How to Audit Your Customer Onboarding in 4 Simple Steps

How many times have you updated your customer onboarding experience since building your product? Here’s how to conduct an audit and optimize accordingly

Ben Jacobson
October 04 2018

Proactivity is the name of the game with customer retention. Relationships don’t materialize spontaneously, so you need to lay the groundwork long before a customer wonders whether or not to stop doing business with you.

You might consider onboarding to be separate from things like loyalty and retention as if onboarding happens at one moment and sometime later, the customer magically turns into a long-term supporter. Few companies define what those specific points look like in their own customer’s journey, and even fewer connect the dots between conversion, onboarding, and retention to understand the entire customer lifecycle.

But all those different customer milestones aren’t separate points – they’re all part of the same experience continuum, influencing and building on each other. For example, for a software subscription, the first renewal might occur months after conversion and onboarding, but that doesn’t mean the latter doesn’t impact the former.

If you’re trying to solve your churn problems by looking first at your renewal flow and offer emails, you need to rewind way further.

Maximizing the long-term value a customer gets from you (and how much revenue you get from them) starts the moment someone becomes a customer. That first impression and the rest of your onboarding process is key. And if yours is lackluster, it will continue to damage your business as long as you’re attracting new clientele.

But how do you know whether your onboarding process is doing its job for retention, and how to fix it if it’s not? Let’s walk through what a customer onboarding audit might look like for you.

#1 Identify Your Goals

When companies are first getting started, certain things are often thrown together haphazardly, simply because you need it done urgently. As a result, you may have rolled out some of your most crucial assets, onboarding flow elements included, without a proper strategy and alignment with big-picture goals.

An onboarding audit is your chance to correct that and build a more strategic journey for new customers.

What you’ll need to do first is fully understand what onboarding means for your business and your customers. What is the “aha moment” in which the customer fully realizes the value of your product?


Given that delivering customers to their aha moment is the short-term goal of onboarding, especially in the case of freemium SaaS, defining this as the destination before mapping out the rest of the customer’s route helps you stay focused and specific in your onboarding is imperative.

In addition to the main aha moment and end goal of your customer onboarding, you’ll also want to define any prerequisites that customers need to reach along the way to aha. These are necessary rest stops en route to the finish line, like connecting a social account to a social media dashboard before scheduling your first post for it. Mapping these out ensures your onboarding process doesn’t try to skip any steps in taking your users to their final destination.

#2 Find Your Customer’s Current Hurdles

Once you know your real goals, you can dig into whatever analytics you have set up to find the biggest stumbling blocks customers face in reaching their aha moment, renewing, or upgrading. They might take place during your current onboarding process, or you might find a previously unaddressed pain point.

Where are users stalling or dropping out of the onboarding process? Which important actions are most frequently left incomplete? Which emails and onboarding messages are the weakest performers? Looking at your customer data and behaviors for different patterns will help you identify the potential problems to be solved within the customer experience.

These are obviously items your onboarding needs to address, although you may be surprised how different they are than what your current process covers. Since the ideal customer journey evolves over time along with your customers and product (but is probably updated less frequently), your original onboarding process can easily become out of touch with your customers’ current needs.

#3 Talk to New and Old Customers

An initial audit of quantitative data only might point to a lot of potential problems in the customer experience. Not all of them will need to be addressed in your onboarding sequence. Remember, your goal is to get them to all of their important milestones and ultimate aha moment. If you talk about anything else – even features they can use or results they can get – it pulls focus from what’s most essential for them to know and do.

Additionally, in order to truly appeal to customers’ interests and emotions in your messaging, you also need as much context as possible around the different moments you’re helping customers with. For example, if Slack were to go through this exercise based on the aha moment in the graphic above, they would still need to understand the different contexts and situations in which teams will send 2000 messages.


How do you find that context, the stories and scenarios your customers use your product within? You’re going to have to talk to them, something SaaS companies tend to neglect.

To fully understand your metrics, you need to layer in qualitative data as well. Whether that’s through surveys, live chat, or interviews, talking to different types of customers will provide the context and create depth to your audience.

Speaking with new users, longtime good users, along with churned or churn-risk customers alike, will help you understand the “why” behind different behaviors and tell you more about low vs. high-value customers.

#4 Adjust Your Messaging

Finally, once you better understand your customers, their experience, and what’s currently spoiling it, you can go to your current onboarding strategy and make any necessary adjustments.

The work ahead will depend on how many changes you’ll need to make. If your current onboarding is performing reasonably well and isn’t so different from what you’ve identified as “the ideal customer flow,” you can make simple tweaks. However, if it’s more off-base, you might want to map the user journey from scratch.


Regardless of whether you’re making changes here and there or building new messaging completely, you’ll want to make sure it:

  • Speaks to the customer’s true needs at that stage in the customer journey
  • Proactively works towards moving them to the next stage
  • Accurately reflects the timing and order of desired actions

For something so complicated, onboarding’s goals really are that simple.

Onboarding Is an Evolving Process

The hardest part of onboarding is understanding your customer’s ideal experience and context for using your product. It will definitely change as your customer base grows, but as a huge part of your first impression, it’s worth the high maintenance.


Ben Jacobson

Ben Jacobson is a marketing strategy consultant who specializes in content, social media and influencer marketing for B2B firms. He contributes regularly to publications including MarketingLand, Search Engine Journal and the Orbit Media blog.

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