SaaS Customer Onboarding: In-Depth Guide + Free Checklist

Onboarding plays a crucial role in building a strong relationship with your customers. It's the first step in showing them how your product can help them achieve their goals and overcome their challenges. One negative experience can drive away a third of customers from a brand they love, making the onboarding process critical for your business success.  

The foundation of a successful SaaS customer onboarding experience lies in creating a robust framework. Skipping this foundational work can lead to a lacklustre onboarding process and result in negative experiences for your customers.

In this article, you will learn why customer onboarding is important in SaaS, how to improve the customer onboarding process, and how to build a strong customer onboarding framework for your business.

But first, make sure to download the customer onboarding checklist:
What is user onboarding
User onboarding guides new users from initial sign-up to product activation and first use
The goal of user onboarding...
...deliver value to the customer as quickly as possible

What is customer onboarding?

The customer onboarding process (often also called user onboarding process) is a crucial stage of the user journey which sets the tone for the entire relationship with your product and company. A well-designed onboarding process can lead to long-term product usage and customer satisfaction, while a poor onboarding process can result in user churn.  

The user onboarding process guides new users from initial sign-up to product activation and first use. The goal of user onboarding is to deliver value to the customer as quickly as possible, ideally in their first use.
Why is user onboarding important?
Onboarding is a vital step that can prevent customer churn, as it plays a role in shaping the customer experience
2 ways how user onboarding is beneficial
1 Ensures customer satisfaction
2. Reduces Churn

Why is customer onboarding important?

Customer onboarding is a vital step that can prevent customer churn, as it plays a role in shaping the customer experience and establishing trust and confidence. If a customer does not fully understand the product or decides that it is not the right solution for them, they are likely to disengage.

As a result, a well-executed onboarding process is essential to ensure customer satisfaction and reduce churn. So, the SaaS user onboarding process is not only beneficial for users but also for your business. In addition, by providing easy access to information and knowledge, the onboarding process makes it simple for users to use your product, increasing trust in your business.
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3 key insights that show the significance of user onboarding
The majority of your revenue comes from existing users
Satisfied users can become your top source of referrals
Retaining users can lower acquisition cost and boost revenue
Here are three key insights that highlight the significance of user onboarding:  

1. The majority of your revenue comes from existing users.
2. Satisfied users can become your top source of referrals.
3. Retaining users can lower acquisition costs and boost revenue.  

We can say that user onboarding is crucial for user retention and business growth.
When should you use user onboarding
It is important to have some sort of support in place, right in the beginning

When should you use customer onboarding?

Onboarding is necessary whenever a user is new to your service, typically during a free trial. However, a smaller onboarding process may be required if a user upgrades to a product or tier with additional features. While a comprehensive, multi-channel approach to customer onboarding is ideal, it is important to have some form of support in place from the beginning.
User onboarding and user journey. The difference:
User onboarding and user journey refer to different aspects of a users experience with a product
User onboarding means introducing users to a product and familiarizing them with its features
User journey refers to the entire experience of a user with a product

The difference between user onboarding and a user journey

User onboarding and user journey refer to different aspects of a user's experience with your product.  

User onboarding is the process of introducing new users to a product, familiarizing them with its features, and helping them to start using it effectively. It focuses on guiding new users through the first steps of the product experience and helps them become successful.  

User journey, on the other hand, refers to the entire experience of a user with a product, from the moment they first become aware of it to the moment they achieve their goals and end their usage. A user journey includes the steps of user onboarding but also encompasses the ongoing experience a user has with the product and the support they receive over time.  

Actually, user onboarding is a sub-part of a user's journey with a product, focused specifically on introducing them to the product, and getting them started, while the user journey is the broader, ongoing experience of the user with the product.
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The 9 important parts of user onboarding
The purpose of user onboarding is to assist new users in familiarizing themselves with your products features
Sign up & registration
Welcome email
Product set up
Empty states
Feature callouts
Integrations & data
Interactive journey
Knowledge base
Regular follow ups

How to create a great customer onboarding process and what should be included in onboarding?

