Overcoming Customer Onboarding Challenges in SaaS: Your Go-To Guide

Overcoming Customer Onboarding Challenges in SaaS: Your Go-To Guide cover

Customer onboarding challenges are something every SaaS owner or product manager will face at some stage of their career. Because onboarding is such an important area to get right, it’s critical to have a framework (and the tools) to overcome them.

In this simple guide, we’re going to start by exploring the most common customer onboarding challenges faced throughout the industry… And break down the tactics you can use to tackle them.

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Let’s get into it!


  • Customer onboarding challenges are blockers stopping you from converting users. Your aim should be to create ‘sticky‘ (e.g. high retention) users from signup.
  • Some of the most common onboarding challenges are high user churn, low feature adoption, poorly converting marketing emails, support issues, and users failing to reach the activation point.
  • Activation means new customers are starting to experience value from your product. It has a huge impact on revenue: a 25% boost in activation leads to a 34% increase in MRR. Low activation could be caused by a lack of proactive communication or poor UX. Another challenge is low feature adoption (a pattern of user behavior). Ultimately it means they’re not engaging with key features.
  • High user churn is another challenge (that could be caused by a poor onboarding experience). Many SaaS products also struggle to use email successfully to support user and client onboarding. Finally, the entire process of onboarding can be impacted by issues with support.
  • How do you craft an effective onboarding phase that tackles or circumvents those challenges? It starts with personalization: onboarding clients and customers should experience a tailored customer journey that helps realize value.
  • A sound business strategy is to assist customers with targeted in-app messaging that helps them discover new features. Another powerful technique is to provide a robust self-service support model (assist customers with a range of resources).
  • Finally, make sure to gather as much user feedback and customer data as possible: it helps you understand (and mitigate churn).
  • Looking to overcome the onboarding challenges described above? Get a Userpilot demo and see how we can help create better in-app onboarding flows and communication that drives users to adopt your product.

What are customer onboarding challenges?

User onboarding is an art and a science. It’s not just about signing new users up to your product – the customer onboarding experience prevails at every stage of your product lifecycle (e.g. helping existing customers get more value out of a feature).

Customer onboarding challenges, then, can be defined as the blockers stopping you from converting users.

Your aim should be to create ‘sticky’ (e.g. high retention) users from signup and beyond.

Top customer onboarding challenges in SaaS businesses

Here’s a recent poll from Jamie McDermott that’s gained traction on LinkedIn:

Screenshot of LinkedIn survey
The people have spoken – onboarding is tough!

Polls provide a useful indication of key emergent themes in the marketplace, and this one does a good job summarizing some of the most pressing onboarding problems faced by SaaS owners and product managers.

The top challenges are:

  • High user churn
  • Low feature adoption
  • Marketing emails failing to land
  • Struggling to handle support requests

There’s something that ties these all together: failing to get users to the activation point.

In this section of the blog, we’re going to dive into each challenge. That’ll give us the best chance of tackling them effectively.

1. Not getting users to the activation process

Let’s start with the fundamental problem: if users don’t experience value, they’re unlikely to proceed with the onboarding process.

We can see clear evidence of the knock-on impact on revenue below. A 25% boost in activation leads to a 34% increase in MRR (a critical metric for any SaaS).

Visual of metric impact on MRR
Activation has a huge knock-on impact on MRR.

So how do users fail to reach the activation point? There can be a number of contributing factors:

  • Expectation misalignment. You should deliver on user expectations.
  • Poor UX. A customer’s experience can make or break activation: if the UI is poorly designed, that could prevent them from obtaining value.
  • Missing functionality. If your product fails to meet the needs of your primary users through a missing feature, it can badly impact activation.
  • Overwhelming users with detail and complexity. Products should have a clear value proposition and make it as simple as possible for users to unlock value.

2. Low feature adoption

Once you’ve tackled the first challenge (getting more users activated and converted into paying customers), you should move on to the next onboarding problem: getting users to start using your key features.

The diagram below breaks down the adoption process: your job is to guide users from awareness to adoption as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Visual of product adoption process.
Adoption is a complex process to navigate.

For most product managers, your SaaS will typically offer a range of features, and you’ll have a big backlog of potential improvements or additions. But it’s important to remember that users will typically only engage with a small set.

So, you should focus on the highest leverage features for adoption. Don’t waste time tinkering and tweaking functionality that doesn’t have clear and obvious demand (avoid the feature fallacy).

To do this effectively, you should do two things:

  1. Build based on clear data and insight – not guesswork.
  2. Rather than just adding new features, do a better job of signposting existing features to your users.

3. Too many support requests

Users are always going to need help – but many SaaS owners, find themselves and their customer support team overwhelmed with requests.

A busy support team is a worry.

It means your product isn’t self-explanatory or reliable, and dealing with frustrated customers can be a challenge. It drives up costs, diminishes the experience, and increases churn.

The best way to tackle support requests is to focus on the root cause: ensure your product’s usability is up to the highest standards. That means users can actually find their way around and solve their own problems.

4. High user churn

Churn is another big onboarding challenge.

Of course, you’ll always experience some level of churn. But if you’re seeing a high drop-off of users after activation, it means something is going wrong – and you need to get to the bottom of it.

A typical reason is poor product market (or customer product) fit. Use a simple PMF survey to gather the data you need to come to a reasonable conclusion.

Screenshot of Userpilot flows
Gather valuable information on product-market fit with Userpilot.

