User onboarding for Customer Success

user onboarding

New users shouldn’t feel like your onboarding requires them to climb a mountain

In an earlier post I touched on why to establish a launch process for new customers- but what about the users who actually use your product on a day to day basis? Shouldn’t we be concerned with whether or not they are successful? In a word- absolutely! This post will touch on why user onboarding is so important, why the user’s goals are a key component of a good onboarding process, and present a few ways to better onboard users.

Isn’t user onboarding someone else’s problem?

Although the Customer Success team does not own the entire user onboarding process, it is very much in their interest to make sure a well thought out onboarding workflow is in place. One of the core responsibilities of Customer Success Managers (CSMs) is to empower companies and end users to be successful.

Of course, user onboarding isn’t just the Customer Success team’s responsibility- Product, Support, and even Marketing should all be bought in to the importance of supporting new users’ introduction and adoption of the product.

How to make your users successful

Good onboarding should focus on the user and what they want to achieve. The best way to know what your user’s goals are? Ask them! Reach out to new users to find out what they hope to achieve with your product. The objective of these interviews is to understand the outcomes your users desire, and the milestones needed to get there using your product.

Tailor your onboarding workflow to ensure users feel they are on the road to achieving those goals from the onset. Recall that successful onboarding is not about you and your goals (such as being able to convert a user to a higher-paid plan), it’s about empowering your users to achieve their goals. This quote from Kathy Sierra’s “Badass: Making Users Awesome” really resonated with me:

The key attributes of sustained success don’t live in the product. The key attributes live in the user

Our users don’t bask in the glow of our awesome product.

Our product basks in the glow of our users’ result with it.

We want to build products, service, and support in ways that inspire users to talk about themselves.

Ways to improve user onboarding

Now that we have our users’ goals as our North Star, let’s discuss a few practical approaches for improving your onboarding process.

Onboarding guru Samuel Hulick suggests the following report to get a handle on identifying the actions that highly correlate with long-term retention (I highly recommend reading Samuel’s full post here):

  • Make a list of what you think your high-value actions are (guessing is totally fine)
  • Create a cohort of users who match your survival criteria and another cohort of “everyone” (e.g. September signups who made it past 30 days vs. all September signups)
  • Identify the percentage of users in each cohort (successful users vs. everybody) who have completed each action and how long it took them to accomplish those tasks

The actions that successful users do that average ones don’t are very likely to be what drives long-term value for both you and your signups.

Another great exercise is to test different onboarding techniques (A/B test different in-app messages, contextual tooltips, etc.) and optimize based on which ones make users more successful. Magoosh, an online test prep company, saw a 17% increase in conversion rates for users they showed a welcome onboarding message to versus those who saw the standard post-sign up homescreen (source).

Your team should also identify ways to empower users outside of the in-product experience. Are there best practices you can share via email? Can you create awesome documentation to help users with technical integrations (and maybe give Stripe a run for its money)? Could a weekly webinar be an easy way users a platform to pose questions in real-time?


Slack’s onboarding process has been receiving a lot of praise, and for good reason. Their Slackbot feature is an inventive and inviting way to encourage users to complete the onboarding process. The Slackbot is introduced to users with a friendly message, “This is the very beginning of your message history with Slackbot. Slackbot is pretty dumb, but it tries to be helpful” and things are off and running from there. Since Slack is a messaging service, the bot fits right in by sending users chat messages that help them fill out their Slack account details. Slackbot nimbly encourages users to do everything from uploading a profile photo to integrating with other products and apps. The best thing about Slackbot? You’re teaching your users how to use Slack while you help them set up their account. Whenever possible it’s always advantageous to engage people by getting them to interact with your product versus giving them a walkthrough of your UI. Here is an in-depth overview of Slack’s onboarding process from the team at User Onboarding.


In summary, the Customer Success team should be concerned with user onboarding and see it as a pivotal opportunity to drive user engagement, adoption, and ultimately, success. Your users’ initial experiences will likely have a major impact on the overall success of the account. Think you have new user onboarding down pat? I challenge you to consider you to think of new features as further opportunities to onboard your users to make them more successful with your product. Incremental product releases must be accompanied by incremental onboarding if you want to continue to provide value to your current and future users.