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What Is Customer Onboarding? Best Practices for Sustainable Business

/ Paige Frisone

Business woman sitting in front of laptop, holding hand out for handshake.

The easiest way to combat customer turnover? Two words: customer onboarding. If you don’t have a sound customer onboarding process, you risk negatively impacting sales, user experience, and reputation.

In this tutorial, we'll cover:

Let’s get after it.

What is customer onboarding?

Person’s hand with a silver ring filling out a mobile app’s “Lets Start” prompt against a wooden table.Customer onboarding directly impacts a user’s experience of the company and its products. Image via Duncan Meyer.

Customer onboarding is the process by which businesses successfully guide users into their products and services. Similar to how onboarding at work influences one’s training, customer onboarding directly impacts a customer’s expertise (and experience) of services and products.

Rules one through one hundred for any business? Give the people what they want! 87% of customers believe companies should put more thought and effort into their customer onboarding process. And what they ask, they shall receive!

While most businesses should have some customer service strategy in place, customer onboarding is most advantageous for SaaS companies, or those offering online tools, software, products, or services.

Why use customer onboarding?

Automated customer onboarding holds a slew of benefits for both businesses and customers alike. This process is designed to both initiate and maintain the company-customer (B2C) relationship. And though it’s a mutually beneficial dynamic, the benefits may look different for each party.

Benefits of customer onboarding for businesses

While customer satisfaction should always be top priority, there are numerous other benefits of customer onboarding. The process:

  • Establishes company value
  • Establishes customer value
  • Simplifies signups
  • Improves customer lifetime value (CTV)
  • Creates stable revenue
  • Increases referral potential
  • Heightens customer loyalty, engagement, and retention

While customer satisfaction wasn’t top-of-mind back in 6000 B.C., modern-day business etiquette has gone from negotiation and bartering to customer-education and independence. Professions focused on UX/UI are built entirely around the customer.

The impact? That phrase, Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime just about sums it up. Walk customers through how to use your product and you have a satiated, self-sufficient, lifelong customer.

Benefits of customer onboarding for customers

When it comes to user experience, customers run at the first sign of struggle. Too many forms or hoops to jump through? Prepare for the classic break-up line but in the way no one wants to hear it. It’s not me, it’s you.

When done correctly, registration numbers and/or sales will reflect success. How will you know users benefit? When:

  • Getting questions answered is easy
  • Support is part of every step
  • Customer loyalty, retention, and referrals speak for themselves
  • Customer feedback reflects benefits
  • Customers acquire trust in the company
  • Customers develop expertise
  • Customers gain confidence

All of these outcomes are quantifiable. So long as simplicity and ease are the front-running customer service values, you won’t go wrong. There’s no bigger asset to customers than making it easy for them to get started.

Have a sign-up form? Make it easy. Have a video tutorial? Make it easy. Whatever you do, the customer shouldn’t have to work hard or think twice, ever.

The longer folks spend trying to figure it out, the less likely they stick around. Find a way to hit the Easy button on each step and you’ll be indispensable.

So how does the magic happen? Let’s break down the customer onboarding process into bite-sized steps.

Customer onboarding in 5 steps

Customer onboarding is equal parts getting started as it is building long-term connections. Like any relationship needs time, growth, and development, the same goes for the customer experience.

There are infinite ways to initiate an onboarding process specific to your expertise. Here’s how we’ve set up ours as a basic example. Plus, we added some quick do’s and don’ts along the way.

1. Sign them up

Sign-up form for WeVideo to create a free account against light blue background.Offer options to Sign up or Make an account. Easily register or log in with existing email or social media platforms.

Before using any tool or product, users will have to go through a standard sign-up process.

Do: List the benefits of your product on the prompt. Plus, encourage free trials to offset commitment-phobia. Like any new relationship, give folks time to acclimate and discover why they should stick around.

Don’t: Make it longer than a one or two-step process. Short and sweet is the golden standard here. If you need more than a basic name and email, break up your info on multiple pages so as to not overwhelm the customer. Like we eat with our eyes first, no one wants a TLDR experience as their first impression.

2. Welcome them in

In a world of constant spam and junk-mail, there’s an entire email-avoidant population. However, when it comes to signing up for products or purchasing plans, most people do open their welcome emails. In fact, 80% of people expect it as a means of confirmation.

Not receiving welcome emails can deter or confuse users Remember, you never want to leave folks guessing, so use email templates to craft a warm welcome and a quick intro. Need some inspo? Try this format:

WeVideo welcome email example with black text, white background, and blue CTA buttons.Take every opportunity to create value. Remind and repeat why the product, tool, or service is necessary.

Do: Space out your info in a visually appealing way. Pair compelling stats with a call to action or two in symmetrical alignment. Plus, include brand colors, italics, bold, and brand fonts where appropriate.

Don’t: Be too sales-pitchy. Once authenticity is compromised, there’s no going back. Create need naturally and guide—don’t force—customers into the product.

Bottom half of WeVideo email template with blue and purple color gradient, blue icon graphics, white text, and blue CTA buttons.Place social icons on the bottom of your email for easy access to extra tips and resources.

If you have a longer email template, use the bottom half as another opportunity to remind customers why you’re awesome. Use icons or graphics instead of basic bullet points for added attention to detail. Pair copy against a slick, brand-related color gradient and one last CTA for last chance clicks.

