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High-Touch Customer Onboarding for SaaS Companies

High-Touch Customer Onboarding for SaaS Companies

Run this checklist to streamline high-touch onboarding for new SaaS customers.
Onboarding for Customer Success
The reasons behind churn
Essential metrics
High-touch onboarding:
Record customer details
Self-service signup
Free trial
Encourage users to do something rewarding
Offer three types of support
Check in with customers regularly
Provide education and guidance early
Monitor your metrics
Create a recurring onboarding process
Repeat the cycle for major updates
Get the Complete Guide to Customer Success for SaaS:

Onboarding for Customer Success

Onboarding and Customer Success

Customer Success ensures customers get maximum value from your app by offering solutions to every problem your customers experience. It is made up of:

  • Metrics
  • User experience
  • Onboarding
  • Communication
  • Feedback
  • Education and guidance

Every SaaS company is unique, with different apps and approaches. There’s no one-size-fits-all guide to Customer Success or onboarding, but there are some basic things customers will expect and best practices to make sure your customer gets value from your product.

Assuming your service is a good fit for your customer, all they need to do is understand how it can work for them. That’s the essence of onboarding, and customer success is the overall idea that includes support and communication before and after the onboarding process is through. While a lot of simple apps with free plans use low-touch onboarding, when your company scales you’re going to need to do things differently

What is High-Touch User Onboarding?

High-touch, or ‘Concierge‘ onboarding is an approach that treats each customer differently according to their specific needs. It involves looking after a user and keeping them around long enough for them to get something out of your product. For this to work, you’ll need to offer a helping hand setting up and whenever they need support through text or voice chat.

Low-touch onboarding with a passive support system works fine for self-explanatory apps used by customers that aren’t making you a lot of money. But as soon as you start offering complex apps to enterprise organizations, you’re going to need to start treating your customers as humans, not email addresses.

All Aboard makes software to help previously low-touch companies transition into high-touch to increase retention and revenue. The app even offers training for customer success managers. Check it out here.

If you want more control over the onboarding process and to keep track of everything yourself, read on to find out how to reduce churn and make your customers really want to stick around.

The reasons behind churn

Customer success and quality onboarding is used to fight churn. Churn is when users become less engaged, disenfranchised and stop using your app altogether. It is a process, not an immediate decision. Because of this, good Customer Success teams can stop it in its tracks.

Behind every customer’s decision to stop using your product, there are forces at work that can be controlled, and those that cannot.


  • Not the right features or price
  • Customer goes bankrupt
  • CMO wants to switch technology
  • Customer wants features that were never intended to be a part of your product


  • Customer doesn’t understand how to the full use of out the product
  • Customers have a false impression of what the product actually does (they might sign up after just reading the headline of the website)
  • The customer doesn’t use the product frequently enough
  • The customer isn’t inducted quickly enough
  • They don’t understand the value

New customer onboarding can be a smooth process if you use a high touch method and address these controllable reasons.

Gainsight’s article on customer success offers reassuring words – what looks to be churn could be a long onboarding process:

“If the implementation process is short (less than 30 days), the likelihood is that every customer is using the product in a very similar way, or at least with a very similar configuration.

Longer onboarding projects in general typically mean that there is a lot of complexity and/or configurability in your product that that each customer may exit the onboarding project with some use cases that are very specific to their needs.”

Essential metrics

There is one basic metric for customer success, and it’s not a particularly mathematical one:


To make feedback into numerical data, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) is here to help.

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a single number metric that represents the entire customer base of your company. You can gather this data and formulate it into an NPS score yourself — this is the easy part.

The idea is to ask your customers one question: On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend us to others?

NPS works on the basis that customers can be divided into three categories based on their numerical answer to the question:

Promoters (9-10)
Passives (7-8)
Detractors (1-6)

Perfectly onboarded customer who are good fits for your app should always be in the 9-10 range, while anything below might either be a bad fit or a customer that needs more care an attention. 

