Why customer onboarding is so critical

Savvy SaaS businesses know that good onboarding is the most critical point in the customer lifecycle.

For online businesses offering a free trial, a customer being onboarded is worth significantly more than a lead in the presale phase — the customer has made a commitment to the business, and as long as they find success, they will convert. For those without a trial, customer onboarding is equally important — even though that customer is paying now, a poor experience ensures that customer churn comes far sooner than expected.

Take a look at the stats of any profitable SaaS business, and they will often bear this out. Hubspot, for instance, found that an improvement in customer onboarding had an impact that stretched far past week one — in fact, a 15% increase in week one retention through better customer onboarding can lead to a significant boost in revenue for the entire lifecycle of that customer, translating to a revenue boost of over 100%.

Put simply, customer onboarding is to SaaS what takeoff is to an airplane — the high-risk, make or break moment that you HAVE to get right.

How to approach customer onboarding correctly

Nickelled works with clients around the world to break down the customer onboarding process into five, easy-to-follow steps:

  1. Identify success
  2. Map milestones
  3. Find the friction
  4. Clear the path
  5. Measure, iterate and learn

To find out more about how we help companies using interactive guides (and to build your own guide in under 60 seconds), click here.

Otherwise, read on…

Identify Success

"You can't manage what you can't measure."

By far the most common problem that we see with customer onboarding processes is that success hasn’t actually been defined.

Sure, businesses know what they want their customers to do — normally, they want them to convert to a paid plan, or add a team member, or perhaps use that new killer feature they just launched. But nine times out of ten, they’re approaching it wrongly.

The strongest SaaS businesses define success in terms of customer success. They know exactly what their clients want when they sign up to their app and they measure how often and how quickly they deliver it. Recommended further reading on this comes from Lincoln Murphy, in his excellent article Understanding Your Customer’s Desired Outcome.

So the first step in identifying success is asking your customers, honestly and openly, what they’re looking for from your app, and whether you’ve delivered it yet. Better still, take the time to understand what their boss is looking for, what their CFO is looking for and what their customers are looking for.

This process needs to be described in terms that don’t relate to your service offering. Very rarely will you be offering the exact thing that aligns with your customer’s desired outcome. Instead, you’ll normally be providing one path for them to get to that destination — and the better you understand the destination, the better you’ll be able to map the route.

Map Milestones

How will you translate your customer’s desired outcomes back into the outcomes you’re looking for?

According to Fraser Deans, head of product at Nickelled, by far the best way is to watch users use your product and record when they reach their moment of success (also known as the "Aha!" moment) by conducting usability testing. You can read the full interview with Fraser here but the key excerpt is below:

Customer Onboarding Tip From Fraser Deans
In-person usability testing is basically peering over the shoulder of a user whilst they complete a task within your application to see what they do. It really opens your eyes to what your customers are seeing and doing! It’s important that you get them to speak their thoughts out loud as they go through the process and you’ll start to really see they pain and literally hear them say “Aha!” when the penny drops.

If you’re unable to conduct in-person usability testing you could do remote usability testing (UserTesting.com is a great service for this — you’ll be sent a video of a person completing the task). Additionally take a look at services like Hotjar that will record real life users interactions for you to view later.
Fraser Deans, Head of Product, Nickelled

Find the friction

With your milestones identified, the rest of the process is a lot easier.

From here, the effort is around how to remove anything that stops the users reaching their milestones, implementing solutions and measuring the outcomes.

Clearly, many things can have an impact on whether or not your users ever reach the high-value milestones you’ve identified. But in our experience, a few reasons tend to pop up again and again.

What stands in the way of completing a funnel step?

  • Apathy
    Do I care enough to complete the step?
  • Confusion
    Is it clear how to complete the step?
  • Frustration
    Is it easy to complete the step?
  • Fear
    What might happen if I complete the step?
  • Groundwork
    Do I have to do something else before completing?
  • Cost
    How much will it cost if I complete the step?

Clear the path

In general, solutions for clearing the above frictions tend to fall into a couple of categories.

User Interface Fixes

Broadly speaking, this refers to tackling problems caused by a poor user interface. Common pitfalls here include pages where the buttons aren’t obvious or don’t work, where text entry fields don’t validate properly or where the design is so bad it’s just impossible to know where to start.

Customer Education

Customer education needn’t take the form of an interactive guide (like Nickelled) - your business may find success with videos, email series, in-app messaging or even in-person onboarding to ensure the customer knows what they’re supposed to be doing next.

User Experience Fixes

Here, we’re talking non-design elements that also have a huge impact on the customer onboarding process. The most common type of poor user experience we see at the beginning of the customer journey tends to be excessive fields in forms, poor CAPTCHAs or email validation requirements which are totally unecessary.

Although we’re specialists in building website tutorials, we recommend that businesses take a holistic approach when clearing the path. So while website tutorials may serve to better educate users about the potential of a product, they should never be used to cover up a poor user interface, for example.

Measure results

We wrote a full blog post on measuring customer onboarding results here — including some handy hints on what to measure and why.

The key questions you have to be able to answer, however, are:

  1. What percentage of our users extract value from my product?
  2. How long does it take them to get there?

Only once you understand these can your business begin to accurately measure the success of new customer onboarding initiatives. In general, tools such as Google Analytics or Amplitude can help you to map out user journeys and understand where value extraction really occurs.

In our experience, companies tend to measure onboarding initiatives on three axes — actions, events and users.

  1. An action = a user utilizing a specific part of the app
  2. An event = a user-intent driven point (a waypoint on the way to customer success)
  3. A user = a person using the app

Of course, an event can also be an action and both events and actions are always tied to users. But thinking of these three dimensions allow us to put in place an onboarding flow framework for answering key questions, which may look something like:

  1. User signs up
  2. User creates a company
  3. User creates their first guide
  4. User invites a colleague
  5. User’s guide gets viewed by a third-party

How can Nickelled help?

Customer Onboarding is a learning process, and we’d love to learn with you. We make simple guides to onboard and convert every user, with zero website changes required.

To create a Nickelled guide today, with no code installation or software downloads click the big button below.

At the end of the process, simply create a no-obligation account and we’ll be in touch to talk about how you can revolutionize customer onboarding in your company.

Create a guide, absolutely free

Make your first guide
No installation or code required