Bad Customer Onboarding Experiences – Examples & How to Avoid Them

TL;DR

  • A bad customer onboarding experience is any onboarding pattern or element that keeps the users from reaching value and satisfaction.
  • A lack of a well-defined marketing/sales funnel, poor in-app experience, and poor feature adoption are just some challenges of bad customer onboarding.
  • Poor advertising, website UI problems, and poorly written first emails are some types of bad customer onboarding experiences.
  • To fight bad customer onboarding experiences, there are 3 important steps: knowing your customers & product well, using the right tools, and testing and optimizing regularly.

Do you still do business with a business or product you’ve had a bad experience with?

Try to answer as a consumer and not a person in business, SaaS, or anything.

‘Cause 96% of customers don’t.

So, how are we so comfortable with bad customer onboarding experiences when onboarding takes up a huge chunk of CX while also being the first impression of a customer of you and your business?

There is no margin of error when it comes to customer experiences.

So, today, let’s talk about:

  • What a bad customer onboarding experience is,
  • Common customer onboarding challenges,
  • Why positive onboarding experiences matter,
  • Poor customer onboarding experience examples and best practices, and
  • How you can avoid creating bad onboarding flows for your customers

Let’s dive right in:

What is a bad customer onboarding experience?

A bad customer onboarding experience is one that fails to satisfy customers expectations and needs from an onboarding process. It can also be one that fails to reach the goals determined by the customer success team that defines the overall success of a customer and the estimated time they will take to become and stay loyal customers. Overall, it is just any poor onboarding experience potential customers or first-time users face that hinders customer satisfaction.

Now, that’s how we define a bad onboarding experience.

Let’s take a look at exactly what defines a bad onboarding experience:

3 Common Customer Onboarding Challenges

At any stage of the customer journey, there are challenges for both your business and your customers.

And to overcome these, your best bet is to define them as they are.

Here are three common challenges any business can face when onboarding customers:

1- Lack of a well-defined marketing/sales funnel

Customer onboarding is a huge part of the overall customer experience, and naturally, it is intertwined with the sales funnel as well.

If you don’t have a well-established funnel to guide you in acquiring and retaining customers, onboarding users and customers might get all over the place.

Take the pirate metrics for example:

pirate funnel

If you fail to perform in one of the stage of the funnel, the rest might not be guaranteed.

If your outreach campaign doesn’t work, who will be acquired, activated and retained?

If you can’t acquire customers who are aware of your product who will you have to activate?

I could go on and on, but you get the gist.

Make sure you have each step of the funnel working like clockwork.

2- Poor in-app experience

A big factor leading to poor onboarding experiences for customers is their in-app user experiences, and specifically, user onboarding experiences.

If a first-time user is not prompted with onboarding flows and elements fitting their user expectations (product tours, user onboarding checklists, in-app messaging, modal windows, etc.) the chances of a successful user onboarding process drops considerably.

And a dissatisfied user means a dissatisfied customer.

But you don’t have to deal with that alone:

Exceed Customer Expectations: UserGuiding 🚀

When I first started writing about customer success and user experience, I thought, “What could a customer possibly except from a product other than its core features being available?”

I was naive and inexperienced. 

But at the same time, I was a serial consumer; from Netfilx, Uber, Duolingo, even YouTube Premium, I was a paying customer and an active user.

I should’ve been the one to know just how much more you can expect from a software. Especially when it comes to proper onboarding.

But with the right tool, you will never have to doubt your onboarding.

Meet UserGuiding:

userguiding customer onboarding
A quick onboarding flow on Asana made with UserGuiding, in 5 minutes

UserGuiding is a no-code user onboarding tool that is easy to use, easy to setup, and easy on your wallet, with plans among the most affordable ones in the market.

Using UserGuiding you can create:

✅ Interactive product tours, walkthroughs, guides,

✅ User onboarding checklists,

✅ Tooltips, hotspots, in-app messaging,

✅ Resource centers,

✅ NPS surveys, and more

All powered with powerful analytics, user segmentation and targeting, and high customization.

👉Try UserGuiding for FREE👈

3- Poor feature adoption

User onboarding ✅

Account activation ✅

Payment ✅ 

Then what? You can’t just let your customers do whatever, assuming they will never leave.

And to make sure they renew and make upgrades, your best bet is to come up with new features, launch updates, and properly onboard users to the new features as well.

If your feature adoption strategy is not thought through, you might not have great chances at long-term success.

Still, yet another important question is:

Why Does Positive Customer Onboarding Experiences Important?

A positive customer onboarding experience is important for all the reasons a poor onboarding experience is detrimental:

You lose your customers otherwise.

But of course, it’s not always that simple, and the only reason why you keep CX tidy is not only because you are afraid of churn.