Using NPS to get an overall pulse on your customers is one thing, but reviewing each customer’s feedback individually is where the real power lies.

High-touch onboarding:

Record customer details

First things first – you need to record the customer’s details for safe keeping. By integrating the form fields below with your CRM you can shift over most of these details automatically (including their customer ID), but if not, you can always go ahead and type them.

Remember that you can add to or edit the above form fields as you wish, or use them for similar purposes in your own templates!

Self-service signup

Ask for as little information as possible to begin with. A bare minimum tactic we use on our own website is requesting just an email address. 

After that, a confirmation email is sent and the user can then create a password and activate their account.

There’s no need to involve yourself in the signup process. It is more efficient for both you and your customers if it is automated – it’s unlikely they will need guidance to get through it, anyway.

A little more complicated

Free trial

This extensive post on Inbound condenses information from 40 articles about SaaS free trials to give you an idea about how to view them with an eye for optimization. Keep in mind:

  • Customers are likely using the free trial to get value out of your product as opposed to purely testing it out.
  • Like signup, free trials are another self-service process. It’s probably best not to call every customer who signs up for a free trial.
  • It should be as long as it might take for a customer using 10 other SaaS products to reach their Aha! moment.
  • Don’t ask for a credit card right away.
  • Ensure sure every decision in your free trial process is metrics-driven.

There are different styles of free trial signups. The more automated ones, used on HubSpot and Process Street, let you get underway immediately. 


After entering a few personal details, there are six setup stages, most of which just explain what the product actually does.

After the six stages, one of which was a concise explanation on enabling HubSpot on your site, you’re presented with a list of things you can get started on.


Marketo uses a style so personal that it actually curates the users who will be awarded a free trial.

Curating users like this is a double-edged sword. It allows for a high-touch approach, speaking to every customer before they even use the software, assessing how important they are and how much attention they should get. It also could dissuade customers who just want to quickly get access, see how it runs and ask questions when they need to. It’s an extra hurdle to jump over.

Encourage users to do something rewarding

The Aha! Moment

A basic definition of what makes an onboarded customer is the Aha! Moment. It’s that point where a user understands the core functionality of your app and gotten value from it.

Twitter’s Aha! Moment is defined as when a user follows 30 people. The metrics suggest that this is when a user gets hooked.
Facebook’s Aha! Moment comes when a user gains 10 friends over a 7 day time span.
Dropbox’s is defined as the moment a user uploads a file to a folder.

Associating immediate value with your app will help you retain customers. Whether or not what they do first is actually valuable at all is less important at this stage than just that feeling of accomplishment.

Salesforce encourages you to build an app right out of the box during its first tour of the program:

Salesforce App Quick Start

Process Street

One of the first things you can do when going into Process Street is run an example template to get a feel for how it all works. Even checking off tasks, by human nature, is a rewarding process.


Aesthetics are a powerful tool. To help someone to feel like an app is really theirs, they could be offered to customize something using your tools. HubSpot offers this as one of its first features.


Slack’s version of the automated onboarding process comes in the form of Slackbot, a chirpy chat simulation that helps the user get set up as well as being able to handle other messages, such as the ‘hello’ I sent it.

Offer three types of support


Support provided when the user submits a ticket asking for help.

Although the least desirable kind, the need for passive support is inevitable. Helpdesk software like Help Scout allows you to set up a system to accept tickets from users and then organizes them inside the app so your customer success team can immediately see what needs taking care of. This is an excellent alternative to the old way of doing things — a disorganized constant flow of emails that can easily slip through the cracks.

Here are 5 Help Scout features Paddle uses to provide better customer service


CMSWire explains what proactive support involves:

“Proactive support is primarily concerned with identifying and correcting issues before the customer has felt any impact from them — before they contact support. Customer support identifies such problems by analyzing customer usage and account configuration data from within the SaaS, in combination with CRM data and support tools.”

For proactive support to work, you need to set up notifications tied to events in your app. This will be different for every different SaaS company. Red signals could include inactivity, not engaging with a new feature, or spending less time using the app since a recent update.

