Onboarding customers is a team effort. Everyone from customer support to sales has a role to play in ensuring new users get the most out of your product.
But when your team fails to work together to bring new customers on board, the process becomes disjointed, messy, and frustrating.
Keeping your team and customers in line throughout the onboarding process doesn’t have to mean throwing more people or spreadsheets at the problem.
Customer onboarding software can set your employees and customers up for success — you just need to choose the right tool. Choose the right onboarding software and you can boost team productivity, cut costs, and improve customer retention.
But customer onboarding looks dramatically different from company to company. What works for a high-touch marketing agency won’t work for a million-user SaaS product. The onboarding tool you choose needs to align with your business model and your customers’ needs.
To help you understand where the strengths (and setbacks) of each type of client onboarding software lie, we’ve done the bulk of the research for you.
Keep reading to learn more about customer onboarding software, the different types of tools available on the market, and which tools best aligns with your needs.
What is customer onboarding software?
Customer onboarding software facilitates and manages the process of introducing new users to your product by educating them on how to get the most value from it.
It takes some pressure off your team without forcing you to compromise on the onboarding experience.
A customer onboarding tool can be a home base for sharing resources, collecting documentation, and providing support. You can also use it to collaborate and communicate internally, so handoffs between teams or departments are smooth and seamless.
How to choose customer and client onboarding software
Not all customer and client onboarding software is built the same. Here are the biggest differentiators to be aware of when choosing what tool best fits your needs:
High vs. low-touch onboarding tools
The biggest distinction between onboarding tools is whether they’re built for high- vs. low-touch onboarding.
High-touch onboarding tools are made for service businesses (e.g. agencies) and mid- to enterprise-level SaaS customers where one-on-one onboarding is required. High-touch tools prioritize communication and client management to provide direct customer support and personalized resources over an extended period of time.
For example, complex software implementations require a collaborative effort between the customer and software provider's teams.
On the other hand, low-touch onboarding tools are more suitable for low-barrier-to-entry SaaS products. These tools prioritize self-service, automation, and minimizing one-on-one attention. Customers may choose an onboarding journey that best fits their needs, new resources might be made available at different stages of the onboarding process, or users may take complete control of their onboarding experience with self-service tools.
All-in-one customer success tools vs. onboarding point solutions
An all-in-one customer success (CS) tool sees customer onboarding as just one piece of managing the customer relationship.
All-in-one tools function as a CRM for CS teams, providing various tools and features to oversee the relationship both before and after the customer buys. While an all-in-one tool can help large CS organizations reduce their tech stack, these tools typically sacrifice depth and functionality during the onboarding process.
Alternatively, you could consider a point solution that’s purpose-built for customer onboarding. Its entire function is to help new users see the value of your product, so it often has special features and functions that strengthen that process—rather than trying to be a tool that does everything.
Customer-facing vs. internal-facing software
Customer-facing onboarding tools simplify and manage the experience for your end users. This includes acting as a portal for communication and distributing resources.
Internal-facing software improves the backend of the customer onboarding experience to help reduce churn. This might include team communication and collaboration tools, tracking and reporting features, or an internal knowledge base.
Most tools have both internal- and external-facing features, but it’s rare that any one tool is great for both.
You may need a tool with multiple functionalities and use cases, such as managing external and internal processes. Many customer onboarding tools are customizable or can integrate with other popular software, so you can refine your tech stack to address your unique needs.
📘 Related reading: Check out our customer onboarding guide for more onboarding tips.
High-touch onboarding tools
High-touch onboarding tools use a human-first approach to educating customers. They prioritize collaboration and communication and offer a hands-on approach to onboarding.
High-touch onboarding tools are best for complex onboarding processes, highly technical tools, or for high-paying customers expecting a personalized experience.
Here are some examples of companies that would benefit from a high-touch onboarding tool:
- SaaS or tech companies with products that require deep knowledge or intricate setup
- Agencies that want to welcome new clients with custom onboarding content
- SaaS companies working to onboard large customer teams
- Companies whose customers need to know the “why,” not just the “how”
These high-touch tools come in three complementary categories:
- Customer onboarding portals
- Knowledge base software
- Customer success enablement tools
Customer onboarding portals
Customer onboarding portals are personalized dashboards or pages that allow customers to quickly and easily access resources, to-dos, meeting notes, and timelines.
Customer onboarding portals are for teams that want to take clunky, complicated onboarding processes and present them to their customers in a more professional, appealing, and easier-to-navigate way.
For example, instead of working in messy Google Drive folders, email chains, or spreadsheets, you can create a customer onboarding portal complete with checklists, videos, slideshows, images, and more.
