You’ve probably heard the term “onboarding” in the context of hiring. There it refers to getting a new employee acclimated to your company to help them be happy and successful in their role.
However, onboarding is also essential to success in another area. User onboarding is the process of introducing someone to a digital experience like an app or website—what we’ll call a “product.” At a high level, its goals include increases in three critical areas:
- User activation. This means that the user “gets it”—they understand what the product is for and how it will benefit them.
- User adoption. Not only does the user understand the product, but they’ve also started using it.
- User retention. Successful user onboarding creates a positive trajectory and keeps users coming back to the product.
Effective onboarding also reduces the need for user support and increases the conversion rate from free to paid versions.
You Never Get a Second Chance…
It’s been humorously stated that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That’s certainly true with digital experiences.
It would be ideal if new users were willing to work through some initial confusion, frustration, or disappointment to learn what makes a product great and start using it. But the reality is that if they have a less-than-optimal initial experience, their first use of a product will likely be their last.
The poor experience may also motivate them to check out a competitor’s offering. By some estimates, products lose close to 80% of new users within a few days.
On the flip side, good things happen when someone feels warmly welcomed, patiently tutored, and fully supported as you introduce them to a product. In addition to becoming loyal customers, they frequently take on the role of vocal advocates. After all, who doesn’t like being the first person to tell coworkers, family, and friends about a cool new product?
And needless to say, enthusiastic word-of-mouth advertising is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to grow your user base and increase your revenues.
So, an effective onboarding process isn’t a “nice to have” element. It’s a crucial facet of overall user experience (UX) design and a critical component of a successful product launch.
Essential Onboarding Elements
What are the features of an effective user onboarding process? That varies somewhat by product. But generally speaking, an onboarding experience should include:
- A welcome message. It sets a positive tone when a user gets a warm greeting like, “Hi Kate! We’re excited to have you as an XYZ App user!”
- Persona-based design. What a user needs from an onboarding experience varies based on several factors, including their goals, familiarity with apps, knowledge of the purpose of this app, etc. An onboarding process can use initial questions to tailor the experience to the user.
- A product tour. One of the keys to success in digital product development is making the interface intuitive. Still, it’s important to explain key features to new users so they don’t miss them.
- A progress bar or checklist. Users appreciate a helpful and thorough onboarding process, but they want to know how far they’ve come and how far they have to go at any point in time. A busy user is more likely to bail out of onboarding if they can’t gauge their progress.
- Hotspots. Using symbols (circles, arrows, etc.) to draw a user’s attention to certain features helps them understand where to focus their efforts and familiarizes them with a product more quickly.
- Tooltips. When a field or function requires a description, that information should be contained in a tooltip displayed when the user takes a specific action (hovering over an item with their mouse, clicking a button, etc.).
- Deferred account creation. With people today having a long list of accounts for apps, ecommerce websites, etc., it’s best to let them “look around” your product before requiring them to create an account.
Best Practices for User Onboarding
UX design has two primary elements: The overall design of the product and the functionality of the user onboarding experience. In many cases, the latter is accomplished using software designed specifically for that process.
Appcues is a popular user onboarding tool and one we use at TCA. But whatever software is used to develop an onboarding experience, there are best practices that should be followed, including that you should:
- Understand your users. In developing a product, it’s essential to know who your users will be and what they’ll want from it—and, by extension, what they’ll need from the onboarding process.
- Build and evaluate your onboarding module. In the same way you test your product, you should ensure that the user onboarding process plays out as expected and provides the desired experience.
- Take an iterative approach. A user onboarding experience should evolve as you learn more about how people are benefiting from it and how you can improve it.
- Write clear, effective copy. The language you use should communicate important concepts clearly. This includes being consistent in how you refer to things (Are users “saving” or “submitting” information?), avoiding technical jargon (explaining problems in words rather than error codes), etc.
Get Insights From Experienced User Onboarding Designers
Creating an interesting, engaging, and effective user onboarding experience can be challenging. And when you’re working on launching a website or releasing an app, and the clock is ticking, it’s a process you can’t afford to mishandle or spend excessive time on.
A better approach is to leverage both the technical skills and the experience of UX designers who’ve created onboarding processes for other companies. Our UX experts at TCA have deep expertise in this area and can help you develop an experience that engages and encourages your users and enables your company to meet its business goals.