Best Practices

A Guide to SaaS Customer Onboarding

‘Customer Onboarding’ is an umbrella term that’s often used to describe the entire process that users go through when they start their journey as a customer of your product or service. The onboarding experience can define the ongoing relationship your customer has with the product. In other words: It’s critical.

Elements of SaaS Customer Onboarding (And what you can do to improve them)


Signup Form

The onboarding experience starts with that very first step of signing up for the service. It may seem obvious, but filling in the signup form is the first touchpoint that could leave a lasting impression on the customer – especially if it’s a bad one.

Things to consider:

  • Whether you should ask for a lot of information up front, vs. having a small, simple form. Generally, just asking for the absolutely necessary information is a good strategy here – it reduces the complexity and barrier to signing up.
  • Form field validation – nothing is more annoying than entering a bunch of data and afterwards being told that you actually need “at least one upper case character”. Grr!
  • Some positive reinforcement while the form is being filled in, that the user is actually signing up for something great – why not complement the signup form with some social proof – a much-needed helping hand to get through the chore of signing up.
  • Social signup buttons – they’re proven to increase signup rates, and the process is generally much smoother for the user. Also, they see a brand that they respect on your site (i.e. Facebook). Caution: Think about whether you’ll still need to request a password and more information from the user though. A social signup followed by another lengthy form pretty much defeats the point!

Bonus Consideration for SaaS

You might want to use the signup form to gather some additional information from the customer, such as the type or size of business. This helps you further down the line when you need to support them, or with follow-up communication.

Geckoboard captures the user's role as part of the signup form.
Geckoboard captures the user’s role as part of the signup form. It also has a pretty compelling headline – “Your Journey Starts Here”.

Welcome email

No signup flow is complete without a welcome email. This is fairly critical – it’s your first contact with the customer once they’ve created their account (besides anything that happens in the app). There are a lot of things you can put in the welcome email (which is one of the risks).

Things to consider:

  • Keeping it simple. Yes, there are probably a lot of things you want to (or need to) tell your new customers. But don’t bombard them with information! Some things can wait until they’ve spent a bit of time in your product.
  • Give them some resources that will help them and further engage them – this is a great opportunity to use that high quality content you’ve been publishing on your blog. At ChartMogul, we always send links to our SaaS Metrics Cheat Sheets, which give a concise overview of the topic.
  • Don’t forget to thank them! They’ve just taken the time to sign up for your product, after all.
Zapier's welcome email is simple, helpful and makes me excited about using the product!
Zapier’s welcome email is simple, helpful and makes me excited about using the product!

Educational Emails

After the initial welcome email, you have a great opportunity to keep your new customer engaged and educated by sending them a drip campaign of emails. This is your best chance of getting the customer to really use all the features of your product.

  • They’re called Drip campaigns, because drips are small. Make sure you introduce just one new concept per email – the rest can wait for the following emails.
  • They’re also called Drip campaigns, because drips are regular. Follow a posting schedule that supports “little and often”. If you get this right, the customer will expect (and even look forward to) each subsequent mail.
  • The goal is not to show each feature of the product and how it works in detail. The goal is to entice the customer to go and try out the feature. If you don’t get people INTO your app, they’ll become disengaged.

First Login

This one is huge, in terms of importance. If you want to reduce churn, take a look at your first login experience. What actually happens when they hit the Login button for the first time – what are they presented with next?

Things to consider:

  • Not presenting the user with an empty UI. In many cases with a B2B SaaS product, the customer is not going to have a wealth of data presented to them on the first login. Services that require data connections, import etc. are going to require an extra step after login (see Data Import).
  • Give the user a clear path to what they should do first. Presenting them with a set of tools and buttons that they’ve never seen before is going to require some form signpost towards the first step.
  • Positive reinforcement. They’ve got this far – why not take the chance to thank them again and remind them of how awesome things are going to be, once they have everything set up.
Mention doesn't risk leaving me with an empty dashboard when I first log in.
Mention doesn’t risk leaving me with an empty dashboard when I first log in.

Product Tutorial

You can use some form of tutorial to guide new customers through the UI of your product, and hold their hand through the early steps they need to take to get up to speed.

