Main illustration: Sonny Ross
A great onboarding experience is one that proves to new users that your product will help them do the job that they want.
To put it another way, the ideal onboarding experience is a short, easy and frictionless path to finding value.
Of course, many products have unavoidable complexity. If getting started with your product requires new users to install software, invite colleagues or message customers, then the path to value may not seem as short or straightforward. In cases like these, the user onboarding flow from signup to realizing value can be long and arduous and can cause your onboarding funnel to leak users. That’s why all high stakes steps deserve care and thought, and possibly internal review and approval.
New users who drop off during the onboarding process believe that the core value of a product isn’t worth the cost of continuing. The Rewired Group identified 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.
To onboard customers successfully to a complex product, you’ll need to understand the push, strengthen the pull, overcome inertia and calm anxiety.
Understand the push
Be aware of pain points
You can’t control the pain points of a customer’s existing solution; that’s what’s prompting them to try your product in the first place. But you should be aware of the pain points posed by alternative solutions so you can more precisely signal the unique value you offer. Only by having a sense of what people’s push forces look like can you successfully tailor your pull message to them.
Strengthen the pull
Explain the benefit of each onboarding task
Adopting a new product takes time and effort. Plus, while new users are onboarding, the noise and distractions of day-to-day work are still competing for their time and attention. It’s your job to cut through that noise and enhance the pull to your product by explaining the benefit of completing each onboarding task.
To cite an Intercom example, when encouraging users to create their first Custom Bot, we present two templates to choose from along with text focusing on the job they can do – “Capture, qualify and assign leads for your sales team” and “Generate leads while you’re out of the office” – rather than pointing out elements of the UI.
Your aim is always to help users progress to the next step in the onboarding experience and there are a number of ways you can make the benefits of onboarding even more compelling:
- Provide hard claims (like the insurance company who promises that 15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance).
- Show social proof (like relevant customer testimonials or the number of people who have completed a specific task with progress bars).
By describing why a new user should take action in a compelling way, you increase the pull of your product and help these users move one step closer to activation.
Tailor onboarding for all stakeholders
Many complex products involve multiple stakeholders. Maybe the buyer isn’t the user or maybe there are multiple users. Some of these stakeholders will likely have different reasons to adopt your product. To pull these stakeholders to your product, you need to help everyone in the group find success by speaking to each stakeholder’s individual needs.
Start by identifying the primary Job-to-be-Done for each stakeholder. For example, imagine a product that helps generate more sales leads from websites. In this case, there could be three different stakeholders:
- A marketing leader will care about how many leads are generated.
- A sales leader will care about leads too, but they’ll want high-quality leads and to increase the efficiency of their sales team.
- A salesperson will want to talk to more high-quality leads and close more deals. Their compensation depends on it.
The value of the product differs for each of these stakeholders, so to pull them towards your product effectively their onboarding experiences should also differ. You’ll need to separately highlight the features that are most relevant to each of them (our Product Tours feature allows you to tailor these guides to specific audiences).
Provide guidance for complicated tasks
To get value from a complex product, a new user needs to do work that’s beyond just configuring the product itself. These complicated tasks could be things like writing content, deciding which customers to message, or creating a campaign.
These steps often seem simple from the point of view of your product, but can require considerable thought and effort from a new user. It’s no surprise that these high effort steps are often the source of greatest leakage for onboarding funnels.
“Avoid inertia by providing simple choices that guide users towards making the decision that’s right for them”
To help your customers succeed with these cognitively demanding tasks, don’t present them with a blank page or an overwhelming menu of choices. Avoid inertia by providing simple choices that guide users towards making the decision that’s right for them. Intelligent defaults and templates help to reduce the number of choices a user has to make, while how-to content, examples and best practices are a great form of guidance for complicated tasks, like content creation. All of these techniques make demanding tasks seem more manageable, which in turn, improves the completion rate.
In addition to providing guidance to complete a task, be sure to remind users that they can skip it and come back to it later. You don’t want your new users getting stuck trying to compose the perfect push notification during their first experience of your product, you just want them to be aware that this feature exists. Letting users know that they can skip a task will help avoid inertia and maintain momentum.
Reassure or skip highly visible onboarding steps
Most people fear public humiliation. The prospect of making a very visible mistake makes everyone anxious. Yet most complex products require new users to take highly visible steps during onboarding. These steps contain inherent risk of screwing up: sending the wrong email to VIP customers or spamming every person in your phone’s contacts list.
“The first few minutes of a new customer’s experience is ideally an effortless demonstration of your product’s value”
These anxiety-inducing steps can be a barrier to effective onboarding. To avoid losing new users at these critical moments, you should place these higher-stress tasks later in the flow. The first few minutes of a new customer’s experience is ideally an effortless demonstration of your product’s value. While these visible steps are likely necessary for a customer to get started, they’re better introduced after a new user has experienced the benefits of your product and is ready to do what it takes to get started.
A product design that reduces anxiety provides a user with more insight into the action they are about to take. This could be surfacing how many customers a notification will be sent to or adding a button to send a test email. These small features are critical to assure new users that they won’t make mistakes, which helps reduce anxiety and improves progression through your onboarding flow.
Shorten the path to success for complex products
Great user onboarding should lead new users to find value as soon as possible by showing how your product helps them achieve their goals. For products where the shortest path to value isn’t really that short, a great onboarding design will work to heighten new users’ understanding of benefits, increasing the pull of your product by linking onboarding tasks to benefits and creating tailored onboarding experiences for all stakeholders.
Four forces in action
A great onboarding experience also helps overcome inertia by guiding new users through complex, cognitively demanding tasks, and reduces anxiety by giving new users ways to better preview what happens when they take a highly visible action. Taken together, these approaches help new users deeply understand the value your product can provide and overcome the emotions that stand in the way of moving forward, no matter how complex it is.