What is Customer Onboarding?

Philip Cleave
June 25, 2024
Individual starting their customer onboarding process

We all know the importance of making a stellar first impression in any relationship. Think about all the people you've met and how quickly you decided whether you wanted to see them again. The same principle applies to customer relationships. From the moment you engage with a new contact, your behaviour, attitude, and presentation influence their decision to buy and, importantly, whether they will return.

Given that 80% of a company's future revenue comes from 20% of its current customers, it makes sense to impress as many new contacts as possible early on. This way, you are more likely to convert them into loyal, long-term customers. This is why the customer onboarding process is so crucial.

Customer onboarding definition

Customer onboarding is the nurturing process that gets new users and customers familiar and comfortable with using your product. It covers the whole journey, from the initial sale, welcome, and sign-up, to product activation, setup, and first use. The goal is to deliver value to customers as early as possible, addressing their questions and concerns to make their experience smooth.

The importance of customer onboarding

A positive or negative onboarding experience can determine whether a customer continues their journey with you. Central to this positive experience is consistently providing what you offered and the customer agreed and signed up for.

Onboarding customers effectively can also deliver further benefits, including increased customer engagement and sales. With an efficient onboarding process, you're more likely to keep customers engaged and buying from you. This is critical when you consider that acquiring new customers is more expensive than maintaining existing ones.

Happy customers bring more business to you through word-of-mouth marketing. Satisfied customers who recommend you to others in their network can be extremely valuable. You can gauge customer satisfaction and their likelihood to recommend your services by conducting a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey.

Reducing avoidable churn is also critical to ongoing success. Avoidable churn typically occurs with clients who fit your business model but don't understand the value proposition of your product or service. You can significantly reduce this churn by delivering an effective onboarding experience.

Customer onboarding best practices

As with other essential business processes, having best practice pointers can help guide you to consistently deliver a stellar onboarding experience.

Adopt a people-focused approach

Remember, one size does not fit all. If you approach every new relationship the same way, your customers will definitely notice. Instead, adopt a people-focused approach, where you attend to each client's specific needs and goals. People ultimately look to do business with people. Address any questions, fears, and concerns that a client discussed with you during the initial sales process.

Good communications are key, even before the kick-off

While the customer kick-off meeting is traditionally where you solidify your client's needs and make a concrete plan, good communication beforehand can set a positive tone for the future relationship. Effective communication during the sales process helps ensure a stronger kick-off meeting and sets activities in motion once a contact becomes a customer.

Deliver value quickly

Once you've established a foundation with your client and defined their goals, it's time to start delivering results. If your customer wants to see progress in metrics, present these at your next check-in. If a client needs a training session, make sure it's done within the agreed timeframe.

Stay organised

Little things like setting a communication schedule will help keep you organised and ensure regular contact with your client. Whether it's a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly check-in, or ensuring they're included in your newsletter and company updates, setting a schedule of activities ensures consistent communication.

Exchange feedback

Exchanging feedback is vital. This involves listening to your clients as much as sharing your own feedback with them. Clarify expectations during the process to ensure the engagement is balanced and you can meet their needs while managing your other accounts.

Using surveys in customer onboarding

Surveys are a powerful tool in the customer onboarding process, acting as both a guide and a feedback mechanism to ensure a smooth journey. By strategically incorporating customer surveys, you can gather valuable insights and continuously refine your approach.

Identify customer expectations

Kick things off with a welcome survey to understand new customer expectations and needs. This early feedback helps tailor the onboarding process to address specific pain points and goals. By asking about their previous experiences and what they hope to achieve with your product, you can set a personalised course for their journey.

Measure satisfaction at key milestones

Throughout the onboarding process, it's crucial to check in with your customers. Sending short, focused surveys after major milestones – like after the first use of the product, post-training sessions, or after initial setup – provides immediate feedback. Consider incorporating voice of customer survey questions for this purpose, for rapid and focused feedback. This can help you gauge their satisfaction and identify any issues early on, allowing for prompt adjustments.

Assess the onboarding process

A comprehensive survey at the end of the onboarding period is invaluable. It should cover all aspects of the experience, from the clarity of instructions to the helpfulness of customer support. This feedback is gold dust for refining your onboarding strategy. Questions about what worked well and what could be improved will highlight areas needing attention and reveal practices that should be continued.

Gauge ongoing engagement

To ensure continued customer engagement, periodic surveys can be employed. These help in understanding the long-term impact of your onboarding efforts. Regular feedback loops keep you informed about evolving customer needs and enable proactive adjustments to your service or product.

Enhance communication

Surveys are not just about gathering data; they also enhance communication. They show customers that their opinions are valued, fostering a sense of involvement and loyalty. Even a simple Net Promoter Score survey can provide deep insights into customer sentiment and their likelihood of recommending your product to others.

