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The complete guide to customer onboarding
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The complete guide to customer onboarding

A headshot of Elaine Keep
Elaine Keep
9th February, 2024
10 min read
A close up of two people shaking hands inside a triangle
A headshot of Elaine Keep
Elaine Keep
9th February, 2024
10 min read
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What is customer onboarding?
Why is it important?
Customer onboarding best practices
Customer onboarding steps
Customer onboarding software
Why you need a customer onboarding strategy

Start your customers off right! We explore the software, processes, and steps you need for great customer onboarding.

Welcome to your comprehensive guide to the customer onboarding process. We have everything you need, from the best practices to follow and errors to avoid. If you're looking to onboard employees, check out our essential new hire onboarding documents.

Keen to get started and more interested in how to structure your customer onboarding documents? Why not look at our Confluence templates?

What is customer onboarding?

Customer onboarding (sometimes called client onboarding) is the process of getting each new customer to use your product or service in order to enhance the speed of adoption and, therefore, influence retention and loyalty.

During customer onboarding, a process should be followed to see each client receiving various pieces of content and documentation to support them through each stage.

Why is customer onboarding important?

Casey Winters, who drove engagement in his senior roles at Grubhub and Pinterest, said it best at a Slush event: "Not only is onboarding usually the biggest driver of retention, indirectly it's usually the biggest driver of acquisition as well."

Just imagine a scenario where you have paid money, signed a contract, or committed to a business or service and received nothing. Great customer onboarding leaves a strong impression and can positively affect customer engagement, retention, and advocacy.

Customer onboarding best practices

Though no customer base is the same, we have some tried and tested methods that are guaranteed to help get your customers on the right track.

1. Welcome the user

Why did they sign up to work with you? What are their expectations? Now is the time to show you've listened and can demonstrate the most relevant features.

Start with a simple email sequence or an email. Be sure to include:
  • A big thank you, and expression of gratitude for them choosing your business
  • Who is their contact at the business
  • What they'll need to get started (Forms, integrations, uploads)
  • How to find help if they need it
  • When you'll be in touch
  • How to know what to do next
  • How to track their ROI
  • How to feedback to you

2. Activate the user

Getting a user started with any new business, system, or process is always a friction point. When you can understand the friction, you can help overcome it. You could kickstart an integration, invite them to a webinar, or share a video.

Your activation could involve hands-on activities such as setting up their data, filling out a form, or guiding them through tasks, with clear instructions on how to complete each step.

3. Share - but don’t overshare

Great onboarding means you deliver a robust and personalised journey perfect for where customers are now, getting them to use the system or your service in a logical fashion.

Sharing a folder with every single document made in week one will likely scare off any new customer. Share with thought and purpose. What is the smallest, most important piece of knowledge they could have today that would positively affect their specific goals and stay ahead of their learning journey?

Automations work well to ensure you keep your customers manageable, so consider using them. A drip sequence can deliver the documents they need when they need them. You'll also need some great onboarding software, but more on this later!

4. Check-in early on

A check-in process is vital to a great onboarding experience, and while it’s possible to schedule regular account reviews for the year as a whole, the first few weeks are crucial to success.

Not only can you reassure customers you are there for them, but you can spot mistakes they may be making as they use your product or service.

A course correction adds value. If the customer seems happy, now can be a time to increase your communications, to showcase extra features and services, extra advanced user information, all driving them to become expert users or advocates.

Customer onboarding process steps

Our best practice covered the key steps to take in the customer onboarding process, but you'll need some things in place to get started with your own journey.

Use this list to support you:

  • Engage internally on the importance of onboarding. Highlight critical benefits as explained in this article, or share stats on your current customer churn rates or feedback.

  • Prepare for success. A customer onboarding process needs software to support the journey. Who needs access to this? What functionality is correct for you? Is your documentation ship-shape and fit for purpose? Take a full analysis of your current status.

  • Slice and dice your content. Your existing documentation might work harder for you when repurposed into a new format. Consider transcribing a document into an audio file that can be added to an animated video, recreating it as a script for a video explainer, or taking key points and creating these as a checklist.

  • Use internal sources to shape your content strategy. Your support teams, account managers, and customer care/ marketing teams will all see different sides of customers. What are the common questions that need to be answered? Could these be highlighted earlier within an onboarding process?

  • Build feedback into your onboarding process. Feedback can help you get the best from your onboarding process and ensure your effort is well-spent. NPS scores can help gauge customer satisfaction so customers how easy onboarding was. This rich data can help keep company morale high so the process doesn't lapse, and it also comes in handy for your annual review if you’ve been a driving force behind a great customer onboarding process!

Customer onboarding software

Creating customer onboarding without the right software is not something we’d recommend!  Customer onboarding software can help you take this process seriously and provide a branded, consistent experience for the long term.

But what does the software need to provide? Consider the following:
  • A place to manage all your guides and user journeys
  • A way to instantly check the status of your published and in-progress content
  • A way to edit, unpublish, and delete content.
  • Ways to make the learning journey fun or interactive.
  • Ways to book meetings
  • Ability to store various types of documentation
  • Integrations - can you integrate with other platforms, such as Jira and Slack?
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Why you need a customer onboarding strategy

If you’re still unconvinced, here are a few reasons you need a solid onboarding strategy.

Customer onboarding helps differentiate your business

If you've won a customer, you must get them to use the system or service fast. At the same time, your customer is likely excited about working with you and wants to see a return on investment. It’s a golden time to dazzle them! By preparing and delivering a stand-out customer onboarding, you can set yourself apart as a transparent, helpful and keen business to ensure they enhance their usage and ensure buyer’s remorse has no chance to set in.

Customer onboarding helps demonstrate trust

A customer onboarding journey plays an essential role in building trust early on. Instead of stumbling around your platform, wondering when you'll be in touch, or, even worse, having to chase for documents or support, they have the right resources at the right time. When you have a great process, you start to serve the documents that are right for their stage in the onboarding process. As the customer sees you are anticipating their needs, it provides a sense of confidence and trust in your business.

Great onboarding helps to empower your customers

Support time is expensive, and managing a relationship with a client takes a lot of time, too. But empowered clients who can use your product or service confidently can self-serve through their lifetime with you, once they are in the habit of doing so. They are also likely to become powerful advocates of your brand. But how do you take a customer from a user to an expert? It starts with onboarding and setting the expectations of how learning is achieved.

A process for customer onboarding can lead to improved team morale

An inconsistent onboarding process where customers must ask for what they need at any stage could see some clients taking lots of time and resources to serve, demoralising teams. In contrast, proper customer onboarding can improve life for your internal teams. With a standardised onboarding process and a repeatable task schedule, they can predict resourcing requirements and estimate task timings.

Great onboarding provides a natural way to upsell

Customers using a service (and getting value from it) are less likely to cancel. The hardest part is often getting going, but when you improve usage early on through a slick onboarding process, you hold the keys to customer satisfaction and more engagement. This opens the doors for upselling opportunities or puts you in an excellent position to ask for testimonials and case studies.

Support your customers and they'll come back for more

As you can see, a great onboarding experience makes customers loyal advocates and improves internal processes. Are you ready to create the best customer onboarding experience in your industry? We are right behind you!

Start with Guided Pathways today

Just visit the Atlassian Marketplace and install the Guided Pathways app. It couldn't be simpler!
Written by
A headshot of Elaine Keep
Elaine Keep
Content Writer
Elaine has established herself as a respected authority in the HR industry and uses her experience gained as the head of marketing in the employee rewards and recognition software sector to inform her reporting.