SaaS Onboarding: Educate, Engage and Retain Your Customers

Kateryna Mayka

As a product owner, you may know the value proposition of your SaaS perfectly well. But there is no use in cutting-edge functionality and tailored user interface if your customers have trouble figuring out how they can benefit from using your product. And that’s where SaaS onboarding comes in handy. 

For example, one of our recent clients, Handprinter, had a unique idea of a startup with a great mission to heal the planet, but because of having troubles with users onboarding visitors just couldn’t see its value. Luckily, by improving the UI/UX design of the application our team helped Handprinter clearly communicate its value and encourage people to sign up.

The above example proves that when done right, onboarding will not just show the customer how to use your product, it will teach them how to receive value and reach their goals with its help.

So, what is customer onboarding? Why does your SaaS need one? What types of onboarding will suit your cloud service best? Let's figure it out together!

The use of onboarding for your SaaS

User onboarding is the process of helping customers getting to know the functions and main advantages of the product and leading them to their first success with your app.

According to Sixteen Ventures research, a customer who did not feel the value of your service during the first interaction will quit using it within 30-90 days. As most SaaS companies have a subscription-based pricing model, retaining users is crucial for their success and prosperity.

The first experience determines whether the client will continue using the product. Thoughtful onboarding that shows the customer that you care about their success will help you turn casual users into loyal customers and loyal customers into brand advocates. 

See what other positive results you can achieve by optimizing the experience of first interaction with your app:

  • Eliminates decision paralysis. SaaS products are usually complex and when the customer opens the application for the first time they have the feeling like being in the cockpit of the plane with dozens of buttons and triggers and they don’t know where to start. The main goal here is to remove the difficulty of choice and help users make the first step. 
  • Educates and engages users. According to Pareto analysis, approximately twenty percent of your audience come to your SaaS with some previous experience of using a similar service, so they can easily understand how to use yours. The rest 80 percent is usually an unprepared audience that you need to teach and show them the benefits they will receive with your product. 
  • Retention. A user who has learned how to use the product and benefit from it is likely to continue using it.
  • More new clients. The clearer and more effective your service is, the more likely it is that customers will recommend it to other people (more customers mean higher profits). According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 84% of B2B decision-makers start the buying process with referrals - sounds like a strong argument to work on onboarding.

What to start with

Customers come to your SaaS with a certain problem and your task is to quickly show them how your service will solve it. The thing is that it’s very difficult for users to see the result during a trial period, that’s why the task of onboarding is to lead the customer to the aha moment - the moment when they suddenly realize what value your product has and why they need it.

For more detailed information about the SaaS aha moment and its importance for your cloud business, you can read our article Aha Moment. 

Next, we will briefly discuss what preparations you need to do to create an effective onboarding process that leads your client to the product value. 

  1. Conduct user research to understand who your customers are and what are their needs. Based on this information define your buyer personas.
  2. Determine what problem the user wants to solve with your product. Your product may meet the needs of specific buyer personas in different ways. Onboarding must find an approach to each of them.
  3. Determine the features of your SaaS that will solve users’ problems. The client should try these features in the first place, and not learn everything about the entire product at once. 
  4. Remove unnecessary steps and shorten the path to value. Once you've identified what features will bring value to the customer, try to find the shortest path to it. The process of acquainting with the application may differ depending on the user segment and specific use cases.
  5. Tie the first-time experience to value. Setting the right emphasis and reminding the user from time to time of the value that they will receive with your SaaS will add motivation to go through the difficult and tedious stages of the first experience. Perfect onboarding is one that easily and seamlessly leads the customer to value.

After you’ve done all the preparations it’s time to start the process itself. 

7 types of user onboarding

Onboarding is a process that requires constant testing and improvement, and therefore there are many methods for its implementation. Over time SaaS companies may change and combine different ways they acquaint users with the app to choose the most efficient variants for them.

Note! No matter what method you will choose, it is essential to give users the opportunity to close or skip the education and proceed using the product itself. Otherwise, your onboarding can cause irritation and rejection.

Here are some most widely-used types:

Product Tours

This type of onboarding is common to many SaaS companies. Its main purpose is to acquaint the user with the new product and give them a clear understanding of how to start interacting with the software.

After registration, the customer views short instructions on how to use various features of the application.

Advantages:

  • You can quickly communicate all important information to the user
  • It’s a simple and understandable method
  • Does not require high development costs

Disadvantages:

  • Provides the user with too much information at a time, that’s why it’s likely that customer will quickly forget a significant part of this education
  • May sometimes provide the user with obvious information

Take a look at the onboarding process Eleken has developed for ClientJoy (formerly Gridle)  a client relationship management software. 

example of SaaS onboarding process
how to organize SaaS onboarding?
SaaS onboarding example

The right use of white space plus short and clear copy pushes users to make the first action (add a new customer, import customer data, etc.) and find their aha moment.

Segmented onboarding

This method provides not a one-size-fits-all onboarding screen, but a personalized experience for different types of customers based on their needs and goals. Segmented type offers the user to choose their goal/preferences and based on that choice the app shows further instructions. 

Segmentation is a great choice for SaaS products that have a broad range of features and deals with different use cases. 

Advantages:

  • Allows you to make the interface truly convenient for each buyer persona

Disadvantages:

  • Requires thorough customer research
  • Takes more time and effort on implementation

Headspace, an online software that promotes meditation offers its new users to select the goal they want to reach with the app, and based on the choice it shows different exercises for meditation. This way Headspace makes the overall product experience more personalized and customer-centered. 

Types of SaaS onboarding: Segmented onboarding

Welcome emails

Sending a welcome email is a traditional way to acquaint your customers with the product and tell them about the value they will receive from your SaaS. This type of onboarding can educate the user, motivate them, and help to dive deeper into how to correctly start using your app. 