Zendesk provides a proactive ticketing service as part of its full-service helpdesk software


Predictive support works on a basis that you can predict where your customer is going to run into a problem. Like proactive support, it’s only possible with a system in place that recognizes user behaviour specific to your app. Predictive support is a complex, data-driven solution that will take a lot of insight into user behaviour before it works. CMSWire recommends you:

“Develop a report that leverages metadata from the SaaS, CRM, and Support tool to identify “at-risk” customers. When you develop your first at-risk report, start small, using just two or three indicators, such as the customer hasn’t logged on or saved any data. As you experience additional issues, you can always add more indicators. For example, review churn each month and ask if you could have detected a lost customer by a predictive process (such as a change in the number of transactions or reduction in activity level). If you find such an indicator, add it to your report”.

For companies in a stage of growth so early you can’t manage predictive support setup alone, Cloudera is a solution worth looking into.

Feedback from Support

Your Support service is the best place to get feedback from your customers. CustomerICare, an app that integrates live chat with customers through your website, does a great job at this.

Unsurprisingly, it makes use of its own software and provides a live chat function from anywhere on the website, setting you up with a real person as soon as you input your email address. Here you address any difficulties you might be having, or, in the eyes of the company, provide valuable feedback on how they might be able to get you to upgrade or stay longer.


New signups for Slack meet a friendly onboarding robot, Slackbot. While useful for setting an account up Slackbot becomes useless the moment you need to do anything more complex. On Slack’s support submission page there is also a call for feedback:

Most of the time, busy customers will give up before seeking support. In these numerous cases you will probably have to contact them to find out why they stopped using the service.

Check in with customers regularly

CustomerICare has put together Slideshare presentation about onboarding experience with Intercom that gives a very informative 99-slide rundown of their email strategies. While this is a low-touch approach to onboarding (as it is automated), you could apply similar strategies in a high-touch way.

For example, instead of sending an automated email when a new customer signs up, you could react to the alert it generates by sending a unique email that takes into account that customer’s needs.

In high-touch onboarding, the needs of each customer are individually recognized. While they can be segmented and profiled, the final decision on how to act on the metrics should be made by a human being.

Below is Intercom’s automated email process documented by CustomerICare. Consider applying similar ideas to your onboarding procedure but treating each customer individually. While high-touch onboarding is a lot more time consuming, keeping high-value customers looked after will pay off.

Intercom advises giving the customers a three day period before sending out A/B emails based on engagement. For more complex SaaS, the customer success team might want to reach out sooner.

For inactive users, CustomerICare targeted groups depending on the length of their inactivity.

Even after a full 14 days of inactivity, the 2nd email sent had a 50% click rate and a 15% reply rate, often containing useful feedback or an apology about being on holiday.

Another aspect of being careful with your emails is the art/science of not being a nag. This post from Customer.io explains what not to do.

What classifies a nagging email?

  • It assumes the recipient already knows the product is worth their time
  • It assumes that since someone signed up for a trial, they’re immediately ready to buy
  • It repeats the same request, over and over.
  • It doesn’t focus on how the reader benefits, only the sender
  • It’s impersonal, cold, and solely concerned with making a sale

In the early stages of growth, communicating with customers who are all at a certain stage of the funnel will help you to get a feel for their needs relative to their time using the product and optimize for the future. However, customer segments shouldn’t be created to facilitate your laziness but to easily communicate which customers need what kind of attention.

Provide education and guidance early

If your app has a high learning-curve and is packed full of features, you’ll want to be very clear about how you can get your customers to use the part of the app they want. 

A common cause of churn is being overwhelmed, deciding there’s not enough time and finding something simpler. It doesn’t matter how many great features you have if no one can devote the time to learn them.

A high-touch onboarding approach for SaaS involves reaching out to each customer individually. Once you’ve made the sale, you can focus on educating your customer instead of acquiring them.

