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9 Best Practices of Streamlined User Onboarding

By Emily Smith on Thu, Dec 3, 2015

Onboarding is the process of getting a new customer from the point of sign-up to actively using your service. This first experience sets the tone for the relationship you will have with the user, and establishes their expectations of your service. As the saying goes, "you never get a second chance at a first impression".

According to Intercom, 40-60% of new users will use your product once, and never return. A streamlined onboarding process can significantly improve your customer churn rate by giving customers a first experience of your software that delivers real value.

Today I'm looking at 9 best practices of a streamlined onboarding process.

Download your free 12-step user onboarding checklist!

1) Introduce Your Service

When your website visitors encounter your service for the first time, make sure you explain it clearly and enticingly. A prospective user doesn't want to know how it works at this stage. They want to know that your service can help them to solve the problem they're facing. 

A clear understanding of your buyer personas will help you understand the main pain points that a user will be looking at your service to relieve. You can then address those points directly on your sign-up page.

So in this first instance, show the benefits of your service - not the features. This is what will entice a new user to sign up for your service.

2) Make it Easy

When it comes to the sign-up form, you want to make it as easy and quick as possible for the user to fill in. What information do you need to know about your users at this point to provide them with a great first experience? Ask for that information - nothing more.

Could you offer social logins? This creates a one-click sign-up process, and minimizes the risk of your new user forgetting their username/password after day 1.

If your users don't want to sign up with an existing social media account, you'll want to keep your sign-up form simple. At this crucial stage, an unnecessarily long or complicated sign-up process can make the difference between a potential customer completing the form, or not. As a general rule, as the number of form fields increases, conversion rates decrease

Learn more: Form Fields and Conversion Rates: Is Less Really More?

3) Welcome Them Properly

Once they've signed up for your service, parting with their contact information and credit card details, your new user will expect some sort of acknowledgement. Whether that's a welcome email, or moving them through to a personalised welcome screen, this small step will go a long way, making them feel like you value their custom.

Furthermore, welcome messages or emails are now so common that not sending one will be a cause for concern regarding the legitimacy of the transaction, and undermine the user's trust in your service and company.


Free Bonus Content: your 12-Step Complete User Onboarding Checklist.

Download your free 12-step user onboarding checklist!


4) Tailor the Experience

As your new user moves through the set-up process, you want to keep it flexible and allow them to move along as suits them, with as few points of friction as possible.

For example, you understandably want to leverage your new user's network and encourage them to invite their friends or share their contacts with you. But is their first engagement with your service the most appropriate moment for that?

By all means, include a referral step in your onboarding process, but make it easy for users to skip this step. They can always come back to it later, once they've been using your software regularly and reaping the benefits. Allowing users to skip stages of the onboarding process will encourage them to engage with your service as is most appropriate for them, rather than introducing sticking points that may put them off.

Remember: you want your new user to engage with your software as much as possible during their first run.

5) Don't Just Show

Once you've got your new user set up and logged in, the most important thing is to get them using your software. A tutorial will help them understand how to use your software, but it has to get the user actively utilizing your service.

"The emphasis shouldn’t be on getting new users to click around and familiarize themselves with the interface, but on helping them complete meaningful tasks that lead to mutual success." - Samuel Hulick, Help Scout

Use your tutorial to guide the user through the basics of using your software, and get them to accomplish something real (see #7, below). This tutorial should take your users through a prepared sequence of defined steps that lead up to this accomplishment.

A checklist of these steps will allow your user to measure their progress towards this achievement, and will also allow you to monitor any sticking points that your users might be struggling with. These sticking points could indicate potential drop off points in your onboarding process - points that put off the new user and make them more likely to churn.

6) Don’t Kill Their Momentum

This first session is where the user will discover the value of your service, and when you will want to get them hooked. For them to get the most out of that first session, you want to immerse the new user in your service by minimising any distractions.

Workers are interrupted every three minutes, and it can take 23 minutes for them to get back on track.

While you can't keep your user's phone from ringing, stop their co-workers coming by for a chat, or curb the onslaught of social media updates, you can at least minimise disruptions relating to your service. Stop and think: do you need them to verify their email address immediately, or could you trigger that email at a later stage?

"Prize [your user's] attention as the extremely scarce resource that it is." - Help Scout

7) Generate Value Early

This first session is make-or-break for you and your new user. They will either see the benefits of your service and keep on using it, or they won't. It is the point where you answer the big question:

Does your service provide a real solution to the problem your user needs to solve?

It's important that you remember the value you promised in the first place, and that you start to deliver on that promise. The whole point of your onboarding process is to get them to the 'aha!' moment (where they experience the tangible benefits of your software) as quickly as possible. Don't think 'oh, I'll just show them how to use our software first of all - they'll come back and use it later and work out what it can do". They won't.

What will keep them coming back for more is achieving real benefits from your service as early as possible.

8) Celebrate Success

By understanding what your users want to get out of your software, you will know what little milestones they will celebrate.

When your service delivers a tangible 'win' to your new customer, make sure you celebrate it with them. A simple 'nice job' will go a long way - letting them know that they're on the right track and getting the most out of your software.

On a really basic level, this little recognition of their success will make them feel good, and this will make them more likely to return to your service and repeat that activity. 

9) Follow Up

Once your user has completed their first session, and any walk-throughs or tutorials, it's imperative that you follow up with them.

You can provide support and further education via email to help your new user build up their knowledge of your service and maximise the value they get from it.

Your emails will also keep your service fresh in their mind and encourage them to re-engage with it.

The follow-up process will be particularly valuable for those users who didn't get much value from your service during their first session - perhaps users who stopped part-way through the onboarding steps. These users are most at risk of churning, so by identifying them, you can provide appropriate follow-up education and help them to get back on track.

Learn how to attract new customers who will benefit from your streamlined onboarding process.

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