How to improve customer onboarding and retention with insights

Product onboarding is one of the biggest opportunities you get to communicate your product’s value. The problem is, most companies aren’t doing it very well—at all. 

OpenView surveyed 500+ SaaS leaders and found that, for companies who offer a free version of their product, only 13% believe the product can explain itself to new users. Among companies without a free version, the results were even worse—only 5% felt the product can thoroughly explain itself to new users. 

Kyle Poyar, VP of Marketing at OpenView, says

“The data shows that we’re still in the early days of smooth in-product onboarding. Almost nobody, even those with a free offering, believes that their product can thoroughly explain itself to new users.” 

However, for companies who do figure out how to do this well, there’s a lot of revenue opportunity. Research shows improving retention by 1% improves your bottom line by around 7%

And if you were thinking customer insights could help with retention, you’d be 100% right. 

Customers are your best resource for improving onboarding

Most onboarding flows highlight features because talking about features and mechanisms is easy. But “getting good at using this software” isn’t why your customer signed up. 

Basecamp’s Ryan Singer explains, “Proficiency with software is never the goal...It’s always something else. It’s always ‘I want more time’ or ‘I want to feel less anxiety because I don’t have things under control’...It’s always something external” 

Onboarding is about the customer, not the product. This reframing is one of the most powerful steps a company can take.

Three customer segments that help refine onboarding 

There are few segments in particular that are useful for creating or optimizing your onboarding flow: 

  • Recent signups: these customers help you understand the value they expect and how onboarding has or hasn’t helped them 
  • Power users: these customers help you understand how they use the product, what features are high-impact for them, and how you can highlight that for other users
  • Recent cancellations: these customers help you figure out what went wrong and where to improve

When you know what provides the most value to new signups (i.e. what convinces them to buy your product and hang around), you can optimize their path to that value in onboarding. 

This is best illustrated through examples, so let’s look at a few. 

Case study #1: Removing roadblocks improves completion rates by 32% 

Appcues was sitting at a 13% completion rate for moving new users from sign up to the “Aha!” moment—the moment when everything clicks and customers realize the value in a product. Thirteen percent was an okay rate, but Appcues knew they could improve.  

When they closely monitored onboarding sessions, they made a crucial discovery: most customers weren’t making it to a critical value page. With the help of a simple redirect, Appcues improved the value journey in onboarding, and completion rates jumped to 32%. Director of Marketing, Ty Magnin, explains, “That means 150% more new users signing up for Appcues are finding their Aha Moment. Which means the world for our activation rate.”

Case study #2: Boosting day one retention above 55%

Postfunnel tells the story of newsreader app Inoreader. One day Victor Stankov, head of growth and operations for the company that produced Inoreader, realized active user growth had alarmingly dropped off. He said “We were effectively losing 70% of registered users on day one, and about half of the remaining ones over the next month.” 

Stankov had thought reading content with Inoreader was the big “Aha!” moment he needed to drive customers towards. But this wasn’t the case. For power users, the app’s real value was in the advanced features. 

Stankov’s team made updates and pushed out changes around advanced features. And at the time PostFunnel published the story, Inoreader’s day one retention rate was above 55%.

Case study #3: Increasing conversion 170% in four months for $1 million additional revenue

This last case study marries tactics from multiple lessons in this chapter to show just how much ROI is packed into customer feedback. 

Moz was already successful when they hired Conversion Rate Experts (CRE). Moz had Fortune 500 clients and had done plenty of work around optimization on their own. Even so, CRE made huge improvements using customer feedback. To gather this feedback, CRE asked

  • Paying members what they liked, why they signed up, and how they’d describe the service to a friend 
  • Non-paying members what would make them sign up, which tools they liked the most and the least, what their most time-consuming SEO tasks were
  • Churned members why they had canceled and what would bring them back

This feedback, plus a few other techniques, helped the CRE team do a number of things:

  • Design a new landing page that generated a 52% increase in sales of Moz’s PRO membership. Feedback from customers helped the CRE team identify what information was missing and where customers were most confused. 
  • Craft a special offer for hesitant buyers. Customer feedback revealed many site visitors were impressed with Moz but unconvinced the tools would work for them. So Moz offered a 30-day full-featured membership for $1. The initial offer email asked customers who didn’t claim this offer to explain why. Turns out, 500 of them had the same concern. Moz and the CRE team addressed this concern to earn even more subscribers. 
  • Keep hesitant buyers around with email onboarding. Customers needed to experience quick wins with Moz to stick around another month. So CRE and Moz crafted an onboarding email series with 10 quick and easy ways subscribers could boost their SEO ranking in their first 30 days.  

Combined, these actions “helped Moz achieve a conversion increase around 170% over four months and generate more than $1 million in additional revenue.” 

To improve your own onboarding, use the qualitative feedback you have stored in learnwhy to determine what’s causing friction for users and what they value the most. From there, work with your team to eliminate roadblocks and get customers to value even faster.

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