Customer Onboarding Lifecycle: How to Continuously Educate and Unlock Value For Your Users
The customer onboarding lifecycle is the ongoing process of educating users on your product and helping them achieve success with it.
In SaaS, onboarding is the key to not only converting free users into paid customers but also driving long-term loyalty.
In this article, we explore how to continuously educate and unlock value for your users throughout the customer lifecycle.
- The customer onboarding lifecycle is an ongoing process focused on training users and helping them realize the value of your product.
- Key metrics to track across the customer onboarding lifecycle are the activation rate, conversion rate, customer engagement score, customer satisfaction score, feature adoption score, and expansion MRR.
- The customer onboarding lifecycle can be divided into 3 stages: primary, secondary, and tertiary.
The goal of the primary onboarding process is to push new customers to experience the “Aha” moment and reach the activation point.
Effective strategies for primary onboarding:
- Greet users with welcome messages. Also, take this as a chance to collect data on the job-to-be-done (JBTD) to personalize their experiences later on.
- Point users to key actions with onboarding checklists.
- Employ interactive walkthroughs to guide users when they interact with a feature for the first time.
During secondary onboarding, your focus should be helping customers unlock even more value.
Effective strategies for successful secondary onboarding:
- Monitor product usage to understand how users engage with different parts of your product and where they need more guidance.
- Have your customer success team conduct webinars where they answer customer questions, educate customers on industry trends, and cultivate more personal relationships as a result.
- Create a self-serve knowledge base to ensure customers have unlimited access to the educational and support resources they need.
The tertiary onboarding stage is all about creating even stronger relationships with your power users, finding ways to improve your product for them, and driving positive word of mouth.
Effective strategies for tertiary onboarding:
- Introduce users to brand-new features. You can use modals for this.
- Drive account expansion through contextual cross-sells and upsells.
- Customers at this age are a good source of feedback since they know your product pretty well. Capture their thoughts with in-app microsurveys.
What is the customer onboarding lifecycle?
The customer onboarding lifecycle is an ongoing process focused on training and helping users achieve value from your product.
It begins with the very first interaction a user has with your product or brand (which could be your website, where they see your value proposition), and it stops when they churn.
Why should you care about the customer onboarding lifecycle?
Customer onboarding sets the tone for an ongoing relationship with customers.
Here are the reasons you should care about it:
Increase free to paid trial conversions
If you offer a free trial, onboarding is where trial users get to experience your app for the first time. It is where you have a chance to showcase the true essence of your product and give users a reason to stay.
Only by demonstrating real value in the onboarding process, you can convert trial users into paying customers.
Successful customer onboarding results in a smoother adoption
Giving users helpful tips as they walk through your product reduces friction and encourages engagement.
By repeatedly engaging with your product, users become proficient and start continuously getting value from it.
Eventually, they adopt the product into their daily lives and become habitual users.
Build customer loyalty and drive word-of-mouth referrals
When your customer has a positive experience, they feel special, supported, and confident in their decision.
The enormous support and education they receive throughout the onboarding process help them use your product to the fullest and become fans of you.
As loyal customers, they happily recommend you to others and bring in new customers.
Key metrics to track across the customer onboarding lifecycle
There are several metrics to track across your customer onboarding lifecycle to measure its effectiveness. This includes:
- Activation rate: Tells you the portion of users that complete a specific action, reach a “milestone” defined by the company and start experiencing value.
- Conversion rate: This measures the percentage of free trial users who become paying customers.
- Customer engagement score: A quantitative metric that evaluates how engaged customers are with your product.
- Customer satisfaction score: Reflects how satisfied customers are with the onboarding process and their overall experience.
- Feature adoption score: This is a measure of how well a customer is using the features of a product. It can be calculated based on metrics such as the number of times a feature is used, and the time spent on it.
- Customer churn rate: Tells you how many customers are leaving your product.
- Expansion MRR: This stands for “monthly recurring revenue” and is a measure of the additional revenue that a company is generating from existing customers who are expanding their use of a product.
What are the stages of the customer onboarding lifecycle?
Customer onboarding is not a one-time event. Instead, it’s a continuous loop that involves every stage of the user journey.
The main 3 stages of the onboarding process are the following:
- Primary onboarding
- Secondary onboarding
- Tertiary onboarding
Effective strategies for driving customer success during primary onboarding
The primary onboarding process includes everything from sign-up to activation.
The goal of the primary onboarding process is to guide new customers to experience the “Aha” moment and reach the activation point. Put simply, the Aha moment is when your user realizes the value of your product for the first time.
Make your customers feel welcome with greeting messages
By welcoming users, you make a great first impression and set the right expectations.
A simple welcome page with a personalized message where you address users by name and reinforce your value proposition goes a long way.
Also, this is your chance to collect data on their job-to-be-done (JBTD), so you can personalize their experiences later on.
Point out users to core features with checklists
Create onboarding checklists with key actions that users need to take to start experiencing value.
Checklists are meant to be short and to the point. Making checklists too long will just overwhelm users and cause them to abandon tasks in the middle.
Checklists are also great for helping users keep track of uncompleted tasks. It touches upon a user psychology principle called the Zeigarnik effect – the tendency to remember incomplete tasks and return to them.
Employ interactive guides to engage users with a feature for the first time
Interactive walkthroughs are step-by-step guides that shorten the learning curve and help users adopt features faster.
These dynamic guides are highly engaging. They are often comprised of a series of tooltips triggered contextually (i.e. not until the user completes the previous step).
