How To Create Good Onboarding Surveys for SaaS

Growing numbers of SaaS companies are adding an onboarding survey to their customer sign-up flows.

Those that do often gain insights into the needs of their customers, which ultimately translate into an improved product experience for users, higher activation and greater retention.

But what distinguishes a good onboarding survey from other types of business intelligence? What types of questions should SaaS include, and why?

This article will explore some of these questions.

  • Onboarding surveys are short questionnaires that gather commercially valuable insights prior to a user becoming a paying customer.
  • They make a good impression on your customer, and the insights gathered, if filed correctly, can be useful for your product and marketing teams.
  • Questions should be unbiased and straightforward and should include at least one sentiment question with a qualitative follow-up.
  • To save time, build your survey from an existing template, or use some of the sample questions below.
  • Distribute your survey using Typeform or Google Forms.

Let’s start with some definitions.

Firstly, to be clear, we’re talking about CUSTOMER onboarding here, not EMPLOYEE onboarding. If you’re looking for content about employee onboarding, you can stop reading here and check out this post instead.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I would define a customer onboarding survey as follows:

Customer onboarding surveys are used by SaaS businesses to gather commercially valuable insights about a given individual or business, prior to them becoming a paying customer.

Such surveys are usually:

  • Created and filled out digitally
  • As short and frictionless as possible
  • Filled in after a sales call, but before the first customer payment

The value to your SaaS in surveying users like this is as follows:

This feedback can be used to make better product experiences for customers. The feedback might translate into new features, improved UI or fewer bugs.

bug under microscope
bug under microscope
Source: tripwire

A startup I worked with recently surveyed their users during onboarding and found out that their sign-up flow didn’t work at all on a particular mobile browser. This was a big problem that they wouldn’t have been able to fix without the survey.

It’s not always easy for SaaS companies to get all their customer data written down and organized.

But if a customer fills out a survey, there is a written record of that data which can be added to any previous notes your account executive took on the sales call.

You can then file all of that data on Zendesk, or whatever similar customer success software you use to store all your customer data.

Sending the customer a well-written survey before they even start paying you is bound to come across as professional and conscientious. Bonus points if the customer feels like the questions show an understanding of the pain point that led them to your solution in the first place.

If you ask the right questions (more on that later), you can also gauge how customer sentiment fluctuates over time.

Here are some best practices for you to think about:

If you’re a new product marketer, it might be tempting to try to include every question under the sun in your onboarding survey.

Surely customers will appreciate your attention to detail, right?

Wrong. Less is more.

bad survey
bad survey
Would you fill in this survey?

Can you imagine receiving a survey with 100 questions from a company you barely know? You’d get turned off in two seconds flat.

5–10 questions are more than enough at this stage.

Don’t ask customers for their life story, or otherwise require them to spend too much time writing an individual answer.

What steps over your career have ultimately led you to our product?

Don’t ask customers a question that they’ll have to consult a team member about before answering.

Where does your CEO see your company in 10 years?

And don’t ask them vague questions that don’t have a concise answer.

To what extent is our product meaningful?

It’s not always 100% scientific to try to measure something as subjective as “does this customer like our business?” in a quantifiable manner.

The best ways the SaaS world has developed so far involve getting the customer to give you a concrete score for particular questions.

There’s the Net Promoter Score framework, or NPS for short, which asks:

How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?

Customers can give a score between 1 and 10.

Or there’s the Customer Satisfaction framework (CSAT), which asks:

How satisfied were you with our service today?

Scores can be given on a scale from 1–10, on a scale from very dissatisfied to very satisfied, or using smiley emojis.

Or there’s the Customer Effort Score framework (CES), which asks:

How easy was it to interact with our company today?

Scores are normally given from 1–5 or with emojis.

Each of these 3 frameworks will give you insights into how your customers are feeling before and during the onboarding process.

As we’ve written before on this blog, frameworks like NPS are useful for showing SaaS companies WHAT user sentiment is.

net promoter score userpilot
net promoter score userpilot

But they’re useless for showing WHY user sentiment is what it is.

