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8 minutes read

Has Your SaaS Nailed the Onboarding Process?

By Robert Kazmi
By Robert Kazmi
8 minutes read

If you are a SaaS, your on-boarding process is one of the critical elements for ensuring user engagement and reducing the chance of churn.

A positive on-boarding experience gives the customer a good impression of your SaaS and sets them up to achieve their goals from it. By contrast, a negative on-boarding experience, where the customer becomes confused or feels that they still don’t know how best to use your app can put them on the slippery slope to cancelling.

On-boarding should lead the customer down a critical path where they hit milestones which will allow them to see success from your app. To begin with, you need to know what “success” looks like:

Defining Customer Success

One of the key points to remember about customer success is that it is from the perspective of your customer. Of course, this means that success could look slightly different depending on who you talk to.

Lincoln Murphy is a regular contributor to customer success discussion and works with many SaaS on how they can boost and sustain growth. He notes that of the “low touch” and “high touch” SaaS companies he’s worked with who experience a large amount of churn after sign-up, it is almost always an on-boarding problem behind the drop-off.

This makes on-boarding processes worthy of attention across all SaaS and a definition of customer success critical. As Murphy puts it:

“The easiest way to figure out what success looks like for your customer – before you can break that down into milestones – is to ask them.

  • What is their Desired Outcome?
  • How do they measure success themselves?
  • How are they measured by their boss?
  • What are they trying to achieve with your product?

Success Milestones

We mentioned taking customers down a critical path which leads to their ultimate success with using your app — this is where customer success milestones come in. Those can be defined as the essential steps a customer needs to take with you in order to derive value from your app.

As an example, if your app is a kind of accounting software, linking a bank account might be included as a success milestone. If you have a cloud storage app, the customer creating folders or hooking up the photo app from their phone might be milestones.


For Google Photos, success milestones might include hooking up multiple devices.

The point is that, in order to devise the best possible on-boarding process for your SaaS, you need to have that definition of success and those milestones worked out. From there you can decide what will be the best approach to on-boarding: low touch, or high touch?

Low Touch On-boarding

Low touch customer on-boarding is usually characterized by a “one to many” approach for any customer communications or interactions. The focus tends to be on automation and processes, removing the need for extended amounts of human employee intervention.

Whether this kind of approach suits your SaaS will go back to how customers achieve the success milestones that are needed and whether or not there are complicated processes which are easier to deal with in person. (If you’re the low-cost model of SaaS, hopefully you have built your product so that it is simple to use self-service means to learn about it).

Generally speaking, this approach is preferred by SaaS who work off having many “lower value” users rather than a few high value ones. If an enterprise is spending a large amount of money on a new software, they’ll tend to expect that personalized service goes along with it and that you’ll be there to guide them through on-boarding (a high touch experience).

What makes low touch on-boarding work?

One suggestion we would make first is to decide upon the level of service you are able to sustain overall. Many SaaS have begun with great levels of enthusiasm and offered “white glove” type treatment to all who sign up. If you’re selling a product at $30 per month, the chances are that this level of service is not sustainable for your bottom line and if you decide to reduce service, you may have some unhappy customers who have developed an expectation of service levels.

That being said, low touch on-boarding can work from the very beginning if you’ve created good resources for it and explanations are clear and simple.

For example, Slack uses low touch on-boarding very well, with Slackbot taking new users for a tour. This bot can even answer questions in the chat box, possibly saving support requests to staff.


Other ideas for low touch on-boarding strategies include:

  • Email series. For this to work, put some automation in place and segment customers appropriately. As an example, you are better off sending emails based on an action they just took with you rather than sending them the same email regardless of where they are at in the on-boarding process.

  • Tour videos. Remember that you don’t have to think big with tour videos. Breaking them down into smaller chunks which relate specifically to how you use certain functions will be more user-friendly for customers. You can also take those videos and use them to answer questions in your knowledge base.

  • Webinars. These might also be an opportunity to upsell customers to the next tier of service.

  • Social Media Groups. Share tips and encourage user interaction with your own group or page on social media. For example, HubSpot Academy is there to help educate users and any others who would like some best practices for their business. Cratejoy’s Subscription School is a group example. While these do involve human involvement from your team, active groups are great for sourcing the collective wisdom of their members.

  • Knowledge Base. Keep an up to date self-help service on your website, where customers can easily ask questions and look for answers.

Another point to consider for creating a simple low touch on-boarding process is whether you have made automation easy for the customer by including the right mix of integrations. The customer doesn’t want to have to manually key data or experience similar inconveniences, so make sure you’ve included the apps that are logical. SaaSler is a great tool for helping you to create intelligent integrations and a better experience of your software for customers.

High Touch On-boarding

High touch customer on-boarding is a concept which is also known as “concierge” on-boarding. From this very title you understand that it means taking that role of valet, baggage handler and general helping hand to get the customer running successfully with your app.

Unlike low touch, high touch on-boarding requires higher levels of manpower and will keep requiring more as long as you grow. This is the type of on-boarding generally favored by SaaS offering more complex, expensive software to enterprise-level organizations. Those customers tend to expect, if not require, one-on-one on-boarding.

Opting to use a high touch model doesn’t mean you won’t use features of the low touch model. It’s actually a good idea to have those as backup resources should your client wish to use them.

What makes high touch on-boarding work?

First of all, as high touch is very much a people-based approach, it works best when you have well-trained team members available to take that “concierge” role. Many SaaS are creating customer success teams now whose responsibility it is to keep in close contact with the customers and understand their individual needs. As we mentioned earlier, take this approach only if you are able to sustain it.

Secondly, high touch on-boarding really is better if it’s the logical approach for the complexity of the app. You’d probably find it strange if, for example, you were called and offered help for an app with the simplicity of Dropbox and which you were already using with ease. You might even feel that being called about it is more of an annoying interruption to your day. The caveat here is when the purpose of the call is for feedback — these calls are a good idea for any SaaS.

High touch on-boarding might involve being selective about who gets to use your product from the start. Marketo are an example of this. They require a fairly in-depth application form for a free trial and will call prospects before agreeing to give access to the trial.


Other high touch methods might include:

  • Scheduling regular phone calls.
  • Having a dedicated customer success person the customer can contact.
  • Sending emails that are personalized.

Which On-boarding Process Is Right?

No matter which type of on-boarding process is better suited to your SaaS, they do share a common goal, and that is to retain the customer through outcomes that you do have control over. These include things like ensuring the customer understands the value of the product, how they can get full use of it and that they are not under any false impressions of what it does.

Providing the best possible on-boarding process means that you must understand what customer success looks like and what milestones customers must achieve to get there. There is no “standard SaaS on-boarding process” you can cut and paste, you’re going to have to devise one based on the needs of your SaaS.

Koombea creates apps suited to either high or low touch on-boarding processes. Talk to us today to find out how we can help you.

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