Customer onboarding is a vital part of the sales process that ensures the longevity of the relationship with your customer, whether you’re a B2B or a B2C company. However, many businesses still fail in this regard, as even 90% of customers believe their onboarding to be flawed, and about half of all customers end up returning the product because they don’t understand how to use it. That’s exactly what customer onboarding is supposed to accomplish and we’ll show you how to do it well and how you can create much more engaged customers.


It is a shame that so many companies put disproportionate effort into obtaining new customers, as study after study shows that retaining customers is much cheaper and more profitable. Loyal customers on average spend more money, and companies that focus on customers enjoy 20% more engaged customers than those that don’t. Maybe it’s a bit crude to say it like this, but customer retention and improving the Customer Lifetime Value is where the money is. The secret to reaping these benefits is solid onboarding, as it leaves the customer educated about your services and primed for further interactions.


Perform a detailed analysis of your current customers’ behavior


One of the top reasons behind customer churn, is that they don’t understand your product. This isn’t a trivial matter, you might think you have the most user-friendly, most obvious service in the world, but the customers will always surprise you with questions and misunderstandings you would never expect. It’s important to understand, that’s not because they’re stupid, they simply come to your store with certain expectations, admittedly sometimes unrealistic expectations, but nevertheless, not meeting these expectations causes confusion first, and then anger.


So the solution is rather straight-forward: know what expectations your customers have of you and try to meet those expectations, and if you can’t do that, explain why you can’t do that. There are many ways to gather information about what customers expect from your services like surveys and questionnaires, but the most effective way of doing it is the analysis of customer behavioral data. It will tell you what actual needs your product is supposed to solve for them, how much time passes between purchases, when do they make purchases (which will also allow you to determine how frequently a purchase of your product is associated with a specific date, like someone’s birthday, and plan accordingly) and more. Of course, this assumes that you have a large enough volume of behavioral data to work with, and good software to analyze it with, but it is the best available solution. Actual data about your customers will tell you much more about how to inform your new customers, than asking them direct questions.


Make sure that the customer understands your product well


Once you know what your customers need to learn during the onboarding process, it’s time to provide that information. There are many ways to do this, but the best and the most straightforward way is through email. The reasoning is pretty obvious, emails have a high chance of reaching the customers and being opened and allow for enough depth to communicate a lot of information. That doesn’t mean you should bog the reader down with complex instructions, try to communicate clearly and efficiently, but just by the virtue of how much you need to say, something like an SMS message is insufficient for this purpose.


Such an onboarding email should, first and foremost, explain to the customer exactly how they’re supposed to use the product. This is going to be different depending on the product, a car requires more instructions about its usage than a toothbrush, but don’t think that just because your product is simple, it doesn’t require explanation. Always tell your customer what it is, what is it made from and how, what is it supposed to be used for, and what can it be safely used with.


Of course, some products require an even more in-depth explanation, and thus, an even more advanced onboarding, our own system being a good example of this. If what you offer is a big, multi-part product that offers a wide range of uses, you need more than one simple email. In such a case, your customer onboarding will have to involve constant conversations with a specialist, preferably the same person every time, to avoid miscommunication. You should also definitely consider composing webinars explaining your product broadly, and then its various parts specifically. This is a lot of work, but it’s an important work that needs to be done.


For complex products, create customer goals and rewards in your onboarding


Nothing builds engagement like a good old-fashioned adventure. A fully interactive onboarding, with set and clearly communicated goals for your customer to achieve, ensures two things: that your customer is fully educated about the functionalities of your product and that they stay engaged with your brand. Completing such a process instills your customer with a sense of achievement, even if just a small one and that itself creates value beyond just the product you’re selling. Additionally, this is a good way of gaining more behavioral data about your customer – if the product you’re offering works on the basis of an online subscription, for example, each time the customer logs into your system to progress their onboarding, that activity will return to you as data valuable in creating their profile. If you trade in physical objects, you may still be able to get such data, by sending additional messages for the customer, asking how are they finding your product so far.


For some products, this may be going overboard. There is little reason to make a whole interactive process out of onboarding your customer a product that aims to solve a direct and obvious need, but even in such cases, more can be done than you think. Consider this, for example: let’s say you’re an eCommerce shop selling sports clothing. Your interactive onboarding can include asking your customer for pictures or stories of athletic success achieved with your brand, on the promise of receiving points in the loyalty program, or other benefits like a discount for the next purchase. Of course, only a fraction of your customers will do that, but those that will, will provide you with a convenient source of content you can use in social media campaigns. On the other hand, if you sell, for example, consumer electronics, like sports cameras, you can continue the communication with the customer after the purchase, explaining different features of the product, showing how to mount it with different accessories, etc.


Complex products that require a thorough explanation will require solid customer onboarding anyway, so there’s no reason not to make this process a little more exciting. As an additional benefit, such a structured framework also gives your customer an idea of where they are in the process of learning to use your product, at every step of the way. When they’re done, they know that they’ve mastered your product, or at the very least learned to use it responsibly, and at all points, they know how much they still have to learn.


Importantly, goals in this interactive process should always reflect the actual usage of the product and carry benefits for the customer. As mentioned above, points in the loyalty program are a good incentive here.


Use the onboarding program to start building loyalty in your customer


Customer onboarding isn’t just about explaining your product, it’s also an opportunity to build a long-lasting relationship. This is a great time to talk about the history of your company, your goals, and your values. If you have some good customer success stories, this is a good opportunity to share them. Such self-promotion shouldn’t be the bulk of the informational content during the customer onboarding, but you’re not gonna get a better chance to present it.


Moreover, you should use this opportunity to present whatever loyalty program you may have and explain it thoroughly. Few customers actually consider loyalty programs to be an important aspect of a business when they’re looking for an immediate solution to a problem (most cite simplicity and speed as the most important), but a lot of them consider loyalty programs as a reason for staying with the company. Since the detailed explanation of it is probably buried somewhere on your website (consider this an educated guess) your new customer can be completely unaware of its existence, this is a good moment to present it. Remember that these are additions to the most important part of onboarding, success stories, benefits, and loyalty programs shouldn’t constitute more than 20% of the process. Any more than that and it stops being about informing the customer, and starts being about self-promotion.


Build an engaged user-base


Loyal customers form the bulk of your profits, so keeping them engaged is of utmost importance. The key to creating active customers is to provide them with a way to express themselves with your product, outside of the immediate benefit it ostensibly offers. Widely successful companies don’t just sell a product, they sell a brand. Customer onboarding is the best place to start this process because that’s the moment you know for an absolute fact that you’ve got yourself someone interested in your offer, but they still may go either way, without being informed on how they can use your product in an expressive way, they will approach it purely pragmatically and leave after getting, what they consider, the full usage of your product. You must convince them that there’s much more to it than they may initially think, even if, at its core, it serves a pragmatic function. Customer onboarding is a great place to do just that.