The most successful customer journeys begin with carefully crafted customer onboarding experiences.
An amazing onboarding experience carefully guides new customers to the “aha!” moment—the moment when they begin to realize the value of your product or service.
And while no product onboarding experience is perfect, the best onboarding processes continually improve through measuring the right metrics (then taking action where needed).
Effective onboarding metrics help you spot friction, make improvements, and ensure customers are getting the best possible start with your product.
Choosing the right onboarding metrics
Picking the right onboarding metrics for your business can feel hard. There isn't a definitive set of measurements that work for every business, customer type, or strategy.
The best customer onboarding teams pick a diverse group of metrics. By combining different types of metrics, you’ll reduce the likelihood of blind spots and you’ll end up with a fuller picture of your onboarding experience.
We’ve broken apart some common onboarding KPIs into buckets below, but keep in mind that the categories we use are broad guidance. Some metrics—like time to value—could easily fit into multiple categories.
The universal onboarding metric
Every organization needs to be tracking their customer churn rate. There’s no more common and important metric than churn, so we’ve put it in its own category to ensure its importance isn’t understated.
1. Customer Churn Rate
Customer churn rate (CCR) or customer attrition rate (CAR) measures the rate at which customers leave your product or service.
The basic formula to calculate customer churn rate is:
Customer churn rate = total number of customers who leave your product in a cohort / the total number of customers in the cohort * 100
Churn is a major pain point in the SaaS industry, where an average monthly churn rate of 10-14% is common.
A higher churn rate indicates that the value you’re bringing to your customers isn’t as clear as it could be.
Churning customers don’t think your product is worth the money.
Onboarding teams should consider the churn rate of customers during and shortly after onboarding, as well as keeping the overall customer churn rate in view.
High churn often indicates opportunities for your client onboarding experience to be adjusted to help customers realize value faster.
Customer experience metrics
These metrics capture the more subjective aspects of your customer’s onboarding experience.
They attempt to quantify the emotional experience of the customer journey and are important indicators of how your customers are feeling.
They’re critical to enriching your understanding of other metrics. For instance, you may find that a decreasing NPS score correlates closely with churn or with a reduction in referrals.
In that situation, NPS becomes a solid leading indicator. When NPS begins to drop, your onboarding team (and others) can take quick action to course correct.
2. Customer Effort Score
Customer effort score (CES) measures how easy it is for your customers to accomplish specific tasks. When customers are onboarding, CES is often used to identify where there's an opportunity to reduce friction and make onboarding easier.
This is particularly helpful for companies that rely on product-led growth motions and self-service onboarding. When your customers are onboarding themselves, it’s vital to make it an easy and smooth process.
Customer effort score can still be used to measure the effort involved with low-touch or high-touch onboarding processes as well.
If you’re a SaaS company onboarding 200 users at an enterprise organization, you’ll likely need those users to take actions at certain points. CES can be used to assess how easy or difficult those users perceived the actions to be.
Gartner's research found that CES is 40% more accurate at predicting customer loyalty than its most common competitor, customer satisfaction (CSAT.)
Measuring customer effort score is straightforward:
Customer Effort Score = (Sum of customer effort ratings) / (Total number of survey responses)
- A poor customer effort score is 3 and below
- A good customer effort score is between 4-5
- An amazing customer effort score is 6-7
On average, SaaS companies have a CES of around 5.4.
3. Net Promoter Score
Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a popular metric used to gauge a customer’s likelihood to refer others to your business.
It’s measured by asking customers how likely they are to recommend your service on a scale of 0 to 10.
Based on their responses, customers are then categorized into Promoters (score 9-10), Passives (score 7-8), and Detractors (score 0-6).
The basic formula to calculate NPS is:
NPS score = % of Detractors - % of Promoters
Your NPS score can range from -100 (if every respondent was a Detractor) to 100 (if every respondent was a Promoter.) Usually, an NPS score above 20 is considered good and above 50 is considered best in class.
Some estimates put the average NPS score in SaaS at 36+.
NPS is a useful metric across the customer lifecycle, including onboarding. That’s because—just like CES—NPS can serve as an early warning that something is going wrong.
The best way to use Net Promoter Score is often in tandem with open-ended questions.
This can be as simple as asking one follow-up question: “Why did you give that rating?” Without some kind of follow-up question, your NPS responses won’t provide sufficient context for your team to take action.
One last tip on using NPS in onboarding: remember that timing matters.
If you send out NPS surveys too early in the customer journey, it’s not uncommon for customers to reply with statements like, “It’s too early for me to say if I’d recommend this product to others.”
That’s a valid point, but there’s also value in beginning to capture NPS as early as possible so you can benchmark each new customer’s feelings.
Every onboarding team should be able to explain the impact of their work on revenue.
Since onboarding sets the stage for the rest of the customer journey, your onboarding metrics should help you tell the story of how your onboarding impacts downstream factors like churn, referrals, and more
4. Customer Lifetime Value
Customer lifetime value (LTV or CLV) is a measurement of the net revenue contributed by a customer throughout their relationship with your company.
