Customer Onboarding For SMBs in 2021 | GoodFirms Research

Updated on :October 17, 2023

Customer onboarding is the nurturing process of getting new users/customers comfortable with a product. It may come at the start of the life cycle, but it sets the tone for a customer’s relationship with the product. The onboarding process will substantially impact whether the customer continues to use the product or churns after a while.

A perfect onboarding experience will include step-by-step tutorials, milestone celebrations when a customer achieves a goal with the help of the product, and unlimited support and guidance.

No one would run a campaign without creating a strategy first. The same holds for customer onboarding. A goal and plan are needed before creating anything for the customers. Of course, the plan will evolve as a business learns more about its customers, but there still needs to be a base objective before starting. Any client onboarding strategy should cover three key retention goals - motivate users to use the product more than once in the first week, set a usage pattern, and make the product compelling.

As onboarding is an ongoing process, businesses need to constantly prove their value to the customers to maintain a meaningful and mutually beneficial relationship in the long run. GoodFirms surveyed 272 business executives to know the client onboarding practices relevant to the modern world.

Which are the Best Customer Onboarding Channels? 

The aim of customer onboarding is to make the customer stay with the brand and not get in their way. Keeping that in mind, it is essential to use customer onboarding channels that the customer will access regularly and take action through. The best customer onboarding channels will vary depending on the business type, B2B or B2C, and the business industry.

Which are the Best Channels to Onboard Customers?

In general, the best customer onboarding channels are onboarding emails (86.8%), videos (66.2%), and in-app messages (44.1%), as per the survey respondents. 

Onboarding emails are created to help new customers understand how to use a product/service and gain value. As per 87.8% of B2B survey respondents, onboarding emails are the best channel. It’s 85.2% for B2C marketing experts. While personal onboarding emails are a perfect way to start a conversation with new customers, there are other types of onboarding emails. For instance, welcome emails, getting started emails, free trial ending emails, activation emails, and much more. 

The second best onboarding channel is videos. However, here there is a visible difference in the opinion of B2B and B2C business owners. A substantial number (78.0%) of B2B business owners think videos are one of the best onboarding channels, but only 48.1% of B2C businesses agree with the importance of videos. There is no doubt that videos can hold the attention of customers longer and keep them engaged. The top reasons to use videos for onboarding are that it effectively educates the new customers, helps to form an emotional connection, gives customers the freedom of self-paced learning, and reduces the workload of customer support employees. 

Next in the list are in-app messages which can be anything from an initial product tour to alerts that regularly encourage customers to explore the product. One of the crucial ways in which in-app messages can be used is to bring to customer’s attention the important features. The opinion of B2B and B2C business owners with relation to in-app messages is quite similar. 41.5% of B2B businesses and 48.1% of B2C businesses believe that in-app messages are among the best onboarding channels. 

Lastly, it’s the community as an onboarding channel. A great number (53.8%) of B2C business owners think it is one of the best onboarding channels. The primary reason being the more new customers get to know the experience of other engaged customers, the better. A business can create its community on platforms such as Facebook or Instagram to enable customers to share their ideas and ask for help.

Which are the Most Important Customer Onboarding Metrics? 

Onboarding is the time when a brand starts to cement its relationship with the customer. It is essential to use the customer onboarding metrics because they help measure the efficiency of the whole process and identify the areas that require improvement. 

As per the GoodFirms survey, in the order of their rank, they are customer progression (55.9%), customer response rate (58.8%), time to complete onboarding (54.4%), and product adoption rate (52.9%). 

Which are the Most Important Customer Onboarding Metrics?

The most important metric is customer progression as per 48.8% of the B2B participants and 66.7% of the B2C participants. A business can enable customer progression in two ways. Firstly, they offer customers all the training material required to understand the product and then track how they move from one stage to the next. The second method is when a business itself offers them the necessary training. In either case, a business needs to measure the time allocated to the customers before they can handle the product themselves. 

For 53.7% of B2B participants and 66.7% of B2C survey participants, the customer response rate is an important metric. When a new customer starts using a product, there will be various points when they need technical or other support from the business. A business should take regular surveys from customers, note the commonly asked questions, and the time taken to respond to their queries. Creating customer personas will also assist in improving this metric. 

When it comes to the product adoption rate metric, a noticeable difference is visible in the perspective of B2B and B2C business owners. 65.9% of B2B businesses think it is important, but only 33.3% of B2C businesses agree with that opinion. This metric will tell a business the level of engagement that the customer has with the product based on how long and how often it is used. Only a high product adoption rate will ensure that a customer will remain connected with the business in the long run.