There are two types of information you’ll want to provide during early outreach:


Offer text and voice chat to help new users get set up with your software. Companies with complicated products like Salesforce and Kissmetrics can be configured in a lot of different ways because they don’t just do one thing.

Customer Success teams for companies like these onboard customers by reaching out and offering technical guidance as part of the pricing. A customer who gets the best out of your product is more likely to stick around than a confused one.

If your app is complex, you need to be reaching out to new customers individually and offering help getting set up in a way that works best for them.


Your Customer Success team should offer educational guidance to customers in the onboarding process. This includes tips on industry best practice and how to tailor the kind of software you offer to their needs.

Signing up for a new product shouldn’t just mean making use of a service not previously available – it should mean gaining a new understanding. For example, Kissmetrics customer success teams offer information about the most important analytics to track, whether to monitor organizations or individual users, etc. This information is universally useful and could be easily applied to different products, but the point is to help your customers get results so they have no reason to look elsewhere.


Monitor your metrics

If your onboarding process isn’t working, you’ll be able to tell by how it’s affecting your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Onboarding failures mean less customers, so it’s likely to have less of an impact on your Net Promoter Score than your revenue.

This shouldn’t stop you getting feedback, though. And a great thing about high-touch onboarding is that feedback should come naturally. While you’re teaching new customers to get the best out of your app, they’ll be teaching you where they get stuck.

The same goes for support tickets, a valuable source of actionable information that reflects not just on the experience of one user but countless others who could be having the same problem silently.

Create a recurring onboarding process

Because you want to stay away from treating all users the same regardless of their needs, you should run an onboarding process for every single new user. This is not to treat customers with broad strokes, but to make sure you don’t miss anything and to keep track.

Process Street, where you’re reading this right now, is the perfect place to create and assign your standard operating procedures. You can either use this guide as a checklist or create a custom process by signing up.

Assignment, Comments & Activity Ticker

Assigning checklists to teams is at the heart of Process Street. The whole point is to provide a dashboard for your team’s activity and hold members accountable for checklists or tasks.

Onboarding, one of the most commonly ran processes inside of Process Street, will always be a part of your business model. When you’re having to do the same thing over and over again it pays to have a digital version of the document to:

  • Save paper
  • Save time
  • Assign unlimited users
  • Post comments, @mentions and attachments
  • Make edits and unlimited different versions
  • Run new instances of processes/checklists in one click

Integrate with your existing SaaS apps

Chances are that you’re using a CRM, helpdesk software and several other SaaS products — including your own. Process Street’s integration with Zapier means that it can act as a trigger for over 500 apps. Some examples include:

  • Update status in CRM when onboarding checklist is completed
  • Feed Process Street activity into Customer Success Slack channel
  • Re-run and assign all old checklists when your SaaS app has a major update
  • Automatically generate an invoice by completing a checklist
  • Automatically invite new employees to Process Street
  • Run a Customer Support checklist when a user submits a ticket

For more information on the topic, check out our free business process automation guide.

P.S — Process Street now integrates with Yammer! Comments, @mentions and attachments all feed into Yammer so you can keep your notifications all in one place.

Click here to create your Process Street account

Repeat the cycle for major updates

According to Samuel Hulick, author of The Elements of User Onboarding, the onboarding process continues well past the point where the user is a dedicated Promoter.

“A very simple example would be if somebody has been using your product for six months, they’re totally up to speed, and you release a brand new feature that’s going to significantly increase their abilities. That’s an onboarding opportunity there.”


A great way to engage groups of customers face-to-face is with Q&A webinars. Here you can talk to people as a group and as individuals, getting a feel for who needs more help and what issues are generally stopping users getting the best out of your app.

HubSpot features a brilliant checklist for setting up and promoting a webinar. If you’re looking for the right software, GoToWebinar is recommended and offers a 30 day free trial.

Individual Outreach

It’s likely you’re introducing a new feature because people have been asking for it. Get the best results and maximize customer happiness by letting these people know when the feature has been added. Tagging tickets in ZenDesk or Help Scout is a great way to keep track of this.


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