Customer onboarding is an integral part of any SaaS business, and so we thought we’d share some of the best customer onboarding tools to help you out.

First, let’s consider the differences between customer onboarding and user onboarding…

Customer Onboarding Vs. User Onboarding

When people think of onboarding, they often think of the user onboarding side of things. They think of product walkthroughs, tooltips, checklists. This means they often forget about other aspects of customer onboarding, like kickoff calls, training, and customer retention.

The differences are subtle, and there is definitely an overlap between user and customer onboarding. Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate between them is to think of a user timeline.

When a person initially signs up to use your product, they become a user.

[Note that if you only offer a paid subscription to your product, then they also become a customer.]

Generally, these users won’t be paying yet. They’ll be on a free trial, or even a paid tier of your pricing. This is where user onboarding comes in.

User onboarding is what helps these new users get to grips with your product. It helps them understand how it works, and drives that initial product adoption.

You can do this through walkthroughs, tooltips, contextual onboarding. The idea is that you enable the user to start using the product, and start getting results.

If you get your user onboarding right, then these users will become paying customers. Then you need to start your customer onboarding.

Customer onboarding is what helps your customers stick around. Retention is at the heart of all of your customer onboarding efforts.

You can do this through kickoff calls, sending out emails, and ensuring you have detailed help documentation. Customer onboarding isn’t just about using your product, it’s about sticking around for the long-term.

Why Is Customer Onboarding Important?

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I promise we’ll get to the awesome customer onboarding tools soon. But there’s no point in learning what they are if you don’t understand how important customer onboarding really is.

Think of some of the factors that can cause a SaaS product to die out… Clueless founders, lack of investment, poor product-market fit. All of these could spell the end of any product.

But there are some companies out there who have experienced some of these factors and lived to tell the tale. Are they dangerous? Sure. Are they 100% deadly? Not quite.

There’s one thing, however, that will categorically kill any SaaS product, and that’s churn.

A high churn rate is the most efficient killer in the SaaS world. Most companies can’t survive it, and those who do end up simply prolonging their death.

I think it goes without saying that churn is bad. (Understatement of the century, right there!)

The whole point of customer onboarding is to make sure your customers stay with you.

In other words, good customer onboarding prevents churn.

In other words, good customer onboarding means your SaaS product doesn’t die.

The 5 Pillars Of Customer Onboarding

Before I start talking about the best customer onboarding tools, I want to quickly run through the 5 pillars of customer onboarding.

These are 5 different aspects that you need to cover. These are:

  • First Contact
  • Kickoff
  • Education
  • Adoption
  • Retention

First Contact

The first contact you have with a customer sets the tone for the rest of your relationship. You have to make it count.

You should start by welcoming your customer. Be clear about how they can get started with your product (if they haven’t already), and explain what the next onboarding steps will be.

Now is also an opportune time to confirm the customer’s objectives and desires. Why are they using your product? What are they hoping to achieve? Cementing this information now will help when it comes to formerly defining expectations in the Kickoff step.

Finally, use this initial contact with your customer to make yourself aware of the key contacts. Who’s going to be your product’s champion? Who has most say over the use of your product? Who’s responsible for paying your invoices?

Essentially, this first contact is a bit like talking to a match on a dating app for the first time. You need to get to know each other. Make sure you’re both clear about the desired outcomes and next steps.

Then you can move on to an actual date, or in the SaaS world, the Kickoff.

Customer Onboarding Tools For First Contact

Encharge (Private Beta)

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Encharge is currently in early access, so now’s the perfect time to get started with it. It offers marketing automation, so that you can connect different tools together for one handy sequence. An example would be to send out a series of educational emails when a customer uses a certain feature for the first time.

It’s easy to see how powerful Encharge could be when used correctly. You can essentially connect all your different tools together, and automate your processes. No more manual dirty work.

Pillars: First Contact, Kickoff, Education, Adoption, Retention

Hubspot (Free Tier)

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While Hubspot is predominantly used for marketing and sales purposes, it can also help you communicate effectively with your customers. You can send tracked emails so you know when a customer is ignoring you.

You can also see a record of every message sent between your team and a customer, so that you can quickly remind yourself of what stage they’re at in the onboarding process.

Pillars: First Contact, Kickoff

Kickoff

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Now that first contact has been established with your customer, it’s time to actually sit down and talk to them properly. That’s where the kickoff call comes in.

There are three main topics that you need to discuss as part of the kickoff call.

Firstly, you need to discuss your product. More specifically, you need to talk to your customer about how your product can help them achieve their desired outcomes.

