5 Essential Types of Automation Flows For Customer Retention in SaaS

5 Essential Types of Automation Flows For Customer Retention in SaaS cover

In the competitive world of SaaS products, keeping hold of your customers is critically important: in this article, we’re going to explore five of the most consequential types of automation flows for customer retention.

We’ll start by breaking down what customer retention is, then look at various types of automated flows, and finally draw out some specific examples you can apply in your own product.

All in all, it’ll be a deep dive into the world of automation.

Ready to get started? Let’s get into it!


  • Customer retention is a useful metric for SaaS owners and product managers designed to measure how loyal customers are over time.
  • A customer loyalty program is about rewarding existing customers (typically using incentives). Customer retention strategies typically encompass a far broader range of customer retention efforts.
  • So what’s an automated flow, and where does it fit into retention? An automated flow describes a sequence of actions or activities that are kicked off autonomously within your product or service. There are many ways automated flows can be used to increase customer retention.
  • Firstly, it’s a fantastic use of leverage, allowing you to enhance your customer retention efforts on a number of fronts (support, onboarding, rolling out new features, and more). All of that will have a knock-on impact on customer experience.
  • Automation also helps you provide personalized experiences at scale (minimizing human error), which should boost customer satisfaction and improve brand loyalty.
  • There are several types of automated flow you can consider using in your product. Onboarding automation is an obvious candidate: it’s all about ensuring new customers have as smooth an onboarding experience as possible. Your primary goal should be to reduce time to value, boost customer engagement, and improve the customer experience.
  • Email marketing automation is also an effective choice: you can trigger a series of marketing emails to collect customer data, cultivate customer relationships, share valuable information, and ultimately increase customer retention.
  • In-app automation flows are highly versatile. Use them to showcase a new feature, upsell a premium option, or gather user feedback to understand customer behavior. Self-service automation is another option: use this type of flow to help your customers solve their own problems (as quickly and simply as possible).
  • Offboarding is another important area to consider as a candidate for automation. Customer churn is natural and inevitable: you don’t want it to be a painful, frustrating experience. In fact, if you want to improve the amount of retained customers then you need to understand why they’re leaving.
  • Looking to build multiple types of automation flows for customer retention? Userpilot can help-Get a demo and see how.

What is customer retention?

Customer retention is a useful metric for SaaS owners and product managers: it’s primarily designed to measure customer loyalty. It can also refer to a broader topic: the ability of any organization to keep existing customers over time.

Customer retention strategy vs customer loyalty program

A common misconception is equating a customer loyalty program with the entire concept of customer retention. That’s not the case. Here’s how they differ:

Customer retention strategies should encompass a wide variety of activities: from primary onboarding to engagement and marketing, to support, to minimizing friction and maximizing value throughout the rollout of a new feature.

A customer loyalty program is about rewarding existing customers (typically using incentives). Your most loyal customers can sometimes be your best form of advertising: they’ll evangelize and recommend your product to their network.

Before you think about customer loyalty, you need to focus on getting retention right.

What is an automated flow?

An automated flow describes a sequence of actions or activities that are kicked off autonomously within your product or service.

Any string of actions can be chained together to form helpful automation and vastly improve customer loyalty – but they take time and effort to get right.

Done poorly, they can be frustrating and ineffective.

Why should you use automated flows to increase retention

On the flip side, a well-designed automated flow can pay huge dividends for you and your SaaS. Let’s unpack two of the major ways that automated flows can impact retention.

Enhance customer retention efforts

Automation helps you leverage your finite resources more effectively. You and your customer success team can only take on so much at once. Typically, you’ll be trying to juggle:

  • Helping users onboard
  • Customer support
  • Responding to queries from new or existing customers
  • Explaining a new feature
  • Fixing bugs

Trying to handle all that simultaneously across multiple time zones requires a huge amount of people’s power, and it’s all too easy for something to go wrong.

Automation means you can pick the ‘low hanging fruit’ (repeatable sequences of tasks) and spend more of your time on the meaningful, high-leverage activities which are going to move your business forward.

Avoid mistakes and provide a personalized experience at scale

No matter how skilled, talented, or hard-working you and your team are, mistakes are inevitable. Whether something just doesn’t make it onto your to-do list or gets lost in translation, minor mistakes can add up to larger problems quite quickly.

