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6 customer onboarding challenges and ways to overcome them

The period after a user pays for your product—not their initial decision to make a purchase—is crucial in forming a strong relationship with your customers. If things don't go well at this point, they might get buyer's remorse and cancel their subscription.

Effective customer onboarding helps people continuously discover your product, features, and services, and creates a positive loop of customer engagement and retention. 

But, customer onboarding challenges—like low feature adoption and product abandonment—can get in the way of long-term product adoption. So, you need to find ways to overcome barriers to onboarding and get customers to experience your product's value and benefits right away.

Last updated

26 Dec 2022

This is your guide to the top customer onboarding issues and solutions—so you can tackle them before they negatively impact your customer experience and bottom line.

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Hotjar’s tools give you deeper insights into what customers love—and hate—about your onboarding process, so you can clear their path to success

Top 6 customer onboarding challenges businesses face

While user onboarding helps users explore the free plan or trial of your SaaS product, customer onboarding should validate their decision to purchase a paid subscription to your product or service. 

Simply put, ‘users’ will try your product or service before they decide if they want to become customers—and they may not always end up converting either. Be it through freemium services or free trials, users, when you compare them to customers, aren't invested in your service—they simply view it as a tool that helps them reach their current goal. They also don’t feel entitled to demand additional features.

Customers, on the other hand, are a lot more invested seeing as how they're literally paying for your offerings. They'll be a lot more interested in everything they're getting out of this exchange—from support, features, and a great overall experience.

Harry Morton
Founder, Lower Street

That’s why it’s essential to differentiate between your users and customers and understand the particular challenges businesses face when onboarding their paying customers—and how to boost the customer experience

Use our list of customer onboarding challenges below to help you relieve and navigate these obstacles—so you can better communicate your product’s value and encourage customers to remain active:

1. Customer churn 

Product abandonment can indicate an immediate issue within your product or a disconnect in the way you communicate your product’s value during customer onboarding.

If customers don’t perceive the product’s value from the start of your onboarding process, it’s unlikely they’ll continue learning about your product and finish all the onboarding steps. 

Since 63% of customers believe onboarding is key to their decision to subscribe to or purchase a product, those who quit onboarding will also most likely cancel their subscription. 

So, how can you prevent product abandonment and churning customers during onboarding? 

  • Understand customer expectations: dig deep into understanding your ideal customer profile (ICP), market trends or demand, and customer needs. Align your product functionality with the needs of your target market to get more customers to activate and adopt your product. 

  • Improve the user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design: a cluttered UI or an unintuitive UX design blocks customers from effectively understanding and using your product. Remove unnecessary pops ups, product tours, calls to action, and tutorials that distract customers or lead them astray. 

  • Have a clear value proposition: your customers should know exactly what your product helps them achieve, or which problems it helps them solve. Overloading customers with too many benefits, information, or use cases can overwhelm and deter them from understanding how your product helps them accomplish their specific goals. 

  • Use timed exit-intent surveys: ask your customers why they’re abandoning the onboarding process as they leave, for direct insight into what prevented them from reaching success within your product

#Hotjar exit-intent surveys tell you which challenges customers face when onboarding your product, so you can improve. 
Source: Hotjar
Hotjar exit-intent surveys tell you which challenges customers face when onboarding your product, so you can improve. Source: Hotjar

Pro tip: use the Hotjar-Optimizely integration to test onboarding UI design elements. A/B test your onboarding checklist or navigation menu, as well as colors, fonts, and layouts, to create a brilliant onboarding experience that resonates with customers.

2. Low feature adoption 

Customers typically only use a certain number of features per product. A strong onboarding process needs to strike a balance between introducing new features to customers, and educating them on the main and most relevant features they'll use to achieve their primary goals.

Retaining your customers depends on their continuous discovery of your product. But the success of customer onboarding depends on lessening the time to value. So, emphasizing the wrong features during onboarding can negatively impact feature adoption and therefore, product adoption.

Here’s how you can get more customers to adopt your features: 

  • Use Hotjar Feedback tools to ask customers directly about which features they like, dislike, or want to see more of. Take the guesswork out of your customer onboarding process and use your insights to better meet customer needs. 

  • Analyze heatmaps of customer activity: see where customers click, scroll, and linger throughout onboarding for visibility into your most popular features, and determine which ones you need to modify or explain better.

#Hotjar Heatmaps reflect customer interest and activity in your product’s features, so you can prioritize them during onboarding. 
Source: Hotjar
Hotjar Heatmaps reflect customer interest and activity in your product’s features, so you can prioritize them during onboarding. Source: Hotjar

 3. Not understanding how customers interact with onboarding

When you have limited visibility into the customer journey and crucial customer touchpoints, it’s difficult to understand friction areas or key customer frustrations within your product. 

So, cross-functional teams need to know why a customer acted in a specific way, which involves accessing the right data and knowing what to do with it. 