Because these portals hold all your onboarding content in one place, they help keep customers and team members aligned around upcoming deadlines, important information, and next steps.
Our top customer onboarding portals are:
Maybe we’re playing favorites, but we believe Dock has everything your customer success managers need to create successful, engaging customer onboarding experiences at scale.
Here's a quick walkthrough from our CEO, Alex Kracov:
Within a single Dock workspace, you can share onboarding checklists, track engagement on your onboarding assets, collect feedback, and more—so everything is accessible to your customer from one link.
Dock is built to do one-on-one onboarding at scale. Just create an onboarding template and copy it with each new user. Make quick edits or customizations based on that new user’s plan or needs, and you’re good to go.
Dock’s flexibility is where it really shines. Rather than other tools that lock you into one format, Dock offers a drag-and-drop workspace editor where you can embed any type of media content.
And as new customers transition to loyal customers, you can use Dock as a client portal to continue to touch base, answer questions, and provide new resources.
Arrows is an onboarding platform that connects directly to Hubspot, making it easy to incorporate your customer onboarding process with the rest of the customer journey. Use forms, embedded actions, due dates, and more to keep your customers on track.
Arrows keeps things simple, presenting Hubspot-based tasks and projects in a cleaner, easier-to-use checklist. Your team can continue working in Hubspot without requiring your customers to know how to use Hubspot as well.
But Arrows’ capabilities don’t extend far beyond simple onboarding. If you want to share resources, schedule meetings, or showcase other types of content, you’ll need a second tool. Plus, if you’re not a Hubspot user, it can’t offer much value.
RocketLane is a collaborative customer onboarding platform that provides visibility across projects and customers. You can create templates, connect with teams and customers, and improve the customer onboarding process in one place.
RocketLane functions similarly to an internal project management tool. It offers all the bells and whistles like activity tracking and analytics, but requires more organization, planning, and oversight from your team.
RocketLane is best for complex onboarding processes or where onboarding tasks require a lot of back and forth with internal teams.
Knowledge base software
Knowledge base software makes it easy to create, organize, and distribute educational and support materials. It’s organized and searchable, so users can access the resources they need exactly when they need them.
Although knowledge base software is positioned as a self-service support tool, it is a supplemental resource for high-touch initiatives. Support agents can point customers to relevant content, or AI tools can suggest additional help pages based on what the customer has already engaged with.
Our top knowledge base tools include:
Zendesk offers a suite of tools geared toward improving customer service, including a smart knowledge base. In addition to housing all your knowledge materials, Zendesk’s knowledge base uses AI to provide content recommendations, lets you connect information across multiple pages for quick and efficient updating, and links with your help center to make support agents’ jobs easier.
As a knowledge base tool, Zendesk is best for teams with high support traffic or in-depth onboarding processes that need all customer data stored in one place.
Scribe is an automated tutorial builder that streamlines the knowledge documentation process. With Scribe, you can quickly create step-by-step instructions just by recording your screen as your team follows workflows as they normally would. You can share your finished guides directly or create Pages to add additional context or create comprehensive instructions with multiple tasks.
Scribe is a great point solution, but it works best when paired with a customer success platform with additional features or more organization. For example, you could embed Scribe into an onboarding portal like Dock to give clear instructions without switching apps.
Guru is internal knowledge base software that supports your team in doing their job as efficiently as possible. Guru makes knowledge capturing and sharing easy, allowing you to add information from the source, whether that’s Slack or on the web (or anywhere in between).
Guru helps your support team answer onboarding questions quickly and accurately. Customers spend less time waiting for responses and more time engaging with your platform.
Customer success enablement tools
Customer success enablement tools support your team in delivering value and improving the customer experience. CS enablement tools are a broad category, but each is designed to make it easier to build long-lasting relationships with your customers.
Here are our favorites:
Gong uses analytics and insights to help your customer success team identify areas of improvement or risk of churn while there is still time to adjust. With Gong, you can gain visibility into your entire customer journey to learn how to support your users better and ensure you’re meeting their expectations.
Gong is data-heavy, so it requires some skill to make sense of the metrics and numbers it gives you. While it can provide insights and suggestions, your team need to be comfortable with analytics to see the full value of a tool like Gong.
Sendoso gets customers excited about your brand by making it easy to send gifts to users to show how much you value them. Use Sendoso to send welcome kits with swag, educational materials, and more.
Sendoso is a great point solution for making a strong first impression—but you’ll of course need to integrate it with a more centralized customer onboarding or success solution.