Next is the time to complete the onboarding metrics. A customer is in the onboarding phase till they independently start using the product in their internal workflow. This metric is measured by the number of days a customer takes to start using the product alone. For 51.2% B2B businesses and 59.3% B2C businesses, this is a crucial metric. The quicker a customer becomes independent, the faster they can start to experience the product’s value.

Which are the Biggest Challenges of Customer Onboarding? 

A poor customer onboarding experience means unhappy and frustrated customers who will not continue purchasing from the business. Such customers may also share their disappointing experiences with their near and dear ones resulting in bad word-of-mouth publicity. To avoid any such situations, it is necessary to deal with the common challenges of the onboarding process.

What are the Common Challenges of Customer Onboarding?

Some of the most common customer onboarding challenges are business doesn’t know when a customer is struggling (57.4%), unclear goals (44.1%), onboarding is taking too long (32.4%), and poor follow up with customers (27.9%).

Both B2B (58.5%) and B2C (55.6%) businesses face the challenge of not knowing when their customers are struggling. This usually happens when a business has limited visibility in the customer’s journey. To overcome this challenge, a business should regularly monitor the features used, not used, and the features with which a customer is struggling.

In the case of unclear goals, B2B (43.9%) and B2C (44.4%) business owners struggle at almost the same level. The goal of the onboarding process is whatever the customer is trying to achieve by using the product. Each customer will have a unique purpose for the product. So, a business should understand the specific purpose and tailor the onboarding process around it. 

When onboarding takes too long, a business tends to lose customers as customers want a quick time to value. If the onboarding process drags and the customers don’t get the desired support, they will give up. Both B2B (34.1%) and B2C (29.6%) businesses face this challenge, but it's more common for B2B. Setting milestones in an agreed timeframe will make sure that the customers complete the onboarding process on time. 

Poor follow-up with customers is a major challenge for B2C businesses (44.4%) but not so much for B2B ones (17.1%). Poor follow-up with customers will result in high levels of customer dissatisfaction. Taking a follow-up within a few days of the sale will leave a positive impression in customers’ minds. Also, try to ensure that the follow-up is done by the same person who made the sale. 

Customer Onboarding Best Practices for 2021

It is almost suicidal to assume that customers will see the benefits of a product in question and not its competitors. Even though the benefits are quite obvious, it is always a good idea to explain how the product offers more value than its counterparts. Following the best practices for customer onboarding will ensure that a customer doesn’t abandon the product or process. 

1. Leverage Videos

Videos have, in general, proved to be more effective than written forms of content. In the case of onboarding, too, they are a perfect choice for grabbing the audience’s attention. Onboarding videos are usually instructional or welcoming. Investing in high-quality video content will not only offer a high ROI but also increase customer retention rate. A GoodFirms survey found that demo or how-to videos can give the best returns to support this statement further. 

The CEO of Test Prep Insight, John Ross, mentions his own experience with onboarding videos and more reasons for the popularity of this form of content delivery.

In his opinion, “For us, the practice we have had the most success with for our customer onboarding process has been video walkthroughs. People don't want lengthy emails explaining how to use your product or service. They want to be quickly and easily spoon fed exactly what they need, and nothing more. For most businesses, this means leveraging video. Just about any product or service - from SaaS to carrot peelers - can be demonstrated in a quick video. So my best tip is to make video a major part of your customer onboarding process. Create a concise and high-quality tutorial video that hits your customer's inbox within just a few hours of purchasing.”

If a business does decide to include videos in the onboarding process, they need to keep in mind that it will require careful planning and strategy. More so because the onboarding videos will be the first interaction of a customer with the product. Tyler Garns from Box Out Marketing shares some anecdotes to make this strategy successful.

He said, "As a CEO, I am a firm believer in the power of first impressions. Making a great first impression on potential consumers will make the entire engagement go smoothly. Here are some of our greatest client onboarding practices:

  • Maximize the use of video presentations. It will make onboarding more interactive and will assist you in better introducing your brand and services.
  • Make sure to do it slowly but surely.
  • Make sure your customers aren't overwhelmed by the amount of information you'll be providing. If it is necessary to divide it into multiple days, do so. When consumers are overloaded with information, they will no longer understand what you are trying to convey, making onboarding ineffective.” Tyler is the Founder & CEO.

Below mentioned are some tips for preparing client onboarding videos:

  • Select an onboarding video type
  • Use onboarding videos on the homepage
  • Include videos in a tooltip
  • Add videos to the FAQ & Help section too
  • Show onboarding videos during the free trial period.

2. Personalize the Onboarding Experience

Organizations go to all lengths to make sure that a new employee feels at home in the workplace. When it comes to client onboarding, the same rule should apply. Consider the clients to be valuable partners and offer them a customized onboarding experience that they will always remember. Not to forget the biggest benefits of personalized onboarding - keeps the customers engaged, helps form deeper relationships with customers, aptly increases retention and activation rates. 