No matter what aspect of the onboarding process you’re building, always aim to tell a cohesive story. Keep consistent themes, elements, topics, and design. That way, if customers go on vacation or miss an email update, they still remember exactly who you are and why you matter.

3. Simplify first-time logins

WeVideo’s login page to enter its online editor software.Simplify the original registration page with a fast email access pass.

Once customers have registered for the product, first-time logins provide access to the Hub space, dashboard, or home library.

Do: Make your services accessible with as many linking options as possible. Type in the email and password (or Facebook account info) that you originally registered with and done!

Don’t: Complicate logins with extra codes or barriers to entry. Keep text fields sparse and close together for an expedited login process.

4. Walk through your product

Screenshot of WeVideo’s online Hub space with virtual chat assistant.Make systems intuitive with instructional videos, narration, pop-ups, or arrows.

This is the most promising step for users to meet confusion. New terms and tools prompt unexpected learning curves and your job is to make that experience de minimis.

Put yourself into a new customer’s shoes. What questions would you have? What format would answer them? Experimentation is innately part of new endeavors. But aiding pleasant first-time exposure is the name of the game. Experimentation without direction is a fine-line from lost.

Do: Integrate virtual chat assistants, instructional training videos, or easy-to-follow walk-through prompts. Adopting a better safe than sorry mindset is strategic, as it’s better to give customers an opt-out option than to leave them wishing they had more guidance. Don’t go down the fast-track to “Unsubscribe.”

Don’t: Overwhelm with all the aforementioned methods. Discern subtle ways to guide and assist without offering required training videos. Remember what we said about the fish and independence? Offer the how-tos, but let them learn on their own terms.

Pro tip: If you decide to use intro videos within your tool or in upcoming emails, be sure your file sizes are conducive to the platform. Even an extra second of buffer time can make any customer say “nah.” 

Alas! We’ve made it to the main attraction. Once customers get acclimated, you can start to end more detailed feature descriptions. Don’t jump on this step prematurely, as we’ve discussed how new terminology can lose people. Ta-da!

5. Offer consistent, non-intrusive follow-ups

Last but not least, make sure you check in periodically—weekly or bi-monthly to start. In the beginning stages, customers can expect more frequent email updates. To prevent coming on too strong, work your way up to a non-intrusive flow. Whatever you decide, be consistent.

Ideas for follow-up emails may include:

  • Getting started emails
  • New feature updates
  • Subscription plans
  • Discounts and promos
  • Informational emails
  • Milestone celebrations

Keep in mind that when customers act upon your follow-up email offers, you should respond with another email confirming their new activity. After customers register for plan upgrades, redeemable offers, etc., there should be more praise awaiting them in their inbox.

And if you haven’t seen much activity from some users, feel free to send an “Are you still there?” email with suggestions as to how they can get started. Wherever folks are in their process, meet them there.

Here’s an example of a follow-up email from WeVideo suggesting easy ways to begin.

WeVideo email with subject line titled, “Need help getting started? Try a template!” Copy and instructional video included in email body.Follow-up emails keep the business-customer relationship strong, all-the-while providing education, tutorials, training, and more.

Do: Vocalize why you’re reaching out in the subject line. The above email example is titled “Need help getting started? Try a template!” Whatever your email subject, make the design synonymous with past emails to improve brand recognition. Reliability is the foundation of all things positive.

Don’t: Email every day. Back to our relationship goals, give the other person time to respond. In this case, that means letting them try your product on their own for a bit. Plus, no one loves an anxious attachment style. Space and time are A-Okay so long as you don’t leave them hanging.

5 best business practices for customer onboarding

Before you start designing your customer onboarding program, you’ll want to check the following off your list.

1. Know your audience

Successful customer onboarding directly relates to you doing your research. Who’s your demographic? What’s their preferred language, tone, and style? By identifying your main user profile, you can better understand how to serve them with email content, in-product education, promo videos, and more.

2. Insert video

No matter your demographic, audiences need diversity for optimal engagement. Mix up your content with videos, audio clips, and background music. Keep them short and sweet, around two minutes for peak attention and work to “sell” your audience in 30 seconds or less. Up for the challenge?

3. Bring on the brand voice

Online customer onboarding is the way of the world these days. Still, there’s nothing more aggravating than a negative, disconnecting online experience. Aim to humanize the digital world with witty and relatable content.

Establish your brand voice and messaging with clear expectations, goals, steps, and details. The more personality you have on the back end, the more receptive users will be.

4. Offer insights and expertise

When customers stop learning, they stop growing. Be educational and helpful without info overload. Where you offer knowledge, you build trust. And where there’s trust, there’s value.

5. Create value

Competition keeps companies striving for better and different. Build valuable, everyday solutions for everyday problems and make it obvious why you’re the superior brand.

Hint: If you really believe you are the best, this shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish.

Build your customer onboarding process

Congrats! You’re well on your way to establishing an impressive business-customer relationship. So next time you’re wondering, What is customer onboarding? pay attention to the ways other companies do it after you sign up for a free trial or purchase online software.

Once you’ve compiled your step-by-step content, schedule follow-up emails and embed videos everywhere you can with WeVideo. Try free today to launch your business version 2.0. Numbers never lie, so watch your hard work pay off with customer retention, engagement, satisfaction, and sales all around. Good luck!