The 7 Best Customer Onboarding Practices For Startups

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Looking for a viable way to retain your customers? These 7 onboarding practices will make sure you keep customers engaged & motivated.

Nowadays, especially in crowded markets, it’s really hard to find new customers and especially to retain them. Recruiting new customers costs five times more than retaining those who you already have.

Without a doubt, focusing on great customer onboarding and in-app experiences is now more important than ever before. Especially since customer onboarding is one of the best ways to engage with your new customers.

In this article, we will cover 6 best practices for successful customer onboarding. After you finish reading this, you will be able to implement all of the mentioned tactics, and eventually, reduce your churn rates and improve retention.

In order to deeply understand each of the following practices and achieve results, first, let’s break-down customer onboarding into different stages:

Understanding The Customer Onboarding Concept

Understanding the customer onboarding concept is a must if you want to skyrocket your growth, reduce churn and improve trial-to-paid conversions. There are some principles we need to explain before we actually dive deeply into the best customer onboarding principles.

Long story, customer onboarding is the process of helping your customer to understand and use your product by using different in-app experiences, product tours, modals, slideouts, and many other UI elements.

Successful and converting customer onboarding consists of three main pillars:

  • the “aha moment” – this is the moment where your trial user perceives the value you’re offering.
  • user activation – the moment when your trial user actually sees the value of your product and has a first (and successful) contact with some particular feature
  • user adoption – the last, but not the least important, part of customer onboarding is user adoption – the moment where your customers adopt your product and successfully use all core features.

Now, when we know and understand the basics of customer onboarding, it’s time to see best and real-life practices that will help you to create killer customer onboarding processes, retain and convert more customers.

When it comes to the creation of in-app experiences itself, you can always try to code with the help of open libraries, or, you can use user onboarding software.

#1 Use Checklists

Checklists are a great way to tell your trial users what exactly they need to do. Even more, checklists are based on the Zeigarnik effect – a psychological bias where people have a tendency to better remember completed tasks than uncompleted ones.

The 6 Best Customer Onboarding Practices For Startups

GrowthMentor used Userpilot’s checklists to grow its adoption rate. By following its example, checklists should be:

  • Clear and with a cutting-edge design
  • Understandable and actionable
  • Taking up little space

#2 Improve The User Activation Rate With Transactional Emails

Transactional emails (or how we like to call them: user onboarding emails) are emails that are triggered by some particular action or user behavior. Transactional emails drive 4-8 times more opens and clicks and there are various types of transactional emails you can use, and some of them are:

  • Welcome emails
  • Email confirmation emails
  • Trial ending soon emails
  • When your customer didn’t activate some particular feature
  • Affiliate emails
  • Education emails
  • Custom event emails (i.e. if they activated feature “A”, lead them towards feature “B” if they didn’t tried it).
  • Status emails (i.e. weekly or monthly emails)
  • Payment confirmation emails
  • Credit card expiration emails
  • Notification emails
  • And many more

A lot of reasons can trigger your transactional emails:

  • Unique date set (i.e. 2 days after sign-up)
  • In-app action (i.e. when your trial user activates some feature)
  • Missing in-app activation (i.e. when your trial user doesn’t activate a feature)

For example, Competitors App sends a transactional email whenever a trial user doesn’t add their domain.

The 6 Best Customer Onboarding Practices For Startups

After Competitors App’s user add their domain, they will be able to track their competitors. That’s the reason why adding a domain is considered as the main activation point. According to Razvan Girmacea, CEO of Competitors App, this particular email has open rates higher than 50%, while more than 30% of those who opened the email actually added their domain.

#3 Segment Your Users

You can segment your users in different ways:

  • By the user’s role (i.e. CEO, Social Media Manager, CTO, Product Manager, etc.)
  • By the user’s goals and behaviors (i.e. Does he want to drive better conversions or collect more emails with your product?)
  • By the company type (i.e. Is it SaaS or small local business?)
  • By the team size (i.e. is it a bigger or smaller team? Smaller teams will usually need fewer features)

There are two ways you can segment your users:

  1. By collecting information in the sign-up flow or while requesting a demo
  2. By asking them directly for the first time when they start using your app

This example from is a great way for understanding a user’s goals and later personalizing in-app experiences:

The 6 Best Customer Onboarding Practices For Startups

#4 Personalize In-App Experiences

Personalization is more important than ever before. On every channel – the more you personalize your marketing efforts, the more results you will achieve. Whether you’re doing cold outreach or write landing pages. According to Business2Community, 74% of consumers feel frustrated when online content isn’t personalized.

In either way, you can personalize your customer onboarding by various things:

  • User behavior
  • Triggered actions
  • Mouse clicks
  • User information
  • Rage click
  • Time on-page
  • Exit intent

At last, when you’re showing your very first message to a new user, try to include their first name in the modal.

#5 Use Context-Driven User Onboarding

In the user onboarding process, you will usually have more different “Aha! moments” and activation points.

Long story short, usually, the user onboarding process before complete product adoption looks like this:

The 6 Best Customer Onboarding Practices For Startups

Since you have a lot of different features, your customer will be considered as “adopted” once when he/she passes through all activation points. Having this in mind, the best practices to quickly lead your users through all activation points is to only show them “Feature B” once they activate “Feature A”.

Hubspot is a good example of this:

The 6 Best Customer Onboarding Practices For Startups

When a Hubspot user is using the app extensively and starts copy pasting their email several times. Only then, this feature gets activated. Context-intent, in this case, is copy+paste.

#6 Use Progress Bars To Keep Up The User’s Attention & Motivation

Progress bars can be extremely useful – especially if your product requires your trial users to do a little bit more work in order to see the value. They will keep your user’s attention and provide with more motivation.

Progress bars can find its purpose almost anywhere:

  • In your signup flow
  • When reading the blog post
  • When setting up their account
  • When doing some particular action or using some feature

In any case, progress bars don’t require too much space – but they can be very effective.

#7 Celebrate Successes

Success celebration can be a great way to motivate your users. Depending on your product, the “term” success can vary. For a CRM company, success can be importing a lead list, while for email delivery products, success can be publishing email campaigns.

One of the most famous success celebrations in the history of customer onboarding is certainly MailChimp’s “high five!”

The 6 Best Customer Onboarding Practices For Startups

Success celebration will not just motivate your customers to move forward, but it can also help you to improve your social media such as Twitter engagement (like in MailChimp’s case).

The Bottom Line

As you can see, customer onboarding is an ongoing process – it requires constant attention and testing.

Understanding your product and your customers will help you to create better and more engaging in-app experiences that eventually result in better conversions, reduce churn rates and improve retention.

Like we mentioned, implementing great customer onboarding is now more important than ever before. Luckily, you have the 7 best practices in front of you.

At the end of the day, if you don’t have enough resources or you find creating in-app experiences and developing them manually time-consuming, you can always use some user onboarding tool. There are countless Appcues alternatives you can choose from.



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