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16 User Onboarding Mistakes to Avoid to Keep Churn Low

User onboarding is undeniably an important part of any SaaS user experience, and this is especially so in 2022. I will explain this in this article.
Written by
Serra Alban
Published on
February 22, 2023

In SaaS, any right can turn into a wrong in the blink of an eye, and vice versa. Still, the 'mistakes' we've discussed above are seemingly those that put off users the most. Though the rights and wrongs of an onboarding flow depend greatly on the specific product, it is best to keep in mind that certain decisions can have a bad effect on the end product. It is best to first consider the nature of your product and then decide what best for it yourself is. Good luck, and don't forget to avoid the most common mistakes.

To make sure you are not the victim of a poorly designed onboarding flow, in this article, we will be looking at some common user onboarding mistakes you can avoid and enhance today. Without further ado, let's take a look at:

  • Content-based mistakes,
  • Format-based mistakes, and
  • Customer-based mistakes

We will discuss the definitions, explanations, and examples of these mistakes to shed light on what can be done to prevent them.

16 User Onboarding Mistakes to Avoid

When it is SaaS we are talking about, it is easy enough to realize that nothing is perfect. The field of SaaS in and of itself has been an area for experimenting and trials for years, and it will continue to be so for years to come.

But when the discussion switches to user onboarding, this statement is even more accurate.

User onboarding has been the underappreciated backbone of SaaS and especially customer success for years now, yet one can easily point out obvious mistakes in the onboarding process of a big brand's product.

This mistake can be rooted in a bad understanding of the customer base, a poorly mapped customer journey, or just ignoring the customer feedback.

Whatever the case might be, what matters is to make it right.

To do exactly that, here are some common mistakes in user onboarding.

Content-based user onboarding mistakes

More often than not, user onboarding flows suffer from a lack of substantial content foundation. Common issues include but are not limited to some we will touch upon below.

1- Too long/too short copy

One of the most common problems in any given onboarding flow is a lack of empathy for the users in terms of reading load.

In hopes of making everything crystal clear, onboarding designers might find themselves overdoing the explaining and writing copy that will put off users when inside the customer onboarding process.

This then lowers immediate customer satisfaction, the comprehension of core features, and eventually even customer retention.

For example, although Notion has an absolutely great onboarding flow overall, sometimes, because of their general aesthetic, certain modals tend to be overflowed with text. The one below is a good example of this.

While it is not necessarily a mistake, one can definitely do without so much text.

2- No regard for a personalized experience

In 2022, the last thing any platform should do is undervalue its existing and/or potential customers. Offering a personalized experience is but one way of showing that due regard are paid.

Even just by referring to users by their names or tracking past behavior to log and enhance future user experiences, personalization can be achieved. The medium also matters; for most platforms and tools, it is absolutely necessary to use a name when addressing the users while in-app experiences have more space for less personalization.

Again, from Notion but this time an excellent example of how to avoid a lack of personalization, we have a slideout modal. 

Just by naming the person on one end (David from Notion) as well as the other (the user's name), much can be achieved ğin terms of trust and creating loyal customers from the start of an onboarding journey or even the end.

3- Directions instead of explanations

Possible one of the biggest mistakes any onboarding flow would suffer from is the midset that user onboarding is about teaching users how to use a product.

A good onboarding should never consist of (just) that.

In a good user onboarding, the focus must always be on what the users can achieve using the functionalities of a product, not a lecture on what feature does what.

Grammarly does a pretty good job focusing on the users' goals instead of what they deem is important for their platform with their product tour modal. 

Furthermore, including a skip button also contributes to this goal of putting the users' needs and wishes before anything else.

4- No Aha! moments

An Aha! moment is a milestone in an onboarding flow that is the very moment marking the value proposition of a product for a customer. In other words, it's when the users go, "aha! I can use this to make my goal come true."

In any case, it is a given that an aha! moment must come by as early as possible, making sure a user has higher chances of coming across the value of a product as early as possible.

Thus, a lack of one or two milestones, that is the aha! moments can be detrimental to any type of user onboarding experience and thus to customer success. 

5- No interactive elements

While this one of the common onboarding mistakes on our list might depend on the type and complexity of a product, a lack of interactivity might affect a product onboarding quite poorly.

The reason why the SaaS industry has walked away from user manuals and static text to onboard users being the sheer unsustainability of it; it is only natural that users are now subconsciously looking for more and more interactive content.

And it is only fair to give the users what they need.

A good example of the right use of interactivity is Vieworks' onboarding flow. 

6- No clear ultimate goal

Much like the lack of aha! moments, a lack of an ultimate goal in a customer onboarding process might trigger a disrupted and unorganized feeling in users.

Depending on the product, this ultimate goal might be anything from creating a first end product with the product or showing signs of proficiency. It is also possible to go for a different approach and try to get users to achieve smaller goals one by one.

At this rate, other onboarding elements such as checklists and hotspots come into play. Let's take a look at those in the next section.

Format-based user onboarding mistakes

Although not as much as content-related customer onboarding mistakes, format-based problems in a user onboarding process are common as well. Here are a few of the biggest issues that can affect your onboarding experience.

7- No welcome modal

While it is the case for many products that some will require a fast jump into the onboarding, it is almost always a good idea to use a welcome modal, a personalized one if possible, to show users the start of a journey and locate them in the onboarding process. Of course, to welcome them as well.

A good example of how to welcome your users comes from Hopscotch.  

