Elements of the onboarding process

Good user onboarding helps your users and reduces friction, thus increasing your product’s value. Learn how to optimize your user onboarding process here.

Here are some proven elements of a successful onboarding process:

  • Utilize customer personas to understand who your users are and why they’re interested in your product.
  • Define what it means when your customer has successfully completed the onboarding process. “Success” will be something different for every customer.
  • Create a sign-up form. This page sets the tone for the rest of the customer’s onboarding experience. The key is to not overwhelm new users by asking for too much personal information too quickly. Just get enough to be able to “reward” the user with some sort of token of success. KC Karnes, a marketing strategist in Silicon Valley, suggests “After someone activates an account, consider displaying lively gifs, pictures, or animations that will make them smile.”
  • Send a welcome email with a single, crucial call to action (CTA), i.e., “Activate your account”. You can include additional CTAs, but a successful welcome email should be short, simple, and friendly. Also, emails should be sent from a person! 
  • Draw users in further upon their first log-in. For a lot of apps, the first log-in occurs from a welcome-email CTA or a springboard from a sign-up or registration page. At this stage, a lot of new users are holding their breath — almost expecting something to go wrong. So once they get to the other side, be sure to give them a warm and cheery welcome before getting right back to business.
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As soon as new users create a username and password on QuickBooks, they’re met with an amazing deal for signing up right away. But to offset any unintended pressure, there’s a very prominent, “Continue with Trial” button. Their 70%-off coupon, plus a money-back guarantee, plays into the excitement that humans experience when we’re offered a great deal. Note that it’s persistent, but it’s not pushy.

At this point, right after the first log-in, a lot of apps will celebrate the user’s achievement with confetti (see Slack), or a cheery welcome note. Not QuickBooks. Folks are using the accounting software to manage their income. That’s pretty serious business. So this pithy welcome not only gets to the crux of the product, but absolutely appeals to the way QuickBooks users define “success.” 

  • Create an in-app help-messaging strategy. Many apps and software products need users to fill out lots of different fields and provide personal information. And while people are pretty good at filling out their name and email address, when customers start getting into the product’s nitty-gritty details, they start encountering new and unfamiliar words and concepts. 
  • Avoid showing users empty states. Empty states are screens that have not yet been populated with information. In other words, since the customer is brand new to your app, there’s no content or user history to display on their newly formed dashboard. Or is there? There’s no reward if a user can’t see how your product is supposed to work. So this is a perfect opportunity to prompt new users to interact with the UI by encouraging them to “find friends” for a social media app, or “add clients,” for a project management system.

When users first log-in to their new LiveChat account, there are no chats to display on their dashboard. So new members can start populating the page by clicking on “Invite your website visitors to chat.”

  • Plant hooks, or “wow” moments, throughout onboarding steps. Hooks go toward defining why your product is indispensable.  
  • Post progress bars or updates throughout onboarding. People tend to finish tasks when the end is within site.
  • Keep it simple! Break each item down into its simplest elements. Dropbox does this really well. New users are instructed to import data a single file at a time. Ultimately, they’re able to sync and import data across multiple folders and files. But for right now, one step at a time.
  • Use “progressive profiling” – meaning, don’t ask users for all their information all at once

Progressive profiling is a lot like dating. You’d likely find your date dodging for the “bathroom” if you popped the question on the first date. The same is true of your website experience and the mountain of information you ask of your visitors in those first few interactions. –Amber Kemmis

  • Prompt new users to add and connect teams early in the onboarding process. Slack, the office-messaging app, does this on its mobile app and desktop web page. Not only does it help new users experience a task they will do repeatedly, but it also creates a sticky point for the new user and his colleagues. 

 During the onboarding process, Slack prompts users to create a team and invite team members. Invitees can start using the app to chat and trade files or funny gifs right away. That’s how you get your product to stick.

  • Create easy ways for users to find hands-off support and tutorials, no matter where they are in the funnel. Some users can easily internalize written instructions while others are more visually oriented. Video tutorials are an example of visuals with added value because they can be fun, funny, and engaging. 
  • Create and be prepared to send educational emails. The points at which you send these emails will vary depending on your product and what you need the user to do. You can use behavioral analytics tools like Mixpanel to assess that a user has used some basic features in your tool like “set up a chat channel in Slack”, but they are now ready to go deeper. That’s a perfect time to then trigger an advanced onboarding email sharing some new tips like how to make a Slack channel private.
  • Create documentation and other help documents. No matter how thorough your onboarding process, when users get stuck or need help, there has to be a very clear way for them to find assistance. A lot of websites provide an FAQ link to a separate page and searchable help topics. There are also ways to provide on-page assistance. Users can click on an info macro to see a tooltip callout box. You can also design “pro-tip” bursts and sidebars. 
  • Provide easy-to-access customer service assistance. Let users have their choice of communication methods they’re most comfortable with. That includes prominently displaying your phone number, a person’s email address, live chat, and social media links. If your customers want to connect with you via smoke signals, we suggest investing in twigs, flint, and a blanket, too.
  • But don’t stop at just calling people back and responding to emails. The information that users call, text, and email you about is important product feedback. If you’re getting a lot of confused customer service calls, you must examine the issue that’s causing confusion and sort it out. If they’re complaining about a long onboarding process, broken links, or unclear instructions — fix it!
  • Keep track of when people leave the user onboarding system and find out why so you can repair that, too.

Never stop onboarding. We strongly suggest staying engaged with your users. Keep them in the loop with emails about software updates, new tools, designs, and features; and make it easy for them to find your FAQ and searchable-help page. This step is critical to staying competitive. 

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