Onboarding Clients for Long-Term Retention: Process, Tips, & Examples

Onboarding Clients for Long-Term Retention: Process, Tips, & Examples cover

How do you go about onboarding clients to drive your SaaS success?

This is the main question our guide answers so if you’re looking for the answer, you’re in the right place.

Specifically, we look at:

  • Reasons why new client onboarding matters
  • How to structure the onboarding process
  • Pro tips on how to enhance your onboarding
  • Examples of effective client onboarding

We also show you how Userpilot can help you boost the effectiveness of onboarding for new clients.

Let’s dive right in!


  • Client onboarding is the process of introducing users to the product and teaching them how to use it successfully.
  • A good client onboarding process reduces the time needed to experience product value. It also creates a solid foundation for a future relationship with customers and improves their satisfaction and retention.
  • White-glove onboarding relies on customized premium support and guidance from customer success managers. In contrast, self-serve onboarding enables users to experience the product independently at their own pace. Most companies offer a combination of the two approaches.
  • Kick off the onboarding process with a welcome screen or email containing a CTA button triggering the next stage.
  • A welcome survey enables you to collect information about user needs. Alternatively, you can arrange an onboarding call or meeting.
  • You can help users discover the key features to reduce the time to value with an interactive walkthrough or an onboarding checklist.
  • Triggering celebratory messages when users achieve a milestone keeps them engaged.
  • To further improve your onboarding process, collect user feedback via in-app surveys and interviews.
  • For best results, personalize the onboarding experience for different user personas using the information from welcome surveys.
  • To provide a frictionless experience, use product analytics to analyze the performance of onboarding flows and user behavior along the user journey. Look for spots where they slow down or drop off.
  • Analytics can also help you find the happy paths to adoption that other users can emulate.
  • A/B and multivariate tests are invaluable when choosing between different versions of onboarding flows.
  • To keep users engaged and help them realize the full value of the product, don’t forget about secondary onboarding.
  • Resource centers are invaluable when it comes to 24/7 self-serve support.
  • Book the demo to find out how Userpilot can help you design outstanding onboarding experiences for your SaaS!

What is new client onboarding?

In SaaS, new client onboarding refers to the process of introducing new users to your product.

Its main aim is to ensure they have all the necessary knowledge and skills to successfully use and benefit from the product.

We distinguish 3 main stages of the user onboarding process:

  • Primary onboarding – focuses on the key features essential to experiencing the product value.
  • Secondary onboarding – introduces more advanced features to enable users to realize the full potential of the tool and reinforce habits around its daily usage.
  • Tertiary onboarding – focuses on driving account expansion and promoting customer advocacy.

Why is client onboarding important for long-term success?

There are several reasons why companies should invest their resources in developing robust client onboarding processes.

Here’s an overview of the three main reasons.

Reduces the time to value for new clients

New client onboarding reduces the time that users need to experience the value.

A well-designed onboarding experience introduces the product’s main functionality and shows users how to leverage it to accomplish their goals.

As a result, they can start using the product immediately without wasting time wandering aimlessly around the product and trying to figure out how to use it.

Lays the foundation for strong client relationships

Product onboarding helps organizations establish long-term relationships based on understanding and trust.

Think about it:

Delivering an onboarding experience that helps users achieve their objectives requires a thorough understanding of the users’ pain points, needs, and expectations.

If you manage to pull it off, you send your users a clear message that you care about their success and know how to help them achieve it.

Increases client satisfaction and retention

By enabling users to use your product to realize their objectives, onboarding contributes to increased customer satisfaction.

This leads to increased customer loyalty and retention. Customers whose needs are satisfied and who feel that you understand their struggles have no reason to look for alternative products.

And it goes without saying that higher retention translates into better financial performance.

Different types of customer onboarding

How companies deliver customer onboarding varies in terms of customer success involvement.

On one hand of the spectrum, we have white-glove onboarding.

That’s a ‘premium’ approach to onboarding. It’s highly customized to customer needs, and usually delivered directly by a customer success manager. This is highly effective but also most expensive.

At the other end, we have self-serve onboarding. It relies on interactive walkthroughs, checklists, and resource centers to train users on how to use the tool and solve their problems independently.