The Founder of Nexus HomeBuyers, Matt Bigach, suggests some of the ways in which a customer can be offered a personalized onboarding experience.

Matt said, “Self customize the experience - making the customers feel at home should be the priority for the onboarding process, customization can help you increase customer retention. You need to regard your clients as if they are involved in the business with you, focus on individualizing accounts which can extend to features like VIP portals, exclusive content and personal profiles. One other important practice is to readily interact with your customers since they can have various questions about your service or product.”

Furthermore, businesses should also keep in mind that there are two types of customers in the onboarding process. One who will need a step-by-step guide through the entire process and the other who will want to jump in directly. So, it is better to give customers an option to skip the tour at the beginning if they belong to the second category.

This small option will give them the idea that they are in the driver’s seat. Giving customers the freedom to choose whether they want to go through the onboarding process or not will also fall under a personalized experience. Another example of personalization is giving customers the freedom to choose the duration and length of their tutorial. It can be a complete 3-4 hours guide or tutorials divided into sections that teach about specific features.

Following are some ways to personalize the onboarding experience:

  • Address the customers by their first names
  • Categorize the customers by behavior or use case
  • Use the testimonials
  • Give them the freedom to choose
  • Don’t miss out on other customer data
  • Conduct 1-to-1 demos and webinars

Even after all the effort in personalizing the onboarding process, there is still a possibility that customers drop out. In that case, a business can use texts, emails, or push notifications to help customers get back on track. They need to track the drop-off point and personalize the message that will address the problem that the customer faced.

3. Involve in the SignUp Process

Many times businesses think that customer onboarding doesn’t begin until a customer signs up for the product. In reality, sign up is the first step of the process. It is where conversions happen. Sign-up forms have become central to digital interactions today, and customer onboarding is no exception.

A Co-Founder & CMO, Satya Parija, states the reasons for using sign-up forms in the customer onboarding process. He says, “We find signing up an excellent practice for customer onboarding because it is a way to personalize and secure means of reaching out to the customer (mostly seeking medical advice) and ensuring secure access to our website. It also doubles as a lead generation strategy for our future remarketing approaches. Our website has an easy signup process because it immediately leads them to the platform for writing up their query.” Satya is from DoctorSpring.

Even though sign-up forms have proved beneficial, it is still necessary to keep a few things in mind before creating one. A single mistake in the sign-up forms can cost businesses a huge loss in revenue. Jeff Johnson, Founder of Simple Home Buyers, discusses one of the most important pointers for a successful sign-up process.

In his words, “The best practice for the customer onboarding process is to keep your signup process as simple as possible. If you notice that your click-through rate is high, but the number of people signing up for your product/service aren’t matching, maybe you’re asking too much in the signup form. One strategy that has worked for us is to ask only the absolute necessary from new users. If you ask them for too much information or irrelevant information like where they heard of the service or for references, they might be deterred from actually signing up. These may be important metrics for you but it isn’t for them, so they can be asked later on as well.”

Note the following tips for designing a sign-up process:

  • Keep it as small as possible
  • Split the questions into multiple pages if a lot of information is required
  • Make signing up easier with services they already use, like social media
  • Leverage social proof

4. Set Clear Goals & Expectations 

Before starting the onboarding process, defining what the word success means in the current context is necessary. In modern terminology, success is synonymous with the ultimate goal. From a customer's perspective, the definition of success will mean what they want to achieve from the engagement with the product. They need to see that the results align with their business goals. Understanding that will set the stage for making an action plan.

The usual goals of an onboarding process are:

  • Teach customers how to use the product
  • Get customers to trust the business
  • Guide customers to their first achievement/goal

Will Cannon highlights the importance of defining goals in advance for a customer onboarding process. He says, “Setting up goals as a standard - It is very crucial for organizations to set up goals for customer onboarding, and standardize the process throughout the organization. By creating a standard goal-based procedure, it will become easy to see which expectations are being met precisely, and where a proactive intervention is needed for improvement.” Will is the CEO of Signaturely Inc.

After the goals are defined, decide the intermediate objectives and the respective due dates. Each intermediate objective should act as a stepping stone towards the ultimate goal. There should be enough buffer time to rectify any errors. Hence, the team should always try to reach the goals a little before the decided deadline. It is also crucial to keep in mind that the milestones should be realistic.

The onboarding goals can be fit into the following categories:

  • Time to complete onboarding
  • Customer progression
  • Customer response rate

To align the business goals with customer goals, it is recommended that when a new customer comes on board, dedicated time is set up to discuss their goals. These discussions at the beginning of the process will assist the business in steering the customers towards their objectives. When a customer sees that the results align with their goals, they will stay loyal to the business in the long run. Thus, setting clear goals and expectations will lead to a win-win situation for both parties.