This is where qualitative survey questions come in, as a way to understand why the user is scoring you highly or poorly.

Some simple qualitative questions include:

  • Why did you give this score?
  • What did you like?
  • What did you dislike?

In your qualitative follow-up questions, try to avoid asking blatantly biased questions, or questions that leave the customer scratching their head.

Here are some examples to steer clear of:

  • Bias: “Why do you like our awesome customer service team?”
  • Loaded questions: “Prominent marketing experts like Neil Patel believe that using our product will increase sales by 57% each month. Do you agree?”
  • Double-barreled questions: “Was the product easy to find — and would you buy it?”
  • Jargon: “Do C-Suite stakeholders in your enterprise align on increasing LTV at touchpoints across the customer journey?

I’m using deliberately ridiculous examples here to make a point, but you’d be surprised at how often questions like these slip into onboarding surveys.

Now that you know what types of questions to avoid, let’s look at…

We’ll break these down into multiple different categories.

Reminder: you don’t need to use all of the categories (much less all of the questions) in order to create a good survey.

  • What’s your website URL?
  • What’s your business address?
  • Who’s the main point of contact for your business?
  • What’s their email address?
  • Are there any documents about your business that we should keep on hand?

You’ll need to capture this data at some point in your onboarding flow. Most SaaS businesses that I’ve come across collect this data when the customer fills out their customer profile details upon registration. I’ve also seen businesses collect this data (or parts of it) on sales calls.

But if anything is still missing, you might consider putting questions like these into your survey.

  • How did you hear about our business?
  • Why did you select our business for this project?
  • What was going on in your life that brought you to sign up with us?

You’ll see at least one question like this on most SaaS onboarding surveys. It’s important for marketing reasons to understand where your customers are hearing about you and why they want to buy from you.

Information like this allows your marketing department to focus more on the best-performing marketing channel(s), and send out the right messaging to attract lookalike customers. You should definitely be talking about these questions in sales calls as well.

The tone used in these questions varies from corporate to more personal, giving you a few options that you can choose from to match the style of your brand.

  • What are your overarching goals for working together?
  • What specific metrics can we use to measure success for this collaboration?
  • Picture the moment you first signed up. What’s the first action you wanted to do, or outcome you wanted to achieve?

One thing I’ve learned from psychologist Jordan Peterson is that most people don’t specify their goals, because they don’t want to specify conditions for failure.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you won’t ever fail. Rather, you’ll muddle along until you fail so badly that your business will never recover.

Knowing exactly what your customer is aiming to get out of working with you gives you a clear, measurable point of focus. The answer to this type of question might also give you ideas for adding new product features later down the line that supports the customer with achieving their goals.

Keep measuring your customer’s progress towards their stated goals over time, and you’ll have an excellent predictor of customer health. If they hit their goal, they’ll stay. If not, they might be at risk of churning.

  • What solutions did you try? Please explain why they were not a perfect fit for you.
  • What are the three most important features for you and your team — three features that, if removed, will probably make you search for another solution immediately?

The purpose of these questions is to gauge why your customer values you over your competitors.

By understanding exactly what they value, you’ll reduce the chances of them leaving for a competitor. And you may also be able to tempt some lookalike customers away from your competitors as well, if you communicate the answers to these questions to your marketing department.

There are two categories of questions like this. Firstly, there are the quantitative questions that invite customers to give you a measurable score:

  • How are we doing so far?
  • How do you rate our product?
  • How do you rate the support you have got so far?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend the product/service to a friend or colleague?
  • How satisfied were you with our service today?
  • How easy was it to interact with our company today?

Secondly, and arguably more importantly, there are the qualitative questions that help you assess why a customer scored you in the way that they did:

  • Why did you give this score?
  • What did you like?
  • What did you dislike?

You can’t use one category without the other in this instance.

The actionable part of this feedback will come from the qualitative questions. They’ll tell you exactly what your customer does or does not appreciate, and you can pass this information on to product or marketing.

  • What more can our team do to ensure this is a smooth, satisfactory process for you?
  • How can the product/service be enhanced to suit you better?
  • What could we do to become your favorite company to do business with?
  • What challenge are we not solving for you that we could be?