This approach is more cost-effective but may not be suitable for less tech-savvy users or those with very unique use cases.

Most companies use a hybrid approach which includes elements of both of these. For example, all users get access to self-serve onboarding while the enterprise clients get also bespoke customer success assistance and training.

By moving closer towards either white-glove or self-serve onboarding, you can differentiate your product from competitors.

Customer onboarding process for increasing client retention

To help you make your client onboarding process effective, we’ve created an Onboarding Checklist.

In short, the checklist contains a sequence of actions to take at each stage of the onboarding process.

Let’s have a closer look at a few of them.

1. Send a welcome message to kickstart the new client onboarding process

A welcome message is an absolute must.

When a new user signs up for your product, send them an email and back it up with a welcome screen when they first log in.

Such an in-app message isn’t only a friendly thing to do but also a great opportunity to jump-start the onboarding process. Just include a CTA button that triggers the next step, like a welcome survey.

Welcome screen
Welcome screen.

2. Use a client onboarding questionnaire to learn about their needs and wants

Talking of welcome surveys… They are the easiest way to assess customer needs and wants, which is essential to make the onboarding experience relevant.

Mind you though that such surveys add friction to the customer experience, so keep them short and ask only questions you need to customize their experience.

How else can you identify user needs?

For a more white-glove experience, you can do it by jumping on an onboarding call with the customer or even arranging a client onboarding meeting.

Welcome survey
Welcome survey created in Userpilot.

3. Provide an interactive walkthrough to shorten TTV

Interactive walkthroughs are sequences of in-app messages, normally tooltips, introducing key features as the user explores the product.

By triggering such a walkthrough, you allow users to quickly discover the most relevant features and start using the product. This reduces the time they need to activate and adopt the product.

Interactive walkthrough
Interactive walkthrough built in Userpilot.

4. Trigger a client onboarding checklist to activate users

Another way to reduce the time users need to reach the activation point is through onboarding checklists.

In a nutshell, an onboarding checklist consists of a few tasks that users need to complete to experience the product value. For example, for a business messaging app, it would be logging into the account, inviting teammates, and sending a message.

Checklists work because they capitalize on our deeply ingrained need to see things through once we start and add an element of gamification to the onboarding experience.

Client onboarding checklist
Client onboarding checklist.

5. Celebrate important milestones to engage users

Milestone celebrations are also an example of gamification that you can add to the onboarding process.

How does it work?

Whenever a user completes a key task that brings them closer to activation, give them a pat on the shoulder by triggering a celebratory modal or slideout.

This takes very little effort but goes a long way in keeping users engaged and motivated to keep using the product.

New feature announcement
Milestone message.

6. Collect client feedback and iterate for a successful client onboarding process

Even if your onboarding is absolutely brilliant, it doesn’t mean you can’t make it better.

To identify areas for improvement, collect customer feedback.

You can do it by triggering in-app surveys.

These are easy to create if you have the right tools in your stack that allow you to gather user insights at scale.

When should you trigger the survey?

First, do it after a specific period, for example, 3 days after the first login. In addition, trigger them contextually when users complete a specific event. This could be when they complete one of the tasks on the checklist or an activation event.

You can also use a combination of the two – for example, if the user hasn’t reached a milestone within a period during which the majority of users achieve it.

In-app survey
In-app survey.

Tips for creating a good client onboarding process

To be effective, the onboarding should be relevant and require as little effort from customers as possible.

Here are a few best practices that can help you achieve this.

Personalize the client onboarding experience

Personalization is the cornerstone of effective user onboarding.

Here’s why:

First, by personalizing the onboarding flows for your users, you ensure that they discover the features that are relevant to their use cases.

Second, personalization helps you avoid overloading users with information that they don’t need. This can have a damaging effect on user retention. It leads to fatigue and in the worst-case scenario may make users doubt whether they’ve chosen the right product.

The good news is that personalization isn’t that difficult once you do your homework.

The odds are you’ve already mapped out your user personas and their relevant use cases. For each of the user personas, design onboarding experiences that focus on relevant functionality.

Next, use the welcome survey to segment new users and trigger the relevant experiences at different stages of their user journey.

Personalized client onboarding through segmentation
Personalized client onboarding through segmentation.