For example, if you’re tracking a metric like user clicks, but aren’t aware of what’s driving those clicks (i.e. rage clicks or u-turns due to a broken link), you might mistake the high number of clicks for user interest or activity—not a customer onboarding issue. 

To understand and properly act on customer onboarding interactions, you need a holistic approach to sharing information and interactions across teams. Here’s how: 

  • Unite cross-functional teams in a single dashboard and CRM to view all your customer insights, share important customer journey mapping data, and spot any irregularities or issues across touchpoints—all from one place 

  • Integrate Hotjar with Slack: get incoming feedback and customer insights from Hotjar on Slack for updates on customer interactions in real-time—and keep teams aligned across departments 

  • Watch recordings of customer interactions throughout onboarding and throw a Hotjar Watch Party—where teams gather to watch important clips of customer behavior. Then, combine your knowledge and expertise to find customer-centric solutions. 

#Hotjar Recordings lets you combine cross-functional teams’ skill sets and spot crucial customer interactions throughout onboarding.  
Source: Hotjar
Hotjar Recordings lets you combine cross-functional teams’ skill sets and spot crucial customer interactions throughout onboarding. Source: Hotjar

4. Treating all your customers the same 

Different customers have different levels of expertise and expectations from onboarding. For example, when onboarding for your customer service messaging software, a customer success manager won’t want to watch an introduction video on best practices for speaking to their customers—whereas a new customer service representative will.  

To successfully onboard and retain customers, use personalization to provide a unique and engaging onboarding experience for your customers that fits their needs and preferences.

So, how do you personalize the customer onboarding process and not treat all your customers the same? 

  • Segment your customers into buyer personas (or ideal customer types) and create an onboarding flow specific to each customer segment

  • Let customers pick their onboarding flow: include buttons or prompts throughout customer onboarding that let customers select their own journey

  • Personalize welcome screens and checklists by pulling customer data—like their name, industry, job title, and geographic location—from signup to help you inform your customer messaging and make it feel like your solution is tailor-made for them

#Notion makes customers select how they’ll be using their software to personalize the customer onboarding experience. 
Source: Notion
Notion makes customers select how they’ll be using their software to personalize the customer onboarding experience. Source: Notion

5. Slow onboarding process

Too often, businesses mistake a thorough customer onboarding approach with too many steps. 

Personalized onboarding helps streamline the steps each customer needs to take within your product as they’re specifically designed to match their needs and role. But, there are other ways to reduce the number of steps in your customer onboarding process:

  • Experience onboarding yourself: go through your own onboarding process as each one of your customer segments or user personas would—to empathize with their experience. See what makes sense or what doesn’t, and optimize accordingly. 

  • Ask for feedback: place unobtrusive feedback widgets throughout customer onboarding and ask your customers which steps or tasks they liked or disliked. See which steps help your customers use your product independently, and which don’t.

#Hotjar's Feedback widget lets you collect customer feedback about your onboarding process in the wild.
Source: Hotjar
Hotjar's Feedback widget lets you collect customer feedback about your onboarding process in the wild. Source: Hotjar

6. Overloaded customer support teams

Customer support teams are essential in helping customers find answers to their questions and solving their complaints, but these teams can sometimes struggle to help each and every customer, especially during high-volume customer onboarding. 

So, a great way to make onboarding easier (and faster) for your customers and your support team, is to empower customers and teams to solve their own problems first. Here’s how: 

  • Create self-service resources like knowledge bases and learning centers that provide customers with documentation, tutorials, community forums, and guides to deepen their knowledge on a particular topic or product feature—without relying on external assistance

  • Use chatbots and live chat software to help answer frequently asked questions, direct customers to a resource, thank customers for their business, or file a support ticket

  • Use Hotjar Highlights to create collections of customer interactions and behavior and easily share them across teams. Use your findings to act fast on customer complaints or product issues before waiting for a support ticket, and retain more customers.

#Hotjar Highlights frees up cross-functional and customer support teams to act on patterns of customer behavior before it becomes a problem.
Source: Hotjar
Hotjar Highlights frees up cross-functional and customer support teams to act on patterns of customer behavior before it becomes a problem. Source: Hotjar

Use voice-of-the-customer (VoC) insights to overcome customer onboarding challenges 

No matter how great your product is, there'll always be challenges when onboarding new customers and getting them to understand your product’s value.

Issues like customer churn, low feature adoption, treating all your customers the same, and overloaded support teams can make it difficult to onboard and retain customers, which negatively impacts their experience and your bottom line. 

But, when you access voice-of-the-customer insights like direct feedback and gain visibility into why customers act the way they do, you connect the dots between their needs and your customer onboarding process—and continually empathize with and delight them.

Wow your customers during onboarding

Hotjar’s tools give you deeper insights into what customers love—or hate—about your onboarding process, so you can delight them.

FAQs about customer onboarding challenges