Things to consider:

  • Making it skippable. This is critical. There’s nothing worse than being forced through a tutorial that you don’t need to or want to see. Let me out!!
  • Making it possible for people to come back to it later. People commonly skip pop-ups and notifications when they first log in to something. So at least make sure that they can find it again when they realize it was actually quite useful to them after all…

Content Marketing can be part of the onboarding experience too. Check out this post for more on the topic:

“Is Your Content Marketing Making Brand Withdrawals?”

Data Import

Many B2B tools require customers to import their data (or connect data sources) to actually use. Buffer needs you to connect a social account, ChartMogul needs you to connect a billing system, etc. This is one of the major barriers to the whole onboarding process – customers will generally not see any value from the product until they complete this step.

Things to consider:

  • Automating as much of the process as possible
  • Supporting those who get stuck
  • Not requiring hours of the user’s time (we’ll let you know when it’s finished).
  • Whether you can do any of this during the signup process?


Documentation isn’t an entirely exciting prospect, but it’s an important element of any onboarding experience. If everything goes well, perhaps it’s not needed at all. But you want to be sure that when users are really stuck, they can get the guidance they need – and that it’s easily accessible and understandable.

Things to consider:

  • Bad or out-of-date documentation can be worse than no documentation at all. Make sure that the documentation you do have is easily maintainable – otherwise get rid of it.
  • Structure your documentation around the tasks that the user is trying to accomplish with your product (and name them this way), rather than your internal view of the product. There’s nothing wrong with “How to do X…
The Mailchimp documentation is well-structured, easy to find and puts search front and centre.
The Mailchimp documentation is well-structured, easy to find and puts search front and centre.


Depending on the nature of your SaaS product, notifications will have a varying impact on the onboarding experience. Regardless of how many notifications you push to users, they remain an important contact point, with a strong potential for re-engaging disengaged users.

Things to consider:

  • Frequency. Getting this right is a fine balance between fading into background noise and spamming the user into frustration.
  • How do you tempt the user into re-engaging with the product? If you give them too much information in the notification, they might have no need to do this. Get the balance right, and the notification is both useful and acts as a positive encouragement to go and explore your product.
  • Choice. Let the user fine-tune your notifications to achieve the frequency that suits them.

Checkup Call

This can have a huge impact on the overall onboarding experience of your customers. Why? Because it’s a touch-point with a human being. The power of simply picking up the phone and having a quick chat with a new customer to check-in can out-rank almost any other element listed here. And the best thing is, it’s two-way – you get a ton of valuable feedback at the same time! Win-win.

Things to consider:

  • Find the right point in time to do this. Too soon, and the customer won’t really have anything much to tell you – they might even find your behaviour almost “needy”. Too late, and they may already have made a clear-cut decision that their sub-par experience will mean that they won’t be paying for your product.
  • Think about what you can do with the data you get from these calls. It’s likely that there are some great actionable insights, but you need to take a measured approach – it’s easy to derail your vision and roadmap for the product with individual cases of feedback, particularly when talking directly with customers (there’s more emotion involved).


Everyone loves swag! Startups are always finding more innovative ways to wow users with ever-more elaborate swag packs. There are even services such as StartupThreads, which manage sending swag boxes to customers.

Things to consider:

  • Swag only works well when it’s an additive to a great onboarding experience. i.e., it can make a good experience great, but not a poor experience good.
  • Send something that customers will actually want to use (or wear). You don’t want to represent your brand with that pathetically-poor last-generation iPhone charging cable that nobody can use any more.
  • If you’re small enough, add a personal touch! Hand-written cards or a quick thank you note will make the customer truly feel loved.
At ChartMogul we aim to combine useful resources with fun swag!

The Difficult Truth About Customer Onboarding

So you’ve familiarized yourself with many of the common components of the onboarding experience, and you feel like you have a good command over how you can implement something great for your product. Just be aware of one thing:

The overall experience is only as good as the weakest component.

If one part of it falls down for whatever reason, customers will remember that one part.

Do this one thing

Find the weakest link in your onboarding experience today, and focus on improving them. These are the changes that will have the biggest overall impact on the satisfaction of your new customers – and ultimately your retention rate.

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Ed Shelley

onboarding retention saas UX