If you're a product person building onboarding, you already know the obvious advice: Keep it simple! Personalize! Reduce friction!
This advice is directionally correct, but similar to the dating advice of "just be yourself" or the ever-useful "it's all in your head".
None of this is wrong. It's just so abstract that it becomes hard to implement. Plus, you're more likely to read this advice from someone trying to sell you consulting on LinkedIn than you are from users.
More useful knowledge is specific, actionable and comes directly from the people we seek to serve. That's why I surveyed software decision-makers (people who decide what software their companies buy and use) to find out how they think about onboarding and what they've seen work.
In this blog post, we'll explore 11 non-obvious user onboarding statistics that we juiced from the survey results!
Some are obvious – like removing crypto references!
If you know any product managers or customer success folks working on their onboarding plans for 2024, send this their way.
Who should read this, and who should skip it?
This article will be most useful for:
- First-time product managers, customer success people, or anyone looking to better understand what user onboarding is and how it differs across the SaaS industry.
- Those tasked with improving their own company's customer onboarding process and looking for inspiration. Check out the onboarding best practices at the bottom.
- Anyone in charge of onboarding who needs to justify more resourcing and commitment from their company (the stats here are particularly helpful).
Table of Contents
- What is user onboarding?
- What types of companies should care about a customer onboarding strategy?
- Stat 1: What do users expect about their onboarding experience?
- Stat 2: How does good customer onboarding correlate with customer retention?
- Stat 3: Do users prefer human help or in-app guidance?
- Stat 4: What sort of in-app guidance do users prefer?
- Stat 5: How much can a welcome video help the onboarding process?
- Stat 6: Do users find microsurveys annoying?
- Stat 7: Onboarding checklists and their impact
- Stat 8: How onboarding differs for mobile apps
- Stat 9: How long does good onboarding take?
- Stat 10: Does good onboarding ever end?
- Stat 11: Do users ever need to repeat onboarding?
- The cost of a bad onboarding program
- The signs of a strong onboarding process
What is user onboarding?
There are basically two types of user onboarding:
- New user onboarding: rolling out the red carpet for a new user to help them understand the key features that will most effectively address their pain points. It can also involve completing onboarding tasks that are required for them to get up and running in your tool.
- Existing user onboarding: onboarding starts with a user's first session but doesn't end there. Just because a user is already using your app, doesn't mean there aren't certain features they aren't taking advantage of.
Onboarding is sometimes associated with self-service support, but it doesn't have to be. Across the SaaS industry, some companies will take a more self-service approach to onboarding, and others will involve human team embers to help shape the customer journey. Your onboarding goals will depend on your company's objectives.
Strategies that focus on self-serve onboarding tend to focus on "build once, use many" investments or leverage off-the-shelf user onboarding tools. Things like onboarding content, knowledge base articles, in-app messaging, or onboarding experiences like checklists or a progress bar.
Human-powered onboarding requires playbooks that customer success managers can use to structure a formal onboarding program that customers receive post-sale.
What types of companies should care about their customer onboarding process?
All software companies should care about customer onboarding because who doesn't want happy customers? But it's about more than a frictionless UX. It requires a solid, well-thought-out customer onboarding process to make customers feel welcome and ensure they stay loyal. Loyalty in this context means customers that sign a bigger contract (for B2B products) or renew but also spread the word about your product to other customers and potential customers.
As you'll see below, good onboarding is a key driver of customer experience overall and is correlated with high-impact metrics like retention.
11 user onboarding statistics worth knowing
To obtain this data, we surveyed software decision-makers. Our panel included respondents in the US only, but based on our experience, we think the results generalize pretty well to other geographies.
Stat 1: What do users expect from their onboarding experience?
89% of potential customers will consider switching to other solutions if the onboarding process for a tool they're currently using is complicated. Obviously, this applies more to product-led orgs, where users have more choices and can try them before they buy.
Of all the user onboarding statistics, this one should probably scare you the most if you don't have an organizational focus on user onboarding. There are lots of variables you can't control during a sales or activation cycle – the prospect's budget, their attention span, etc. But one variable you can control is the onboarding experience, so it's worth nailing to prevent unnecessary leakage from your funnel.
Stat 2: How does good customer onboarding correlate with customer retention?
65% of customers said they would consider giving a software tool with feature deficiencies a “second chance” if the tool provided a good onboarding experience.
This is obviously striking – who wants to use software that is lacking in some way? What this stat showcases is that functionality is just part of the story. If you can't actually use a tool, it doesn't matter how much functionality it might have.
A strong onboarding process and ongoing education mean users can leverage what exists. It's hard to say that about another tool out there, even if it has flashy features.
Stat 3: Do users prefer human help or in-app guidance?
