Customer onboarding in SaaS: mistakes and how to avoid them

10 min read
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Most people stop using a product NOT because it is not useful or does not have the capability to solve their problems. They stop because it takes a lot of effort for them to get used to it.

People want simple products that can solve complex problems. As a SaaS business, this is exactly what you have to deliver.

Unfortunately, not many SaaS businesses have realized this, or have managed to implement it successfully.

40 to 60% of users who sign up for a free trial will use your product once and never come back. Only 2.7% of them would stick around after day 30.

Some customer churn will always happen due to natural causes or things beyond your control. It’s a problem when new users abandon you. It’s a problem when they do not even seem to have used the product enough to make a decision.

This is when you realize maybe it’s not the product that broke the deal. They liked what they saw and signed up for it only then. I would expect them to use it at least for a while but they do not.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know it’s the customer onboarding process that’s turning them off.

Common customer onboarding mistakes most Saas companies make

Even the most successful companies make customer onboarding mistakes. Reasons could be: underestimating its importance, ignorance, going over the top, or bad design choices.

No matter how good a product you’ve made, if it takes ages to get used to it, it will not work for the present generation of customers who want answers quickly.

The four listed below are the most commonly made customer onboarding mistakes. Let’s learn about them in detail and how we can prevent them.

1. Too many things screaming for users’ attention



Most people feel overwhelmed when they have too many choices. It’s time-consuming. The clutter messes with your head.

The same fundamental applies to customer onboarding too. When the app throws a thousand options at you even before you’ve warmed up, things are most likely to go south.

Imagine a welcome screen with multiple elements battling for your attention – product tour, hotspots, tutorial videos, pop-ups for email subscription, notifications about the latest blog post, CTA buttons screaming special offers, etc. That’s just too many things in one go!

Most customers at this stage would like to start using the product and not go on an exploratory tour. They will skip the whole customer onboarding process or simply postpone it for later. You had your moment, and you confused them.

Not really a great start to the relationship, eh?

How to ensure this doesn’t happen?

Very simple. Do not overwhelm them. Here’s how you should go about it:

1.1. Focus on core features first

Most users sign up for a product to solve a problem, and not because the product is loaded with bells and whistles.

What’s the point of introducing all the features at once? Not only is it unnecessary, it is too much information for a new user to process.

Design a customer onboarding process which directs new users to your core features first. Tell them how it works. Point them to use cases. Re-affirm their purchase decision.

Always keep complexities for later. Let users get used to the product first.

The content marketing tool, Sniply, follows a neat approach. Their onboarding process is designed to help users create their first Snip (which is their core feature) – a subtle call-to-action that you can add to every page you share. That’s that. That’s all it does.


Keep it simple. The lesser, the better.

1.2. More stages, less at each

As opposed to popular belief, an overload of instructions and pop-ups do not really make things easy for anyone. All it does is cause distraction.

For all you know, the user would postpone the sign up to a more convenient time, which indirectly amount to a loss of interest.

Take it easy. Build more steps. Do not overcrowd a screen.

The popular communication tool, Slack, does a great job at this by highlighting one feature at a time and fading the rest.


On the same lines, here are a few things you should never do:

  • Unnecessary information fields in the registration form. Make sure it can be completed in 2-3 clicks.
  • Email newsletter subscription pop-ups during the first few runs. Let them read the blog first.
  • Asking for a review during the first few runs. Let them use it for a month at least.
  • Asking a new user to update to a new version immediately after signing up. Let them like the present one.
  • Not letting them skip a few steps. Respect their time!

2. Thinking it’s too early to take feedback

Not all unhappy users will bother to complain.

Some would have found a way around the problems themselves or gotten used to everything that they didn’t feel the need to complain. While others would have just left without bothering to say anything.

Striving for customer support excellence? With Hiver’s Shared Inbox, you can delegate support tickets in seconds, track every email, and get data on team performance. Know more.

If you are waiting for customer complaints to optimize the onboarding process, you will keep losing them.

How to ensure this doesn’t happen?

Get on the front foot and start collecting their feedback. Ask for their opinion of the customer onboarding process itself, if nothing else – how helpful was it, whether they understood how the product will help achieve their goals, and more.

Don’t stop there, go further. Analyze the user behavior, find out how they interacted with your product by implementing analytics.

