What is Customer Onboarding? (+6 Steps You Need to Follow)

Understand customer onboarding, why it’s important, and the six steps you need to follow for successful onboarding.
January 18, 2023
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Mukundh Krishna

A good customer onboarding process can make a massive difference to product adoption, customer retention, and the overall scalability of your company.

A fantastic onboarding experience helps your customer feel confident about their decision to choose you over your competitors. It also helps your team onboard a high volume of customers with minimal time investment.

In this article, we’ll discuss what customer onboarding is, six key onboarding steps you must follow, why onboarding is important, and how Rocketlane can help you with your customer onboarding.

Let’s begin. 

What is customer onboarding? 

Customer onboarding (often known as client onboarding) is the nurturing process where new users and customers get acquainted with your product and services. 

It covers the entire customer journey from the initial sign-up to the first use. 

A successful customer onboarding process would include: 

  1. Helping customers migrate to the new system
  2. Step-by-step tutorials
  3. A product walkthrough  
  4. Guidance and customer service 
  5. Celebrating customer milestones 

The aim of customer onboarding is to deliver value to your customer as early as possible — ideally in their first use. As such, onboarding is inextricably linked to customer satisfaction and engagement. 

You can adopt one of the following models for onboarding customers:

3 Customer onboarding models you can adopt

A customer onboarding model is how your company helps the customer learn about your product and engage with you. 

Broadly speaking, there are three models you can adopt. 

1. High touch 

A high-touch model employs a human-centric approach. Here, the new customer receives personalized engagement throughout each stage of the onboarding process. 

This could be in the form of in-person meetings, Zoom demos, a product tour, high-priority email support, and calls from a dedicated customer success manager. This would also include support documentation, but the availability of human support is the key differentiator. 

Used in:

  1. Complex SaaS tools
  2. Enterprise SaaS deployments
  3. Custom enterprise software projects
  4. Tools that require a lot of training
  5. Tools with higher ACV (average contract value)

Sounds like a lot of work?

A high-touch onboarding process can be made incredibly streamlined by using a tool like Rocketlane.

2. Low touch 

The low-touch onboarding model involves minimal involvement from your user onboarding team. Instead, the user uses self-help documentation to set up the product themselves.  

This could include your FAQ section, how-to guides, and troubleshooting documentation. 

While customer support is available over the phone, email, or text, it’s not personalized to each new user.  

Used in:

  1. Self-serve SaaS tools
  2. Tools that don’t have a lot of complex features
  3. Tools that are very easy to understand
  4. Tools with inexpensive pricing

3. Tech touch 

In this onboarding strategy, the customer is led through the entire onboarding process through the software itself.

You levy technology to help the customer using: 

  1. Automated emails 
  2. In-app pop-ups 
  3. Video tutorials 
  4. Blog posts
  5. Email newsletters

Used in:

  1. Self-serve SaaS tools
  2. Tools that rely heavily on PLG (Product-led growth)
  3. Freemium products

The goal of the tech touch approach is to enable users to find value in your product and reach the ‘aha’ moment quickly, and upgrade to a paid plan. 

Your choice of onboarding model will need to connect with your customer’s needs. But regardless of the model, here are some steps you can follow to deliver on your customer onboarding goals. 

6 Key customer onboarding steps you need to follow 

Here are the six steps you need to follow for a successful customer onboarding process. 

Step 1: Handoff

It all begins with the pre-sales phase, where the customer onboarding team works with the sales team to come up with the perfect onboarding flow for each customer. 

Here, the sales team (the customer’s first point of contact) collects all the necessary data, like their top problems. These inputs and other customer data are then shared with the onboarding team.

The customer is also introduced to their customer success manager (if there’s one.) 

Step 2: Kickoff

The kickoff meeting sets the tone for the entire onboarding project. 

A successful meeting can help you establish project goals, milestones, and set expectations with your customer. It should leave every team member confident about the overarching goals and details, like who will sign off on deliverables. 