In short, incorporating surveys into your customer onboarding process ensures that you are continuously listening, adapting, and improving. This not only leads to happier customers but also drives long-term engagement and loyalty.

Example client onboarding process

To see how these best practices work in principle, here's an outline of the crucial steps from pre-onboarding to SLA creation.


At this stage, your sales reps should set expectations and perform tasks with onboarding in mind.

Identify customer pain points and solutions

During the sales qualification process, your sales rep determines if the prospect is a good fit and has a need for your services. They need to understand your prospect's pain points and convey how your product or service can solve them.

Define key campaign goals

Get a clear idea of your client's key goals for your first campaign or project together. What do they want to achieve? What numbers do they need to impact? This discussion helps gauge their goals, expectations, and ideal outcomes, making them actionable and achievable.

Agree on mutual deliverables

When crafting a proposal or service contract, clearly define your terms of agreement. Base the scope of what you can deliver on your client's goals and what your company can realistically achieve. Spell these out before any work begins.

Collect key details

Discuss and confirm key areas of your customer relationship early on, including points of contact, budgets, and timelines.

After signing

Following your proposal, client sign-off, and possibly the receipt of your client's first payment, it's important not to lose momentum. Take actions to reinforce that the client made the right choice.

Issue a welcome pack

Sending a welcome pack or email immediately after the proposal submission serves two purposes: it reinforces that the client made the right decision and sets expectations for onboarding. Consider including a timeline for the next steps and let them know how excited your team is to have them on board.

Schedule a discovery call

A welcome packet is a good step, but a more personal touch can strengthen the relationship. A discovery call allows your team to welcome the client, address any questions or concerns, and organise the kick-off call.

Kick-off call

Your kick-off call is an opportunity to introduce your client to your team and set the tone for the engagement. To maximise its success, accomplish the following:

Gather information about their internal processes

Find out about existing processes and preferences, especially if you're taking over from another team. Ask how they want to manage the relationship and their expectations.

Ask your client about their definition of success

Even if your sales rep briefed your team, hear directly from your client about their goals. This helps align your team and the customer on expected outcomes.

Revisit your deliverables

Confirm that the agreed-upon deliverables are appropriate and achievable, given the client's expectations.

Reinforce the value you're delivering

Be ready to manage any last-minute objections by sharing information that reassures the client about working with you. Introduce team specialties or strategies to help with their success.

Manage your client's communication expectations

Set expectations for future communications, such as updates, meetings, and other interactions. Balancing this correctly is crucial for managing workloads and ensuring the client feels valued.

Outline actions needed by both parties

Confirm who will be responsible for what tasks and set deadlines to get the relationship and project off to a good start.

Post kick-off meeting

Organise your first regular check-in to evaluate progress and offer feedback. Consider the following actions:

Revisit your client's definition of success

Remind the client of what they stand to gain and why they entered into a contract with you, especially if tangible results are not yet visible.

Create an SLA

A service level agreement (SLA) defines the services you will provide and the standards expected by the client. It helps establish mutual expectations.

Agree on smaller milestones

Focusing on smaller milestones can demonstrate progress and help gain customer buy-in, preventing impatience and agitation.

Customer onboarding checklist

Here's a handy list to help you with customer onboarding best practices:


- Pinpoint customer pain points and solutions

- Define key campaign goals

- Agree on mutual deliverables

- Collect key details

After signing:

- Issue a welcome pack

- Schedule a discovery call

Kick-off call:

- Gather information about internal processes

- Identify client's definition of success

- Revisit deliverables

- Reinforce the value you're providing

- Manage client's communication expectations

- Outline actions for both parties

Post kick-off meeting:

- Revisit client's definition of success

- Create an SLA

- Agree on smaller milestones

Digital customer onboarding – unique considerations

Recognise the role of technology in the customer onboarding process. Technology can significantly enhance the onboarding experience, from product sign-up and welcome emails to product demonstrations, activation, setup, first use, support tools, and follow-up emails.

Whether your onboarding process lasts 30, 60, or 90 days, many processes can be automated with automation software. This ensures key dates and deadlines are met, making the process more effective and efficient.

As with any key customer process, continually improve the onboarding process to retain customers and encourage repeat purchases. Customer surveys, such as measuring overall satisfaction or the customer effort score, can provide vital insights to improve the onboarding experience.

By following these practices, you'll be well on your way to delivering an onboarding process your customers will love.

Create experiences your customers will love

While improving your customer onboarding and tracking key performance metrics will help increase your customer retention rates, delivering ongoing experiences your customers love will generate even better results. Get the right survey tools to capture the feedback and insights you need...

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Author's note: this blog was originally published January 2022 and updated June 2024