57% of respondents prefer a mix of self-help and human-guided onboarding, as opposed to 24% preferring self-help only. That works out to 76% of people who prefer some form of human-guided onboarding from your team.
This team most often falls within the customer success org, though it can also be part of sales.
If you don't have a dedicated onboarding team, there may be an individual whose primary responsibility is customer onboarding. Or, in the case of a smaller company, that job may be done by the customer success team as a whole.
If you don't have a dedicated customer onboarding team, it's important to recognize that you're playing from behind. This makes it even more important to leverage an onboarding tool to help deliver a personalized experience to your users that can be delivered without lots of human effort.
There are two types of in-app guides:
- Proactive experiences proactively guide and nudge users. Proactive experiences include product tours, interactive walkthroughs, or nudges that incorporate videos and help docs.
- Reactive experiences react to what new customers are interested in. An example of a reactive widget is CommandBar's Magic Searchbar: users search for what they're interested in and see results that match their search.
Combining proactive and reactive experiences is crucial for providing a more engaging experience for new users and dialing in your customer onboarding process.
Stat 4: What sort of in-app guidance do users prefer?
There are a bunch of different types of in-app guidance you can provide to users. Sometimes the method you choose will be dictated by circumstance. For example, if you release a new feature with a lot of nuances, you’ll probably want either a video walkthrough, product tour, or both to step through it. That said, it’s helpful to know what types of in-app guidance users actually enjoy.
Of the users we surveyed, step-by-step product tours were most popular, with 81% of users indicating they enjoyed onboarding experiences that include them. That was followed by 54% for walkthrough videos, 50% for help documentation, 43% for onboarding checklists, and just 30% for chatbots.
Stat 5: How much can a welcome video help the onboarding process?
54% of users said they appreciate when companies use videos as part of their onboarding process.
This might seem a bit low. Why create onboarding video material if only half of your users will enjoy it? Remember, there are a lot of dry, drab onboarding videos out there. A well-crafted intro video can help users understand the product and its features, resulting in a more effective onboarding process.
However, it's not enough to create one welcome video and call it a day. If your app caters to different user personas and use-cases, you probably want different videos for each. You should make sure users can find video content that matters to them. Connecting your videos to an experience like CommandBar's Magic Searchbar is a great way to ensure your users see relevant videos.
Stat 6: Do users find microsurveys annoying?
Microsurveys are a great way to ensure a personalized experience during customer onboarding. How users respond to those surveys can help you decide what experiences to show them later on. A good onboarding tool will let you target experiences like product tours and walkthroughs based on how users respond to a survey.
But do users find microsurveys annoying? Yes, yes they do. 86% said they find pushy feedback prompts annoying.
Don’t lose hope if you want to personalize your onboarding experience via a survey. Most in-app feedback prompts are extremely annoying: they pop up at inappropriate times, look non-native (like an ad), and occupy a lot of screen real estate. Avoid these problems, and users will be much less annoyed than they were in our survey.
Another option is to gather user feedback outside of a dedicated survey or feedback widget.
If you use CommandBar's Magic Searchbar, one of our favorite best practices is to look at what types of things users are searching for during their first few sessions. These can give you immense insight into what new users find confusing in your onboarding process. For example, they might not understand certain terms they see in your product and will search in the searchbar using their own words. If you don't have a universal search experience like Magic Searchbar, then you may be missing these important nuggets of feedback and your user onboarding could suffer as a result.
If you see patterns in your users' deadend searches, consider adding articles about those topics to your knowledge base and highlighting them as a featured resource. You can also consider highlighting those articles on the same page where you saw the deadend searches coming from.
Stat 7: Onboarding checklists and their impact
The onboarding checklist can often get a bad wrap since a poorly done checklist can be super frustrating. In our sample. 43% of users said onboarding checklists were a helpful piece of the onboarding puzzle.
The key to an onboarding checklist is to make different versions of the checklist for each of your personas and use-cases. There's nothing worse than a generic onboarding checklist that shows you onboarding tasks that are completely irrelevant. If you do this, you risk user fatigue -- they may stop paying attention to future checklists you send their way, which reduces the effectiveness of onboarding tools.
Another best practice for checklists is to make sure to include a progress bar. Without a progress bar, customers can feel like your onboarding process is never-ending.
Stat 8: How onboarding differs for mobile apps
Onboarding on mobile is usually easier than on desktop, at least according to our data. 60% of users said they felt like desktop apps do a worse job than mobile apps at explaining how the product works.
However, this might be biased by the fact that mobile apps are often simpler than their desktop counterparts. They’re often designed to be used on the go, for a specific reason, in sessions that last just a few seconds.
