Understanding the Crucial Distinction: New Customer Onboarding vs. New User Onboarding Image

Understanding the Crucial Distinction: New Customer Onboarding vs. New User Onboarding

In the realm of customer-centric in-app strategies, the term “onboarding” often surfaces as a pivotal component. However, it’s imperative to discern between two distinct scenarios: New Customer Onboarding and New User Onboarding.

While they may appear similar at first glance, their scope, objectives, and execution strategies differ significantly, each tailored to address specific needs.

Today, our focus shifts to the lesser-discussed but equally essential topic of new user (or ‘end-user’) onboarding programs, prompted by a common query from one of our customers: “What if we’re introducing a new product to our existing customer base?”

Before delving deeper, let’s highlight some key disparities between the two approaches:

New Customer Onboarding

  1. Scope: Targets the organizational level, concentrating on integrating a new customer account or organization into your product or service.
  2. Objectives:
    •  Accelerate Time to Value
    • Assist with Initial Setup
  3. KPIs: Number of days from sign-up to first value, onboarding goals achieved, time saved/spent by the Customer Success Management (CSM)/Professional Services team, reduction in support tickets.
  4. Driving Team: Led by Customer Success (CS) Lead and Professional Services, with collaboration from Product, Support, and Documentation Teams.
  5. Strategies: Personalized welcome emails, guides, webinars/video tutorials, utilization of tools like the Knowledge Center (KC) Bot.

End-User Onboarding

  1. Scope: Focuses on individual end-users within an organization, aiding them in understanding and navigating the product efficiently.
  2. Objectives:
    • Drive Adoption of Golden Features
    • Usage/Adoption Metrics
  3. KPIs: Golden Feature Adoption Trends amongst cohort, Time to First Value (TTFV), User Retention Rate, Customer Effort Score (CES) or NPS amongst cohort, feedback, and support requests.
  4. Driving Team: Primarily driven by Marketing (Demand Gen, Growth Ops) in collaboration with Product, Documentation Team, Support, and/or Sales.
  5. Strategies: Implementing PX In-App Engagements, targeted ‘Welcome KC Bot,’ utilizing dashboards to track engagement with content and monitor retention.

The 3 Phases of Implementing End-User Onboarding

The process of introducing users to a new digital environment can be likened to a practice, where proficiency is built through repetition. Let’s break down this work into three stages:

Phase 1: Core Planning for Adoption – Analyze the product’s core value, identify adoption barriers, and map a detailed user journey to lay the strategic groundwork for targeted user onboarding.

Phase 2: Execution – Implement the plan by creating tailored onboarding content, personalizing the user experience, and integrating immediate feedback mechanisms to guide users toward the product’s core value.

Phase 3: Iteration – Continuously refine the onboarding process through thorough analysis of user feedback and engagement, making data-informed adjustments to align with evolving user needs and product development.

The Timeline

If you’re looking to get into the specifics, here’s our breakdown of how you should plan, execute, and iterate.

Phase 1: Planning – Weeks 1-3

  1. Analyze the Product’s Core Value Proposition
    • Conduct analysis to discern which features or aspects of the product are critical to the users’ success. Utilize quantitative data from user analytics and qualitative insights from testimonials and support inquiries to elucidate the product’s core value to its users.
    • If this is a new feature set or product, much of the analysis will be hypothetical qualitative data – this means that the early days of adoption will be key for defining your baselines.
  2. Identify Initial Obstacles to Adoption
    • Employ a data-driven approach to pinpoint the initial barriers users face that hinder their full product adoption. Analyze user behavior data, support ticket trends, and feedback from trial users to map out these obstacles.
  3. Construct a User Journey Map with Core Adoption Milestones
    • Develop a comprehensive user journey map from initial engagement to full product adoption, integrating core milestones where users derive significant value. This mapping should be informed by empirical user data and success metrics.
    • Start simple with 3 stages – Awareness, Learning, Habitual – in order to understand what user behavior may look like.
  4. Evaluate Existing Onboarding Instruments and Materials
    • Systematically assess the efficacy and engagement of current onboarding resources. This includes reviewing content relevance, tool utilization metrics, and user engagement levels to ensure alignment with the core adoption journey.
    • If a new product, explore what has been successful in the past – we always suggest repurposing existing videos or gifs within guides and keeping them simple.
  5. Formulate Precise Objectives for the Onboarding Process
    • Define explicit success criteria for new user onboarding, rooted in achieving activation of core features, attainment of specific user milestones, or realization of predetermined goals within the product context.

Phase 2: Execution – Weeks 4-6

Objective: Execute the onboarding strategy, guiding new users towards realizing the product’s core value efficiently and effectively.

Execution Steps:

  1. Develop Targeted and Insightful Onboarding Content
    • Craft onboarding materials that directly address the core questions and challenges identified in Phase 1, ensuring the content is engaging and founded on evidence-based insights.
    • Focus initially on the Awareness stage, eventually focusing on deeper learning with continued adoption.
  2. Personalize the Onboarding Trajectory
    • Utilize segmentation and data analytics to customize the onboarding experience for different user demographics, enhancing relevance and personal connection to the product’s core value
    • Again, starting simple – maybe this is 2 user types at the beginning and you actually only focus on one of those key types. Anything that gets you the quickest results and access to early data.
  3. Embed Immediate Feedback Mechanisms
    • Integrate options for real-time feedback within the onboarding flow, enabling ongoing optimization and user-driven enhancements.
    • Utilize KC Bot to filter users towards offering feedback organically rather than using a pop-up. If using an pop-up, aim for a banner rather than something that prohibits the users workflow.

Phase 3: Iteration – Weeks 6-12

Objective: Methodically refine the onboarding experience based on empirical feedback and adoption metrics, maintaining its alignment with user needs and product evolution.

Execution Steps:

  1. Analysis of Engagement
    • Regularly assess user interactions with the onboarding content and their feedback, using funnel reports to identify trends and actionable insights for improvement
  2. Quantitative and Qualitative Insights
    • Apply a rigorous, data-informed approach to refine the onboarding process for each persona and expand to other users
    • Cross reference survey data or identify power-users to understand what your happiest, healthiest customers look like and how they interact with content
  3. Reassess and Revise Core Adoption Milestones
    • Continuously evaluate and update the core milestones within the user journey, ensuring they remain relevant and reflective of both the product’s and users’ evolving needs.


The end-user onboarding process serves as a critical bridge between initial interest in a product and its long-term adoption. It directly influences user retention, satisfaction, and the overall success of the product in the market. A well-structured onboarding process not only educates users about product features but also demonstrates how the product can solve their problems and enhance their lives or work.

Understanding onboarding as a strategic investment in user satisfaction and retention is key. It’s a method for translating complex functionalities into tangible benefits, ultimately driving positive outcomes for both users and the business.

For further insights, check out the GameChanger Community.