The success of your business depends upon the quality of your User Onboarding experience. As a first touchpoint with your product, it is critical that the onboarding process is seamless and leaves a lasting impression on your users. A well-designed onboarding experience can foster long-term success, while a poor one can jeopardize your business.  

The purpose of user onboarding is to assist new users in familiarizing themselves with your product's features. The onboarding process should be tailored to each user's individual needs and allow for flexibility, with resources readily available for users to onboard at their own pace. A successful onboarding experience highlights the purpose of your product, how to use it effectively, and the value it brings to the user.  

Here are 9 components you should consider for your user onboarding process:    

• Sign-Up and Registration
• Welcome email
• Product set up
• Initial log-in & empty states  
• Feature Callouts
• Integration and user data setup
• Walkthrough tours & interactive journeys
• Knowledge base
• Follow-up emails
Step 1:  Sign-Up and registration
The customer onboarding journey begins with the sign-up process. This initial step is crucial in retaining customers, as it sets the tone for the entire experience. Unfortunately, a large portion of SaaS users, around 40%, abandon the platform before even reaching this stage.

To prevent this, it is important to ensure the sign-up process is smooth and efficient and effectively communicates the value of your product. If you notice a high drop-off rate during or after sign-up, it may indicate a problem with your process and should be addressed.
Step 2: Welcome email
After completing the sign-up process, the next step in a successful customer onboarding experience is to properly welcome the new users. A follow-up email that effectively communicates how to get started with the product is crucial. Show appreciation and gratitude to your new users for choosing your product and make them feel valued.

In this email, provide information that will assist them in taking their first steps with your product, answer common questions, and provide tutorials and articles for assistance. The goal is to demonstrate the ease of use of the product and include a call-to-action button that directs users to log in to their account and start using it.
Use a welcome 
email to show appreciation and gratitude to your new users. 

Make them 
feel valued.
Step 3: Product set up
Develop a step-by-step tutorial or setup wizard to assist customers in the setup process. Make it brief and optional. This type of guidance is usually necessary when the process involves multiple steps or requires a specific sequence.
Step 4: Initial log-in & empty states
The next step in the onboarding process is the initial login. After your customers receive the welcome email with a CTA to log in, they will start using your product for the first time. At this stage, it is important to guide them through the platform and show them how to use its functions.

You can provide a video tutorial or a product tour that takes customers through each step of the setup process, making sure to explain the benefits of each step they complete. This will ensure they understand the value of the platform and will be motivated to keep learning.

Provide educational and actionable content in empty states when a customer first accesses their portal and features have no data. This content should explain the purpose of the feature, illustrate its value, and motivate the customer to start utilizing it.

An example of this could be a scheduling tool in the app with the message "Easily schedule team meetings in just a few clicks." Or, an auto-responder feature displaying the message "Create and send email sequences to your audience with ease."
Think about 
empty states. 

Show users how 
to get the most 
out of your product immediately.
Step 5: Feature callouts
Add a feature-showcase banner to help navigate users through the product emphasizing key features that are essential for them to know. Keep in mind that the banner is an introduction, not a substitute for an in-depth tutorial.
Step 6: Integrations & user data
During the onboarding process, customers may need to integrate your product with other tools they use and import their existing data. To make this process as seamless as possible, consider using automation to reduce the risk of manual errors and to minimize integration time.

Additionally, offer multiple integration options to accommodate different needs, as not every customer may require full integration. By doing so, you can provide a flexible and efficient experience to users.
Step 7: Walkthrough tours & interactive journeys
Walkthrough tours provide a hands-on demonstration of how to use the product and offer a tangible example of information found in the knowledge base or FAQs. These tours should be optional for those who already have an understanding of the product, and easily accessible for reference later on.  

The crucial aspect of onboarding is instructing customers on how to use and benefit from the product. Hands-on learning through using the product is the most effective method for customers to comprehend.  