Automation helps increase the consistency of customer experiences as your organization scales. It reduces the risk of variations in experience – and enables you to benefit from incremental efficiency gains over time.

That doesn’t mean you’re stuck with a one size fits all approach. You can use valuable customer data to trigger personalized flows and deliver a tailored, highly effective experience (with minimal human effort).

Types of automated flows used in SaaS to increase customer retention

So, we’ve covered how automation can help you and your product. But where do you start?

In this section of the article, we’re going to focus on some of the most common, high-impact types of flow that SaaS products build.

Let’s start by looking at one of the most popular areas for automation: onboarding.

#1 – Automate the in-app onboarding flow

What’s the goal? Automating onboarding is all about ensuring new customers have as smooth an onboarding experience as possible. Your primary goal should be to reduce time to value: get users experiencing value as quickly as possible.

It typically involves asking users to self-identify their role, then triggering personalized flows for different segments that help get them up to speed.

Screenshot of Notion onboarding
A product welcome screen is a fantastic place to start capturing user data.

Why does it matter? Put simply, first impressions count. You want your users’ initial interaction with your product to set their minds at ease, work seamlessly, and reinforce their decision to use your service.

Automation helps increase the speed and consistency of the experience.

#2 – Email marketing automation flows

What’s the goal? A welcome email sequence should aim to provide a trail of handy information, introductory material, and key resources a user can access.

Email marketing automation flows could also be triggered to pique the interest of disengaged users.

Screenshot of ActiveCampaign email inbox
Communicate directly with your users.

Why does it matter? Firstly, because email is such a versatile tool, different email marketing automation flows can quickly be created to meet different needs. Secondly, you don’t want to bombard your users with information in-app: it’s important to provide an outlet for key information that’s available quickly and easily whenever they need it.

#3 – In-app communication flows

What’s the goal? This type of flow is primarily meant to keep customers informed about what’s new in the product. Depending on the context, they can launch at various points in the journey: it could be a flow to gather user feedback, demonstrate how a new feature works, or upsell from a ‘free’ version.

Why does it matter? In-app flows can help a user discover a new feature, engage with an existing set of features, boost product adoption, and ultimately encourage them to keep using your service.

Screenshot of Userpilot in-app flow options
Craft bespoke in-app flows with Userpilot.

#4 – Self-service automation flows

What’s the goal? The primary objective of this type of flow is to help your customers solve their own problems (as quickly and simply as possible).

Animation of Userpilot in-app self service automation
Help your customers to help themselves with Userpilot.

Why does it matter? As you scale, it’s easy for your support team to get overwhelmed handling queries. Automated support – whether that’s using a chatbot, crafting bespoke flows and walkthroughs, tooltips, or other in-app messages – helps neutralize problems before they start sucking up time and effort.

#5 – User offboarding automation flow

What’s the goal? Offboarding automation should aim to make the user offboarding experience as smooth and simple as possible.

Screenshot of cancellation survey
Take the opportunity to understand why a customer wants to leave.

Why does it matter? Some level of customer churn is inevitable: you don’t want it to be a painful, frustrating experience. In fact, if you want to improve retention then you need to understand why they’re leaving.

Offboarding automation flows that trigger when a user cancels their subscription can help you build that understanding (e.g. with a simple survey). As an added bonus, you’ll also have the chance to offer alternatives – and potentially win them back.

Examples of automation flow for customer retention

Now we’ve covered a range of automated flows (and when you might look to use them), let’s look into some real-life examples from a range of SaaS companies. We’ll explore what works (and why). That should help you figure out the key lessons to apply to your own product.

Welcome new customers in-app onboarding automation flow

What type of automation flow is this? This is a classic example of an onboarding automation flow.

Screenshot of Airtable onboarding flow
Personalization is key in onboarding.

Why does it work? Airtable gets this flow right in a number of ways.

Firstly, it’s no longer than it needs to be – effective onboarding is all about minimizing ‘time to value’. Therefore, a short, snappy onboarding flow is best. The single sign-on is a great example of that.

On top of that, it’s highly engaging, using a mixture of UI patterns (like slideouts and tooltips) to help focus users’ attention. The personalized experience (via the welcome message) is a nice touch.

Welcome emails series

What type of automation flow is this? This, from Miro, is a clear example of email automation (to welcome new users, in this case).