Onboarding for mobile apps should be designed with a mobile-first approach, focusing on simplicity, speed, and ease of use to optimize the experience for users on the go. We've all experienced this as users: you download a new app on your phone, can't figure it out, and quickly delete it. This limited attention space on mobile means that companies with a mobile-first strategy need to spend even more time crafting their onboarding process to ensure a good customer experience for users without a lot of time to dedicate to learning your app.
Not all onboarding tools are optimized for mobile. Make sure to pick one that is so you don't sacrifice the quality of your user onboarding experience.
Stat 9: How long does good onboarding take?
78% of users said they expect to learn how a new software tool works in a week or less. 34% said a day or less! This speaks to the fact that users have less time and higher expectations than they used to. Gone are the days when it was acceptable to ship a huge manual along with a software tool, expecting a user to learn it over a few months (or years!).
However, this stat is also a bit misleading. "Learning" a software tool is a continuous process that never really ends. What we take away from this is that users expect to have a basic working grasp of a tool in a week or less, meaning they can use it to achieve something useful. Don't interpret this to mean you have to jam all training into a week. Pick the things that matter most, make sure users understand those, and then utilize techniques like progressive disclosure to reveal new features and use cases over time.
Stat 10: Does good onboarding ever end?
Users want ongoing education to help them learn about how a product evolves: 79% of respondents expect continuous training of some sort.
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous stat. While attention spans are shortening and users want to get up and running faster, they understand that they aren't going to master new tools overnight. Also, modern software evolves much more quickly than the days of software updates shipped via CD-ROMs. New features are shipped weekly, which carries with it the need to explain to users what has changed and how they can wield it to their advantage.
Stat 11: Do users ever need to repeat onboarding?
95% (yes, 95%!) of respondents said they value the ability to replay training and walkthroughs in the future. This is out of whack with most tools that surface onboarding experiences the first time a user logs into a product and then asks them to check out their help center in the future should they have questions.
This is a huge missed opportunity! Here are some ways to satisfy user appetite for repeat training:
- Create a page in your help center with a list of all training that took place during onboarding, and let users click to replay them.
- If you're using a tool like CommandBar's Magic Searchbar, you can let users replay training in response to searches. For example, a search like "redo onboarding" could show the onboarding checklist they completed when they were new.
- If a user hasn't taken advantage of a feature or a use case, nudge them to redo the walkthrough of that feature. They can always dismiss it if they aren't interested in it for some reason.
The cost of a bad onboarding program
As these stats show, poor onboarding experiences can result in lost customers, decreased customer lifetime value, and damage to the company's reputation. Many enterprise organizations rate poor onboarding as a top source of churn among their customer base.
It's often said that it costs much less to retain a customer than to acquire a new one. Users who are in your product are already interested in using your app. They may have clicked on an ad to get there. Don't waste your company's marketing budget by letting users like this drop out of your funnel. Quality user onboarding can reduce customer acquisition costs by converting more of these new users into new customers.
The signs of a strong onboarding process
As we've seen in the numbers above, a strong customer onboarding process results in high customer retention rates, customer health scores, NPS scores, and customer lifetime value. However, it's important that you be specific when picking your onboarding goals. It's easy to say, "we want our onboarding program to help us win more customers, spend less to acquire, spend less to support them, and keep them at a higher rate."
That said, if you pick so many onboarding goals, you are unlikely to be able to optimize all of them.
Our advice: pick one metric and optimize your onboarding experience for that metric. Implement best practices that you feel good moving that number. Once you feel you have that metric managed, you can move on to another one.
For example, if your company is receiving a high volume of support tickets (a common problem in the SaaS industry), you could focus your onboarding program on encouraging users to find answers in your product. Some important considerations to keep in mind when selecting this metric are the time constraints of your users. You need to make sure that self-service help doesn't mean wading through articles. Select an onboarding tool that brings useful onboarding content into your product so your users can self-serve help without wasting time.
Another pro tip: new employees are great at writing help articles because they can empathize with new users.
Onboarding success and company culture
Company leaders play a crucial role in fostering a culture that prioritizes onboarding success. A good litmus test for this is whether there is a stage in employee onboarding where new hires are onboarded onto their own product.
Recent hires are great people to test out new onboarding strategies with since they're new to the company's product. What's more, new team members can be a great source of product feedback since they will be approaching the product with a fresh perspective.
And this might sound counterintuitive, but employee retention is correlated with the extent to which employees value the product they are working on. New employees want to feel like they are part of something special, not just a revenue-generating machine.
In today's competitive software landscape, customer success and customer service are more important than ever. By considering these 11 non-obvious user onboarding statistics and implementing effective onboarding strategies, product managers and customer success teams can ensure that they transform new users into loyal customers.
Don't underestimate the power of a great onboarding experience; it's the key to unlocking long-term customer satisfaction and retention.