An interactive tour will follow a similar approach to feature callouts, appearing as the user accomplishes one task and guiding them to the next. Ensure that contextual tips are created to teach users how to complete each task.
Let users learn for themselves through walkthroughs 
and tutorials. 

learning is best.
Step 8: Knowledge base
A resource section or knowledge base is an effective solution for commonly asked questions, enabling users to quickly and independently resolve their issues. Utilizing a chatbot is another great option that offers a personalized touch and assists users in resolving their problems without having to search the website.
Step 9: Follow-up emails
After customers have gone through the initial user onboarding process and become familiar with your product, the majority of the onboarding experience is complete. However, your support should not end there. By sending regular follow-up emails, continue to show your customers the value they can receive from using your product. The emails should include tips on specific features and updates to the product.  

Send concise emails frequently to keep your users engaged and focus on one feature per email. This way, you can extend the user onboarding experience and communicate with them over a longer period while encouraging them to continue using your product. You can also share testimonials from other customers to demonstrate the value you can provide.
How to make the most out of user onboarding
Identify what you want users to achieve and align each step with those goals
Customize the onboarding experience to the specific user
Use onboarding as a chance to educate users on key features
Make onboarding interactive and engaging
Clearly communicate what users can expect from the app
Use onboarding to collect data on user behavior and preferences
Provide users with resources such as tutorials or videos

Best practices: How to make the most out of customer onboarding

User onboarding is a critical stage in the customer journey and can greatly impact the success of your B2B SaaS app. Here are some ways to take advantage of it:

1. Set clear goals:
Identify what you want users to achieve during the onboarding process and make sure each step aligns with those goals.

2. Personalization:
Customize the onboarding experience to the specific user, taking into account factors like their role, industry, and goals.

3. Educate users:
Use onboarding as an opportunity to educate users on key features and how to use them effectively, reducing the need for support down the line.

4. Build engagement:
Make onboarding interactive and engaging to keep users interested and motivated to continue using the app.

5. Set expectations:
Clearly communicate what users can expect from the app, setting the stage for a positive experience and long-term retention.

6. Collect data:
Use onboarding to collect data on user behaviour, preferences, and pain points, which can inform future product decisions.

7. Offer resources:
Provide users with resources such as tutorials, videos, and support articles to help them get the most out of your service.

By following these steps, you can make the most of the user onboarding process, creating a smooth and effective introduction to your service and setting users up for success.
Get the Free Checklist here
How to automate the user onboarding process
Create an automated welcome email campaign
Group new users into cohorts
Design onboarding flows targeted at user activation
Create self-help resources for user support

How to automate the customer onboarding process

Onboarding can vary greatly, so it's important to determine what works best for your product. However, several standard onboarding practices can be automated to create a more efficient and engaging experience. Here are four key areas to consider when automating your onboarding process:
1. Create an automated welcome email campaign
Effective communication is crucial in any relationship, including the one between your product and new users. Welcome emails play a vital role in establishing this communication, as they can boost early engagement by 33%. By keeping users engaged, you can reduce the risk of them churning, resulting in increased revenue.  

Creating a welcome email series is simple and can be automated. Instead of manually sending individualized emails to each new user, you can use a tool such as MailChimp.
2. Group new users into cohorts
Personalization is important, but manually sorting new users can be time-consuming and frustrating. Automation tools can simplify this process, allowing you to concentrate on delivering a positive onboarding experience for new users.  

An efficient way to sort new users is to have them self-select their onboarding experience through a survey.
3. Design onboarding flows targeted at user activation
Designing effective onboarding flows is crucial for user activation. The goal is to guide users towards the "aha moment", where they fully realize the value your product offers. This activation event varies depending on the product.

For instance, a one-click shopping on Amazon or a personalized financial plan for a debt consolidator are two fine examples of a user activation event. To optimize the onboarding process, it's important to understand the specific activation event for each user segment, which can be achieved through proper segmentation.
4. Create self-help resources for user support
After completing the onboarding process, encourage ongoing learning and product interaction by providing self-service resources for users to discover features at their own pace. This helps to maximize the value over time.
How to measure the success of your onboarding process
Retention rate
Engagement rate
Completion rate
Feature adoption rate
Activation rate

How to measure the success of your onboarding process

Assessing the success of your onboarding process can be challenging, but there are certain metrics that provide valuable insights and enable you to establish KPIs for faster success. Lets’s discuss them here:
1. Retention Rate
The retention rate measures the percentage of users who continue using the product over a specified period. The metric is expressed as a percentage value and is essential to forecast your business growth. As already stressed, it is much more expensive to win new customers than to keep existing ones, and many Startups fail because of a lack of retaining their customers and not as a lack of acquiring them.

