How to improve your SaaS onboarding experience to retain more customers

How to improve your SaaS onboarding experience to retain more | RetinaComics

A successful SaaS onboarding experience does two things: 

  • Quickly helps new users overcome a product’s learning curve.
  • Demonstrates how well the product meets the user’s needs. 

A poor experience, on the other hand, is like a bad first date. You might have a great product, but if the initial encounter is unpleasant, you won’t get a second chance. 

This article explores how SaaS companies can improve customer onboarding to retain customers and achieve product-led growth.

Why you should prioritize customer onboarding

Your onboarding experience impacts multiple business metrics, including:

  • Trial-to-paid conversion rate: 74% of participants said a complicated onboarding process would cause them to switch to other solutions, according to Userpilot. If your free trial to paid conversion rate is low, your onboarding might leave users with more questions than answers.
  • Customer health score: Customer health score predicts how likely a customer is to churn, renew, or expand their subscription based on user behavior and frequency of use. If your onboarding doesn’t encourage users to take key actions with regular frequency, they may give up before they find what they signed up for.
  • Customer lifetime value: A smooth onboarding experience builds user trust by proving your product meets expectations as soon as possible. If users haven’t fully experienced the features they signed up for, they’ll be less likely to upgrade their accounts or extend their subscriptions.

So, how can you leverage your onboarding process to make your SaaS product an indispensable part of your customers’ daily lives?

In short, you’ll want to identify the biggest problem that led the user to your product and show them how to solve it as quickly as possible, removing any obstacles or detours obstructing progress.

Let’s unpack what that might look like using a popular onboarding framework.

Bowling alley framework for product-led onboarding

In bowling, you roll a ball down the center of your lane and try to knock down the 10 pins at the end. Avoiding gutter balls, however, is easier said than done – especially for beginners.

If you’ve ever gone bowling with a child, you’ve probably used bumpers to increase their success rate. Nobody wants a beginner to walk away feeling defeated. 

Now, apply this concept to your SaaS product. What problem drove your user to try your product? In Wes Bush’s “bowling alley framework,” the lane is the distance between where users are when they sign up and where they want to be after using your product.

The target at the end is the problem they hope to solve. You’ll want to ensure your onboarding experience keeps the new user moving in a straight line while adding bumpers to keep them out of the gutter.

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Narrow your onboarding focus

Information overload is one of the biggest SaaS onboarding pitfalls. Your feature-rich SaaS product might solve many problems for many people, but if your users don’t quickly learn how to solve their biggest problem, they will lose patience and look for other solutions. 

If you’ve created user personas, now would be a good time to consult them. What is the main problem your product solves for each persona and what steps do these users need to take to experience the solution? 

To avoid overwhelming your users, focus your onboarding on solving the biggest problem first. Align specific product features with each persona’s biggest pain point and make these features the focus of your onboarding.

Quickly helping users do what they came to do will show them how your product fits into their lives and make them more excited to continue their customer journey.

Determine your user’s desired outcome

To learn a new user’s desired outcome, include a brief welcome survey immediately after signup. Then, send them to an onboarding workflow specifically tailored to their unique needs.

The user’s experience level, occupation and how they see your product fitting into their life are a few of the many factors to consider.

If you’re looking for a best-in-class example of an effective welcome survey, check out HubSpot. Before collecting important demographic information like a user’s industry, job title and company size, HubSpot asks the user if they’ve ever used CRM software before and know what problems they want to solve with HubSpot. They then use this information to create an onboarding checklist tailored to the user’s experience level and role.

Make onboarding a straight line

To make a straight line from where your users are today to where they want to be, outline the mission-critical steps from user signup to their desired outcome.

  • What is the most direct route from the welcome screen or dashboard to the screen they’ll see when they successfully complete the process?
  • What parts of the interface must they pass through to get to their destination? What key actions must they take to reach their goal? 

Then, go through your onboarding process yourself, documenting every step you take with notes and screenshots. Open every email. Click every link.

Complete the onboarding checklist and product tour. Better yet, have an outsider go through the process so your proximity to your product doesn’t cloud your perception of necessity.

Finally, compare the steps you identified as mission-critical to those in your current onboarding process.

Do you provide detailed instructions for every necessary step? Can you remove any steps that don’t relate to the user’s end goal? Resist the urge to include “nice to know” information before your new users are familiar with the basics.

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Add bumpers

Your onboarding experience should have two types of bumpers: conversational bumpers and product bumpers. You’ll need bumpers on both ends to help trial users achieve their end goals before their trial or subscription expires.

Conversational bumpers happen outside your product’s interface and serve the purpose of educating the user, reminding them why they signed up for a trial, providing opportunities for personalized support, bringing them back into your product’s interface and notifying them when their trial period is nearing expiration. 

