6 Best Practices to Streamline User Onboarding

user-onboarding

"You will never get a second chance to make a first impression."

This quote from Will Rogers is relevant for most things in life, but it is especially significant when introducing new products to a market -- and to customers.

User onboarding is one of the most crucial -- and frustrating -- elements of any product launch. It is the first impression, and it needs to be planned and analyzed for future adoption and growth.

Customer success managers and coaches assisting customers with new product introductions should better understand this important aspect of product setup so they help their clients refine their message, find the right target market, and ultimately, gain traction. 

Below are six things to consider when setting up your user onboarding plan -- keep reading to learn how to set your customers up for success before they even buy your product.

6 User Onboarding Best Practices

1. Map User Journeys

Successful onboarding requires a clear image of the product's users. Before establishing a process for onboarding users, craft user personas that account for their needs, goals, motivations, and the messages that will resonate with them. Is cost the most important driver for conversion? Do some users need more education? Will your user be the final decision maker for a purchase? These insights help prioritize messages and establish user flows that best fit a customer's journey.

Each persona will likely need a different path to purchase, so creating multiple landing pages can help capture new traffic and increase conversions by tailoring the product to their specific needs. These pages also offer valuable testing opportunities to determine which onboarding elements are most effective.

2. Communicate the Value Proposition

A customer needs to understand what a product is all about before using it, right? That means they need a compelling value proposition: a simple, clear description of what makes the product unique. Potential users shouldn't have to work hard to understand a product. In less than five seconds, potential users should be able to grasp the product's core advantages. The Ladders, a career search site for higher income jobs, is a great example: "Your Career is Our Job." It signals very simply and quickly that the company isn't satisfied until their customers are. Spotify's "Soundtrack Your Life" value proposition is equally impactful.

Those first five seconds are the product's first and only opportunity to provide users with an "aha!" moment, where the user understands the costs and benefits of the product and wants to know more. That means you have one or two sentences to communicate the value proposition clearly to potential customers. The value proposition also introduces the tone and personality of the product, like whether it's playful and fun, serious and buttoned-down, or anything in between.

3. Reduce Friction

OK, so the product has a brief, personable, easily understandable value proposition. Check, check, and check. But, if the great value proposition is followed up with a poor sign-up experience, onboarding can come to a screeching halt. User friction is almost inevitable, but good design can help grease the wheels and encourage successful sign-ups. Friction is any variable, website quality, or user behavior trend that slows down (or entirely halts) the progression of your company's sales cycle. Some of the reasons users commonly experience friction include:

  • The landing pages are too long and complicated. 
  • There is cognitive dissonance, meaning the marketing messages and the landing pages don't align.
  • The brand fails to communicate trust signals to users

Social login or email signup can seriously reduce the user friction of a signup, but many businesses will still want the data that comes with a full sign-up form. Here, it's important to carefully balance marketing needs with user flow design. Wherever possible, keep it simple. Try to implement inline form validation, which can decrease form completion time by a whopping 42%. Also, consider building trust through testimonials, customer reviews, and seals throughout the process.

4. Tailor the Experience

Some users will want guidance to get through the sign-up process, and some users will want you to get out of their way. Showing users a clear pathway to completion can help those who want a little hand-holding. For those who want to figure things out on their own, the easiest solution is to have a new user actually do something with the product: write a new post, fill out a bio, or even refer another user. The product's success depends on users establishing comfort with core features, and nothing builds user confidence like giving them the keys to the car.

5. Be a Guide

If the product is complex, it will likely have more than one feature to introduce, which often requires a more involved onboarding process. Users need to have that golden moment where they realize they don't want to live without the product, and navigating multiple features or making things complicated can delay that key moment of discovery.

But, they won't have that golden moment if you can't help them. Steve Jobs learned this very early on at Apple, when he couldn't get other people to understand what a personal computer was or how it worked. That experience imbued Apple with the DNA to make the complex simple -- from how the company communicates its products' value propositions to the ease in which users can interface with its products.

Consider using guided interaction that educates and familiarizes users with the core features of the product. Two modern companies doing this with great success are Facebook and Twitter, which use educational roadblocks to inform users of new features, policy changes, and the like. These roadblocks are large and prominent, so they cannot be ignored.

6. Use Email to Educate and Support

The person has to use the product to be a user. A signup that then disappears into the ether is of no value at all. The use of email is still the most effective way to convert a new user into a paying customer. Email is particularly important for SaaS onboarding, both as a means of engagement and new customer referral. Here are a few things to keep in mind when attempting to onboard users via email:

  • Email should support a well-defined onboarding process: The welcome or first email should be the first step on the road to conversions. Keep the message clear and eliminate confusion.
  • Include a single, clear call-to-action: Each email should be focused on getting the user to do one specific thing. 
  • Provide a direct link: The single CTA should lead the person directly to the thing he needs to do on the site or app.

A robust email plan can extend onboarding education to help users grow from a newbie to a seasoned power user.

Using your personas as a guide, map both registered and non-registered user journeys through the product and identify the major milestones they need to accomplish to take full advantage of the product. Pair these steps with marketing automation workflows and phone call check-ins to ensure emails are delivered precisely when new users need them most.

An effective process requires endless testing and refinement, but in the end, you'll develop users who understand and actually enjoy using your product.

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