Also, loyal customers help you reduce customer acquisition cost by recommending your service to other people. Therefore, it makes sense to focus on retention. Since companies evaluate retention on an annual, quarterly, monthly, or weekly basis, first think about what time frame makes sense for your business model.

Calculate the retention rate by dividing the number of users in a cohort with the number of users still active after a day, week, month, or other defined time frame.
2. Engagement rate
The engagement rate measures the percentage of users actively using your product within a specific time frame. To gain maximum insights, divide your user base into onboarding start date-based cohorts and monitor changes in engagement resulting from onboarding modifications.
3. Completion rate
The completion rate reflects the percentage of users who successfully complete the onboarding process. Low completion rates indicate a potential issue, such as a user drop-off during the onboarding flow or an incorrect target audience entering the funnel. To resolve this, identify the most likely exit points and make necessary adjustments.
4. Feature adoption rate
The feature adoption rate calculates the percentage of users who consistently utilize a particular feature. If the feature adoption rate is unsatisfactory, consider adjusting your onboarding process to emphasize the most crucial features and delay the introduction of less important ones until after onboarding. The objective of onboarding is to guide users towards significant "aha" moments quickly.
5. Activation Rate
This metric assesses the proportion of users who reach specific activation points crucial for sustained retention. Each product has its distinct activation events that highlight its value to users. By streamlining the onboarding flow to guide users towards these key moments, the probability of retaining them increases.
6. Tracking onboarding support tickets
Tickets provide insight into the difficulties users encounter during the onboarding process. A smooth onboarding experience should be intuitive and proactive, guiding users smoothly from one step to the next with any issues addressed efficiently. Understanding reasons for support tickets is an excellent method to evaluate the success or failure of your onboarding process.
How to improve user onboarding. 12 pro tips.
Get to know your users
Establish clear expectations
Highlight the benefits
Maintain consisten communication
Obtain user feedback
Understand customer success
Personalize goals
Strife to exceed expectations
Evaluate effectiveness
Continuously iterate for better results
Learn from competitors
Concise onboarding

Pro tips and how to improve the user onboarding process

A successful SaaS user onboarding process begins with a solid framework. Implementing best practices in building this foundation can lead to a positive and valuable experience for customers. To optimize your onboarding process, consider these key factors.
1. Get to know your users
Fully understanding your target audience, including their challenges, pain points, and desired outcomes, will help you personalize their onboarding experience. Make sure to gather as much information as possible about your buyer persona to ensure a seamless onboarding process.
2. Establish clear expectations
Before purchasing your product, ensure that users are aware of what to expect. Your sales process should clearly outline the qualifications for using the product. This should be reinforced during the onboarding process as you emphasize the value of the product and prepare users for potential challenges. By doing so, users will be better equipped to overcome obstacles and continue to use the product.
3. Highlight the benefits
To engage your new users, emphasize the value that your product will bring to their specific needs. Provide concrete examples of how it will solve their pain points and include a personal touch, such as a welcome call, specialized training, or tailored documentation.
4. Maintain consistent communication
In addition to in-app tutorials and guides, continue to communicate with your users via email throughout the onboarding process. As email is likely their frequent mode of communication, it's an important channel to keep them engaged. Once they become fully immersed in your product, they'll likely start checking in-app notifications on their own.
5. Obtain user feedback
Collecting feedback from users on their experience with the product is critical towards enhancing user onboarding. Understanding why customers are coming to your product and what their expectations are could provide valuable insights to take your product to the next level. User feedback is a valuable tool to measure the effectiveness of your onboarding flow.
6. Understanding customer success
The success of your customers in using your product is defined as customer success. If customers struggle with your product, it is an indication that changes or improvements are necessary. User onboarding plays a significant role in ensuring your customers' success with your product.
7. Personalize goals
Each user will have unique goals and metrics. Let them set their own success criteria, then assist them in setting measurable milestones with targets to reach.
8. Strive to exceed expectations
With each interaction, aim to deliver the same exceptional experience that initially drew users to your product. The goal is to create such a positive impact that users will be eager to share their experience with others.
9. Evaluate effectiveness
Both users and your business will benefit from the onboarding process. Collect user feedback, identify areas of difficulty, and track key metrics to determine what's working well and where improvements can be made.
10. Continuously iterate for better results
Continuous iteration is crucial in improving your user onboarding experience. Always be open to making changes and testing new approaches to see what works best. A/B testing is a useful tool to see the impact of your changes and to make further improvements. Keep experimenting.
11. Learn from competitors
Sign up for the product of the leading company in your industry to learn from their user onboarding experience. They likely have gone through numerous A/B tests and can provide valuable insights into best practices. Observe how they onboard new users and see what can be applied to your own process.
12. Concise Onboarding
Simplicity is key to successful onboarding. A concise and straightforward process helps users quickly navigate through the beginning stages. On the other hand, lengthy and complex onboarding flows can lead to a decrease in completion rates and higher abandonment rates. Keep your onboarding process as brief and clear as possible to maintain user engagement and increase conversion.