👉 A good customer onboarding experience sure does keep customers interested and as far away as possible from churning, but at the same time, whatever makes customers happy can also attract more customers through referrals and word of mouth.

👉 A positive onboarding experience can also lower support tickets and contribute to the long-term success of customer support.

👉 Lastly, a good onboarding experience can streamline processes for both your own teams and for customers, ease the pain of going through countless documentations for onboarding and thus contribute to the customers’ overall success as well.

Of course, it is easy enough to imagine all this in theory.

Let’s take a look at how bad customer onboarding looks and how it can be fixed in practice.

Poor Customer Onboarding Experiences Examples (+ Best Practices)

Let me first make sure we are on the same page about customer onboarding: it is a continuous process with not-so-much set boundaries. 

In fact, even the first time a potential customer encounters your brand can be considered customer onboarding.

And the end of it?

Not before your customers stop renewing and churn.

So, with that in mind, here are some bad onboarding examples and how they should’ve been:

1- Poor advertising

Remember that horrible Pepsi commercial where Kendall Jenner is at a protest and hands the cops a Pepsi and everything is fine?

Well, that was just horrible advertising and it was obviously so.

What I’m talking about is doing bad advertising while thinking it’s good, like in Bridgecrew’s case:

bridgecrew customer onboarding

Though this promoted tweet essentially looks like good advertising with short copy and a simple CTA, it doesn’t really tell me what the product is or what it can do.

As someone fairly familiar with the software scene and marketing, what I see is only a type of product, not what it offers.

Let’s look at another example from a few tweets above:

shoprocket customer onboarding

Shoprocket is also a software promoting on Twitter, but they do so with actionable copy that sets forth the value of the product right away in the copy.

And this time, what the product is, what it can do for me, and its advantage over similar tools is clear to me.

It is best to make sure that you get these three things across, or what you think is a good ad can turn into wasted money real quick.

2- Website UI problems

When I say website UI problems, I don’t necessarily mean bugs and glitches that render a website useless.

If a website:

👉 Looks pretty but isn’t too functional,

👉 Is functional but looks poorly designed, or

👉 Is neither pretty nor functional

There are obvious problems with its UI.

And though it is not a SaaS example, Zara’s website is a perfect example of UI gone wrong:

zara website

While the design does look minimal and pretty, to an unfamiliar user, navigating the website can be a nightmare.

And that means you might potentially lose a customer right then and there.

A great example of utilizing website to the maximum, though, is definitely Genially:

genially customer onboarding experience
genially customer onboarding experience

The website is fully designed to show the value of the platform with all its features and all the possibilities it offers.

Especially for subscription-based businesses, there is no better use of a website.

3- Poorly constructed first email

Let’s say you managed to get a potential customer to register. Yay!

Now it’s time to start with more direct onboarding, namely, email onboarding.

This is your chance to talk directly to your new user and show them that your product is worth their money (that they are paying or might start paying).

And the last thing you want to do is make it into an unattractive factor for you like Disney Plus:

poor customer onboarding experience disney plus

And that was the only welcome message I received. Billing information.

I shouldn’t have to tell you how not on brand that is, when Disney has been the joy of many children (and adults) for practically a century.

On the other hand, some still know how to properly get onboarding, here’s how Asana does it:

asana email customer onboarding
asana email onboarding experience

Fun images, a thank you, and tips to start right up?

Sign me in.

The moral of the story is, it doesn’t matter if you are B2B or B2C; talking the language of your customers and actually being friendly and welcoming goes a long way in both cases.

4- Bad user onboarding flow

Without a really good user onboarding process, the customer journey might just go down.

The truth is the user onboarding experience has just too big of a part in the customer onboarding process, and it simply cannot go wrong.

Onboarding users is, of course, not the easiest task, but there are some ways to make it successful:

Using different onboarding UX elements 🚀

User onboarding checklists, tooltips, hotspots, promotional banners…

There are many different onboarding elements and using different ones where it’s appropriate can make a difference in getting your users to see just how much you care about their convenience inside your platform.

Focusing on the Aha! moments 💡

Every platform has one or more aha! moments; they are basically the points in your platform that gets users to realize how valuable it is.

It can be creating something, interacting with another person or post, sharing a file, and any other action that coincides with the core value proposition of your product or service and makes the users go, “aha! so that’s how you do it!”

Focusing on these milestones in your product experience while onboarding users can create all the differences in customer relationships and whether you will have happy customers or not.

Onboarding contextually 🧑‍💻

In the same vein as aha! moments, onboarding contextually is another strategy or best practice that can be used to introduce the core functions of a product when necessary, thus reducing the cognitive load of customers while also creating a more personalized experience.

