The Guide to Successful Customer Onboarding


A customer’s post-purchase experience sets the tone for their future relationship with your brand.


What Is Customer Onboarding?

Customer onboarding refers to the actions you take immediately after a customer buys a product from you. A customer’s post-purchase experience sets the tone for their future relationship with your brand. A positive experience can motivate them to become loyal lifetime buyers, while a negative experience can drive them to competitors. The onboarding process naturally unfolds through a series of predictable steps. By optimizing these steps, you can improve your customer’s experience with your brand and promote customer loyalty and retention. You can optimize your customer onboarding process by following best practices, imitating companies with exemplary onboarding procedures, and using key performance indicators to track your onboarding performance.

Customer Onboarding vs. User Onboarding

Customer onboarding differs conceptually from user onboarding, although in practice the two have common goals and they can overlap. Customer onboarding focuses on guiding key decision-makers and administrators at your client's company through the onboarding process and helping them use your product to attain their business goals. User onboarding encompasses all users of your product at your client company, including decision-makers as well as other users, and it guides them through learning how to use your product to accomplish daily tasks. You could summarize this distinction by saying that customer onboarding has a more strategic aim, while user onboarding has more tactical objectives. While conceptually distinct, both types of onboarding serve the common goal of improving your customers’ user experience so that they decide to remain customers. For B2B software such as a service provider, and for companies using a subscription-based business model, this distinction carries important practical consequences. Training your client company’s users on how to use your software is not enough to ensure customer retention. You also need to persuade decision-makers that your product can help them achieve their company’s business goals.

Why You Need to Manage Your Customer Onboarding Process

Your customer’s onboarding experience determines their first post-purchase impression of both your product and your company. If your customer experiences difficulty in using your product or contacting you for support, they may decide to request a refund or let their relationship with you lapse. They will also be less likely to refer you to others. Conversely, a positive experience makes them more likely to remain a customer and to refer you to other customers. Many companies have a loosely-defined onboarding process. This leaves your customer’s onboarding experience vulnerable to events that can lower their satisfaction, such as implementation difficulties or technical problems. It can also fail to draw their attention to the value they’re getting from using your product. Both these outcomes can make them less likely to become repeat buyers. When you follow well-defined onboarding procedures, you increase your ability both to improve your customer’s satisfaction and to increase their awareness of your product’s benefits. This increases the likelihood of turning new buyers into loyal lifetime customers who will advocate for your brand to others.

The Stages of Customer Onboarding

Three stages of customer onboarding
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The specifics of your onboarding process will vary with the nature of your product, but in general, the process divides into five stages:

  1. New customer welcome
  2. Expectation setting
  3. Training

Customers in each stage have distinct needs. The better you meet these needs at each step, the better your odds of retaining the customer at the end of the process.

1. New Customer Welcome

During the new customer welcome stage, thank the customer for their purchase and point them towards the next steps they need to take in order to begin enjoying the benefits of your product. This stage can include actions such as introducing contact persons and previewing what to expect next in the onboarding process.

2. Expectation Setting

In the expectation-setting stage, you and your customer establish what they expect to get out of using your product and what metrics and benchmarks you will use to verify their satisfaction. Ideally, you should introduce key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be used to measure successful implementation.

3. Training

In the training stage, guide the customer through the learning process they need before they can begin experiencing the value of your product. For maximum satisfaction, your training process should be as easy and short as possible. It should also highlight how your product helps your customer with their needs and how it impacts the KPIs you are using to measure successful implementation. During this stage solicit feedback from your customers on the value they are getting out of your product and any challenges they are having with implementing your product. This stage can also include supporting customers in implementing advanced features or integrations of your product with other software.


Customer Onboarding Best Practices

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You can promote a positive experience at each stage of the process by adopting customer onboarding strategies and taking steps to optimize your procedures. Some of the most important customer onboarding best practices include:

  1. Using a standard onboarding procedure
  2. Customizing your procedure for each customer
  3. Defining your organizational structure
  4. Creating clear communication channels
  5. Collecting data to drive decisions
  6. Setting goals with your customers
  7. Making progress measurable
  8. Tracking progress continuously
  9. Making adjustments
  10. Following up the initial onboarding process

Following these best practices will enhance your customer’s onboarding experience and promote a positive long-term relationship with them.

1. Use a Standard Onboarding Procedure

Failing to define your onboarding procedures leaves your customers’ satisfaction to the whims of chance. Standardizing your procedures empowers you to take control of the process and optimize your customers’ onboarding experience. You can then use a customer onboarding checklist to make sure all your bases are covered when you bring on a new client. Make sure to document your procedures in writing for reference and training purposes.

