Want Loyal Customers? Start with Effective Onboarding

Loyal customers are crucial to a brand's success. So how do you get them? First, by designing a customer onboarding experience that sets the tone.


Jana Barrett

October 19, 2016

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Companies love new customers. They’re proof of success. This customer found your company, made it down the sales funnel, and clicked purchase. Check.

But the path to customer success has just begun. Will they stick around for years or fall off after just a few weeks? The second a prospect becomes a customer, they begin a new relationship with your brand. It’s up to you to determine how that relationship progresses.

Enter customer onboarding. Instead of throwing new customers into the deep end, companies design customer journeys to guide them toward success. They familiarize customers with their brand through automated nurtures, personalized account management, and a cadence of useful content.

Effective onboarding leads to happier customers. When they feel guided and supported, they’re more likely to stick around, spend more, and spread the word. In this post we’ll discuss how a thoughtful, customer-centric onboarding process can pave the way to customer loyalty.

Creating Loyal Customers Through Effective Onboarding

Why does customer loyalty matter?

Marketers have traditionally focused on customer acquisition. They fuel the engine by ushering in new leads and devoting resources to helping sales close deals. And since many companies base marketing and sales success off lead creation and conversion, their performance metrics put customer acquisition on a pedestal.

However, most companies recognize the value of customer retention these days. Whether or not their budgets support their beliefs, around 70% of companies say it costs more to acquire a customer than to keep one. Plus, studies show that increasing customer retention rates by 5% can increase a company’s profits by 25% or more.

Loyal customers impact profitability in a number of ways:

  • They offer better insights. Loyal customers are more invested in a company’s success. As a result, they’re more likely to share valuable feedback that helps the business grow. Plus, when companies act on customer feedback, it demonstrates their appreciation and bolsters customer loyalty.

  • They give more referrals and recommendations. Advocacy is a key stage in the standard customer lifecycle. Happy customers will often recommend their provider to friends and colleagues. These word-of-mouth referrals are far and away the most effective form of advertising. Over 84% of consumers say that they somewhat or completely trust peer recommendations, according to Nielsen.

  • They lead to revenue. Reducing churn will ultimately increase revenue for subscription-based companies. If you can keep more customers on board, you can offset acquisition and onboarding costs. For Entrepreneurs demonstrates how companies can accelerate their growth by achieving “Negative Churn”—or outweighing revenue losses from churn with account expansions, upsells, and cross-sells.

Effective onboarding sets the tone

If loyal customers are crucial to a brand’s success, then how can companies design a “stickier” customer journey? To start, by acing customer onboarding.

New customers are highly malleable. During onboarding, they’re forming an initial opinion about the brand. A positive or negative first experience can majorly impact that relationship, and create a ripple effect that alters overall brand perception. Many marketing and customer success teams have become more deliberate about setting the right tone from the start.

Customer success teams—often the first point of contact for customers post-sale—tend to leverage personalization during onboarding. They’ll tailor calls, recommendations, and shared resources to the customer’s needs, cutting through the automation to offer a human touch. Studies show that a bit of personalization can go a long way, so customer success managers are pivotal to customer experience.

Marketers often “drip” resources, success tips, and calls for feedback to new customers. They’ll use email or other knowledge venues, like the company blog, to share helpful content that arms customers with the tools they need to succeed. Paired with the personal influence of customer success, these onboarding campaigns can grease the wheels of product or service adoption.

According to the 2016 State of Marketing Report, more than two thirds of marketers who’ve created onboarding journeys for customers say they’ve had a positive impact on business. These customer journeys engender loyalty and spur brand advocacy down the line.

Creating an onboarding process that builds customer loyalty

Effective onboarding breeds loyal customers who make the most of your solution and teach others to do the same. Here’s how you can create an onboarding process that builds customer loyalty.

1. Share next steps with new customers.

When a prospect becomes a customer, they’ll require some degree of guidance on usage and best practices. Simple tasks might be a challenge for new customers, and scattered resources can easily overwhelm. That’s why Campaign Monitor sends an email to new customers with recommended “next steps” as soon as they sign up.