You’ll almost never want to include more than one question from this category. This is because these questions invite the customer to do more than just check a simple box in order to respond, and you don’t want to take up too much of their time.

That being said, you can get some really fascinating feedback from questions like this, because they allow you to uncover so-called “unknown unknowns.”

These are problems that you didn’t know that you had — problems which could be costing you a lot of money.

If you’d rather not go to the lengths of creating your own survey questions, we’ve reviewed 4 templates that might give you some inspiration.

All of the templates were made by companies that specialize in survey software. You can access them by clicking on the link in the relevant sub-heading.

typeform survey
typeform survey

We like:

  • The survey is really short
  • Typeform’s UI is intuitive and visually appealing
  • The copy is friendly and inviting
  • Good use of a sentiment question followed by a qualitative one
  • Grabs the customer’s email address at the end

We dislike:

  • Very little. I am a big fan of Typeform and this template is excellent
  • No question that assesses where the customer heard about you

Overall score: 9.5/10

surveymonkey survey
surveymonkey survey

We like:

  • Questions can be filled in very quickly without much thought
  • It’s possible to skip to question 15 if you don’t sell networking products

We dislike:

  • Too many questions
  • It’s likely you can acquire most of the basic customer data without using a survey
  • Question 9 could be perceived as intrusive for asking about financial information
  • UI looks about 10 years out of date

Overall score: 4/10

survicate survey
survicate survey

We like:

  • It’s short
  • Rating the training using stars is intuitive and even slightly gamified
  • Qualitative follow-up question to gauge why your business was scored in the way they were
  • Open ended feedback question to acquire feedback about unknown unknowns

We dislike:

  • Unlike Typeform, it’s not possible to flick through all the questions before responding

Overall score: 8/10

surveysparrow survey
surveysparrow survey

We like:

  • Friendly, inviting imagery
  • Conditional formatting: remembers your name and uses it in future questions
  • Lots of sentiment questions that are easy to fill out
  • Qualitative follow-up question

We dislike:

  • Survey takes a bit longer to load than others on this list
  • Copy on button always says “Yes,” which is a bit formulaic and doesn’t always make sense
  • Occasional typo, eg “aquainted”

Overall score: 6.5/10

Between the templates we just discussed and our question suggestions, you should now have enough information at your fingertips to put together your own onboarding survey.

The next question is: how do you distribute it? There’s not much point creating a survey if no-one fills it in.

The easiest way to distribute an MVP version of your survey is to build something in Google Sheets and send it out by email.

This solution takes minimal effort in terms of building the survey, but you might run into some issues in integrating the survey into your automated onboarding flow.

The only way to automate this I can think of is to add a lightbox to your onboarding that asks for people’s email to send the survey to. That’s quite a lot of extra friction.

lightbox for survey
lightbox for survey
Example of a lightbox, courtesy of Sellbrite.com

For this reason, my suggested way to distribute your survey would be by using Typeform.

As you saw in the survey template section earlier, Typeform’s surveys look really professional and are very intuitive to fill in. From a SaaS point of view, they’re also easy to integrate into an existing landing page.

I recently taught myself how to do this and would estimate the whole process took me perhaps an hour.

Another reason why I like Typeform is because their surveys allow for conditional logic jumps. In other words, a given customer A might receive different questions later down the survey than customer B, because their earlier answers were different.

Typeform will collect all the survey responses for you in one place in a way that makes it easy to share that data with the rest of your team.

If you want an alternative to Typeform, I’ve also seen a lot of businesses make good use of Google Forms.

After reading this article, you should be able to:

  • Know what customer onboarding surveys are
  • Understand why they matter
  • Understand best practices for survey questions
  • Use pre-existing survey templates to save time
  • And share your survey using Typeform, or a similar software

If you want to use a tool that makes onboarding customers really easy, consider giving Userpilot a spin. Book a demo by clicking on the banner below.

Userpilot is a Product Growth Platform designed to help product teams improve product metrics through in-app experiences without code. Check out userpilot.com