You can talk about the process, about getting buy-in from their team, and highlight particular features that will be of use to them.

Secondly, you need to discuss the aforementioned outcomes. You need to nail down exactly what your customer wants from your product.

You need to understand what they’re trying to achieve, and define success. This is crucial. Without a formal definition of what success means to your customer, you have no way of knowing how successful they are.

Finally, you need to explain how you’ll be monitoring them and measuring their success. This helps them understand the onboarding process further, and it also reassures them that you’re looking out for them.

Ultimately, your customer’s success is your success. The kickoff provides an ideal opportunity for you both to understand what success means in the context of your product. It sets the scene for the rest of your relationship.

Customer Onboarding Tools For Kickoff

Segment (Free Tier)

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Segment enables you to collect data about how your customers engage and interact with your product. This does two things. Firstly, it allows you to track your customers’ progress when it comes to their desired outcomes. Secondly, it means you can send targeted messages that will be relevant to each user.

Segment offers a clean UI so you can easily visualize the data you collect. It also makes it really easy to integrate with over 200 other tools to ensure no data falls through the gaps.

Pillars: Kickoff, Education, Adoption, Retention

Education

You now understand exactly what your customer is trying to achieve, and they understand how you product is going to help them get there.

Now it’s time to further educate your customer about your product.

The form that this education and training takes largely depends on your product.

For simpler products, the best way is to let your customer in so they can learn on the go. Perhaps point them in the direction of a specific feature that will set them on the path to their desired outcomes.

For more complicated, feature-rich products, you’ll need a mixture of in-app onboarding, and other training programs such as webinars, help documentation, and one-on-one walkthroughs.

There are certain things you can focus on to help your customer through this stage of the onboarding journey.

One great tip is to identify some quick wins that your customer can attain. You can do this by showing your customer features of your product that will have an immediate impact on their goals. This helps to achieve buy-in, and will also aid adoption in the next step.

The key thing to consider is the time-to-value metric. This refers to the amount of time it takes before your customer receives some sort of intrinsic value from your product. The quicker that value appears the better. Quick wins help to shorten the time-to-value.

Customer Onboarding Tools For Education

Userpilot (Free Trial)

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I couldn’t put together a list of customer onboarding tools without mentioning Userpilot, could I?

Userpilot’s contextual onboarding means you can show the right message to the right customer at the right time. This is perfect when it comes to educating your customers on how to use your product.

You have a range of elements to choose from, including tooltips, modals, hotspots, driven action, checklists, and slide-outs. Userpilot enables you to fully customize these elements, so you can craft perfect onboarding sequences for your customers.

Pillars: First Contact, Kickoff, Education, Adoption, Retention

Mixpanel (Free Tier)

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Mixpanel is one of the leaders in product analytics, enabling you to measure adoption and engagement across your entire product. You can then use these insights to send tailored messages to your customers.

What truly sets Mixpanel apart is its scientific approach to data, enabling you to test hypotheses and dive deeper into your data using correlation analysis and look-alike modelling. This helps you to understand not just the what, but the why.

Pillars: Education, Adoption, Retention

Heap (Free Tier)

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Heap automatically captures every interaction you have with your customers, so you can then analyze your data and see which aspects of the customer journey need improving. You can then optimize your product to reduce churn and increase retention.

You can also use Heap to segment your customers and build tailored experiences for each group. This improves the effectiveness of your product, and ensures your customers are onboarded perfectly.

Pillars: Education, Adoption, Retention

Zendesk (Free Trial)

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A big part of educating your customers is to let them self-serve with your help documentation. When it comes to creating that documentation, Zendesk is a great tool.

Not only does it help you create a comprehensive overview of how your product works, but it also converts answers from your Support team into help content if you like.

Pillars: Education, Adoption

Freshdesk (Free Tier)

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One of the most effective ways of educating your customers is to have other customers do it for you. They can explain it in less technical terms, and it saves you the time and effort. One way of enabling this is through Freshdesk’s forum feature.

You can create a forum for your customers so that if they’re struggling with a particular part of your product, they can ask other customers for help. On top of that, you get access to Freshbook’s knowledge base creation, and support ticketing system.

Pillars: Education, Adoption

Userlist (Free Trial)

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Userlist makes it easy to communicate with your customers and keep track of where they are in their onboarding journey. You can explore individual user profiles, or create automated campaigns based on a range of custom triggers. It also allows you to segment your users into different groups.

As your customer base grows, automation is going to become increasingly important to you. Userlist helps you to scale up your customer onboarding as your SaaS product grows.

Pillars: Education, Adoption, Retention

Adoption

Once your customer has started to see value from your product, they’ve reached the adoption stage.

