Psychology in Your Customer Onboarding

Psychology can find its purpose everywhere, and certainly, it can be very useful for customer onboarding too!

There are numerous ways to implement app onboarding psychology in your customer onboarding flow. We will go through a few examples.

Unleash the “Aha Moment” with Uncompleted Task

Zeigarnik effect is a great way to quickly unleash the “aha moment”. Zeigarnik effect explains that people have a tendency to better remember uncompleted tasks than completed ones.

Have you ever thought why waiters in the restaurants can remember so many orders? Every brain is trained to pay more attention to uncompleted tasks.

Of course, this can find its purpose in customer onboarding too.

GrowthMentor, the online platform for connecting mentors and passionate entrepreneurs, uses a checklist process for their customer onboarding.

growth mentor screenshot

By adding the mentor onboarding checklist, GrowthMentor managed to decrease the time to supply-side activation by over 80% and decreased support tickets by 90%. Founder Foti Panagio said:

“Before integrating the user onboarding checklist, there wasn’t one time that a new mentor did not send a support ticket with a question, it was just a standard thing we just took for granted. Thankfully, that’s over now and we can focus on things that matters.”

albacross screenshot

Albacross is another great example of using checklists and Zeigarnik effect in their customer onboarding flow.

By implementing Userpilot’s checklists, Albacross was able to improve activations rates by 20% in the first few days.

Gamify Your In-App User Experience

With no doubt, gamification is a great way to entertain and engage with your customers.

There are numerous examples of using gamification in your app-onboarding flow. For example, Autodesk reported that after they gamified the free trial – their free trial usage increased by 54%, buy click by 15% and channel revenue by 29%.

Seamless AI is a great example of using gamification in their customer onboarding flow.

Seamless AI screenshot

By resolving each step during their customer onboarding, Seamless AI’s users are able to collect new credits.

According to Seamless AI’s onboarding manager, this reduced efforts for their sales team to personally onboard the user and played a significant role in improving activation and conversion.

This is a great example of using gamification during your customer onboarding flow to engage with your users, activate them and later retain them.

Offer Fewer Choices

Barry Schwartz, an American psychologist who wrote a bog “Paradox of Choice – why more is less”, explained in his study that people who have more choices are more indecisive than people who have fewer choices.

HelloBar implemented this psychological phenomenon in its customer onboarding in order to personalize the customer experience.

Hello Bar screenshot

By offering its customers fewer choices, HelloBar managed to better personalize their customer onboarding flow and in-app experiences together with making them easier to achieve their goals and solve problems.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, customer onboarding implementation is now more important than ever before. It will not just help you to convert more trial to paid customers, but it will also help you to improve your retention and reduce churn rates.

Customer onboarding process must satisfy a few things – unleashing the “aha moment”, activating your users and adopting them.

All three parts of customer onboarding flow must be present in order to achieve some results from it.

The process of building customer onboarding might be different from product to product, based on the industry you’re in and on your target audience and customers.

You can use personalized in-app experiences and customer support to supercharge your trial users activity and engage with them in more interesting ways.

Even more, implementing some of the psychological concepts in your customer onboarding might be a really good thing to do – since it will definitely help you to activate and later adopt your trial users.

So, what are you waiting for? What will be the first thing you will implement in your customer onboarding? Whatever you choose, we have no doubt that it will help you to achieve your goals. Fingers crossed!

Meet Yazan Sehwail

Yazan Sehwail photo


Yazan Sehwail is the Co-Founder of Userpilot (a user onboarding tool), and has more than 6 years of UX & Product Development experience. He is currently helping 200+ SaaS companies improve user onboarding and increase product adoption.

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