5 Hacks for Successful User Onboarding

11 min read
Vlad Kovalskiy
May 30, 2017
Last updated: April 5, 2023
5 Hacks for Successful User Onboarding
By definition, user onboarding is a new element of web and mobile app design that helps customers adopt the product successfully and with ease. It’s the initial experience users have with your brand, which lasts from the moment they access your digital product until the moment they become absolutely enchanted with it, realizing just how beneficial and necessary it is in their lives.

The end goal of user onboarding is manifold. Sure, it should teach customers how to use a product, but do so in an exciting, unobtrusive way. More importantly, successful user onboarding should shorten the time users need for understanding the product’s core value, thus enticing them to use it constantly in the future.

Instead of finding your product uninteresting and difficult to use, people should become enthusiastic about it. It’s the difference between seeing them leave and converting them into satisfied long-term customers. As such, user onboarding isn’t just the best first impression you can make; essentially, it is a growth technique that digital businesses cannot afford to miss.

Here’s how to make it truly impactful.

1. Set Up Metrics to Measure Your Success Rate

Don’t wait for the trial period to begin to start measuring your success rate. Instead, set up metrics in advance. The results can help you improve the onboarding process long before your reach the hundredth user.

  • Bounce Rate
Whatever product you sell, your website is usually one of the most important customer touchpoints. So, stay on top of your bounce rate. In case they start to increase, there’s a myriad of testing tools that can tell you exactly what went wrong, and when. If you check out CrazyEgg, HotJar, or Google Analytics, you’ll find that they cover everything from statistics on user behavior to actual replays of users’ sessions.

  • Queries
Onboarding should make your product more exciting, but don’t forget that the ease of use is way more crucial during the novice phase. Be sure to gauge queries about instructions, since they’ll give you some cue on how intuitive the product actually is.

  • Engagement
How often is your product used? Furthermore, are users equally interested in all features? The answers will give you some insight into what users perceive as the product’s core value, and how much time they need for discovering it.

2. Rush to the “Aha!” Moment

The whole purpose of user onboarding is to decrease the time needed for that discovery in the first place. It’s only then that the user grasps the entire value of the product, deciding that it is worth their time and money. The instant in which this happens is called the “Aha!” or “Wow!” moment, but you can mark it as your first conversion point.

Of course, the user has to feel the real benefit of using your product in order to reach this point. If we’re talking about a task manager app, for instance, the “Aha!” moment happens once the user successfully finishes the first task and feels the excitement of reaching the goal with the app’s help. Why not delight them with a tiny reward, too?

Let’s take an example from MailChimp. As soon as the user sends the first email using their app, the signature Chimp high-fives them from the screen. It’s really a small token of appreciation, but one that makes the “Aha!” experience official and momentous.

Remember that users aren’t interested in reading bulky and dull tutorials. They want to see the benefits of using the product straight away, so make it your goal to get to this moment of productivity as soon as possible and without much friction. Save ads and upselling campaigns for later, and make it clear that your product adds value to the life of customers.

3. Provide Smart, But Minimum Viable Guidance

While the “Aha!” moment is all about the user’s excitement, the in-product instructions are about making the use intuitive and seamless. Don’t confuse it for a beginner’s tutorial, though – it certainly has to include it too, but should also provide guidance throughout the entire onboarding process.

The biggest catch here is to stay helpful, but brief. If the product meets the requirements of the modern, customer-centred concept (and it should), it doesn’t need much explaining on your part. Be there to walk the user through in case they need guidance, but don’t overwhelm them with instructions.

  • Contextual Instructions
There are many ways of doing so, and making a switch from time-based to behavior-based triggers is one of the best ones. Both are used for sending transactional emails to gather feedback, but instead of the right time, the second waits for the user to take a specific action.

Whether you’re asking for feedback or sending instructions for further use, contextual triggers are the better way to go. They don’t follow the predicted timeline of use, but address the user’s behavior, thus triggering an email with instructions and providing nothing but the solution that the user specifically needs at the given moment.

  • Chatbots and Live Chat 
If the nature of your product allows it, consider replacing tutorials and instructional emails with live chat or bots. There is a continual debate on the effectiveness of concierge onboarding versus the effectiveness of the so-called “low touch” practice that reduces the amount of human touch to a minimum; the truth is, the best strategy here is the one that’s most suitable to your target audience.

Though there are many great examples of how chatbots can be used to successfully guide onboarding users, live chat takes the best of the both worlds. Its convenience is simply irrefutable – by combining onboarding with customer support, live chat is great for immediate help that stays out of the way when unneeded.

What chatbots are very effective at is the gradual introduction to the product. An instructional email that thoroughly explains everything that the product can do is not an option: it would be too long and dull to read. You can’t send another one for each onboarding step either, which is why conversational UIs seem like the best trick from the book.

4. Allow Users to Learn by Doing

If you take a closer look at the app market, you’ll find that almost every second user onboarding harnesses the potential of swipe-through tutorials. Most commonly, they are the first contact that the user has with an app, thus presenting the main features and essential actions during the initial launch.

When well-designed, swipe-through tutorials are not a bad example of onboarding, but they aren’t the best one either. Their main disadvantage lies in the fact that most users prefer exploring the app by themselves rather than being told explicitly what to do. Visuals are a great way of avoiding that, while still providing the necessary guidance.

Replace written explanations with pictures whenever you can. Instagram does this neatly with self-explanatory images of people taking selfies, which immediately takes the user to the product’s core value as well. Alternatively, opt for short tasks and contextual tips – they are brief and appear before every feature or action that is yet unfamiliar to the user.

Both of these approaches rely on intuitive guidance as much as they do on the user’s ability to complete the onboarding process without much additional help. It is a “show rather than tell” or “learn by doing” technique that works brilliantly because it makes the instructions unobtrusive and the process smooth.

5. Understand That User Onboarding Is a Journey

Finally, bear in mind that user onboarding isn’t something that you can wing and be over with; it’s rather a process that lasts until the user explores the benefits of the last feature, thus getting entirely familiar with the product.

Another thing that user onboarding is not is a protocol that is set in stone. Don’t be so confident to assume that all of your customers will find it equally helpful, but always leave some room for improvement. Plus, your product will certainly undergo additional enhancements and updates in the future, after which you’ll need to change and adjust user onboarding to new features.

As long as you set up metrics to track your performance and check them on a regular basis, you’ll be able to deal with potential setbacks before they ruin your chances to succeed. Use behavior-based triggers to ask for feedback, and actually take it into consideration. After all, nobody can make your user onboarding better than the users themselves.

Helping your product reach its full potential isn’t an easy deed, but it sure does convert. Make the onboarding an informative and exciting journey – the Best Next Customer Experience, if you will – and you will inevitably reap the rewards.
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Table of Content
1. Set Up Metrics to Measure Your Success Rate 2. Rush to the “Aha!” Moment 3. Provide Smart, But Minimum Viable Guidance 4. Allow Users to Learn by Doing 5. Understand That User Onboarding Is a Journey
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