In general, email marketing is one of the effective ways to lead the customer through their SaaS user journey. 

Advantages:

  • Users check their mailbox more often than the service they’ve just signed up for;
  • You don't have to overload the product interface with pop-ups.

Disadvantages:

  • It is more difficult for the user to apply knowledge in practice if they see it in a letter, and not on the screen of the site;
  • There is a risk that the email will get lost in the numerous spam and the customer won’t notice it 

As one of the SaaS welcome email examples let’s take a look at Asana, a task management software. It sends an email that not only reminds the user about the free trial but also provides tips on how to take the most advantages out of the software.

example of welcome email as one type of user onboarding
SaaS mail marketing examples

Or check an email from Freshbook. They explain the benefits of the “add a client” function, give clear step-by-step instructions, and put a noticeable CTA that takes the customer right into the app.

Types of SaaS onboarding: welcome emails

Video tutorials

This kind of onboarding replaces traditional onboarding screens or tooltips. The user who has completed the registration view a video where you can thank them for their choice and briefly talk about the functionality of the service.

Advantages:

  • More fun than traditional text formats
  • Tell about everything faster and in a more accessible manner
  • It is easy to make a video memorable

Disadvantages:

  • Requires serious preparation
  • If the internet connection is poor, the impression may be blurred

Xero is a business accounting software and they do a nice job by introducing their service to new users with the help of a short and informative video. This way they don’t only show what features the software possesses but also create value by presenting the ease of integrating Xero in existing business operations.

using videos for user onboarding

Tooltips

The task of onboarding is to tell the user what to do in an application to get a certain result. And tooltips serve great to complete this task.

You draw customer’s attention to certain buttons/icons and the visitor sees the pop-up windows with a brief description of their functionality. That is, they receive a hint exactly at the moment when they need it.

Advantages:

  • Users like tooltips, as they appear at the right time
  • Easy to implement into the interface

Disadvantages:

  • If they give customers some obvious information, they may be annoying

Slack has short and informative tooltips that users can skip at any time they want.

SaaS onboarding examples: tooltips
Slack onboarding process example
Image credit: reallygoodux.io

Demos

The Demo version of the product acquaints new users with a software interface and shows the visitor an example of the app’s use. This onboarding is effective because it allows you to quickly demonstrate all the advantages of your SaaS in one place.

Advantages:

  • Fits perfectly into the interface, as it consists of the same elements
  • Quickly shows the result of the use of your application
  • Suitable for those who prefer visual learning

Disadvantages:

  • For complex products, it is impossible to show everything in one demo, which means you have to prioritize and highlight only the main features

Grammarly with its learn-by-doing demo document created a perfect onboarding process that is extremely easy to follow and allows customers to immediately feel the value.

Grammarly user onboarding example

Gamification

Users love games. So why not use this addictive mechanism that games have in your onboarding process? The essence of this method is the following: for performing certain actions, the visitor receives a reward - bonuses, a certain status, or other virtual benefits. Alongside gaining rewards, users learn how to receive value from your product. 

Advantages:

  • High level of motivation and user engagement
  • Encourages the user to come back and stay longer

Disadvantages:

  • Requires very careful preparation
  • Implementation requires a solid budget 

A great example of gamification onboarding is Duolingo, a cloud app for learning foreign languages.

Once a new user signs up and chooses their goal, Duolingo offers them to have the first lesson. 

The UX design of each exercise is highly intuitive and encourages users to take action and continue the learning the app. For example, the student sees the progress bar that shows how long it will take them to go through the whole lesson.

SaaS onboarding types: gamification approach


After completing all exercises from this lesson users receive a reward, and here comes the aha moment: they realize that it was very easy, quick, and entertaining to gain first knowledge. The desire to get further rewards and unlock “next levels” make users retain and come back to the app again and again.

 

user onboarding in Duolingo



example of effective SaaS user onboarding

Metrics

After you’ve done all the needed preparations and implemented the onboarding on SaaS, it is time to evaluate it. It is important to constantly monitor the interaction of the audience with onboarding and, if necessary, improve the process.

For this purpose you can use the following metrics:

  • User engagement metrics. Figuring out how often people use your product, how much time they spend using it during one session, what functions customers use more often, and other user engagement metrics (link to the article) will help you to optimize the onboarding process. 
  • Churn rate. The churn rate is the number of your customers who have stopped using the SaaS for any reason. Keep track of how the churn rate changes with all the changes in the product and onboarding. Perhaps, with the help of onboarding, you can reduce the churn of customers who did not understand how to use your SaaS.
  • Life Time Value (LTV). This is an important indicator that allows you to calculate the profit that you receive for the entire time of working with a client. High-quality onboarding can help extend the time customer spends with your service and this way have a beneficial effect on LTV.
  • Retention. This metric will help you determine the reasons why customers leave. For example, if you've lost most of your users during the first days after signing up, you may improve your welcome messages to motivate users to start using the service.

It is important to remember that there are a lot of factors except the onboarding that influence all of these metrics but a successful first experience enhances the success of your SaaS.

To sum up 

Perfect onboarding is invisible to the user. It organically complements the page, guiding through the bottlenecks and appearing exactly where the user needs it. We hope that by this moment you have an idea of how to organize the onboarding so that it helps to engage and retain customers.

Finally, remember, the better and higher quality the onboarding process is, the happier your client is. And in its turn, a happy customer in the SaaS industry means higher lifetime value and therefore higher revenue.

For more tips on how to improve your SaaS business read SaaS Customer Success: 6 Strategies to Reduce the Churn and Grow Your Business.

Read more about SaaS design