This is where they start to properly implement your product into their business processes. Ideally this is where your product becomes an essential part of your customer’s life.

You might think your job is done at this point, but the reality is you’re only getting started.

Now that the quick wins are out of the way, it’s time for your customer to get serious with your product. You can’t rely on quick wins alone.

You need to ramp up your onboarding efforts, identifying future opportunities for your product to help your customer achieve their desired outcomes.

This involves introducing your customer to more advanced features, or showing other aspects of your product that may provide greater functionality to your customer.

It’s also a great chance to reach out for their feedback, and understand where your product falls short. You can then improve for next time. This has the added benefit of improving your relationship with your customers.

Customer Onboarding Tools For Adoption

Gainsight

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A lot of customer onboarding is the domain of Customer Success, and so clearly Gainsight is going to get a mention in a list of customer onboarding tools. Arguably THE software for CS folks to use, it enables you to track product engagement, measure health scores, and scale up your onboarding.

For a comprehensive overview of the whole customer onboarding journey, you can pair Gainsight’s primary product with Gainsight PX (reviewed here), which helps you to improve your in-app onboarding and education.

Pillars: First Contact, Kickoff, Education, Adoption, Retention

Innertrends

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Innertrends isn’t just another analytics app. Instead of having to trawl through all your data trying to find out what you need to know, Innertrends provides you with personalized insights based on the context of your product. Need to know the last feature your customer used before they churned? Just ask Innertrends and it’ll tell you.

This is really useful for the non-analytical people who want the insights but none of the work. It means anyone on your team can log in and find out what they need to know, no shoulder-tapping required.

Pillars: Adoption, Retention

Baremetrics (Free Trial)

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Baremetrics offers a lot of features, all of which are extremely useful to SaaS companies. For the purposes of this article, I want to focus on their “Cancellation Insights”. It will tell you why your customers are cancelling so you can improve those aspects of your product.

Not only that, but Baremetrics will send automated emails to your churned customers in an attempt to get them back. This saves you time and effort, and might just help you to retain some of your customers.

Pillars: Adoption, Retention

Wootric (Free Tier)

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A big part of retaining your customers is making sure they’re happy with your product. Wootric offers a range of in-app surveys, including NPS, so you can track how happy your customers are. You can then target customers who aren’t happy, and stop churn before it happens.

Wootric also enables you to A/B test features and use your customers’ feedback to influence what you build next.

Pillars: Adoption, Retention

ChartMogul (Free Tier)

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ChartMogul offers analytical insights for your whole team, so everyone can understand the journey your customers take. It shows you how your paying customers evolve over time, highlighting factors that cause churn.

You can also connect ChartMogul to other tools, allowing you to use the data you collect in ChartMogul to segment your customers and personalize your messaging to them.

Pillars: Adoption, Retention

Retention

This final pillar is the key to customer onboarding. It’s called retention, because that’s exactly what it does. It helps you retain your customers and avoid churn.

Technically, this isn’t a step in the journey. Rather, it’s a reminder that customer onboarding is never truly finished.

Your product will grow and evolve over time, and your customer will constantly have new goals to achieve. That means you face a constant battle to ensure your customer continues to use, and pay for, your product.

You do this by continually staying in touch with your customers. Remind them about features they haven’t used yet, introduce them to new releases, and continuously listen to their feedback.

Each iteration of your product brings with it more opportunities to further onboard your customers, and make sure they stick around.

Customer Onboarding Tools For Retention

ProfitWell (Free Tier)

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Retain by ProfitWell aims to reduce churn using the data it’s collected on your customers. They claim that 20-40% of churn is caused by credit card failures. They aim to take the legwork out of chasing up payments, and will do all the heavy lifting for you.

This is a great way of retaining your customers without having to reach out to every potential source of churn. This becomes even more important as you scale.

Pillars: Retention

Final Thoughts

The customer onboarding tools I’ve listed above all have their strengths and weaknesses, and can be applied to the different pillars of customer onboarding.

To recap, those pillars are:

  • First Contact
  • Kickoff
  • Education
  • Adoption
  • Retention

The ultimate goal of customer onboarding is to make sure your customers stick around. That decreases churn, and improves the longevity and success of your product.

These customer onboarding tools are designed to help you do exactly that.

Have I missed any great tools that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments!

And, if you want to take your customer onboarding to the next level, why not book a demo of Userpilot and get started today?

About the Author

 

 

 

 

Joe is a UX and content writer, with several years of experience working with SaaS startups. He’s been working with SaaS startups that are focused towards product management and customer success for the past couple of years.