Spot and remove friction points in the onboarding flow

Friction is one of the main causes of user churn. It slows down users on their journey to activation and adoption and often kills the joy of interacting with the product.

To remove it from your onboarding process, you first need to find it.

Product analytics are the easiest way to do it. Start with funnel analysis to roughly identify the area where users experience friction.

Next, zoom in on the specific stage of the user journey by conducting path analysis, watching session replays, and analyzing heatmaps to find the root cause.

Let’s imagine user users fail to complete the welcome survey. In this situation, review the questions and address the friction by removing redundant and rephrasing ambiguous ones.

Funnel analysis
Funnel analysis in Userpilot.

Identify the happy path and replicate it for new clients

User path analysis isn’t only for identifying friction or where your users fail. It can also help you find out why they succeed.

Why is such knowledge priceless?

Once you identify the happy paths for all your user personas, you can develop onboarding flows that guide new users along and help them emulate successful behaviors.

So apart from your churned users, pay close attention also to the in-app behavior of your most loyal customers.

Path analysis
Path analysis in Userpilot.

A/B test strategies to create a successful onboarding process

When designing onboarding experiences, some decisions are straightforward: an in-app message with a CTA button will almost always outperform one without the button.

However, when the differences are more nuanced, it may not be so easy to choose the best version. For example, it may be very difficult to predict which microcopy or UI pattern converts better.

In this situation, it’s worth running some tests and comparing their performance among a small sample of users.

In A/B tests, you create two different versions and trigger each to half of the test group. This is perfect at the end of the design process when you’ve already narrowed down your options.

At earlier stages, multivariate tests can be more suitable because they allow you to test multiple variables at the same time. This is more time-efficient than A/B testing.

Onboarding experience A/B testing
Onboarding experience A/B testing.

Use secondary onboarding to provide greater value

As mentioned, onboarding isn’t limited to the initial instruction on how to use the product.

In fact, it’s the secondary onboarding, which focuses on more advanced features, that helps users get the full value for their money.

It doesn’t stop here.

Without secondary onboarding, your users wouldn’t even know about all the new shiny features that add value to the product and that keep your users engaged.

Pro tip: when introducing new features, create a sequence of in-app messages. For example, start with a modal announcing the feature and follow up with a contextual tooltip to prompt engagement when users are on a specific page.

New feature announcement as a part of secondary client onboarding
New feature announcement as a part of secondary client onboarding.

Offer assistance to new users

In addition to interactive in-app messages and checklists, give your users on-demand access to an in-app resource center with product documentation, guides, and tutorials.

In this way, they can resolve the issues that they come across independently and without leaving the app and contacting the support team.

Not only does this reduce the burden on the support team but also increases customer satisfaction. Most users these days prefer self-serve support channels that don’t require contact with live agents.

This, however, doesn’t mean that you lay off all your support staff. Users need to have access to an account manager who is their point of contact and helps them overcome more complex obstacles.

Resource center for on-demand client support
Resource center for on-demand client support.

Client onboarding workflow examples from successful companies

With the client onboarding theory and best practices covered, let’s have a look at a few examples of how companies successfully implement them in practice.

Attention Insight

Attention Insight is a UX/UI user research platform that leverages AI to create attention heatmaps for websites and marketing materials. The tool allows companies to test and optimize designs without involving any testers, which increases their velocity dramatically.

Despite being a very intuitive tool, Attention Insight struggled with user activation and, consequently, user retention and conversion.

To address the issue, the company decided to give Userpilot a go, and the results were impressive. Within the first 6 months, they were able to increase their new user activation by a whopping 47%.

These are the onboarding elements that made it happen:

  • An interactive walkthrough guiding how to conduct the first heatmap analysis.
Attention Insight onboarding walkthrough
Attention Insight onboarding walkthrough.
  • An onboarding checklist guiding users through the process of creating the heatmap and defining ‘areas of interest’.
Attention Insight onboarding checklist
Attention Insight onboarding checklist.
  • A flow highlighting the benefits of the ‘Areas of Interest’ feature and prompting engagement.
Attention Insight onboarding flow
Attention Insight onboarding flow.
  • A resource center.
Attention Insight resource center
Attention Insight resource center.
  • A celebratory slideout congratulating users on creating the first heatmap.
Attention Insight onboarding modal
Attention Insight onboarding modal.


