The importance of onboarding

Soraya Meirmans
10 min read

Trying out a new software product can feel awesome, like taking on a new superpower. The real magic happens when it’s easy to use from the start. This sets you and the business up for success. Onboarding is like a personal guide to show you the best parts of the product. It’s not just about the first screens, it’s about helping you have successful moments with the product, beyond your first visit.

This article is a summary of the Onboarding whitepaper, which you download here.

Key takeaways you’ll find in this article

  • Make onboarding as smooth as possible by identifying areas that could cause friction
  • Never forget the importance of the start of your onboarding
  • Although you want information from your users, it’s important to keep this initial
    request short or you’ll risk losing potential customers.
  • Incorporating contextual messaging during onboarding helps reduce confusion
    and re-engage users who may consider alternative options.

“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”

Define who the customer is

It all begins with the customer. What do we already know about the customer? Are there any personas available? In an assumptions workshop we identify assumptions we often make about what problem exists for different kinds of people. We use these assumptions to formulate user interview questions in the future for validation. Because you cannot build a successful product that is only based on assumptions.

Define the problem of the customer

If a user is likely to use your product, then a situation must arise in which they don’t want to be in anymore. For example, someone may encounter an “I need to unwind” situation after a long day at work, and “hire” Netflix to help relieve some stress.

A way to discover situations and motivations of customers is to create narratives. An overview of great and bad narratives you can find in the Onboarding whitepaper.

To understand your customers even better, interview people who have just crossed the finish line to become highly engaged users. When conducting your interviews, try to keep participants focused on their actual actions and feelings when making the switch. Asking for specifics also helps transport people back into the actual moment, which brings up valuable additional details. In the end you want to have answers to these questions:

What’s the context of their needs that brought them to your product?

  • What problems do they experience?
  • What are the tasks that your customers need to be successful at in order to see
  • And what will your customers achieve if they complete those tasks?

From signup to value

The journey from signup to realising the value of a product can be challenging and may result in losing users along the way.
New users who drop off during onboarding believe that the value of a product isn’t worth the cost of continuing. There are four forces that affect a user’s decision to choose and stick to a particular product:

  • The push to find a new solution due to current problems.
  • The pull from what could be achieved with this new product.
  • The inertia of not wanting to change.
  • The anxiety around the risks of moving to a new product.

“A product design that reduces anxiety provides a user with more insight into the action they are about to take.”

The customer’s definition of success

This begins with continually asking newly signed up customers what they are hoping to achieve with your product. You will learn:

  • Their functional goals (e.g. organise my team’s tasks).
  • Their personal goals (e.g. let me feel in control).
  • Their social goals (e.g. impress my boss).

We use the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework to understand the value our customers seek to get out of a product.
[Link to other blog] Read more about the Jobs-to-be-Done framework

Product functionalities & tasks

To create more manageable tasks for onboarding, an overview of all product functionalities and tasks a user can do in the product is necessary.

Caution: don’t ask too much of your users right from the start. We call this ‘onboarding overwhelm’. In order to avoid this you can break down the tasks they need to do into the smallest possible pieces and ask them to take one step at a time.

For example, let’s look at Dropbox. Rather than asking their users to sync folders and add all their files at once, they simply say upload one file. That’s it. In terms of Eyal’s Hook method, that is by far the simplest action you can ask someone to take in order to see a ‘wow moment’.

The Ikea effect!

We have a funny cognitive bias called the Ikea effect, which says that we place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created. In the context of onboarding, this means you can create a stronger connection with users by letting them discover some features rather than spoon feeding them each and every one.

Create user journeys

User journeys help in scoping out a project and help us take a customer focused design approach. They refer to the map of scenarios in which the user interacts with the end to end system (both product and services). Normally the scenarios consist of between 4 and 12 steps. User journeys uncover the key user pain points, motivations, goals, different touch points, emotions and highs and lows of experiences while users are engaged with products/services.

Products we design need to mirror the state of mind of our users. When we consider a user’s emotional state, this knowledge will help us to connect with users on a human level. That’s why it’s important to add an emotional lane to the user journey map.
[Link to other blog] Read more about creating user journeys

Create hooks

A major onboarding mistake is assuming users have unlimited time to solely focus on learning to use your tool. But, if you can show a user what success looks like in practice, you’ve got them. Behavioural designer Nir Eyal calls this creating ‘hooks’ [Link to blog about this book] actions that, the more your user takes them, the more likely they’ll become habits.

A hook consists of four parts:

  • Trigger: What tells a user that it’s time to take an action? In the case of your onboarding process this could be an email, a tip tool, or a pop-up notification in the app.
  • Action: What is the simplest action that a user can take to get the reward? Is it to start a new project? Import their contacts? Like a photo?Reward: Which of their goals are you appealing to with this action? How quickly do they see the success they’re looking for?
  • Investment: What does the user invest into the product now that makes the experience better? Is it a task for a project? Team member profiles?

The 6 key elements of an effective onboarding glow

No matter the approach, all of the onboarding flows have six elements in common. Besides these elements, you also have important UI components to integrate in your product. You can find the key elements and components in an easy-to-read list in the Onboarding whitepaper.

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