2.1. You can collect customer feedback by asking pertinent questions:

a. If a customer hasn’t completed the onboarding process, find out why:


b. If they have completed it, send them a quick survey:


c. If they’re a big customer you’d love to have, ask if you can call them:


Head over to our post for more on this.

2.2. How to collect data without involving the customer?

  • Use Heat maps. They will help you analyze how customers behaved during the onboarding process – the areas they viewed the most, the links they clicked the most, and more. Popular heat map tools: Crazyegg.com, Zarget.com.
  • Use Session replay tools. They record and replay how customers interacted with your app. For instance, you’d know how much time customers spend on each section of your onboarding process. Popular session replay tools: mouseflow.com, luckyorange.com
  • Use Funnel analytics. They track the customer’s progress through different stages of the onboarding process. It will help you identify the areas most customers are getting stuck at. Popular funnel analytics tools: Kissmetrics.com, Mixpanel.com.
  • Identifying at-risk customers is a great way to prevent churn. For instance, Kissmetrics’ People Search option helps you identify users who signed up but never used a particular feature or users who have stopped using your core feature.

Head over to our post for more on this.

3. Thinking all users need the same thing

Do you think a graphic designer will sit through an intro video for MS Paint? Do you think an HR executive would be interested in a tutorial video of a feature meant for salespeople?

We simply cannot offer the same onboarding experience to all the customers. Their needs, motivation, knowledge, skills, and capacity all vary.

This kind of mismatches can be fatal. It hampers customers’ progress and this loss of momentum can easily cause abandonment.

How to ensure this doesn’t happen?

Tailor the customer onboarding process based on the customer data available. It will make the experience a lot smoother and engaging.

Here are a few ways to do it:

3.1. Set-up the customer onboarding process using the data you collected earlier

Most sign-up forms ask for basic user information, such as name, country, role, and company. You can use that data to customize the initial customer experience.

For example, Harvest automatically populates a few vital fields based on your location:


Always remember, the lesser time they spent setting up the account, the faster they will be able to get down to the business.

3.2. Personalize the customer onboarding process based on trends

You can use the available customer data to identify trends relevant to them. It could be based on their location, language, profession, interests, age-group, gender, and more. Tailor the customer onboarding experience accordingly. This will make it easier for them to relate to the product.

Pinterest is a great example of this. They updated their onboarding process after a lot of new users complained they were getting lost. They came up with a personalization system that identified and displayed popular content based on users’ preferred language or country.


This made it easier for them to connect with the app and move along.

3.3. Personalizing the customer onboarding process based on their needs

As we discussed earlier, customers sign up for your product for different reasons. Some might require all of your features, while others may require only one or two.

It is crucial that we understand what they are looking to achieve with our tool. Personalize the customer onboarding experience based on that. This will make it easier for them to reach the ‘aha moment’.

We, at Hiver, created a personalized customer onboarding process that varies according to the landing page from which they signed up.

For instance, if a customer signs up from the Shared Inbox landing page, the onboarding process would guide them to set up a Shared Inbox in Gmail. Here are the steps involved:



And, if a customer signs up from the Shared Labels landing page, they will be introduced to the Shared Label setup process first. Here are the steps involved:



This small tweak reduced the time taken by customers to set up their accounts by almost 43%. Not bad, eh?

3.4. Tailor the customer onboarding process based on their level of expertise

For a customer onboarding process to inspire confidence, it has to respect the customer’s level of expertise. Otherwise, they will either start doubting their own ability or the product’s capabilities. You don’t want that, do you?

Prototyping tool, Justinmind, lets users select onboarding flows based on their level of expertise. Users who choose the ‘expert’ mode will be given access to the full user interface immediately. Whereas, users who choose the ‘beginner’ mode will be given an interactive tour of the product with links to their support pages and YouTube tutorials.


This is a great way to prevent customers from feeling overwhelmed or underwhelmed.

4. Designing a customer onboarding process that makes them work hard for ‘first success’

People get turned off when the customer onboarding process is cumbersome, rigid, or too technical. Afterall, most people adopt SaaS tools to make their work easier – don’t make them work hard for it.

The longer it takes to see results, the less convinced they will be. This breeds uncertainty and a feeling that they wasted their money and energy on your product.

How to ensure this doesn’t happen?