Thus, they can’t click “next” without completing the required actions. Using this method, you will ensure customer success because the user will finish onboarding knowing exactly how to reach their desired actions with your tool.
Strategies for driving customer success during secondary onboarding
The goal of secondary onboarding is to keep driving more value.
During secondary onboarding, you should aim to help users understand the advanced features of your product, and try to exceed their expectations.
Let’s look at how to create a better secondary onboarding process.
Look into product usage data
Product usage data tracks what users are doing with your product, when, and for how long.
Tracking product usage can help you to build better products and optimize your in-app marketing efforts to improve uses engagement.
For instance, you tag features that users need in secondary onboarding to see how they are interacting with them.
Product analytics may reveal that some of the users have not engaged with an advanced feature for their use case yet.
Armed with this information, you can create a personalized product adoption strategy for them. Using in-app prompts like tooltips, modals, or banners, you can draw their attention to these neglected features and encourage customers to try them out.
Invite customers to webinars and help them master their skills
Webinars are a great way to train existing customers on how to effectively use your SaaS.
During webinars, you can troubleshoot issues that customers are experiencing, give them the opportunity to ask questions, and get answers.
Webinars are also a great chance to humanize your product and create more intimate relationships with customers.
To invite users to a webinar, use slideouts.
Offer ongoing education and support through a knowledge base
In product-led companies, self-service is a huge part of the customer experience.
SaaS users like the freedom to explore the product by themselves.
Besides, as your user base grows, support requests increase and so do wait times.
So as a SaaS provider, it’s your responsibility to anticipate customer problems and educational needs and offer self-service options.
The most effective and affordable way of enabling self-service support is through an in-app knowledge base.
Here’s how to create one:
- Start by checking your support tickets for frequently asked questions.
- Engage your customer-facing teams in the process as well-they’ll have tons of insight since they’re constantly solving issues for users.
- Create a variety of content formats to cater to everyone’s learning style. Among the examples are videos, case studies, documentation articles, and webinar recordings.
Effective strategies for driving customer success during tertiary onboarding
At this stage, some users would have churned along the way, and the ones who make it to this stage are on their way to becoming raving fans.
At this point, users don’t need much hand-holding. They’re already paying customers who have adopted most of your features.
Announce brand new features to your existing customers
When you roll out new features or update existing ones, don’t just assume your users will go looking for them or find them.
Long-term customers form usage habits around your product, becoming feature-blind to the rest of your app.
Therefore, it’s important to announce new features for users to discover and adopt them.
Use attention-grabbing modals to make sure users don’t miss your updates.
Drive account expansion through upsells and cross-sells
Before customers invest more money in your company, they must have proof that your product is really beneficial for them.
Since at this point they have unlocked tons of value with your product, it’s safe to assume your customers are ripe for upsells.
It’s important to trigger upsells contextually – and also target customers with personalized messaging.
Improve upon customer feedback
As mentioned, users who reached the tertiary onboarding stage are likely power users. They’re active, habitual users who are quite familiar with the ins and outs of your product.
This makes them a great source for collecting customer feedback, as they know your product and its features so well.
The fastest and easiest method of collecting feedback are in-app surveys. With a good customer feedback software, you can set up a system and automatically trigger surveys at multiple touchpoints.
Ask them questions on how to improve the product and the UX. Collect both quantitative and qualitative data to get a more holistic view of your customer base.
Best practices for a successful customer onboarding process
There are a few key things to keep in mind when designing a customer onboarding process to ensure that it is effective.
Let’s go through each of the best practices in detail.
Make onboarding relevant for specific user personas
Recognize that different users have different needs and expectations of your product, so you can’t have a one size fits all approach.
Different users need different features of your app to get their jobs done, so overloading them with info regarding irrelevant features will just make the whole process overwhelming.
That’s why it’s important to personalize the onboarding program and make sure everyone gets exactly what they signed up for.
Effective personalization is possible through segmentation, aka filtering, and collecting users with similar characteristics into groups.
Re-engage inactive users with onboarding emails
Some users sign up for your product, but then life gets in the way and they never come back to it.
Does this mean it’s a lost case?
Win-back emails are a powerful tool for retaining and re-engaging inactive users.
A win-back email should remind them why they signed up in the first place – aka the value that can be achieved with the product, and you can point out educational resources and also let users know the customer success team is there to support them anytime.
Use in-app video tutorials for better engagement
Videos provide a more interactive and engaging learning experience for users.
Unlike text, which can be tedious and long, video allows users to learn more quickly and easily by seeing and hearing instructions in real-time as they are being demonstrated.
To make the video onboarding experience even more frictionless and enjoyable, you can play videos in-app, without taking them to another platform.
An onboarding platform like Userpilot, allows you to embed videos into UI patterns like modals and tooltips in a matter of seconds.
Celebrate customer success
Everyone loves to be celebrated for their efforts and your customers aren’t an exception.
Acknowledging customer success shows that you care about users, boosts their confidence, and improves your relationship.
Celebrate customer milestones by adding mood-lifting gamification elements such as badges, certificates, and animations.
Get inspiration from an event scheduling tool, Calendly. Once the user schedules their first event, a celebratory modal with a nice message and emoji is displayed.
Onboarding isn’t a one-time experience for new signups. Instead, it’s a process that continues throughout the entire customer lifecycle.
Want to improve your customer onboarding lifecycle right now? Get a Userpilot demo and see how!