We also recommend having a simple project mission statement that you can refer back to. Make it a collaborative effort between you and the customer. 

Step 3: Account setup, configuration, and testing 

In this stage, the onboarding team walks the customer through the account setup, setting configurations, and other features. 

This includes: 

  • Creating an account
  • Defining access.
  • Setting up users and logins
  • Moving data into the current system
  • And more

However, if the product is complex, the onboarding team will set up the product themselves.

You can streamline this process by mapping out every step of the customer journey, from receiving a welcome email to a product walkthrough. This will help you understand how the customer experiences your onboarding system. 

Step 4: Training and customer education  

In this stage, the customer truly starts engaging with the product – whether that’s through self-serve options or a dedicated customer success manager. 

For the ones who prefer to self-serve, you should have plenty of documentation ready. This could include FAQs, video tutorials, a virtual product tour, etc. 

On the other hand, for enterprise-level customers, you can provide a dedicated team member who can walk the customer through various touchpoints and resources individually. 

Such customized guidance can help these customers understand how your product addresses their specific use case and challenges. 

This is also the stage where you should invest in customer education by adding quizzes, graphics, and other interactive elements. These can help drive customer engagement by gamifying the entire process. 

The best part about customer education is that you can leverage it in other ways to grow your company. 

For instance, as Bill Cushard (GM at ServiceRocket) puts it, HubSpot started training its audience early on, even before its product was ready for launch. They educated marketing professionals on inbound marketing and noticed those people were more likely to turn into paying customers. 

Similarly, Cloudera hired someone in the customer education role as a way to scale quickly. They understood the value of their education and turned those elements into a lead source. 

Additionally, existing customers attended training sessions to understand the product better. 

Step 5: Implementation and integrations

Before launching, you should double-check every element of your onboarding programs. From technical glitches to grammar in the customer education section — everything should be running smoothly. 

If you are deploying custom-built software, you would need to test your program either using your own employees or outside testers.

Ask them to go through the program the way a customer would and give your feedback. This feedback can help you edit your onboarding program and make necessary improvements. 

You can also ask existing customers to go through the process to understand their wants and needs. For example, they may require certain product integrations you didn’t provide earlier. 

This stage can help you collect all the customer feedback and implement it into your onboarding process. 

Finally, there’s the pre-launch stage, where the goal is to help potential customers understand how your onboarding strategy will help them. 

A well-informed audience is more likely to help you find success with your onboarding process. This is also where the customer’s portal is rolled out so they can make the program their own.  

Step 6: Go live and conduct routine check-ins 

As you move forward, you want to routinely check with your existing customer to ensure everything is running smoothly. You can also refer back to the mission statement and goals you set out to achieve. 

Regular check-ins play an important role in your onboarding process. They help customers feel like you care about their progress and are ready to help them out if they’re stuck somewhere. 

But why should you go through this lengthy onboarding process at all?? 

Why is customer onboarding important? 

There are three key reasons why you should invest in a well-oiled customer onboarding strategy. 

1. Customer retention

First impressions are lasting impressions — and you never get a second chance at them! 

A seamless onboarding experience is your best bet to build trust in your brand, driving up customer loyalty and retention.

In the long run, a happy customer is more likely to warm up to new features and up/cross-selling opportunities from you. 

On the other hand, if your onboarding process is too complicated and without thorough customer service, it could drive customers away. 

2. Referrals

Satisfied customers are more likely to recommend your product to others. This word-of-mouth marketing is generally more successful than paid ads. 


People trust other people and their experiences over brands — more so because ordinary users don’t stand to benefit from promoting brands as advertisers do. 

This makes your customers your biggest potential brand advocates. 

Even a single loyal customer can help you tap into a new, emerging customer base through their right industry contacts. 

3. Cross-sell easily 

A customer base that’s already loyal to your brand is more likely to be receptive to your other products or add-ons to existing ones. 

This is one of the most important advantages of a well-established customer onboarding process. Since customers are not just familiar with your brand but also trust it, they’re open to the idea of trusting you with their hard-earned money. 

