What is Customer Onboarding?

Philip Cleave
January 14, 2022
Individual starting their customer onboarding process

When it comes to relationships, we all know the importance of creating a great first impression. Just consider all the people you’ve ever met and how quickly you concluded whether you wanted to see them again.

Well, the same applies to customer relationships too. From the moment you approach a new contact, your behavior, attitude and personal presentation will influence their decision to buy. It will also determine whether they choose to return or not.

When you consider that 80% of a company’s future revenue comes from 20% of its current customers, it makes sense to impress as many of these contacts as you can early on. That way you’re also more likely to convert more of them into loyal, long-term customers.

It’s why the customer onboarding process is so crucial.

Customer onboarding definition

Customer onboarding is essentially 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, set up and first use. It also looks to deliver value to customers as early as possible, by listening to and answering any of their questions and concerns – in doing so, helping to make their experience as smooth as possible.

The importance of customer onboarding

Given that most of us understand the importance of keeping customers happy if we’re to maximize future sales opportunities. The same can be said for the customer onboarding process, as a positive or negative experience will influence whether a customer decides to continue their journey with you or not.

Central to this positive experience is continuing to provide what you offered and the customer agreed and signed up to.

Onboarding customers in the proper manner can also deliver further benefits that include:

Increased customer engagement and sales

With an effective onboarding process in place, you’re more likely to keep customers engaged and buying from you. Customer engagement is critical when you consider that acquiring new customers is much more expensive than maintaining the ones you already have.

Happy customers bring more business to you

Word of mouth marketing still has a powerful role to play in bringing you more business. So, nurturing more satisfied customers who will recommend you to others in their network can be extremely valuable.

You can also gain a better idea of how happy your customers are and how many are likely to recommend your services to others by carrying out a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey with them.

Reduce avoidable churn

Avoidable churn typically occurs with clients that fit your business model, but don’t understand the value proposition of your product or service.

You can significantly reduce this when you deliver an effective onboarding experience for them.

Customer onboarding best practices

As is the case with other essential business processes, it’s good to have some best practice pointers to help guide you. This will help to ensure you consistently deliver an onboarding experience that is as good as you can make it for each customer you enroll.

Here are some key considerations to have in mind.

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 feel it.

Instead look to adopt a people-focused approach, where you’re attentive to each clients’ specific needs and goals. That’s because people ultimately look to do business with people.

This should include addressing any questions, fears and concerns that a client’s 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 the stage where you can really solidify your client’s needs and ideas and make a concrete plan about how you will meet them, good communications prior to this can really set a good tone for the future of that relationship.

What we are referring to here is the sales process. If you’re already communicating effectively,  gathering data and exploring your customers’ goals during this stage, you’re more likely to have a stronger kick-off meeting to set activities in motion once a contact becomes a customer.

Look to deliver value quickly

Once you’ve established a foundation with your client and defined their goals, it’s time to get moving on delivering results. So, if your customer wants to see evidence of progress in metrics, present these at your next check-in. Similarly, if a client needs a training session, make sure you get this done in the time frame you agreed with them.

Make sure you’re organized

It might seem obvious, but little things like setting a communication schedule will help keep you organized and ensure there’s regular contact between you and 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 will help to ensure this happens.

Exchange feedback

Exchanging feedback is vital. But this involves listening to your clients, as much as sharing your own feedback with them.

Remember exchanging feedback works two-fold. It provides the opportunity for you to clarify expectations during the process, and make sure that the engagement is well-balanced and that you’re able to give that to them while working on your other accounts too.

Example client onboarding process

To see how some of these best practices work in principle, it can be useful to have an example of an onboarding flow process to refer to.

So, to help you we’ve provided you with an outline of the crucial steps from pre-onboarding to SLA creation.


At this stage your sales reps should be setting expectations and performing tasks with onboarding in mind. Here are a few steps to maximize the success of your post-sale hand-off:

Identify customer pain points and solutions

During the process of qualifying a sales lead, your sales rep is determining if the prospect is a good fit for you and has a need for your services. To help with this they need to get a much clearer idea about your prospect’s pain paints, while conveying to them how your product or service can solve this.

Define key campaign goals

You also need to get a clearer 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 initial discussion can enable you to gage their goals, expectations and ideal project outcomes. You can then discuss how you’ll work together to make them actionable and achievable, based on the resources they have available, and what your team’s time and efforts will allow for.

Agree mutual deliverables

When crafting a proposal or service contract, you should clearly define your terms of agreement. You should also base the scope of what you can deliver on your client’s goals and what your company can realistically achieve. Then spell these out for the customer before any work begins.

Collect key details

From your key points of contact to budgets and timelines. You need to be discussing and confirming key areas of your customer relationship early on in your collaboration process.

After Signing

Following the issuing of your proposal, client sign off and maybe even the receipt of your client’s first payment, it’s important not to lose any of the momentum built up during the sales process. So, it’s good to be able to take some further actions, to help reinforce for the client that they took the right actions:

Issue a welcome pack

One immediate action you could take after submitting your customer proposal, is to send them a welcome pack or email. The benefits of this are two-fold.

