Customer Onboarding: The Definitive Guide

Learn how to onboard new customers effectively.

Zight | September 17, 2019 | 9 min read time

Article Last Updated: July 13, 2023

Customer Onboarding: The Definitive Guide

After weeks, months even, of consistently putting out great content, running Facebook Ads and Google Adwords campaigns, and living on social media, you’ve finally started to attract customers. Congrats, this is an exciting time!

But what happens after a random website visitor hits the “Buy” button? Hopefully, they’re immediately absorbed into your company’s customer onboarding program.

In this article we’ll teach you what customer onboarding is, why it’s important, and how to develop your organization’s onboarding process for new customers. Sound interesting? Then let’s dive in and get started!

What is Customer Onboarding?

We’ll forgive you if you you’re unsure of what customer onboarding is. The word “onboarding” isn’t even a legitimate word as it’s not in the dictionary. It is a widely accepted term in business circles, though, so it’s definitely worth knowing!

Customer onboarding, according to the good folks at HubSpot, is:

“The nurturing process that gets new users acquainted with your product. An exceptional customer onboarding program involves step-by-step tutorials, unlimited guidance and support, and milestone celebrations when a customer achieves success through your solution.”

Put another way, customer onboarding is everything a company does to ensure a new customer is successful with the company’s products and/or services.

Why is Customer Onboarding Important?

Is customer onboarding really worth your time? In a world where you can learn just about anything on YouTube, do you really need to focus on onboarding new customers? In a word: yes! Customer onboarding is incredibly important. Here’s why:

1. Customer Onboarding Reduces Churn

If your business operates on a subscription model, then an effective customer onboarding program will definitely help you reduce churn. Think about it: when your customers understand how to use your program to its full extent, they’ll enjoy using it more. And if they truly enjoy using it, why would they stop? The answer is, they probably won’t.

Happy customers are what every business needs. Customer onboarding helps turn new users, buyers, and clients into raving fans by educating them on everything your products have to offer.

2. Customer Onboarding Boosts Referrals

Speaking of happy customers, these are the folks that will go out of their way to introduce your company to their family, friends, and colleagues, thereby increasing the number of referrals you receive on a regular basis. Win!

Even though our world is dominated by technology, good ol’ word of mouth marketing is still incredibly powerful. It’s why we all read reviews so religiously before buying any product online.

One of the best ways to receive this version of free marketing is to delight the customers you have with a successful onboarding program. All you have to do after that is to sit back and relax, your customers will do the rest and spread the word.

3. Customer Onboarding Sells More Products

Lastly, customer onboarding helps companies sell more products and boost revenue.

Put your “buying shoes” on for a moment and pretend you’re in need of a second car. If you already love the Toyota Camry sitting in your driveway, won’t you be more likely to return to the Toyota dealership and buy another car from the same company? Of course you would be. Because you already know, like, and trust them.

Your customers are the same way. If you can turn them into brand promoters at the very beginning of your relationship with a killer customer onboarding program, they’ll be much more receptive to future sales pitches and offers, guaranteed!

In a nutshell, customer onboarding will skyrocket company revenue by helping organizations keep the customers they already have, acquire new customers via referrals, and sell new products to current customers.

If you can satisfy your tribe, your company will be successful. And customer onboarding is a fantastic way to help create satisfied buyers!

A Foolproof Onboarding Process for New Customers

We’ve covered what customer onboarding is and why it’s important. Now, let’s talk about how to onboard your customers the right way.

The process will look a little different for every company depending on the industry it’s in, the product or services it sells, and the unique audience it caters to. But the following five-step onboarding process for new customers is a great general outline any business can follow.

1. Start With the End in Mind

Before you start planning each step in your customer onboarding journey, you first need to identify the end goal you want your customers to reach. Every company’s onboarding goals will vary but in general, your onboarding process for new customers should:

  1. Introduce new customers to your company and the product they just purchased
  2. Train new customers to use your products with total confidence, and
  3. Give new customers a few quick and easy wins that they can feel good about

To help ensure your onboarding process accomplishes these three goals, we recommend you assemble a team of either internal employees or external professionals to fill three important roles: the subject matter expert, the instructional designer, and the project manager.

  • The Subject Matter Expert: Your subject matter expert is simply a person with expertise on the subjects you plan to cover in your new customer onboarding process.
  • The Instructional Designer: The instructional designer’s job is to craft content for your onboarding initiative based on the advice of the subject matter expert.
  • The Project Manager: The project manager oversees the development of the entire customer or user onboarding program and makes sure it runs smoothly.

Do your best to assemble a team of people who can fill these three crucial roles. That way you’ll have all the resources you need to make your customer onboarding efforts a success.

2. Outline the Customer Onboarding Journey

Now that you know the goals your onboarding initiative should accomplish, you can outline an intuitive onboarding process for new customers. Here’s one of the more popular customer onboarding examples you can follow:

  1. Initial Sign Up: The first step in every customer onboarding program is customer commitment. You can’t do anything until then. Your job during this phase is to make the sign-up process as simple and straightforward as possible.
  2. Welcome Email: Once a new customer creates their account with your company, a welcome email should be sent. Don’t overdo it here! Welcome new customers and thank them for their business. Then let them know that your team is standing by to answer any questions they may have and direct them to the next step. That’s it.
  3. Product Run-Through: Next, show new customers how to use the product they just purchased. You can do this via a series of in-depth training videos, a virtual product tour, or a live-training session with someone on your team. We suggest making the training as interactive and enjoyable as possible. Remember, if customers enjoy working with your products, they’ll continue to use them and tell their friends about your company.
  4. First Customer Win: Lastly, make sure that your new customers receive a “first win” as quickly as possible after purchasing one of your products. Again, this will make it much more likely that they remain paying customers.