Whether that’s through the purchase of a higher-tier or complimentary products, effective customer onboarding can help your brand soar to new heights.  

Let’s now look at how you can check whether your customer onboarding process is delivering the right results or not. 

How to evaluate your customer onboarding process

How do you determine how well your onboarding process works?

Here are a few questions that you can use to gauge your customer onboarding process. 

  1. Where does a new user need multiple follow-ups? What can you do to reduce this? 
  2. Have you offered multiple channels for customer support? 
  3. Can customers easily navigate through self-serve options to reach the ‘aha’ moment? 
  4. Are customers developing confidence in your product from the first use? 
  5. Which onboarding metrics are you using to calculate the effectiveness of your onboarding flow? Are they giving you accurate data you can act on? 
  6. Do you have a customer onboarding checklist that you routinely look into?
  7. Are you using customer feedback to improve your onboarding strategy? 

If the answer to all of these questions was yes, then you’ve done your job right and have a happy customer on your hands. 

If not, then turn to Rocketlane! 

How Rocketlane can smoothen your customer onboarding process

Typically, customer onboarding requires multiple tools like: 

  1. Communication tools like Slack or Gmail. 
  2. Project management tools like Asana or Trello. 
  3. Document collaboration tools like Google Docs. 
  4. Resource management tools like Mavenlink or Resource Guru.
  5. Time tracking tools like Harvest. 

This can be quite a lot for a new customer or even your own team! It can result in app confusion, making customers lose their drive to engage with your product. 

Luckily, Rocketlane is a customer onboarding software solution that helps accelerate your time-to-value, reduce churn, and increase engagement and renewal rates. 

Rockletlane does this by offering a one-of-a-kind, unified workspace with improved communication, collaboration, and project visibility.  

Here are the four pillars of Rocketlane’s onboarding experience: 

1. Consistency 

Rocketlane ensures that all tasks and processes have consistency woven through them by incorporating different project templates and insights into project processes.  

In just a few clicks, you can set up the entire Rocketlane collaboration space for different projects and types of customers. This quick setup helps make the onboarding process simple and repeatable. 

2. Visibility 

With Rocketlane, you can get a snapshot view of all your projects at once! 

Simply hover over elements to understand what’s going on with each project down to the nitty-gritty details. 

You can even check project progress, delays, bottlenecks, pending tasks, and more. 

Create status updates related to these elements and have task-specific conversations, so everyone knows what’s happening without a single email. 

3. Collaboration and productivity

Each Rocketlane task has prebuilt project management features and fields like: 

  1. Description
  2. Details
  3. Checkboxes
  4. Subtasks
  5. Templates
  6. And more 

Each template can be customized for different customer segments depending on the customer’s industry, size, maturity level, and implementation complexity. These templates can be used for multiple projects, helping you get performance insights at every stage of the onboarding journey. 

You can also use Rocketlane’s Private feature to ensure certain information is available to your customers while other information is only visible to your customer success team. This way, you can take care of small comments and tasks without overwhelming the customer. 

Meetings can be a pain sometimes, but Rocketlane makes it easy by collecting all your presentations and meeting notes into one view. This can help you establish what resources you require from the customer and when. 

It can also streamline all communication and collaboration with the customer. 

4. Customer experience

Rocketlane provides each customer with their own portal and unique domain. You can customize and add logs or themes to create a connection with your brand. 

This portal lets you talk to the customer by sharing updates, requesting approvals and feedback, and even assigning tasks.

By following a well-proven customer onboarding process, Rocketlane can help bring your customers and your customer success team together. 

Don’t believe us? Here are three examples of just that! 

3 Examples of successful customer onboarding processes

Here are three examples of how an effective customer onboarding process leads to visible gains for your company. 

1. Jirav 

Jirav is a financial planning and analysis solution company based in Seattle, USA. It helps businesses forecast bookings, revenues, expenses, cash flow, and workforce. 