  • It’s helps reinforce that they did the right thing, by making them feel like part of the family
  • It helps set your customer’s expectations for onboarding

You might also consider including a timeline for the next steps. And don’t forget to let them know how excited your team is to have them on board.

Consider scheduling a discovery call

A welcome packet is a good step, but you can strengthen the customer relationship further with a more personal touch. With a discovery call, one of your team can welcome the client and ask if they have any questions or concerns. It’s can also provide an opportune time to organize the kick-off call and set expectations for it.

Kick-Off Call

Your kick-off call provides the opportunity for you to formally introduce your client to your team members who will be handling their account. It helps set the tone for the rest of the engagement. To maximize its success, you’ll want to accomplish the following:

Gather as much information as you can about their internal process

If you’re picking up where another of your client’s teams left off, find out what existing processes look like and what their preferences are. Alternatively, you can ask them how they want to manage the relationship and what they expect.

Ask your client about their definition of success

Even if your sales rep debriefed your team, you’ll want to hear directly from your client about the goals they have for determining success. This helps to align your team and your customer on expected outcomes.

Revisit your deliverables

This session should give your team a better context about the work being performed. So, with better understanding about the client’s expectations, now is the time to confirm that the agreed-upon deliverables are appropriate and achievable.

Reinforce the value you’re delivering

Be ready to manage any last-minute objections, by sharing information that will help banish any regret a client may be displaying about working with you. This could include introducing some of your team’s specialties or any strategies you’ve devised to help with their success.

Manage your client’s communication expectations

Similar to the expectations you’ll be looking to set with your welcome pack, the kick-off call is the ideal platform for setting expectations for your future client relationship. Most notably in the area of communications.

You need to ascertain how often your customer expects updates, meetings and other communications to be carried out. Getting this balance right is crucial, not only for identifying the correct workload moving forward, but in ensuring your team are not overloaded and your client feels loved.

Outline actions needed by both parties

Both you and your client are likely to have a number of different tasks that you each need to action, to get your relationship and project off to a good start. So, it’s important to confirm who will be responsible for what and set deadlines for actions to be taken.

Post Kick-Off Meeting

Following your kick-off call, you need to organize your first regular check-in to evaluate the progress that has been made and to allow both parties to offer feedback. Here’s some actions to consider for that call:

Revisit your client’s definition of success

This early on in your relationship it’s unlikely that you will have many tangible results to present to your client. Therefore, it’s important to remind the client of what they still stand to gain and why they entered into a contract agreement with you.

Create an SLA

A service level agreement (SLA) is the part of a contract which defines exactly what services a service provider will provide, and the level or standard that a client expects and requires for those services.

It’s valuable as it helps establish exactly what the client needs from you, and what you need from them to accomplish it.

Agree on some smaller milestones

The difficulty of just focusing on larger goals, is that if the client doesn’t feel you’re making the progress they would like, they can become impatient and agitated. In contrast, setting smaller milestones for reaching a larger goal can demonstrate better progress and help get customer buy-in.

Customer onboarding checklist

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to customer onboarding best practices. So, it can be handy to have a brief checklist overview to refer to. Here’s a handy list to help you.


  • Look to pinpoint your customers key pain points and solutions to them
  • Define key campaign goals
  • Agree on mutual deliverables
  • Collect key details

After signing

  • Issue welcome pack
  • Schedule a discovery call

Kick-off call

  • Gather information about their internal processes
  • Identify your client’s definition of success
  • Revisit your deliverables
  • Revisit the value you’re providing
  • Manage client’s communication expectations
  • Outline yours and your customers actions moving forward

Post kick-off meeting

  • Revisit your client’s definition of success
  • Create an SLA
  • Agree on smaller milestones

Digital Customer Onboarding – unique considerations

When it comes to the customer onboarding process, it’s important to recognize the role of technology. Given how important a good onboarding experience is to retain customers and ensure they keep buying from you, it’s something technology can significantly help to strengthen.

From product sign-up, customer welcome and thank you emails, to product demonstrations, activation, set up, first use, support tools and follow up emails to check customers are getting everything they need to realize the product’s full value. However long your onboarding process, whether 30, 60 or 90 days, many processes can be automated with an automation software solution. This will help to ensure key dates and deadlines are always met and the whole process is a lot more effective and efficient.

As with any key customer process, the onboarding process is something you will continually want to improve. This is crucial if you’re to retain customers and get them to buy more products or services from you.

Whether you’re looking to measure overall customer satisfaction or the customer effort score, to see how easy different stages of your onboarding process are for customers to progress through, customer surveys provide another vital tool for you to use to improve the customer onboarding process.

If you can do all of this, you will be well on the way to delivering an onboarding process your customers will love.

Get started and create your first survey

If you would like more information then please get in touch.