Customer onboarding checklist

Having taken into consideration the best practices for building an effective onboarding framework, you are now ready to implement it and create a memorable onboarding journey for your users. The following checklist can guide you in building a comprehensive onboarding flow that converts new customers into loyal users.
Step 1: Greet the customer
Greeting your customer is an essential part of the onboarding process. Create a welcoming experience both inside and outside of your product. Here are a few things that you can follow:

• Send an automated email welcome series that is triggered after the customer signs up
• Display a welcome screen or pop-up
• Add introductory content to empty screens or pages
Step 2: Build your first-time onboarding process
Designing an effective first-time onboarding process is crucial for new customers. It helps them quickly understand the product and achieve their first success.

• Determine your onboarding model (self-serve, low-touch, or high-touch)
• Choose which onboarding elements to include in the product (checklists, product tours, video guides, in-app tutorials, progress bars, walkthroughs, chatbots, live support)
• Identify the "aha moment" and create a path that leads to it
Step 3: Develop External Onboarding Elements
To provide customers with an easy way to learn about your product outside of the main product, create several elements on your main website or a subdomain. These resources should allow customers to educate themselves at their own pace. Some of these elements include

• A knowledge base or FAQ page
• Tutorials
• Videos
• Help and troubleshooting documentation
Step 4: Establish Customer Support Channels
Despite having a thorough onboarding process, customers may still encounter difficulties. Establish at least one of the following support channels, depending on whether you use a low-touch or high-touch model:

• Chatbots or live support tools
• Help desk software
• Social media customer support
• A dedicated email address for support inquiries

3 FAQs about customer onboarding

1. Can customer onboarding be skipped for certain users or in certain situations?

In 99% of cases, I would recommend that you use customer onboarding. However, there may be cases where users have specific needs or prior experience - for example, if they are expert users. Then, of course, you can skip the onboarding process for them.

Before you start designing your onboarding strategy, assess your users' backgrounds and understand what they are trying to achieve.

2. Is it necessary to update the onboarding process after the initial implementation?

Continuous iteration is essential to find out how effective your onboarding is. Ask yourself:

• Do people get to the 'AHA' moment quickly?
• Do people see the value in my solution?

Especially as your product evolves, you should always consider improving your customer onboarding. A/B testing can be a useful way to experiment with changes and ensure your onboarding remains optimized.

3. How can user feedback be actively collected during onboarding?

One common way is to use post-onboarding surveys or in-app feedback mechanisms such as quick polls or feedback buttons. But let's face it. Nobody actually fills out those feedback forms. A better way - in my opinion - is to talk to people directly.

Ask them if they found what they came for, what they missed and so on. Especially information from people who did not use your service after the onboarding can be valuable for improving your service.


User Onboarding is a critical feature that allows product users to get accustomed to a product. It is a key element that educates users about the value of the product leading to easier product adoption, better customer retention, higher revenue, and eventually leading to the success of your project.

With the discussed aspects of the SaaS Onboarding Plan in this blog, you can craft an onboarding plan that works best for your product.
Resources for your business success