User onboarding vs. customer onboarding - Rocketlane

The two terms are used interchangeably. To ensure good CX, it's important to distinguish between user onboarding and customer onboarding
February 7, 2022
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Imagine this: You own a beautiful holiday home that you want to make a must-stay on Airbnb. It’s the perfect house for a family getaway, a high school reunion, a quiet day indoors, maybe even an intimate wedding.

It can mean different things to different guests, and has the potential to give each of them an experience they’ll remember, memories they’ll cherish, and a holiday they’ll want to keep coming back to. 

Of course, you’d want them to make the most of your house, its sea-facing patio, the fully-stocked pantry with local ingredients. And they’d need to know how to work the heating, the locks, the switches. But their holiday is about so much more. It’s not just about the house, utilities, or location, but how they all come together to make it a uniquely memorable experience for every guest. It’s about giving them their money and time’s worth, so they enjoy their stay –  and even better –  extend their holiday, or come back next year.  

This is not very different from how things play out in the SaaS world, where you find yourself interacting with new customers and users. Each customer – much like a paying guest –  is looking for a specific outcome that only you can unlock for them, while each user, like any occupant of your house, needs to be familiarized with your house and what it offers. 

And that’s where customer onboarding and user onboarding come into play. Before we dive into onboarding, let’s back up a bit.

Who is a user?

In the SaaS world, a user is simply an individual who performs actions on a product to achieve a specific outcome. They look at your product as a means to get things done in a use case relevant to their day-to-day professional needs. In most cases, they’re not the decision-makers when it comes to making the purchase. 

A user could also be someone who signed up for a free trial, or uses a  freemium version of your product to solve a problem or for a particular outcome. 

Who is a customer?

A customer, by definition, is a business (or individual) who pays to use your product. They've become your customer because they’re sold on what your product can deliver.  

SaaS customers are those who make the buying decisions, while users are people within the customer’s organization who will eventually use the product in the context of their use cases.

User onboarding and customer onboarding: pathways to value 

SaaS onboarding is critical to help both customers and users derive value from your product, but thinking that you can onboard them the same way can be a costly mistake. Typically, SaaS customers and users are different groups of people with different situations, needs, and expectations. 

Users often don't have the time or motivation to consume everything about your product, while customers are more likely to be invested. This increased motivation comes, of course, with higher expectations. When you think about SaaS onboarding, it’s important to take these differences into account so you can design your onboarding workflows based on who it is for.  

What is user onboarding?

User onboarding focuses on getting the user to experience their aha moment, or moment of value, at the earliest with the least friction.  This could be through CTAs that help the user understand important actions, interactive walkthrough experiences, in-app product tours, tooltips, and help content. 

In essence, user onboarding is functional; it's designed to help people understand how to use a product. Going back to the Airbnb example, it’s about making sure anyone who lives in your house is familiar enough with it to find value in what it has to offer.
The key to good user onboarding is to keep it simple. Allow users to find value in the smoothest, fastest way. Just like you would place restaurant menus on the dining table or label the jars in your pantry so guests can enjoy a meal quickly, user onboarding should be designed to help new users find value with the least effort. 

What is customer onboarding?

This refers to the process of getting the customer engaged with your offering by orchestrating what each user/type of user needs to find value in your product, especially in the case of SaaS customer onboarding.

In this case, you can help them realize value through the right integrations, implementations, product demos, walkthroughs, and training while enabling communication and collaboration across multiple teams at your end and theirs. 

It’s easy to see how customer onboarding isn’t just about your product; it is relational in that it nurtures loyal customers by helping them see the value their payment is unlocking for them.  

You need to design customer onboarding for different customers and even different users on their team. Even though a handful of people might make decisions about purchasing or renewing the product, they need to see their users engaged and driving value from your product.

As you can expect, SaaS customer onboarding can be much more rigorous and long-drawn and requires a more hands-on and collaborative approach between you and the customer. 

What is the difference between customer onboarding and customer implementation?

User and customer onboarding goals 

Both users and customers have one thing in common: the onboarding experience they have can make or break their decision to continue with your product. 

With user onboarding, your goal should be to increase engagement among users and take them farther along their journey within the product. This explains why the product team typically handles user onboarding. 

The goal of customer onboarding, on the other hand, is to ensure all users within the customer organization have whatever they need to find value. The responsibility of customer onboarding is handled by Customer Onboarding, Customer Success, or Account Management, given the relational aspect of the process. It’s their job to shorten time to value and smoothen adoption so that customers can derive value from the product.

Four customer onboarding strategies for happy end users

Why customer onboarding matters

Selling a product is only one-half of a  sustainable revenue strategy. Done right, customer onboarding can help you improve retention, grow accounts, and encourage renewals and referrals. Effective customer onboarding can help you: 

  1. Shorten time to value, so you activate revenues faster
  2. Control churn by ensuring customers truly understand the value of your product or service

Customer onboarding is more than just providing the information they need to use your product. It’s about them, their needs, and expectations. It’s about them understanding what kind of value each new customer expects from you and getting them there smoothly and quickly. 

It’s your one chance to create a lasting impression and the tone for your relationship with the customer. 

Try Rocketlane for your customer onboarding needs

Rocketlane was born out of our own need for a product that teams could use to provide a consistently delightful onboarding experience for their customers. If you’d like to know more about how Rocketlane can help you provide excellent customer onboarding experiences, head here. If you’d rather try it right away, sign up here for a free trial.

More resources

  1. Who should own customer onboarding?
  2. How pre- and post-sales interactions impact your business 
  3. Customer onboarding templates for every stage of your onboarding journey

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Kirthika Soundararajan
Head - Content Marketing @ Rocketlane

All things content at Rocketlane. I run on coffee and cat videos. Follow me on Twitter @kirthikasrajan

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