5. Allow Customers to Participate in the Onboarding Process

While customer onboarding is all about making the customer familiar with the product, it doesn’t mean the process should involve one-way communication. Communication is the key - this phrase is often used. It holds true in the case of a successful onboarding process too. Allowing customers to participate in the onboarding process is beneficial to both - the customers feel valued, and the business can improve its process based on feedback.

Scott D. Clary, Head of Sales & Marketing at Swift Products, elaborates more on the thought behind allowing customers to contribute to the onboarding process.

Scott says, “Right from the get-go, we like to demonstrate to our customers how important they are to us and how much we value their business. And the best way to show this, in addition to exemplary customer service, is giving them the opportunity to take part in onboarding surveys where they can share their feedback, opinions, and any other thoughts that could help create a great experience with our company. Then, based on their answers and responses, we can address any concerns and manage their expectations directly.”

The Marketing VP of Expert Opportunities, Mitchel Harad, explains how a business can allow active contribution from the customers.

In Mitchel’s words, “Onboarding becomes that much simpler and more effective when the customer recognizes they play a role in the process. For example, send an onboarding email with a Google Form to be filled out before a more traditional onboarding call. When all levels of your business, from sales through support, maintain the message that each step requires 50% responsibility from the new customer and 50% from the business, individuals become more likely to take the extra step, to care that little bit more. When you sugar-coat the client's responsibilities, you leave a chasm for customers to fall through (and believe me, they will).”

Businesses also need to keep in mind that just collecting feedback/suggestions from the customers is not enough. After checking the feasibility of the feedback offered by customers, businesses should incorporate it into their existing onboarding process. If the same is not implemented in reality, the customers will start feeling unheard, and the process will not improve either.

6. Understand the Customers & Their Needs

Customer onboarding aims to give customers what they need to reach their goals. So, it is necessary to check up on them regularly to see if the onboarding is still effective and relevant to their personal goals. The right onboarding process will assure the user that they are in the right place and remind them of its value.

April Maccario, the Founder of Ask April, explains that only when a business knows the “why” for a customer can it further help the customer. She says, “For me the first thing you need to do is to deeply understand the needs of your customers. From there you can start telling them how and what to do in order to maximize the use of your product and your service. Then, you need to stay in constant communication with them until they have utilized your service.”

There is a possibility that the customer needs change during the onboarding process itself, depending on the length of the process. If a business doesn’t alter the onboarding process as per the customer’s shifting needs, the churn rate will increase. The only way to avoid this is by conducting customer surveys on time.

A business should know the following to cater to customer needs:

  • Who are they? (Eg. Their role/designation)
  • What do they want? (Eg. The metric important to them)
  • Which of their problems will the product in question solve?
  • What are their daily tasks?
  • What will stop them from using the product?
  • Why did any of the users end up churning?

This crucial information is easy to miss. Asking the right questions will enable a business to get hold of such details, and they can easily improve or customize the onboarding process that fits with the customer’s needs.


Sometimes the aim of the customer onboarding process is misunderstood to be to help the customers start using a product. But it is much more than that. The actual goal of the onboarding process is to set up the customers for long-term success, all the while using the product in question right from the beginning. The truest measure of success of an onboarding process is when the customers log back into the product days, weeks, and months after using it for the first time. 

A well-planned onboarding experience will lead to a fruitful relationship between the customer and the business. Even though no one size fits all approach to onboarding, preparing a checklist in advance will ensure that none of the crucial steps are missed. Some of the possible pointers to include in the said checklist are as follows: 

  • Create an automated welcome email for when a new user signs up 
  • Schedule a follow-up email that will trigger after two days of inactivity 
  • Create a greeting message for initial login that includes a CTA 
  • Build a knowledge base of FAQs & update it 
  • Trigger a celebratory email/notification that will be sent when a customer hits a milestone

Best Companies for Customer Services

About the Customer Onboarding Survey 

GoodFirms surveyed 272 business executives to know the best practices of customer onboarding. 

We sincerely thank our Research Partners for their valuable contributions to the article and for offering insights into the latest in customer onboarding. 

The survey participants include Client Success Manager (26.5%), Founders (23.5%), CEOs (22.1%), Owners (5.9%), CMOs (5.9%), and Others (16.2%). 

The types of businesses that participated in the survey were B2B (60.3%) and B2C (39.7%). Lastly, the survey participants belonged to a variety of business sizes. 39.7% of Small Businesses, 48.5% of Medium Businesses, 8.8% of Large Businesses, and 2.9% of Enterprises.


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