However, they were struggling with a lack of visibility regarding open projects and project progress. There was also no easy way for them to access project information on HubSpot. All of this made it difficult to estimate project timelines. 

In essence, they needed a solution that could:

  1. Make their onboarding process more transparent.
  2. Track time spent on every phase of the project.
  3. Increase time-to-value during user onboarding.
  4. Improve overall efficiency.

Rocketlane brought much-needed structure and consistency to Jirav’s customer onboarding strategy in the following ways:

  1. Better planning with Project Templates: They could now create new projects faster based on the type of customer being onboarded. This consistent and easily repeatable process helped Jirav save hours on every new project. 
  1. Greater visibility: Every person involved in the project could clearly view what tasks were assigned to them, the project status, and the exact timelines. This helped the entire team close projects faster and more efficiently. Rocketlane’s Private and Shared Spaces allowed Jirav to control what customers viewed and what was only visible to their internal team. 
  1. Accurate forecasting: Jirav could figure out how much time each task took and come up with accurate timelines using Rocketlane’s time-tracking capabilities.  

The result? 

A 50% reduction in onboarding time for every single customer! Jirav went from taking 8-10 weeks per customer to just 4-6 weeks. 

2. Mosaic 

Mosaic is a strategic business finance platform based in San Diego, USA, for real-time analytics and planning.  

They were using Google Sheets to assign representatives to customers and onboard them. So, they were struggling to maintain all project documents simultaneously. 

Using Google Sheets also meant minor customer requests would slip through the cracks, leading to customer churn. They needed a way for their internal sales team to track every customer requirement without unnecessary delays. 

With Rocketlane, Mosaic has a process-oriented approach to customer onboarding in the following ways: 

  1. Make the customer onboarding workflow a breeze: Every member of the Customer Success Team is now able to onboard new customers with ease. 
  1. Better organization of customer requests: All their onboarding-related activities are now neatly organized into educated threads. This helps the Customer Success Team attend to every customer requirement. 
  1. Use templates for easy project creation: They also utilized Rockletlane’s integration with Salesforce to help sales data flow easily. Now, when a deal is closed, a project is created automatically using an onboarding template. 

As a result, they were able to save approximately 120 hours each month and make the onboarding journey transparent for their customers!  

3. Tevera 

Tevera is an ed-tech company based in Hudson, USA, that simplifies field and program management, accreditation, internship, and employment for counselors and educators. 

They had limited resources, which meant customer engagement at each step of their onboarding program was paramount. Their previous platform failed to deliver many learning outcomes due to a lack of intuitive features. 

They needed an onboarding tool that could:

  1. Increase customer engagement
  2. Help the team demonstrate the tool's value in less than 6 months
  3. Reduce user onboarding time

Here’s how Rocketlane spearheaded Tevera toward its onboarding goals:

  1. Streamlined communication: With Rocketlane’s in-built communication features and ability to assign tasks, Tevera could retain context with its customers.
  1. Faster delivery: Re-using and existing an existing onboarding template also helped Tevera reduce the average project duration by 20%! 
  1. Getting stakeholders’ buy-in: Their customers have better insight into what they need to do at every stage, meaning task completion is faster than ever. 

Since the customer onboarding experience is streamlined, Tevera’s engagement has also increased while the average CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) score is up by 10%. 

Fly towards customer onboarding success with Rocketlane! 

A well-thought-out and executed customer onboarding strategy can help customers realize the value of your product, which allows them to reach their ‘aha’ moment quickly. 

But you need the right technology to craft your ideal customer onboarding strategy. 

That’s why we created Rocketlane — a singular customer onboarding tool! It’s built to help your customers feel at ease so you can deliver maximum value to them and reduce customer churn. 

Sign up for the 14-day free trial today and provide the best customer onboarding experience possible!  

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Shuvedha Subramaniam
Content Marketer @ Rocketlane

Marketing analyst @ Rocketlane. An Advocate by choice and a penwoman for the love of it. When the world zips, I like to zoink. Also, being happy by being kind.

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