2. Customize Onboarding for Your Customer

While your general onboarding process should be consistent for all customers, each customer requires personalized attention. A key to customizing your onboarding process is to designate a customer success manager for each new customer. The way you handle automation can also help you deliver a more personalized onboarding experience. For instance, your customer portal can offer customized display options such as event-based email communications or the cadence of customer contact.

3. Define Your Onboarding Organizational Structure

Designating a customer success manager for new customers also helps you define the organizational structure for each customer’s onboarding process. In addition to an account manager, you should designate other key contact personnel at your company and your customer’s company. This allows you to organize the workflow of your onboarding process and include everyone who needs to be involved.

Onboarding organizational structure
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4. Create Clear Communication Channels

To promote a smoother onboarding workflow, you should establish standard communication procedures as part of your standard operating procedures. Ensure both key personnel at your company and those at your customer’s company know who the appropriate contact person is for specific situations, such as who to contact for tech support versus who to contact for billing questions. Additionally, specify which communication channels are preferred.

5. Set Goals with Your Customers

In order for your customer to feel like your product is meeting their needs, they need to see results that align with their business goals. Discussing these goals during the onboarding process can help you make sure your product steers your customer towards their objectives. When a customer comes on board, schedule a time to discuss their goals.

6. Collect Data to Drive Decisions

In order to determine whether your product is meeting your customers’ needs, you’ll need to collect data from your customers. After determining which key performance indicators you need to monitor, set up whatever data collection procedures you’ll need in order to gather the necessary information. In addition, make sure the data you gather is displayed in organized dashboards and reports and made available to appropriate personnel.

7. Make Progress Measurable

To measure customer progress towards their objectives, it’s important to make their goals measurable. Use key performance indicators to set objective numerical targets that represent the successful achievement of your customers’ goals. Divide progress towards goals into measurable benchmarks that can be used to evaluate progress.

8. Track Progress Continuously

To evaluate progress towards your customers’ goals, you’ll need to set up a procedure to monitor progress on an ongoing basis. Use dashboards and reports as tools to gather information about customer progress. Schedule regular review sessions with your customer to discuss reports and evaluate progress.

9. Make Adjustments

Tracking progress enables you to make adjustments in order to ensure that your customer’s implementation of your product is meeting their expectations. If they’re falling short of their goals or experiencing other onboarding challenges, find out why and make corrections. If they’re achieving their goals, identify what’s working well, and determine whether it could be further optimized or scaled up to achieve even greater success.

10. Follow up the Initial Onboarding Process

The onboarding process only represents the beginning of your relationship with your customer. As your relationship develops, you may be able to recommend additional ways your customer can benefit from your product. In some cases, this may lead to upgrades and a repeat of the onboarding process with a new product.

Master successful onboarding in minutes.


Customer Onboarding Checklist

Customer Onboarding Checklist
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It’s critical to have a standardized onboarding process which includes a checklist that each Customer Success Manager follows. This will ensure that each client has a similar and positive experience. Below is a sample checklist of what you could include:

1. Schedule a kick-off call:

Define the goal, scope, timeline, and key milestones for onboarding

2. Set up a technical meeting:

Understand what systems need provisions for customers, new users, data imports, etc.

3. Give appropriate training:

Determine the type of training the customer needs to undergo and make sure it is delivered

4. Schedule a kick-off review:

Have a call, in-person, or virtual meeting with the customer to go over the processes needed for onboardingThis checklist will keep all Customer Success Managers on the same page and ensure that all customers have a seamless onboarding experience.


Examples of Excellent Customer Onboarding

You can improve your customers’ initial experience of your brand by modeling examples from companies with exceptional onboarding processes. Here are four examples of companies that excel in specific aspects of onboarding.


Etsy provides an e-commerce site where vendors can sell handmade gifts, clothes, jewelry, and other items. When vendors are setting up a shop on Etsy, the site provides a progress meter showing them the steps in the process and how many items they’ve completed. This illustrates how you can help walk customers through the onboarding process.


Dropbox hosts a cloud storage space that makes it easy for teams to share files online. To make file sharing easy, Dropbox breaks instructions down into simple steps with buttons that guide users through tasks. This exemplifies how you can make the onboarding process user-friendly by keeping steps as simple as possible.