It enables you to understand how much revenue you can expect an average customer to generate.
The basic formula to calculate LTV is:
LTV = Average Revenue Per Customer * Average Customer Lifespan
Your onboarding experience has a direct impact on your LTV.
If onboarding is awful, the odds of early churn go up dramatically. On the flip side, if your onboarding experience is smooth and the customer quickly finds value in your product or service, they’re far more likely to stick around.
Customer lifetime value is a valuable metric for businesses of all kinds, from SaaS companies to service providers and agencies. If your customer is paying on a recurring basis, you’re incentivized to keep them subscribed as long as possible.
Measuring LTV is particularly important for low- and high-touch customer onboarding teams.
When you’re investing significantly into the onboarding process, you need to carefully weigh the costs of your onboarding efforts against the value they provide.
You can use LTV to assess your onboarding’s effectiveness—does high-touch onboarding deliver higher LTV? You can also use LTV to dictate your onboarding approach—customers that you expect to have a higher LTV might get a more customized or high-touch experience.
5. Onboarding revenue
Onboarding revenue is the amount of revenue generated during the onboarding process.
For high-touch organizations, this can be an impactful onboarding KPI to monitor:
- Are calls with your onboarding team resulting in upsell opportunities?
- Are your sales engineers demonstrating features that drive customers towards higher tiers of subscription?
- Are your onboarding calls uncovering additional ways customers can benefit from your product, resulting in increased seat counts or add-on purchases?
Tracking additional revenue generated during onboarding can help your organization understand which onboarding activities are the most valuable.
Using a dedicated client portal is one of the best ways to keep track of all your client onboarding interactions and tasks to ensure they’re focused on driving revenue.
6. Net Dollar Retention or Net Revenue Retention
Net dollar retention (NDR) or net revenue retention (NRR) track the changes in recurring revenue due to expansion, shrinkage, or churn
NRR is a vital KPI for SaaS businesses, but it’s also relevant for other business models that rely on recurring revenue. That’s because it demonstrates if your company’s growth is sustainable without constantly adding new customers.
The basic formula to calculate NRR is:
NRR = Starting Revenue + Expansion Revenue - Contractions - Churn
While this formula might be a bit intimidating, that’s because it packs a punch. By tracking every recurring dollar added or removed, it allows you to understand where you have opportunities to retain and grow more revenue.
Onboarding has a significant impact on NRR, as it introduces customers to products and services. It’s the perfect place to set the stage for future expansion revenue through upselling and cross-selling other services.
7. Free trial conversion rate
The number of free trial users that successfully convert to paid customers is a fundamental metric for SaaS companies—especially those with self-service onboarding and product-led growth models.
Here’s how you measure it:
Free trial conversion rate = customers that convert to a paid plan / total number of customers in that onboarding cohort
Free trials are an incredibly scalable method of onboarding new customers.
When your customers sign up for a free trial, it often kicks off a self-service onboarding experience. This experience directly impacts their ability to use your product effectively, which then impacts their decision to convert to a paid account (or not).
For opt-in trials (no credit card required), the benchmark is an 18% conversion rate. For opt-out trials, the benchmark is significantly higher at 48%.
If your company offers a free trial, it’s a great opportunity to experiment with different onboarding techniques and experiences. By A/B testing different factors and comparing the resulting conversion rates, you can uncover data-driven ways to improve your onboarding process.
Product-related onboarding metrics
Product-related onboarding metrics help you understand how customers engage with your product during the onboarding phase (and beyond).
8. Feature adoption rate
Feature adoption rate tracks the percentage of customers who start using a new feature after it’s released. You can also measure the adoption rate of specific existing features in your product—i.e. the core features that you know successful customers should be using.
The basic formula to calculate feature adoption rate is:
Feature adoption rate = Monthly active users who used the feature / the total number of logins or active users during the same duration
A high adoption rate of your core features during onboarding is a good leading indicator that customers are on the path to success.
While it’s not quite as relevant to onboarding, tracking the adoption rate of brand-new features can also provide a valuable feedback loop to inform your future product roadmap.
Feature adoption rate is an excellent metric for onboarding teams of all kinds, from self-service to high-touch.
With self-service onboarding, tracking feature adoption is a critical input that allows you to gauge if your onboarding is working.
With low- or high-touch onboarding, feature adoption is a signal that your investments of time and effort are paying off by creating engaged users.
9. Utilization Rate
Utilization rate looks different for different companies—or even different customer personas within a single business. But the core concept is always the same: you’re trying to understand what to expect from a ‘healthy’ user.
Brittany suggests that you start by looking at your healthiest customers to set a baseline. By developing a profile of ideal customer usage, you’re able to identify which customers need to improve, then target them with specific interventions.
One example of utilization rate is monthly active users (MAU), where you measure the number of customers logging in and taking some core action in your product each month.
Other factors you can use to define healthy utilization include things like:
- Feature usage
- Seats on the account
- Feedback submitted
- Number of support tickets submitted
- Engagement with customer success managers
10. Activation rate
Activation rate indicates the percentage of users who take a specific action or set of actions that reflect a customer receiving value from your product or service.
