9 min read
The first interaction a user has with your online product or service can determine whether they will stay engaged with it beyond the trial period, upgrade to a paid plan, or renew at the end of their subscription term.
When the user starts out with a new product or service, they may not be aware of how it works, the different features it offers, and how to be successful in achieving the outcomes they want. Customer onboarding is the process of improving a customer's success with a product or service and describes the entire process that users go through when they begin their journey as a customer. Customer onboarding is the combination of initial sign-up, guided setup, product walkthrough, and communication that introduces users to your product and educates them on how to be successful with it.
Thoughtful user onboarding is becoming especially relevant today as software applications are becoming more complex, require initial setup and customization, and generally offer a multitude of different features and configurations. So, it is time to move beyond the traditional, often complex, and frustrating product documentation toward more intuitive, educational, convenient, and efficient content that is available when and where users need it most. But, most companies find themselves scratching their heads on how to pull this off.
What makes customer onboarding tricky is that it requires planning, collaboration, knowledge and efforts from across the organization. It is not just the product development team, as you may think. Product owners, product marketing and training, and customer success teams can play a crucial role in the overall success. Customer onboarding can also be difficult because, on the company side, you understand everything about your product or service in-depth since you work with it every day. So, shifting your mindset to the brand new user, without all of this knowledge yet, can be difficult, but may be the most important aspect. To truly deliver a successful onboarding experience you must fully understand what your audience needs, when, and where.
While creating successful customer onboarding may be challenging, once accomplished, it can reap many benefits for not just your customers but your entire company.
Now that we’ve covered what onboarding is and what benefits it can bring, let’s talk about the different types of customer onboarding you can consider. Depending on what product or service you provide and what your audience’s individual needs are, you may find using some or all of these strategies to be most beneficial.
The sign-up process for the trial of your product or service is the first impression you will make on the new user. This is where they will form an immediate opinion on the quality and value your product will deliver to them. During a free trial phase, this is also where they will decide whether or not to upgrade. Sort of like a blind date, you want this impression to not only go smoothly but leave the customer wanting to return for the second date!
The introductory sign-up flow strategy of onboarding is often a guided series of questions that set the user’s account up and get them going. Often these questions will target who the user is, information on their background, what product they will be utilizing, what they plan to use it for most, what they hope to accomplish from your product or service, and other rounding information like interests, problems, and needs. This strategy allows the user to answer simple questions that will generate a personalized and tailored experience just for them. Rather than plopping them right into your web or mobile application, you can use this sign-up flow to generate a convenient launching point for users to start learning with. Starting a new product or service from scratch can be overwhelming and confusing so it is best to give the customer somewhere to start.
Duolingo offers the perfect example of an introductory sign-up flow. Before even creating an account, you are guided through a series of questions that ask you about what language you would like to learn, why you want to learn it, your goals, and a final quick quiz to test your current knowledge on the language. They use this information to set up your dashboard and create your personal learning plan.
The product walk-through is probably the most common onboarding process as it covers some of the most important areas for the customer to understand. This is the step-by-step information that will display on each page a user may need more information from. For example, if your service is a photo editing tool, the product walk-through would include a few steps explaining to the user exactly how they should upload their photo, configure their settings, apply the different editing capabilities you offer, and then export. Briefly covering each feature and function you offer here is a great way to make sure your customers aren’t missing out on any of the value your product or service offers.
Now, product walk-throughs aren’t just offered at the first-time sign in. It can be a great idea to offer users the option to go back into the walk-through at any point in case they missed something, forgot, or just want a refresher. And, this can be used when releasing new features to existing customers. When launching something new within your current product or service, you don’t want users to miss out on this new update, so you can add a walk-through explaining it’s capabilities for the next time users sign into the application.
Humanity, a company offering an employee scheduling software, is an excellent example of an effective product walk-through. Their application guides you through each necessary step to get you started, ensuring you fully understand the foundations of their software. They also include tips, visuals, and helpful examples to make the process that much easier.
The progressive checklist is not a one-and-done onboarding strategy, but one that is best used when implemented along with something like a walk-through (or whatever you choose). The progressive checklist shows the user where they are in their onboarding and setup process and how much is left to go. It could be a literal list of items or a progressive bar. And it doesn’t have to just contain beginning steps but can include items that the user may want to complete throughout their entire experience with your product or service.
This is useful in helping users ensure they don’t forget any necessary steps and are gaining all of the educational material they should. Also providing a visual representation of where the user is in the process can help them see that there is a tangible end in sight where they will feel fully acclimated to their purchase.
The progressive checklist can also be a great place to allow users to enter goals. These would be specific and attainable metrics they hope to reach with your product. For example, if you provide a social media organizational tool, users may enter goals like gaining brand awareness, increasing followers and likes to X amount, or becoming a verified account. These goal incentives encourage users to continue returning to your product to succeed.
Succeeding in onboarding can reap many benefits for your company like customer retention and recommendation, increased feature adoption, and better insights into improving your product or service. But providing this level of onboarding can be tricky to accomplish as it requires a company-wide effort and includes a variety of tricky factors. The best thing to keep in mind is the user experience and how you can overall make it more enjoyable and convenient. Continue learning about building a winning self-service design with tips for designing your search tool and integrating self-help throughout your site.
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