CloudApp makes it easier for your customer support team to answer complicated questions and provide more thorough instructions by simplifying the screen recording process. CS team members can use CloudApp to quickly record a how-to video and share it with customers via email.
You’ll want to pair CloudApp with other software, like a CRM, to get the most benefit.
Low-touch onboarding tools for SaaS
Low-touch onboarding tools rely on software to handle the onboarding process for you.
Using low-touch tools, including videos and digital tours, you can streamline your onboarding process by eliminating the need for hands-on manual support.
These types of companies see the most benefit from a low-touch onboarding tool:
- Companies that are scaling quickly and can’t provide high-touch experiences
- SaaS and tech companies with products that are less complex and more intuitive
- SaaS and tech companies with tech-savvy customers
- Companies, including agencies, that want to improve their web experience
Digital adoption platforms
A digital adoption platform integrates with your software applications to walk users through how to get the most out of your product.
While digital adoption platforms are low-touch tools, they can provide a hands-on support feel with automated systems and processes, improving productivity and reducing costs without sacrificing experience.
Our favorites include:
Pendo is a product adoption platform that uses in-app guides, feedback, and analytics to help you understand your customer journey to improve onboarding and feature adoption. Product walkthroughs guide new clients and users through instructions as they engage with the product, giving real-time advice.
AppCues lets you design, deploy, and test product-led onboarding experiences and product tours to save your team time and increase user activation and retention. With AppCues, you can personalize experiences for users based on key segments, ensuring each customer gets the onboarding resources they need to be successful.
Other digital adoption platform alternatives to consider are Chameleon and Walkme.
Customer.io uses data-driven emails, push notifications, in-app messages, and SMS to help build relationships between brands and customers. As an onboarding tool, Customer.io can help facilitate meaningful conversations, remind customers of tasks to complete, or check in with new users automatically.
Quality Customer.io alternatives include Walnut, UserGuiding, Userpilot, and Userlane.
UX monitoring and testing
User experience is a crucial part of the onboarding process. Even with the best onboarding plan, if the product itself is overly complex or confusing, it’ll be nearly impossible to retain high-quality customers.
UX monitoring and testing software help you identify gaps in your product that may push customers away so you can make improvements.
Our top UX monitoring and testing tools are:
Fullstory monitors your entire digital experience to monitor users across your website, mobile app, and software platform. Find the root causes of issues with your digital experience so you can improve your overall onboarding experience.
Mixpanel lets you track product usage to see which features are driving adoption to better engage and retain your customers by constantly improving your onboarding process. Mixpanel analyzes engagement patterns to give you the user data you need to make smarter customer onboarding and training decisions.
Hotjar shares insights about your website that traditional analytics platforms can’t. Discover where your visitors are getting bored with your content or where they’re giving the bulk of their attention. When you identify your problem areas, you can make strategic decisions to eliminate them completely.
Customer support ticketing tools
Most customer onboarding experiences require a balance of high-touch and low-touch interactions. Customers may want the ability to self-service when they can, but also know human support is available should they run into any complex problems.
Here are the most popular customer onboarding tools for handling customer support requests at any scale:
HelpScout manages all customer conversations in one shared platform. Deliver cross-channel support, including email and chat, all within the same platform. Store and distribute self-service options to support customers’ education on their own time, and use actionable insights and detailed reporting to improve your customer experience.
Intercom uses high-touch and low-touch tools to engage customers when they’re most likely to act. Multi-channel engagement campaigns help you stay connected with new customers so their experience is consistent as they move through the onboarding journey.
18. Zendesk (again)
Zendesk is making our list for a second time, but for good reason. In addition to a knowledge base, Zendesk is a service CRM, shared inbox, and integrated help center that makes it easy to connect with customers where they are. Zendesk also offers multiple integrations to make your user experience unique and cover all your bases during the onboarding process.
All-in-one customer success tools
If onboarding isn’t a big concern for you and you’d rather go with a general customer success tool to cover the onboarding use case, rather than going with a more purpose-built solution, there are plenty of all-in-one tools on the market.
Popular all-in-one CS tools include:
Create delightful onboarding experiences with Dock
The customer onboarding experience requires finding the balance between offering support without overwhelming your new users. The onboarding tool you choose should make finding that sweet spot easier.
Dock's customer onboarding software allows customer success teams to build client workspaces that simplify the onboarding process at scale—without sacrificing personalization. Your team can create standardized onboarding templates that can be duplicated in a few clicks for every new customer.
Not only does this save your team time, it also makes life easier for your customers. With all their onboarding materials in one space—whether it's implementation checklists, walkthrough videos, or technical documentation—customers will see faster time to value.