A study suggests that minimizing the time span between a customer’s acquisition of a SaaS product and their first success with that product leads to that customer sticking with the product for the long haul.

The best way to minimize this time span – create a customer onboarding process where every step is designed for success.

Here are a few ways to prop your customers to their goal quickly:

4.1. Focus on benefits rather than features

A customer onboarding process that merely explains the product is as good as a boring monologue. If it doesn’t tell customers what purpose each feature serves or how they will contribute to the ‘first success’, why would they bother to stay?  

You can’t expect them to figure out a path to the ‘first success’ on their own. Most customers will deem the product not worth the time and move on.

Instead, tell customers what is in it for them – highlight the benefits and advantages, and give them a glimpse of how they can achieve their first success.

The popular note-taking app, Evernote, does it very well. As you can see from the images below, instead of talking about features, their focus is on what users can achieve with those features.


4.2. Make it easier for customers to navigate

A good rule of thumb is to keep reminding yourself that nobody is dying to use your product. They just want to get their job done. Even a tiny hint of delay is enough for them to jump ship.

Don’t compromise your customer onboarding program’s navigation for the sake of giving more information. There are already enough roadblocks to overcome to reach the first success. Why make it worse?

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Include only what is necessary. Do not force information on them.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind for better navigation:

  • Add a progress bar, it helps maintain the momentum and discourages customers from aborting midway.
  • Don’t make any step mandatory. The customer may not have the time or patience to complete it. Make sure you have ‘skip’ and ‘back’ buttons.
  • Give new customers the option to revisit the product tour, or intro tutorials whenever they want. Even after they have started using that particular feature.
  • Have explicit direction cues, don’t assume customers will find out how to proceed on their own.
  • Don’t make the onboarding flow drastically different from other products in your domain.
  • Make sure it is easier for customers to invite friends or teammates. This will also increase their chances of staying.

4.3. Nudge them along checkpoints

Checkpoints are junctures in the customer onboarding flow where they can achieve something significant. For a Saas product, the first can be ‘finished setting up the account’; the second can be created my first report’, and more.

Most customers will get stuck at these checkpoints and this is when they need you the most.

a. If a customer is taking unusually long to complete a task, send them an email with links to relevant articles from the help section.



b. If a customer stopped using the product after getting stuck at a particular checkpoint, schedule a call to address the problem or invite them to an on-demand training webinar.



c. If a customer completes a checkpoint, send them a congratulatory message. It will give them a sense of accomplishment.



4.4. Create content to make customer onboarding easy

According to a study, 69% of Millennials ‘feel good’ about a company when they can solve a problem on their own. The same study adds that 73% people would like to solve problems on their own.

To appeal to this section of your audience, create content that will help them solve problems by themselves. It will help them move along in their journey toward first success without too much handholding.

The key here is to make it available to customers at the right time. You can do this via email or in-app messaging.

You can include them in the onboarding UI too. But, don’t force feed it, instead let them access it only if they want to.

Here are a few different types of content you can create:

Case-studies: Create case-studies based on existing customer. Then, make it available to new users with similar characteristics.

For example, if you have many small accounting firms as customers, create case-studies based on how they got more work done with the help of your tool. Then, every time you get a similar customer, you can send the case-study to them.

Self-help channels: Create self-help channels like forums and FAQs where people can find answers to their questions or debug issues themselves.

Use Cases: Create articles or videos about best practices for different use-cases. For example, if a customer uses a particular feature repeatedly, introduce them to its best practices.

Interactive tutorial content: Trello does a fine job at this. Its onboarding flow gives a clear idea about how it lets you work more collaboratively and get more done.


Instead of having pop-ups and push notifications, they have an interactive demo board that is pretty much self-explanatory.

Wrapping up: effective customer onboarding is the foundation of a lasting relationship

Customers are humans with actual problems. They don’t have the time or the patience for an elaborate customer onboarding process. The reality is that they just want to complete it as fast as possible, start using the product and get it to solve their problems.

When the relationship is in such a fragile state, every second of attention you get is precious. Make good use of it. Keep things simple and easy-to-understand, and of course, avoid the above-mentioned mistakes.

Related post: 4 checklists to perfect your client onboarding process



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Sucheth is a content marketer at Hiver. He is a marketer by day and an avid reader by night.