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The Complete Guide to Customer Onboarding

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The Complete Guide to Customer Onboarding

How to increase customer retention by ensuring a smooth onboarding process.

You’ve made the sale and acquired a customer. Congratulations! Now the hard work of customer onboarding begins.

Customer onboarding picks up where acquisition leaves off. It is designed to further introduce your customer to the benefits and value of your product. It can be as simple as a welcome email or as complex as a full walkthrough of how to use your product.

Whatever your product or service, and however complex your onboarding may be, the following tips and techniques will help you create an onboarding process that can lead to greater customer retention and ultimately higher profits.

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What is customer onboarding?


Customer onboarding is the process of introducing customers to a product and nurturing them in its use. It’s what happens after the sale is made to demonstrate the value of the product. Successful onboarding should both educate the onboarding customer and gather information.

    Why customer onboarding is important:

  • Studies show a connection between successful new customer onboarding and long-term customer satisfaction.
  • 70% of customers say service agents who are aware of sales interactions are very important to keeping their business.
  • 84% of customers say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business.

Creating a successful onboarding strategy

Choosing the right model

Self-serve: Users will complete the process largely on their own.

Low-touch: This combines a self-serve approach with a low level of guided onboarding.

High-touch: Onboarding from a dedicated customer manager or representative.

Crafting the initial walkthrough

This is the customer’s first experience with your product. This step goes beyond the marketing pitch and demonstrates the product in a practical way. This step is what most people envision when they think of onboarding, and it is a critical phase of the process. This is especially useful with SaaS customer onboarding.

Collecting feedback

This phase of onboarding allows you to gather information about the customer, how they use the product and their onboarding experience. It’s a useful way to identify product inefficiencies, incorrect product use, or gaps in your features or services. You can then use the resulting information to improve your products and onboarding process.

Read more about customer onboarding in What Is Customer Onboarding?

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How to develop a customer onboarding process

Your customer onboarding process is your chance to make a great first impression and begin the journey of customer retention. Regardless of what you sell, there are a few steps you can take to ensure a smooth and stress-free onboarding experience.

    How to think about the customer onboarding process:

  • There is no “one size fits all.”
  • Onboarding processes vary depending on industry, platform, and use cases.
  • The steps may vary, but the general principles don’t.

Stages of the customer onboarding process:

Help customers sign up

If your service requires customers to create an account, this step should be as quick and as painless as you can make it. Ask for as few details as possible to streamline this step. It’s also helpful to give onboarding customers feedback on acceptable password length and makeup before they select their password instead of with an error message.

Send welcome email

This email serves two functions. First, it will confirm for the customer that their account has been created and serve as a reference to that fact later on. Second, this email will set the tone for your future relationship. It can be perfunctory, but consider adding some flavor to personalize the interaction.

Encourage the initial login

Once your customer has created an account, you may want them to log in and begin using your service as quickly as possible. You can encourage this login either by sending a login link with the welcome email or by redirecting customers to a login page on your website after they have created their account.

For more steps to creating a customer onboarding process, read How to Develop a Customer Onboarding Process.

Customer onboarding best practices

As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a great first impression. Onboarding sets the tone for your entire relationship with your customer. Successful onboarding can lead to good long-term retention. Unsuccessful onboarding can lead to churn. These tips and examples will help you build your onboarding process.

    Keep it simple

  • Ask for only the information you absolutely need.
  • Make it clear that additional details are available, but don’t force the customer into an interaction.
  • The key is to reduce friction as much as possible to make onboarding smooth and painless.

Additional onboarding tips to consider

Be engaged

Communicate to your customers that you are listening to their concerns and feedback. This will go a long way to cementing the relationship and starting it off on the right foot. Genuinely listen to feedback and personalize your communications with your customer.

Process requests quickly

People value their time as much (if not more) than their money. Two-thirds of consumers value speed as much as price and more than half have hired the first business to respond to their inquiries. In other words, customers are impatient. Treat each transaction like a priority and process them quickly to meet customer expectations.

Protect customer data

It is critical to protect a customer’s sensitive data and safeguard it from loss or theft. Look for security processes that will integrate well with your existing IT infrastructure, like secure document scanners.

Customer onboarding tools

You’re not alone when it comes to customer onboarding. There are tools available to help you create and implement your onboarding strategy. Whether you need help automating emails, creating a guided experience, or optimizing your entire onboarding process, these tools can help you get started creating a lasting good impression for your brand.

    Best guided experience: Salesforce

  • Salesforce is a powerful and highly configurable CRM and sales automation suite.
  • Salesforce Marketing Cloud can help send emails, measure engagement, personalize messaging, and track customer loyalty.
  • Journey Builder can help marketers create automated on-ramps that lead to concrete results.

More useful onboarding tools


PipelineDeals is a customer management platform that helps businesses discover, nurture, and close sales leads and includes automated email capabilities.


HubSpot is a popular marketing platform that combines customer relationship management, content management, marketing, sales, and customer service.


Mailchimp is an email marketing and automation suite that’s designed to help you improve your open and click-through rates. It comes with pre-built templates and personalization tools.

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Customer onboarding software

An effective customer onboarding software suite will help make your onboarding process smooth, efficient, and most important of all, successful. While there is no shortage of customer onboarding software options, the best solutions will offer the following features.

    Features to look for:

  • Intuitive user interface
  • Responsive customer support
  • Scalability

More features to look for:

Versatile automation

Your customer onboarding process will be the same or similar for every customer you onboard. This presents multiple opportunities for automation. Welcome emails, process monitoring, and stakeholder notification are just a few of the steps that onboarding software can successfully automate.

Deep analytics and reporting

Data is an invaluable resource that can be collected as part of the onboarding process. Onboarding data can help you refine your process and even improve your product. Software that enables data collection and analysis is crucial to making use of the opportunities presented by onboarding data.

Flexible integrations

While customer onboarding is a crucial early step in the process of managing your customer relationship, it is not the end of that relationship. You will want your onboarding software to be capable of integrating with the tools you use to manage the lifetime of your customer relationship.

Customer onboarding metrics

Getting the onboarding process right is key, but it can be hard to know whether or not you’ve done so without collecting the right data. The following onboarding metrics will help give you insight into how smoothly your onboarding operates, identify any pain points, and evaluate the process overall.

    Why onboarding metrics are important:

  • They provide a holistic view of how well your onboarding processes connect customers with the value your product or service offers.
  • They do not exist in a vacuum.
  • They can help you evaluate different aspects of your onboarding program when contrasted with each other.

Key customer onboarding metrics:

Onboarding completion rate

This is the bottom dollar metric telling you if onboarding has been successful or if something has gone terribly wrong. A generally high completion rate usually means your process is smooth and communicates the value of your product to customers. A low rate can mean something needs to be addressed.

Time to complete onboarding

Completion times will vary due to any number of factors, but generally speaking, you should aim for as low a completion time as possible. A longer time could mean there is friction in the process. Be sure to gather as much data as possible to make informed changes.

Retention/churn rate

Retention is the measurement of how many customers you retain over a specific length of time. Churn measures how many customers have stopped using your product. If you are experiencing low retention and high churn, your onboarding process could be at fault. Now is the time to evaluate process updates.

For more important onboarding metrics, read 7 Customer Onboarding Metrics to Evaluate Success.

Meet With The Experts

No salesy spiels. Let's help solve your problem.

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