5. Not understanding customer behavior

Another onboarding challenge is not understanding why a customer has made a specific decision. So there are two parts to the problem: having access to the right set of data, and knowing what to do with the information you’ve gathered.

The trick is not to gather data at random.

You should track performance against specific goals, and choose the right tools (microsurveys and product usage analytics) to understand where you should make necessary interventions.

Users ignoring your emails

Your customers are busy people. Understanding that is key to overcoming another common challenge: your emails failing to land.

This is often caused by emails lacking relevance – the example below from ActiveCampaign feels more like a bombardment than something that would enhance a customer onboarding experience.

Screenshot of email campaign
Dozens of emails, all unread… Not an effective campaign.

To get it right, you should send targeted messages based on in-app behavior. Don’t blast things out at random: tailor your communication to the needs of your users (e.g. if someone hasn’t completed sign-up, a prompt might be helpful).

How to overcome customer onboarding challenges by designing a successful customer onboarding process

So, we’ve covered some of the most common challenges and complex problems.

In this section of the article, we’re going to break down some methods, tactics, and tips that customer onboarding specialists use and that you can implement in your onboarding process to overcome them.

Let’s do it!

Personalize the path to activation for each user segment

A surefire way to ruin the user experience is to force everyone down the same path. Your users have different sets of needs, and you should make every effort to personalize the customer onboarding experience accordingly.

Your primary goal should be to shorten the time to value – help them reach activation as quickly as possible.

Help decide what path is relevant for them by letting them choose their own onboarding path.

Screenshot of branched Notion onboarding experience
Start personalization from the very beginning of the onboarding flow.

Once a user has self-selected an option that makes sense for them, you can use a checklist to help guide them through your product and get them engaged with your core features.

Remember, checklists should be short, focused, and actionable.

Screenshot of Userpilot checklist
Drive your users forward with checklists in Userpilot.

Help users discover relevant features with in-app messaging

Building and launching a new feature takes a lot of time and effort. So, it’s important you make sure users know where to find them and how to use them.

Remember, your customers are using your product to get a job done.

They’ll engage with the features they need to in order to complete their key tasks. As a product manager, it’s your job to help them do that by directing their attention to the right features.

Importantly, this shouldn’t be random: use segmentation to understand the specific use cases of individual user groups before recommending new features.

Screenshot of Userpliot segmentaiton
User segmentation is a powerful tool.

Once you’ve drilled down into the detail, you can prompt users to discover relevant features. Tooltips are a great way of directing attention and explaining how features add value without overwhelming the UI.

Targeted tooltips help direct attention.

Switch to self-service in-app support

Self-service is about making it as easy as possible for your users to solve their own problems as and when they crop up.

An in-app resource center that provides multiple ways of tackling a problem (catering to a range of needs) means issues can be solved without opening support tickets or a phone call with the customer success team.

Get it right, and you can slash your support costs while boosting user satisfaction.

Animation of Resource Center
Whether it’s a how-to, a video, a walkthrough or an article, help users solve their own problems.

Understand what’s causing churn and offer alternatives

Churn is inevitable. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it: monitor in-app engagement to form a picture of user behavior patterns and overall customer health. Hopefully, that means you can take action to prevent a good deal of churn.

When a user does decide to leave, though, you should make sure to understand why. Launching a customer offboarding survey is an excellent way of collecting this sort of valuable data.

Screenshot of offboarding survey
Gather feedback to understand the why behind a user’s action.

It puts you in a strong position to offer alternatives – and perhaps retain their business.

Screenshot of retention message
Targeted offers can help boost retention.

Proactively collect customer feedback and in-app behavior data

You shouldn’t wait for something to go wrong to collect feedback: it should be an ongoing process.

Use a mixture of techniques to gather the most valuable range of data. Long surveys can overwhelm users – short, in-app questionnaires launched when a user reaches a milestone can be a much more effective option.

Animation of feedback survey
Targeted surveys are powerful tools.

You should also look to dig into user sentiment by looking into NPS (or through other customer satisfaction surveys).

Screenshot of Userpilot NPS survey
Craft simple, effective NPS surveys with Userpilot.

Finally, you should always leave the door open to feedback. Placing ‘passive surveys’ or ‘feedback’ links across your UI means users can leave feedback when they want (a great example of the customer-led growth approach).

Screenshot of Miro passive feedback
Never miss a chance to gather feedback.

Align your in-app communication and emails towards the same goals

The bulk of your communication should be in-app. Why? Because you want to reach out with relevant messages where your users are. Email adds a layer of unnecessary friction. You can use a range of techniques to drive onboarding and enhance customer success: contextually driven tooltips, hotspots, checklists, and modals to name a few options.

Make sure to set specific goals and track progress against them, so you know where and when users get stuck.

Screenshot of Userpilot goals
Track progress against goals with Userpilot.

That doesn’t mean email is useless. Use it to support and enhance your in-app communication. Some great uses of email include:

  • Feature discovery
  • Tips on maximizing the value of an existing capability
  • Encouraging network effects
  • Celebrating key milestones


We’ve covered a lot! Hopefully, you should now have a framework that helps you:

  • Understand where some of the most common onboarding challenges can be found
  • Choose the best techniques and tactics to tackle them and craft an effective onboarding experience

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and put your newfound knowledge to work!

Want to build product experiences code-free? Book a demo call with our team and get started! Click the link in the banner below for more information.


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