Why In-Your-Face Onboarding Pays Off

There’s an err...strain of thought shall we say, among some very smart people that great onboarding is intuitive (or invisible).

Then there’s this, from Julie Zhuo, Director of Product Design at Facebook:

“...Any new interface requires effort—effort to learn, to open up, to navigate through. While that effort is necessary in many cases, when an app or service comes along that fulfills the magic of it just works—well, then that is a beautiful thing indeed.”

An interface that just makes sense is definitely beautiful thing! But unfortunately, that kind of magical beauty is unattainable for most of us (and most of our products.)

Not just because cracking that kind of super intuitive design is rare, but because even if you do, it’s not necessarily functional.

If you have a powerful platform, a beautiful interface alone can’t convey the value and benefits of your product.

How about a little more substance?

There are lots of substantial things of value that you should want to convey to your new users: how to navigate the interface, keyboard shortcuts, popular features, key workflows, troubleshooting help, and so on.

Pulkit Agarwal of Chameleon points out what you lose when you don’t include onboarding in your design decisions:

  1. You’ve shifted focus from your user to your design; you are no longer thinking about the problem (how can I best convey my value proposition) but are trying to create the most simple or trendy or “intuitive” design (which may not be as effective.

  2. You’re neglecting all the great user onboarding techniques that demonstrably result in higher new user retention and engagement.

So let’s just leave beauty out of this for a second. Let’s surrender the idea that customers enter your app for the first time and are inspired to click through and discover your product for themselves.

You have worked hard to push your customers through the marketing funnel. You’ve spent money developing content to create awareness, tell them about your value and benefits and have them drooling over your features.

But after that?

Do you really just want to sit there and hope your interface is beautiful and self-explanatory enough? Are you going to leave this part up to chance?

Or are you going to make damn sure your product accessible and easy for users of multiple skill levels, ages and savvy?

Your job has just started. You’ve shown them what’s available to them. Now remind them loudly and show them how to use it.

How customer training tripled Wishpond’s trial-to-paid conversions

When Wishpond, a Vancouver-based SaaS company, launched an academy to train users to use their marketing platform, the effect was immediate. Users who accessed the course were converting into paid customers at a rate of 380% higher than users who did not.

Miranda Lievers, Director of Marketing & Customer Success at Thinkific (the education platform Wishpond built their course with) adds:

The goal was to bridge the gap between acquisition and activation with an engaging training experience designed to ensure that each new customer had the knowledge and confidence they needed to launch new campaigns — and hit their first WOW moment — in the shortest possible time.

In other words, they tripled their paid users just by teaching them how to use the product.

How’s that for a conversion trick? Solid customer training directly drives up conversions.

Ironically, customer training is still pushed way down on the company to-do list. Somehow instructional design still not a thing SaaS companies are investing in despite the incredible numbers they stand to gain.

To hell with subtlety! Be pushy.

This in-between phase between acquisition and activation is your strongest opportunity to lock in new customers through education. And it’s actually quite easy for many companies to deliver this sort of education because the content is already there.

FAQs, help center articles, support forums already house the information you need - you don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. You just have to deliver it differently.

Lievers refers to this as the “push vs. pull”:

Most education content is based on the customer needing to identify that they have a problem, and then seeking out the solution. They have to pull it, and it can be incredibly frustrating for those new to your platform.

In order to get the most out of this type of support, your customers need to identify that they have a problem, they need to know the language to describe the problem, and then they need to search for the answer in your support forum or knowledge base.

These support resources are vital, but the challenge is that they’re designed primarily for customers who are already familiar and working with your system.

New customers don’t know where to go looking, and many of them never do. How would they know what resources you have or don’t have? They simply lose interest and churn when their trial is up.

You need to have a strategy for pushing it out, especially to your new users, especially if you are lucky enough to already have support content available to you.

It helps greatly to be obvious about it too - and to push this information out within the product itself.

1. Use Tooltips

Slideshare reveals relevant tooltips every so often to politely inform you about features that you may find useful at that time.

How many of us would know Slideshare has a clipping feature without this?

Setting up tooltips helps Slideshare communicate its benefits to all those visitors who don't care enough about Slideshare to get to explore its functionality. (And let's be honest, that's most of us.)

2. Use A Clear Path To Completion

Or like Qeryz does with a a four-step onboarding process:

Step 1 Step 2 (Find the full onboarding process here.)

With an onboarding process like this, users have to set up their account settings in order to use it all. In other words, users don’t have that option to lazily wander around the site. This way they will definitely get their first survey running and be on track to becoming active users.

Sean from Qeryz claims that two months after they implemented this four-step onboarding process, they increased their user adoption rate to 33%.

3. Reach Out To At-Risk Users

The folks at Groove took another approach. They looked at the length of first session and frequency of logins and found a pattern among users who eventually churned:

“...The average user who did not quit after 30 days spent three minutes and 18 seconds using Groove in their first session, and logged in an average of 4.4 times a day. The average user who quit spent 35 seconds using Groove in their first session, and logged in an average of 0.3 times per day.”

Yikes, the churning customers were logging in and quitting immediately! They either got scared away or weren’t up to the task of figuring Groove out on their own.

Bottom line: users weren’t trying. They weren’t even logging back in.

So they started monitoring for these at-risk users (users who logged in for fewer than 2 minutes during their first session) and sent them this email offering to help them set up their inbox:

The results were really positive. Groove’s founder, Alex Turnbull, found that this email got them a 26% response rate and more than 40% of the users upgraded from trial to paid accounts after 30 days.

4. Use Guides To Teach Individual Tasks

At Nickelled, we “push” using onboarding emails that link straight to a Nickelled how-to guide. For example, a user that clicks on the following email...

...will get sent directly to a how-to guide for building shareable guides on Nickelled’s own interface (how very meta of us):

There are three possible outcomes after we send out these emails:

  1. They open up the email, click to the tutorial, and adopt the feature (score!)
  2. They open up the email, but don’t get through the tutorial (meh)
  3. They don’t open up the email at all (boo!)

From our end, this gives us the data we need to know who is adopting the features that ultimately give them value out of using (and paying for) our product. If they don’t open up the tutorial or if they open it up and don’t complete it, we follow up to make sure they get it.

User onboarding is not the time for beauty or subtlety. There is no $$ in subtle user onboarding. Be pushy.

The onus is on you to show them the value of your product, and to continuously remind them until they get it.

We’re all busy, just tell me what to do

The head of marketing at a marketing platform told me recently that a portion of his leads churn because their company sends out a few onboarding emails but not much else - and how frustrating it is to see his hard won leads walk away at the end of their trial.

“Many of them just don’t go through the emails. They thumb around the dashboard, get lost in a maze and then eventually fade away. They never manage to get hooked (because we’re not more aggressive about getting support to them during the trial period).”

We’re all busy, here. If someone’s taken the time to set up an account, they’re interested. If you’ve spent time and attention getting them through the marketing funnel, don’t shy away now.

People don’t respond to subtlety. They respond to being told what to do and how to do it. You should be highlighting and communicating the value of your product at every stage, in order to develop those expert users that keep your product in business.

There will always be users too busy, perplexed or impatient to figure out your interface the first time to log in. Many will never reach out for help, and never make their way to a feature that isn’t specifically brought to their attention and taught to them.

It’s also such an easy win for you and the effect on your MRR is near immediate. Sure, it’s not invisible, it may not be effortlessly beautiful but it’s highly effective.

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