Campaign Monitor welcome email loyal customers

This email gives the customer a warm welcome and encourages them to read a tutorial, learn how to use the email builder, and explore guides on effective email marketing. If a new customer completes these tasks, they’ll be more successful with the Campaign Monitor software—a win-win for the company and the customer.

Similarly, Groove uses in-app onboarding prompts to guide its users toward key benchmarks. They found that free users who completed the prompts within 24 hours were 80% more likely to convert to paid users. Customer engagement at its finest.

2. Set customer expectations.

Sometimes customers are unhappy because they feel they’ve been left in the dark. They aren’t sure whether an item they’ve purchased has shipped. They don’t know when a payment will go through.

When you onboard new customers, you can set their expectations early on. For example, when customers sign up to become sellers on Etsy, they see a step-by-step roadmap. First, they’ll set their shop preferences. Next, they’ll name and stock their shops.

Etsy onboarding helps create loyal customers

Providing this clear journey reduces the unknowns that can frustrate new customers and lead to abandonment. Customers want to know just how much time and brainpower they need to invest in a new solution. When they’re prepared, they’re more likely to adopt it happily.

3. Make support and resources available to new customers.

If a new customer hits a roadblock, where will they turn? Have you opened the door to support or are customers on their own?

Even when automated, effective customer onboarding reminds customers that they’re not alone. When a customer is led toward support resources from the get-go, they’ll know where to seek help or, better yet, how to self-serve. Use emails, contact forms, and an accessible knowledge base to steer customers toward answers.

4. Ask new customers for feedback.

As we touched on above, asking for feedback shows customers you care, especially when you turn those insights into action. Customers often won’t share negative feedback until it’s too late to repair the damage. That’s why proactive surveying helps companies reduce churn by identifying and solving issues earlier.

Make customer surveys a key part of your onboarding process. Ask new customers how their onboarding went. Were all their questions answered? What was easy, and what was hard? How accessible has support been?

Then, respond to negative feedback with reparative action. Reach out to unhappy customers to learn more. Even the simple act of a follow-up can turn unhappy customers into loyal customers. Think about the last time you left a bad review. Did you hear back from the company? If so, how did your attitude change? If not, would you have appreciated a follow-up?

In addition to transactional customer satisfaction surveys, you can send out general customer experience surveys, like Net Promoter Score®. The NPS® survey can say a lot about customer loyalty with just one question: How likely are you to recommend us?

example of a GetFeedback Net Promoter Score survey

5. Encourage customers to spread the word.

Customer feedback can help you quickly identify potential brand advocates who are willing to go to bat for you. When you receive a positive rating or a friendly word, follow up with a thank you and ask customers to share the love.

Evernote rewards customers for referrals. When a customer refers others, they earn “Premium points.”

Evernote rewards loyal customers

Referral incentives inspire a chain reaction. Loyal customers will refer people they deem as likely buyers, effectively managing marketing and sales for you. This drives brand loyalty across the board.

6. Analyze the results and iterate.

If you want an effective onboarding program, you’ll have to continually assess its success and modify based on changing needs. Target customers evolve. Company strategy shifts. Employees leave and enter. Revisit onboarding processes regularly to make sure they keep pace.


Customer feedback should play a profound role in customer onboarding. After all, it’s their experience—companies simply provide it. When companies survey customers at regular intervals and after key interactions, they can tie that feedback to customer data and get a complete picture of customer health.

This is basis of an effective customer feedback program. When companies make customer feedback an essential component of customer relationship management—particularly by integrating surveys with Salesforce—you’ll catch patterns that inform customer success efforts.

Maybe Net Promoter Score tends to fall after month three. That common drop-off point could illuminate a weak spot in the customer journey that contributes to churn. Once identified, companies can act. And eventually, they can use new customer feedback to measure and compare their success, ensuring each action leads to a seamless customer experience.

An effective onboarding process sets your customers up for success. It sets the tone for the brand experience they’ve chosen and gets them up and running. Make sure your onboarding is up to snuff. Create a process that sends a positive, personalized message from the start. If you’re effective, you’ll create loyal customers that see your success as their own.

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