The best way to do so is to use user/customer onboarding checklists to make sure your users, in fact, get to meet every feature they might need wherever the feature is.

There is, of course, a wide range of methods and strategies to ensure a successful user onboarding process; read more on our ultimate user onboarding guide 👈

5- Failing to promote in-depth feature use

A good customer onboarding process cannot overlook the long-term experiences of its customers.

And once your customers are onboarded to your product for the first time, the rest of the onboarding is all about product updates.

Spotify is a good example of how NOT to introduce new product features:

spotify bad customer onboarding experience
spotify bad customer onboarding UX pattern

The in-app product feature tour pis prompted as if a fully-fledged tour but has a mere two steps that don’t necessarily say much about the new features, and the actually new parts of the app aren’t even mentioned.

Through in-app modal windows, emails, push notifications on mobile devices, and other methods of customer communication, product updates and new product features can be announced.

But the real trick is to do it right.

For example, Around’s email updates are a great example of keeping users posted, and since Around is a young app, it has many updates:

around email onboarding experience

Just the sentiment of wanting to let users know what is new is good enough, but Around takes it up a notch and puts extra effort into making their emails fun.

While in-app onboarding is mostly considered better than email onboarding in 2022, Around’s email updates prove to be a better example than Spotify’s in-app tour.

The difference is in knowing your user base and putting real effort into making it engaging.

But how do you put it into action?

Let’s take a look at:

3 Steps on How to Avoid Creating a Bad Customer Onboarding Experience

Customer onboarding is a delicate process and can be a true sink-or-swim situation.

That being said, I could give you tens of strategies to fight bad customer onboarding and be very specific about it.

But there is no need.

Here are 3 simple but effective steps toward avoiding a bad customer experience:

1- Know your product & customers

We are all aware of how much the target audience can change the way we conduct business.

From the age to the gender of the customers, entire business processes in marketing, sales, customer success, and customer support change. User personas dictate each and every change in a product.

But how much do we consider the product itself?

When it comes specifically to the customer onboarding experience, the only variable cannot be the customer.

We could say that the product defines the audience in that case.

In fact, the product’s nature – purchasable or subscription-based, cloud-based or not, mobile or desktop-based – as well as the looks and use cases of the product, define the entire experience of customer onboarding.

So, knowing your product and your customers comes first in creating a successful customer onboarding process.

2- Use the right tools

Now, depending on the product and customer base, a product might require white-glove onboarding or automated onboarding.

And unless you are a very exclusive business with a few big contract customers, you will find that an automated user onboarding flow in-app accompanied by friendly emails is your best shot at a perfect customer onboarding process.

When you realize that, you will have two options: going in-house or using a third-party tool.

Here’s the deal, though, unless you have big contracts and a big team of developers right now, in-house will cost you – both in terms of money and time.

So unless you are a very small or a very big business, my humble advice is you go with a third-party tool.

And remember, it matters that you go with the right tool that matches your needs and desires the best.

Check out our best client onboarding software article here 👈

3- Test, Optimize & Update

Once you know that you understand your customers and your product and have the right software to utilize for onboarding customers, the process is almost complete.

Only, it never is.

An onboarding process never truly ends unless the product is no more.

With each update, you need to make sure your customers are once again properly onboarded and thus can continue renewing and doing business with you.

So, it is important to look for ways to improve your customer onboarding process by testing and collecting qualitative customer feedback, optimizing the process accordingly, updating your customers, and doing it all over again.

Never forget: no product or customer onboarding process is ever perfect.

They just come closer to perfection every time you update, so never stop updating.

To Wrap Up…

Like every product, every customer is unique.

And that makes every customer onboarding process unique.

So, I cannot really tell you if a user onboarding process or customer onboarding experience is truly bad or not.

It just might be what the product and the customers needed at that time.

So, to avoid bad customer onboarding experiences, make sure you define your product and customer properly, load up the arsenal with the right guns, and make sure to always try for the best version.

Best of luck!


Frequently Asked Questions


What is poor onboarding?

A poor onboarding experience is one that fails to realize customers’ expectations and thus, immediately or in the long run, causes customer churn.


What are the most common mistakes during the onboarding process?

During the customer onboarding process, some common mistakes are advertising the wrong way by overpromising or underpromising, not offering a smooth signup experience, failing to meet user expectations with in-app user onboarding, failing to make a core value proposition quickly, and overlooking the long-term onboarding as the product is updated.


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Serra Alban

When I realized I won’t be the next Tarantino I found myself as a creative content writer at UserGuiding. I’ve been obsessed with UX design, customer success, and digital adoption ever since. If you could stare at good UX for hours like me don’t hesitate to hit me up on LinkedIn. I might end up dropping too much movie trivia but hey, old habits die hard.