Slack offers an online communication and collaboration platform modeled on social media that serves as an alternative to email. To help customers use product features, Slack’s menu includes callout captions with tutorial instructions. This demonstrates how you can simplify the onboarding process with user-friendly training tools.


Totango provides companies with solutions that lower churn, increase revenue, promote adoption, and scale success. Totango’s Spark platform includes an Onboarding SuccessBLOC with playbooks for success, automated workflows, email communication templates, and user-friendly KPI dashboards that display customer progress in the onboarding process and let users see how close they are to achieving their goals.


Customer Onboarding Metrics

Tracking onboarding metrics can help your customers measure their success in using your product, and it can also help you measure the effectiveness of your onboarding process in generating customer satisfaction. Some of the most important onboarding metrics to track include:

  • Customer lifetime value
  • Activation rate
  • Net promoter score
  • Churn rate
  • Average churn time

Each of these key performance indicators tells you valuable information about your onboarding process and how it affects your customer relationships. In addition to these KPIs, there are other onboarding metrics you can track. Select the metrics that best meet your business model and goals.

Below we'll explain more on each of these metrics and how to calculate them.

Customer Lifetime Value

Customer lifetime value (CLV) measures the average amount of revenue generated by each customer over the lifetime of their relationship with you. It can be calculated by multiplying the average value of each purchase times the average number of purchases each customer makes. The longer your relationship with your customers, the more purchases they make. This means that the effectiveness of your onboarding process in promoting customer loyalty directly impacts customer lifetime value. Consequently, calculating lifetime value can help gauge how well your onboarding process is working.

Activation Rate

Activation rate measures how actively customers are actually using your product after purchase. For software as a service (SaaS)  providers, this serves as one of the most important onboarding metrics for measuring customer engagement and satisfaction. You can track the activation rate by defining and tracking actions that reflect the use of your product, such as sign-up, installation, and selection of dashboard settings. If you notice activation rates are low, you can raise them by taking steps to boost slow product adoption. For instance, you can use email reminders to encourage customers to carry out onboarding actions.

Net Promoter Score

Net promoter score measures how likely customers are to recommend your brand to others. It depends on customer satisfaction, so it reflects the effectiveness of your onboarding process. You can measure net promoter score by taking surveys of how likely customers would be to recommend you on a scale of 0 to 10. Customers who rate you a 9 or 10 count as promoters, while those from 0 to 6 represent detractors and those in between are passive. Subtract detractors from promoters to determine your net promoter score percentage.

In the SuccessBLOC Marketplace, you can find a prebuilt scorecard for Voice of the Customer (VOC), that allows you to track the overall NPS across your entire customer base. It allows you to track specific NPS metrics based on the stage of the customer journey:

% of Promoters - Track your overall % of Promoters

% of Detractors - Track your overall % of Detractors

% of Passives - Track your overall % of Passives

Churn Rate

Churn rate measures how frequently customers stop doing business with your brand. It reflects customer satisfaction and serves as an indicator of onboarding effectiveness. You can calculate churn rate for a given time frame by taking the number of customers you lost over that period and dividing by the sum of the number of customers you had at the beginning of that period plus any new customers acquired during that interval.

Average Churn Time

If customers are churning quickly, it may reflect them leaving early in the onboarding process. Average churn time tells you how rapidly customers are churning. You can determine the average churn time by totaling the amount of time your customers stay with you and dividing by the number of customers. You can drill down further by tracking how many customers churn before a certain amount of time into the onboarding process or before taking a designated set of onboarding actions.



Your onboarding process sets the stage for your relationships with new customers, directly determining your satisfaction, retention, referral, and revenue rates. Follow the tips in this guide to optimize your onboarding process for improved customer relationships and increased business results. Explore how Totango can help you jumpstart your onboarding process with our comprehensive and customizable solutions. Contact us to request a demo or try it yourself for free today!

Use built-in best practices to acheive onboarding success.

Download Customer Onboarding Guide

Download Customer Onboarding Guide

Successful Customer Onboarding


Identify Key Performance Indicators for Onboarding


Put the Right Processes in Place


Get Visibility Into Customer Status


Complete Key Milestones Within a Desired Timeframe


Create Just the Right Program to Drive Adoption


Analyze Bottleneck Reports


Create a Usage Report and Adoption List


Measure Onboarding Results


Perform Regular Check-ins with Customers

Successful renewals & Upsells


Motivations for Renewal


Getting Customers to Renew


Expanding the Relationship with Upsell

Download Customer Onboarding Guide