That doesn’t seem so bad, right? Not every onboarding process will be this simple, BUT don’t overcomplicate things just for the sake of it. Sometimes an easy four-step system is all that’s required.

3. Create Amazing Onboarding Content

Next, create amazing onboarding content that logically walks new users through each stage in your onboarding journey. When we say “content” we’re talking about Powerpoint presentations, PDF downloads, video walk-throughs, audio explanations — any type of training material that fits your unique customer base and the products your company sells.

We recommend sketching out a comprehensible curriculum plan (a perfect task for your subject matter expert and instructional designer to work on in tandem) and deciding when each lesson should be delivered before actually creating the content.

4. Select the Right Software Tools

When it comes to customer onboarding software tools, there are plenty of options. The tools you choose for your organization will depend on your budget and the way you plan to deliver content, i.e. via PDF docs, a video series, etc.

But the following three pieces of software should definitely be on your radar:


Userpilot is a complete user onboarding solution that’s loved by over 250 companies like Cisco and KellerWilliams. One of our favorite things about this app is the fact that Userpilot customers can tailor onboarding experiences to specific buyer personas. That way the process feels more personal and enjoyable to each customer.

Other handy features include the ability to trigger tips and hints based on user behavior, access to event-triggered tools like modals and slideouts, and actional onboarding checklists.


Companies looking for a simple and cost effective onboarding process for new customers should consider using Slack. This popular internal communication tool will allow you to send welcome messages to new customers, offer help and support, and even share tutorial videos.

It’s not a complete onboarding solution and definitely has limitations when used for onboarding purposes. But startups and cash-strapped enterprises will likely love how easy and affordable Slack makes customer onboarding.

Zight (formerly CloudApp)

Last but not least, we have Zight (formerly CloudApp), the ultimate visual communication tool that gives users access to screen and webcam recording, GIF creation, and image annotation features.

You can use Zight (formerly CloudApp) to record yourself delivering a highly personalized welcome message. Or to capture your screen and make entertaining and educational GIFs. Or get your points across quicker with annotated screen screenshots — simply gussy up your image with arrows, text boxes, and emojis so that your directions are perfectly clear.

Then you can easily send your creations via Email, Slack chats, Zendesk support tickets, and more. Give Zight (formerly CloudApp) a try for free today and see for yourself how much easier it makes customer onboarding for your company!

5. Optimize Your Customer Onboarding Process

Finally, you should always analyze your onboarding process and look for ways to optimize it. Are there certain stages that produce higher churn rates than others? Make an adjustment! Have you gotten a lot of customer feedback saying a specific video lesson doesn’t make sense? Reshoot it!

Never get complacent. Your customer onboarding program can always be improved and it’s your job to discover how. But don’t worry, the rewards of stellar onboarding are more than worth the extra effort.

3 Customer Onboarding Best Practices

There you have it, a complete onboarding process for new customers. But before we bring this article to a close, we want to share three customer onboarding best practices. Keep these things in mind and your onboarding efforts will be more effective.

1. Communicate Early and Often

When it comes to customer and user onboarding, communication is the name of the game. Make sure that your company defines expectations at the very beginning of its relationship with new customers, that way they know exactly what to expect. Then be available to answer questions in a timely manner and remain consistent.

Your new customers should never feel like they’re on an island. If they do, they likely won’t stick around for long. So communicate with them early and often.

2. Customize the Onboarding Experience

Personalization in business is crucial. Your customers want to feel like they’re the only folks your company cares about. An easy way to do this is to individualize every customer account. What does that look like? We’re talking about allowing new customers and users to create their own profiles, sending them relevant content on a regular basis, and communicating frequently.

This may seem labor intensive and it can be. But it’s worth it! Plus, because of technology, many onboarding elements can be automated for personalized once your system is set up.

3. Constantly Gather Data

Data is your friend. You need to know how your customers use your products, the way they view your website, how long it typically takes them to make purchases, and more. All these details will allow you to learn more about your customers and their needs. Then you can address these things in your customer onboarding program.

In Conclusion:

Effective customer onboarding is essential to modern business success. It will help you prevent churn, boost referrals, and sell more products. Just remember to follow the five-step process we outlined above:

  1. Start With the End in Mind
  2. Outline the Customer Onboarding Journey
  3. Create Amazing Onboarding Content
  4. Select the Right Software Tools
  5. Optimize Your Customer Onboarding Process

And if you need a reliable software to make training tutorials, educational GIFs, or annotated images to aid your onboarding efforts, we suggest Zight (formerly CloudApp). Sign up for your free Zight (formerly CloudApp) account today and get access to all of its amazing features.

Ready to chat with us about how to save time, money and help your team communicate better?