8 Simple Steps To Reducing Churn With Successful User Onboarding

8 Simple Steps To Reducing Churn With Successful User Onboarding

Most customers will abandon products after their first login. Here’s how to reduce churn and create loyal, long-term customers.

Most customers will abandon products after their first login. Here’s how to reduce churn and create loyal, long-term customers.

To understand successful user onboarding, think about this: what happens when a customer signs up for your product or service?

Many people think that that moment—the signup—is when they’ve “won” the customer.

Unfortunately, in a world where 40-60% of software users will open an app once, and never log in again, that’s a dangerous mindset.

The reality is that for most businesses, there are two key milestones that need to be reached before a customer can reach their full value potential:

  1. The moment they sign up for your product, and…
  2. The moment they achieve their first “success” with your product

A disproportionate amount of your customer churn will take place between (1) and (2).

That’s where customers abandon your product because they get lost, don’t understand something, don’t get value from the product, or simply lose interest.

Bad onboarding—the process by which you help a customer go from (1) to (2)—can crush your retention rate, and undo all of that hard work you did to get your customers to convert in the first place.

It’s your job to make that transition as fast and smooth as possible for your customer, and that’s where great onboarding comes in.

Below are 8 steps you can take to ensure that your onboarding:

1) Set the Expectation of Excellent Customer Service

You might deliver the best customer service in the world, but if your customer never has the chance to find out, how will they know?

Companies that focus on great support can create tremendous goodwill with new customers by reaching out with proactive customer service.

One of my favorite examples include the handwritten notes sent by Stride (now ProsperWorks):

Other ways you can establish a foundation for great support include:

  • A personal, genuine email from a team member letting your customer know that you’re here to help.
  • A phone call (web companies almost never pick up the phone to call customers, so depending on your audience, it’s a great way to stand out)
  • An in-app message with a warm welcome (again, the most important part here is that it’s personal, and not a canned “You’re signed up!” message)

This is the email we use at Groove:

It has far more benefits for onboarding than just a welcome…more on that below.

2) Make Help Easy to Find

Beyond knowing that you’re there for them, your customers should never have to work hard to reach you; after all, the number one factor in building customer loyalty is reducing customer effort.

Don’t hide your support contact details. It should be easy to send you a message from any point in the customer’s experience with your product.

There are a number of solutions you can use here, but our favorite way to accomplish this is with Groove’s support widget:

This could also be as simple as putting your support email address or phone number on every page of your site and/or app.

3) Figure Out Customer Goals

In order to help your customers achieve success, it’s important to understand what success actually means to them.

You might have your own idea of customer success (for example, when a customer uses your product X times), but customers never think in those terms.

The best way to understand customer-defined success is simple: ask the customer.

That Groove onboarding email that I mentioned above? The one that asks the customer why they signed up?

Explainer video: You're in email

The answers that we get to that question are incredibly valuable when it comes to understanding how our customers define success.

We get responses ranging from “I wanted a help desk that could help us stop missing support emails” to “we needed something to help us respond to customers faster”, and everything in between.

Hidden in many of these responses is the definition of success for many customers.

Once we know that, it becomes a lot clear what our product must deliver on within the first few user sessions.

But you don’t have to send an email like ours; you could simply reach out to some of your customers and ask a straightforward question: “What would success with [your product] look like to you?”

The answers that you get will give you clarity into exactly what you need to do for successful onboarding.

4) Figure Out Success Triggers, and Guide Your Customers to Them

Beyond the greater “success” that your customers are looking for, there are smaller triggers that can indicate that a customer might be getting great value from your product.

These success triggers can be thought of as the actions that your most valuable customers almost always take.

At Groove, we know that customers who become long-term Groove users typically set up their support mailbox in their first session, they typically invite at least one co-worker to their Groove account, and they typically install at least one app from our Apps menu.

So we prioritized those behaviors as the actions we wanted new customers to focus on. It’s the workflow they get taken through as soon as they sign in to Groove for the very first time:

New User Mailbox
New User Mailbox

One of the reasons that Slack has become such a success is the “stickiness” of their product; it’s downright addictive.

And it all starts with their user onboarding, where Slack walks you through the steps that they know successful users complete quickly:

One simple and helpful rule that you can follow to design an onboarding flow that works: your users should never be left wondering what to do next, or why.

5) Figure Out Failure Triggers

Just like your most successful customers probably have behaviors in common, your customers that churn also probably do some of the same things.

One of those “red flags” that we’ve identified at Groove (through our usage metrics, and also simply by talking to users who left) is that it takes them a lot longer than average to set up things like their Twitter integration.

So we built a simple system that would alert us when a user would spend too much time on a particular task in multiple sessions.

Then, we reached out to the user:

This email got a 10% response rate, and 30% of the users were still customers after 30 days; more than 350% higher than our average free trial users (we normally convert at about 8%).

Identifying your “red flag metrics” can go a long way in stopping customers on their way out the door.

6) Determine Additional Friction Points

While it helps, it’s not necessary, especially at first, to go through the trouble of setting up tracking for red flag metrics.

One thing that can be really useful to identify friction in your onboarding flow is simply watching users as they get started with your product.

To do this, I recommend Inspectlet, a great tool that lets you watch user behavior on your site as if you were looking over your customers’ shoulders.

Watch where your users get stuck. See what they do right before they leave your site or app.

These sessions can often uncover insights that your customers would never tell you about.

7) Use Email to Bring Customers Back

Just because your customer didn’t follow through on the onboarding flow you’ve created, that doesn’t mean they’re gone.


Many customers—especially those who haven’t returned because they forgot or got distracted with other things—can be receptive to winback emails that nudge them to return.

When we notice that a new user hasn’t logged on in a few days, we send them a short email:

The benefits of this email are three-fold:

  1. It reinforces our commitment to supporting our customers through every step
  2. It collects some great feedback on other friction points that have caused customers to abandon our app
  3. It gets users back on track in our onboarding flow

Don’t assume that if a customer doesn’t show up for a few days, all is lost. But it’s your job to bring them back.

8) Never Stop Iterating

Your onboarding flow is never “done.”

It’s one of the few features that’s actually worth always improving.

That’s because the entire purpose of onboarding is retention.

That same metric that, when increased by as little as 5%, typically delivers profit increases ranging from 25% to 95%.

Onboarding is a process that you should constantly be trying to improve. And as you grow and your product evolves, you’ll need to keep your onboarding optimized to focus on the most important features and success triggers at any given time.

I recommend revisiting your onboarding flow with a top-down review at least once per quarter.

What Are YOUR Onboarding Challenges?

Having an effective onboarding flow can be the difference between a business that struggles to stay afloat, and one that grows quickly fueled by its loyal and happy customers.

I’m going to be devoting several more posts to onboarding on this blog in the coming months, and I’d love to know: what are your onboarding challenges? What do you need help with?

Let me know in the comments.

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