That’s a broad definition, because an ‘activated’ customer is something you need to define for yourself.
If you're an email newsletter company, activation might be as simple as setting up an account and sending your first email. If you’re an enterprise SaaS tool in the legal space, it might take fifty separate actions before you’d consider a customer fully activated.
Using a customer onboarding tool like Dock can dramatically simplify the process of getting a customer activated, because it enables you and your customer to track deliverables, share notes, and align on timelines—all in a single space.
The basic formula to calculate activation rate is:
Activation rate = activated customers / total number of customers in that onboarding cohort
Measuring activation rate requires some upfront work on your part, but it’s worth it. While any onboarding team can benefit from using activation rate as a KPI, high-touch customer onboarding strategies often see the most benefit.
That’s because the high level of your investment in high-touch onboarding means it’s even more critical to understand what kinds of customer actions are the most vital.
Once you’ve defined the specific actions each new customer needs to take, your customer onboarding team can build a detailed customer onboarding plan or implementation plan to enable a smooth onboarding experience.
11. Time to Value
Time to value (TTV) measures how long it takes a new user to receive tangible value from your product or service.
A precursor to using TTV as a customer onboarding KPI is to clearly define what that point of value looks like for your customers. It might be building their first automation, or completing a landing page, or seeing the wireframes of their new website.
For example, Dock users can see a fast time to value if one of their five free customer workspaces helps them close a deal with a customer within a few days.
Driving your TTV lower means you’re reducing the barriers between what your customers need and the service you offer, whereas a high TTV may indicate a lackluster experience.
Customers want that “aha!” moment fast—if they don’t get it, buyer’s remorse may set in.
Tips to Reduce your TTV
- Set up an onboarding email drip campaign to engage and educate new users
- Create mutual action plans to introduce more accountability during onboarding
- Offer in-product onboarding guides and walkthroughs
Want more? Check out these strategies and tactics you can use to shorten your Time to Value.
While many of the above metrics will still be relevant after onboarding ends, these metrics are highly-specific to the onboarding process. They can help you gauge how well your onboarding team is operating and can uncover opportunities for improving your onboarding processes.
12. Onboarding completion rate
The onboarding completion rate is the percentage of new customers who complete the onboarding process.
If you’re leading an onboarding team and you have a defined onboarding process, this is an onboarding KPI you’ll probably want to track.
Good onboarding drives product adoption and long-term customer success.
If customers aren’t completing your onboarding journey, odds are that you’ll see downstream impacts like decreased product adoption, lower engagement, and higher churn.
The basic formula to calculate onboarding completion rate is:
Onboarding completion rate = customers who finished onboarding / total number of customers in that onboarding cohort
According to Userlist, 40-60% is considered a good benchmark for B2B businesses, and 30-50% is a good onboarding rate for B2C companies.
If your team’s numbers aren’t quite where they should be for onboarding completion, it’s a good idea to look at ways to simplify your onboarding flow. Are there unnecessary steps you can eliminate? Are there areas where customers are getting stuck?
Using structured onboarding templates can help your team—and your customers—get clear on the key steps needed to be fully onboarded. They can also encourage collaboration and accountability throughout the onboarding process.
13. Average onboarding completion time
Onboarding completion time is the average length of time it takes for a new customer to complete your onboarding process.
Onboarding completion time = total time taken to complete your onboarding in a cohort / total number of customers in that onboarding cohort
For instance, if you had 10 customers onboarding last month and it took them a total of 250 days, then your average onboarding completion time would be 250 days / 10 customers = 25 days.
This is a similar metric to Time to Value, but your ideal onboarding process might take customers to the point of first value, and then extend further. This metric enables you to track not just the TTV, but the percentage of customers completing your onboarding process end-to-end.
To improve this metric, track where your customers are spending the most time. Are there ways you can simplify your process to eliminate steps? Can you provide resources in another way to increase engagement?
If a step isn’t shining a light on something high-value, cut it!
14. Number of CS tickets per day
This customer onboarding metric looks at the number of support tickets created each day from customers in the onboarding stage.
These tickets might come in via any channel: email, chat, phone calls or even social media messages. Whatever the source, It’s important to work with your customer support team to capture all the different interactions, because each one represents friction in your onboarding experience.
If the average number of support tickets you’re receiving during onboarding increases, it usually means you’ve got a big opportunity to introduce more clarity to the process.
This onboarding KPI is especially important for teams prioritizing self-service onboarding. Because you don’t have a customer success manager partnering one-to-one with each new customer, you need to eliminate common areas of friction.
Level up your customer onboarding experience with Dock
Choosing the right customer onboarding metrics is the foundation of effective customer onboarding.
It sets your business up to build an impactful onboarding journey that engages your customers and highlights the value of your product.
Dock is a dedicated platform that brings your teams and customers together to remove friction and create long-lasting customer relationships. It makes it a breeze to track, understand, and act on your customer’s onboarding experience. You can build onboarding checklists and see analytics like views, interactions, and downloads of important resources in real-time.