Conversational bumper examples:

  • Onboarding email sequence
  • Knowledge base and explainer videos
  • Personal outreach

Product bumpers happen within your product itself. A successful product bumper doesn’t just tell users how your product can help them; it walks them through the steps they must take to help themselves.

Product bumper examples:

  • Product tours
  • Progress bars and checklists
  • Tooltips

Tips for using onboarding bumpers

Add educational resources to your welcome email

The welcome email is valuable real estate. New users are the most likely to engage with a brand immediately after signup.

Your welcome email should both give them a compelling reason to engage while your product is still fresh on their mind and set the tone for what they can expect from you going forward. 

Some value items to consider adding to your welcome email:

  • Instructions for viewing tours or using specific features.
  • Helpful links from your knowledge base.
  • Content recommendations (video or text) specific to the user’s needs.
  • A meeting link to book a more personalized onboarding experience.

Optimize your knowledge base for search engines and humans

A knowledge base is a self-service resource that empowers users to learn at their own pace by anticipating FAQs and providing solutions.

A comprehensive knowledge base with intuitive navigation can also be an SEO goldmine if implemented correctly. Some tips for achieving success: 

  • Use pillar pages and topic clusters: Make your most important pages easy to find for both humans and search engines by organizing your knowledge base with pillar pages and topic clusters. Your pillar pages might be different product features or parts of your interface, while the topic clusters would be detailed instructions or suggestions based on user feedback.
  • Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your shortcomings: If users have pointed out a specific problem you don’t have a solution to yet, don’t be afraid to make a page acknowledging your awareness of the issue while linking to a related knowledge base article to let them know what your current capabilities are.
  • Avoid thin content: If you find yourself creating a lot of pages with short answers, your page indexation might begin to suffer. Look for opportunities to consolidate similar or related questions into a longer page with a table of contents. Structure it like an FAQ page, and you might win a coveted “People Also Ask” spot.
  • Optimize for internal site search: If you’ve set up site search in your GA4 enhanced measurement settings, you can see what users search for on your site by clicking the view_search_results event in your Events report. Knowing what users search for helps you identify content gaps, and optimizing your knowledge base article titles and headings to match the most popular searches will ensure users find the page they’re looking for.

Encourage habitual use with event-based notifications

After your initial welcome email, your job is to make your product indispensable. To do this, you need to establish habitual usage.

Email and in-app notifications are great for pulling users back into your interface. However, in a world where the average user receives a seemingly endless stream of notifications daily, you’ll want to make sure your notifications add value to the customer experience or you risk being blocked or sent to spam. 

To remain helpful, harness the power of automation to trigger relevant email and in-app sequences at different milestones in the onboarding process. If a user completes part of their onboarding checklist, send them a note of congratulations with suggested reading options to deepen their knowledge of what they just learned.

You can also send reminders if a user becomes inactive for a set period of time. For example, if a user begins a process but doesn’t complete it, you can send an email reminding them where they left off with a video testimonial from a user who benefited from using the feature.

Use microlearning to avoid overwhelming users

If your SaaS solution is complex, your users will likely go through the onboarding process over the span of several days or weeks. Give them built-in moments to pause and reflect by breaking your onboarding checklist into microlearning modules.

Microlearning is a corporate training framework that can easily be applied to customer onboarding or any instructional context. Microlearning breaks down large, complex topics into small, digestible units punctuated by brief informal knowledge checks. Microlearning is based on cognitive science and has proven effective in boosting information recall.

The best thing about using microlearning for onboarding is that you have an endless stream of valuable tips to share with users as they gain a better understanding of your product.

Motivate progress with gamification

Everybody loves a good challenge. Gamification elements such as leaderboards, trophies, badges, points and daily streaks validate a user’s progress while making the onboarding experience fun.

Giving users an opportunity to return to a previous module and try again also ensures they pick up the basics before getting lost on more advanced features. 

If you’re interested in gamifying your onboarding and looking for inspiration, check out the language learning app Duolingo. Duolingo knows how to leverage gamification to pull users back into their interface day after day, awarding them gems for participation that can be exchanged for additional perks. 

Improve your process with user feedback

Your user onboarding process will evolve along with your product. To ensure your process continues to guide users to their desired outcome without unnecessary friction, you’ll want to keep an eye on user engagement and leave room for customer feedback.

Engagement trends to look into for former users:

  • How long did they remain active?
  • What features did they use most?
  • What features didn’t they use?
  • At what point did they stop using your product?

How to ask users for direct feedback:

  • Include a feedback request at the end via survey, email, or phone call.
  • Add short surveys that trigger at different points in the onboarding process.
  • Don’t be afraid to follow up with users who canceled their subscription.

Onboarding success is vital for customer success

Your onboarding process has a significant impact on a new user’s customer experience. Kick off the engagement the right way and build loyalty to your brand.

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