At the very beginning of the in-app onboarding flow, users are prompted with a welcome modal that also features a super short video message from the founder of Hopscotch.

This example achieves a lot at once. The fact that there is a welcome modal already creates a fun start for the users.

What's more is, they bring the CEO down to the user to welcome and offer help, which automatically makes the product and the people of Hopscotch sympathetical.

8- No checklist

A good way of putting users off their balance is to not give them a good list of what they will have to go through to understand a product and achieve their goals with it.

While the way this checklist will be executed and offered to the user also matters, what really matters is really the presence of one with around 3-5 tasks to start off.

A good example is Calendly's 5-step onboarding checklist, each step of which works as an aha! moment. 


9- Disoriented user journey

A disoriented user journey is what happens when an onboarding flow does not have the vital elements we discussed above, like welcome modals and checklists, or when it does not care to create a digestible and easy-to-follow scenario for the users.

Similarly, it does not need to be all about content either. If the timing and frequency of onboarding elements disrupt the user journey, it can cause the entire user journey to be disoriented.

To avoid such a problem, it is best to come up with a comprehensive onboarding user journey design that counts on different factors and works for all user segments.

10- One big flow instead of chunks of user flows

Especially when it is a complicated tool with a rather large user interface that features different pages and segments, one big walkthrough or product tour might be way too long or unnecessarily informative for first-time users.

At times like this, it is best to set specific milestones (aha moments), use elements to organize a proper user flow (with onboarding checklists), and offer standalone onboarding experiences for specific core features.

That's exactly what does, and it just might be what's best for many users. 

Especially since is a fairly big tool with many functionalities to learn, the contextual onboarding flows work wonders.

11- Wrong onboarding process fit for product

In terms of the format of an onboarding experience, there are many decisions to be made. All of these decisions are dictated by one crucial factor: the product itself.

Even when an onboarding format is thought to be working miracles for one or more specific tools, it might fail to do so for others.

And that is why every product must find its unique onboarding format itself. Whether it is a one-go walkthrough, a product tour with a follow-up onboarding checklist, contextual onboarding with interactive guides, or all of them at the same time, what matters is to remember that the decision should depend on the product itself.

Customer-based user onboarding mistakes

Our last category of user onboarding issues has everything to do with customer success and customer experience. These mistakes are either directly related to the customers or ones that affect the customer directly. 

Let's take a look.

12- No self-service options

89% of US consumers say that they expect to be able to access online self-service. This is hardly a number any business can ignore, and coincidentally, it has a lot to do with onboarding as well. 

At any point of an onboarding flow, customers/users might need to refer to support to check their facts, ask about a problem or to even just talk about the onboarding flow itself.

Naturally, not all businesses can offer a 24/7 customer support portal, and research shows that they do not need to in any case as almost 1 out of 2 customers seem to prefer self-service before all else. 

13- Hard to access customer service

Just as your self-service and customer service channels need to be available, they also need to be accessible.

A baffling phenomenon for many users arises when companies prefer to put their customer support buttons or info on the very end of a website or any other place on the website that needs to be accessed through other pages, in breadcrumb style.

Zoom does a fairly good job with a "support" button up at the right-hand corner of the screen as well as a live chat option down below. 

14- No feedback options

Success in customer success comes mostly from being able to listen. And the best way to listen to your customers or users is to ask them for feedback.

Was your onboarding informative enough, was it too long or short, and how happy they are with the product or a specific feature, all are valid and important questions. As long as businesses are careful in choosing the right questions, there will always be substantial answers.

Another good way of getting to know a user base is conducting an NPS survey. This will not only give you a good insight into which users are likely to churn or upgrade but it will also give you a better sense of what you are doing right or wrong depending on the user/customer interactions and reactions.

For example, ClickUp does a great job with its promoter survey. 

15- No customer segmentation

Pretty much in the same vein as personalized user experiences, customer segmentation refers to the use of difficult onboarding UX elements as well as different types of scenarios for user personas of each kind.

While the criteria for segmenting users might vary from product to product, it is true that segmentation works to ease the burden of onboarding both for the users and for the designers of the onboarding flow.

The fun thing about segmentation is that it can start very early on. In Wattpad's case, it can come even at the very start of the sign-up flow. 

Segmentation does not have to be a part of the user experience either. You can segment users privately and lead them through the scenarios for each segment without them knowing.

Still, though this approach might lower the cognitive load of the onboarding, it might not be perfect for all types of products.

16- Not monitoring user behavior and metrics

Focusing on the onboarding journey of users sure is a tough job as is, but we must also see the bigger picture; the business goals, churn rates, customer retention, and more.

To make it all work smoothly, bringing the insight from the onboarding flows onto paper for business purposes is a must. And at this stage, the greatest helper of all is some metrics to make it all tangible.

By tracking user behavior through user session heat maps and getting them to score their experience through surveys and feedback options, we can get substantial material to work with.

But in the eyes of the investors and founders, the star is metrics like acquisition rates, trial conversion rates, and onboarding completion rates. Collecting and tracking these metrics will give businesses the edge of knowing that their efforts in better onboarding are paying off through higher conversion rates. 


In SaaS, any right can turn into a wrong in the blink of an eye, and vice versa.

Still, the 'mistakes' we've discussed above are seemingly those that put off users the most. Though the rights and wrongs of an onboarding flow depend greatly on the specific product, it is best to keep in mind that certain decisions can have a bad effect on the end product.

It is best to first consider the nature of your product and then decide what best for it yourself is. Good luck, and don't forget to avoid the most common mistakes.

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