Screenshot of Miro email
A handy welcome mail in a well-constructed series can be a valuable resource.

Why does it work? Email is a fantastic tool for getting directly into a user’s inbox (you can’t rely on fully in-app communication, and some situations warrant a different form of messaging).

The mail above demonstrates a clear value proposition from the get-go, with the animation demonstrating how the product will help users. The message is reinforced with social proof, and importantly there are two clear calls to action.

Converting users from freemium to paid flow

What is it? This is an example of a self-service automation flow: adding premium features to your UI, and trying to drive attention toward them.

Screenshot of Asana new feature.
Draw your users’ attention to new features.

Why does it work? The subtle ‘New’ text next to Goals is an alluring prompt that sparks curiosity. The clear product naming convention helps users form a realistic expectation around what the feature will offer them. Asana does a great job of formulating the value proposition and tying it all together by offering a free trial.

Screenshot of Asana 'goals' new feature modal
Tempt users to upgrade by demonstrating value and boost conversion.

New feature adoption flow

What is it? This is an example of an automated in-app flow. In this instance, Userpilot announces a new Resource Center and then triggers an in-app guide to walk users through it.

Screenshot of Userpilot Resource Center
An eye-catching announcement helps drive attention to new features.

Why does it work? In a nutshell, it helps to demonstrate value as soon as possible. The use of engaging language helps to showcase why it works. Helpfully, it’s paired with a webinar (which could be targeted to those who’d engaged with a modal) to give a more personalized angle and build empathy.

Screenshot of Userpilot webinar
Webinars offer a more ‘human’ angle.

Upselling automation flows

What is it? This is another example of in-app automation meant to drive the user to upgrade.

Why does it work? Loom does a good job of launching contextually relevant in-app messages at the right time. It’s all about showcasing the value and tempting users to try new features (or a higher membership tier) out.

Screenshot of Loom feature
Target your upselling carefully.

The image below is a fantastic example: if users are frequently recording longer videos, they clearly have a need that needs to be met, and upgrading is an obvious choice.

Screenshot of Loom upselling
By matching targeted, automated upgrade messages to user needs, Loom are onto a winner.

Closing the feedback loop retention flow

What is this? This is an example of in-app automation, specifically looking at targeting distinct flows to different user segments based on NPS.

Apply tags to NPS survey answers collected to identify common themes and patterns.

Screenshot of Userpilot NPS feature
Build deep, actionable customer understanding with Userpilot.

Then build a segment to target users based on their NPS score and/or the tags you applied.


Why does it work? Segmentation based on NPS scores works for a number of reasons: it allows you to collect, analyze, identify themes, and understand data that will help you effectively make product decisions. Importantly, it opens a channel for a feedback loop (collecting feedback and iterating your product accordingly).

For example, triggering a slideout to announce a feature to users who complained that it’s missing from the product.

Screenshot of Postfity upselling
Demonstrate you’ve been listening to the needs of your users.

Customer offboarding in-app flow

What is it? This is in-app automation designed to smoothly offboard users.

Why does it work? Asana keep it as respectful – and most importantly speedy – as possible.

The simple survey demonstrates they understand that customer churn is part and parcel of any SaaS biz, but also that they want to gather useful user feedback (which tells them why someone has left).

Screenshot of Asana offboarding survey
Don’t let your users leave without understanding why.

In the right context, you could even boost retention by stopping users from leaving your app.

Screenshot of Asana messaging
Targeted financial incentives could help boost customer loyalty.

Win back inactive users automation flow

What is it? Similar to the example above, this is an email automation flow – although this time for a different purpose (to win back users who’ve left your product).

Why does it work? Emails can be a great way of recovering inactive users. In the example below, we can see Asana highlighting a recent speed and performance boost.

If customers left for that reason, the email could be the prompt that brings them back.

Animation of Asana email message
Understand where a user’s frustration is, and you’ll be able to target messaging that could win them back.


Wow – we’ve covered an awful lot in this article. Automation and customer retention are both enormous, complex topics. But after working through this breakdown, hopefully, you should now have a solid understanding of:

  • What customer automated workflows are
  • How they work in practice
  • How to apply them in your own product

CTA: Want to get started with automation flows? Get a Userpilot Demo and see how you can use automation to boost retention today.

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