User Onboarding vs Customer Onboarding

Users and customers are two concepts that are often confused. When we include them in the concept of onboarding, these two terms become even harder to differentiate. This is why we will focus on a comparison of user onboarding vs. customer onboarding in this article.

What’s the difference between a user and a customer

It is crucial to understand the difference between a user and a customer to overcome the difficulty of differentiation.

What is a User?

A user is a person who uses or operates your service or product to satisfy their needs and solve their problems. Users look for taking advantage of what they use. They can be customers, too. But it is not a must. They can be visitors who are only checking on your product. Still, they would be classified as your users. 

Usually, we see that users are more open to changes, and they are more flexible than customers. Users are not paying you for what they use. Until your product becomes useless or extremely hard to operate, users will be highly voluntary to cooperate with you or to use your product.

What is a Customer?

A customer, on the other hand, is a person who buys products or services from a shop or business. They basically give you money. So they will be more passionate about getting whatever you offered in return for their money. 

Customers are paying you because they know what exactly they need. So they expect you to meet this exact need and solve their problems quickly.

You can repeat the saying ‘free users vs. paying customers’ in your mind to remember the difference. 

What are User Onboarding and Customer Onboarding?

Now let me explain what user and customer onboardings are and examine the differences.

user vs customer onboarding

User Onboarding

User onboarding is the instructions showcasing your goods or service to the user and potential customer that starts from the moment of initial engagement. It can be achieved via short videos, animations, and interactive guides to reveal the value of your product. It is the first step of the journey with your product or service. 

User onboarding is where you make things clear and prove that you offer them a great experience and value. The trick is not to cause the user to feel like they have failed or the product is complicated, and help them get to their Aha moments.

Customer Onboarding

Customer onboarding starts before the user purchases the product or service. Like in user onboarding, you need to show the potential customer what you offer with your product. But, the customer onboarding goes on after the initial onboarding process.

What is the difference?

Let’s consider free trial periods to see the difference between user onboarding and customer onboarding. For the customers, you need to prove that your product is worth paying, and free trials are great opportunities for that. Your potential buyers become your users for a while, during which you need to attract them so that they will pay for your product. 

Customer onboarding continues after your customers pay for the first time. You need to keep these customers buying your product and make sure they don’t consider switching to other products. When onboarding customers, your goals are to improve conversion and retention rates, and decrease churn.

However, you will not need these periods for user onboarding because you are not trying to sell anything to users. Selling your product is not a target, you only wish them to keep using your product and get to their Aha! moments. When onboarding users, you aim to improve activation rates. You must make sure they constantly get tasks done using your product and have a perfect experience.

But, they are not entirely irrelevant. Both user and customer onboarding processes start from the moment the potential user or customer gets to know about you. Once your audience realizes you, you need to focus on the onboarding efforts to gain and retain them. It is different from a product tour, which has a short lifetime, as onboarding never ends.

What do you need: user onboarding or customer onboarding?

user vs customer onboarding difference

Onboarding is essential for both users and customers. Be aware that both user onboarding and customer onboarding are about gaining people and their loyalty. But your own case determines which one you need to make use of regarding your professional goals. 

There are many different ways to generate income from a product, and they all require different onboarding processes. You need to choose your way to know which onboarding process to follow.

Are you planning to generate income through direct payments or by allowing an advertisement in your product? For the first option, you need to go for customer onboarding, and for the latter, try user onboarding. Here is why: User onboarding enables you to acquire and retain users by showing the features and aim of your product to the audience. On the other hand, customer onboarding aims to convince people to pay and keep paying for your product. 

UserGuiding offers a code-free user onboarding software that helps you create onboarding flows for both users and customers, in minutes.

Simple, Affordable, and Powerful User Onboarding Software.

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Whichever you use, after the subscription (paid or free), people want to see a welcoming message or something that feels a personal touch. With the comprehensive guidance after a sincere welcoming process, it is possible to offer the best experience to gain customer loyalty. The better they know how to take the maximum advantage of your product, the more your audience will stick to you.

Onboarding is a long-lasting process. After the guidance, you will need to follow what’s happening between your product and the audience so that you can find quick solutions to the problems experienced by the customer. Every amendment or update is a subject of your next step during the onboarding process: for both user and customer.

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Selman Gokce

Selman Gokce

Selman Gokce is the Senior Inbound Marketer of UserGuiding. He is highly invested in user onboarding and digital adoption, especially for SaaS, and he writes on these topics for the UserGuiding blog. When he's not writing, you can find him either listening to LOTR soundtracks while cooking or getting angry because he lost in a video game.