As one of the most popular CRM and digital marketing platforms out there, HubSpot needs no introduction.

When a new customer signs up for the tool, they’re greeted with a welcome survey. Its goal is to identify user needs and assess their current experience with similar tools.

Hubspot welcome survey
HubSpot welcome survey.

The HubSpot onboarding process starts with an interactive demo which provides an overview of the CRM functionality and provides a safe space for users to experiment with the product.

Hubspot onboarding demo
HubSpot onboarding demo.

During the demo, an interactive guide walks users through the process of setting up the product.

However, it’s a sort of simulation only. Users can play around with the tool without actually having to import any data.

Hubspot onboarding walkthrough
HubSpot onboarding walkthrough.

There are two advantages of such a demo.

First, it’s difficult to experience the value of tools like HubSpot’s CRM if they’re not populated with data. The catch is that importing it can be a time-consuming process and users may not be willing to do it if they’re not 100% committed to the tool. The demo solves the problem.

Second, it puts users in a better position once they start setting up the platform for real. Having gone through the process during the demo, they’re less likely to make mistakes that would be hard to reverse.


Canva is a well-known graphic design tool for non-designers. One of the reasons for its immense success, apart from its intuitive design and tons of templates, is its onboarding process.

Here are its key elements.

First, Canva recognizes the importance of the frictionless signup process and offers single sign-on (SSO). Thanks to that users can get inside the product without delays.

SSO in Canva
SSO in Canva.

Once they log in for the first time, a welcome survey pops up. It’s very short, and its main goal is to determine the user persona (e.g., teacher, student, small business, etc.).

Canva welcome survey
Welcome survey in Canva.

Canva uses the information to personalize the user experience. Canva populates the dashboard with shortcuts to templates that are relevant to a particular use case.

Personalized Canva dashboard
Personalized Canva dashboard.

Canva also appreciates the importance of user onboarding further down the user journey.

For example, it uses contextual in-app messages to drive upgrades. Whenever a customer tries to use a premium feature, a modal offering a free trial of paid Canva Pro appears.

Canva upsell modal
Canva upsell modal.

How can Userpilot help streamline your client onboarding process?

Inspired by the examples above? If so, let’s have a look at how Userpilot can help you overhaul the onboarding process in your SaaS to drive activation, adoption, and customer advocacy.

Create bespoke onboarding experiences

Userpilot allows you to create personalized onboarding flows that blend seamlessly into your native UI.

To be more specific, you can create:

In addition, it offers the resource center functionality for on-demand support.

The layout and design of the in-app messages are easy to tweak thanks to the WYSIWYG editor, while AI-powered features allow you to easily refine your microcopy and translate it into multiple languages.

Onboarding UI patterns in Userpilot
Onboarding UI patterns in Userpilot.

Analyze the performance of your onboarding flow

What makes Userpilot a powerful onboarding platform is not necessarily what the users see: its product analytics features.

Thanks to them you can evaluate the performance of your onboarding flows and conduct experiments.

What’s more, Userpilot offers funnel analysis, path analysis, retention analysis, and trend analysis as well as feature usage analytics, event tracking, and heatmaps.

Thanks to them, you can get a complete picture of user in-app behavior to inform the onboarding process. For instance, you can use them to find friction points or identify the happy paths for different user segments.

Onboarding flow analytics in Userpilot
Onboarding flow analytics in Userpilot.

Trigger contextual surveys to improve onboarding processes

In addition to flow analytics, you can evaluate your onboarding by collecting user feedback.

With Userpilot, designing and triggering targeted in-app surveys is a breeze. All you have to do is pick the template from the library, customize it, tweak the questions (both closed- and open-ended), and choose the segment to target.

In addition, Userpilot supports a feedback widget so that you can easily collect passive feedback. Thanks to that, users can submit their ideas and requests whenever they need to.

Userpilot survey template
Userpilot survey templates.


Client onboarding is vital for your product growth. That’s because it increases customer satisfaction and retention by enabling them to experience the product value in less time. It also plays an important role in driving product adoption and account expansion.

If you’d like to learn more about Userpilot and how you can use it to enhance your own onboarding process, book the demo!

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