On-boarding done right: How to make users successful

When it comes to digital products, we’ve all fallen into the trap of thinking about on-boarding processes as just a few welcome screens that put users at ease when using our product.
There’s far more to on-boarding than just tooltips and video tutorials; it is the phase where users can feel empowered with the new capabilities, with which your product is equipping them. It’s the critical time to show them why a product is worth their time and the value it can bring to their lives.

How do we empower users to be successful?

To begin with, avoid pushing users to complete actions that are internally focused to meet business targets. Instead, focus on the goals your users want to achieve through using your product. Here are a few steps we’ve learnt to be successful when tackling on-boarding;

1. Know your users and the problems they’re trying to solve

Users are likely to introduce a digital product to their lives because they’re looking to improve the way they’re currently completing a specific task. Before you start thinking of screen designs, CTAs and transitions, ask yourself whether you fully understand the context, within which your customers are trying to complete certain tasks.
Most businesses assume they know what their customers are trying to achieve and are usually surprised when the data shows low product adoption or high churn rates. Digging into behavioural data and undertaking A/B tests can help in some ways, but they won’t give you the user’s context. If you’re really looking to understand the motivations that drive users to buying your product, you need to complete customer interviews.
Whenever we’re faced with the challenge of understanding the true goals of the users of a specific product, we undertake Jobs To Be Done interviews. They help us track the decision-making journey through which customers have gone when adopting a product, along with all the thoughts and emotions that went through their mind.
It is crucial that the recruited participants are customers who have gone through the acquisition and activation stages, and are actively engaging with the product. Hearing about the experience of these participants first-hand uncovers the emotional triggers that help or hinder the buying process of our prospects. The interviews also help us identify other products the customer considered buying in order to solve their challenges.
The insights we collect feed into the process that assures customers that we understand their challenges and that our solution is the right one for their needs. This way the products’ on-boarding process isn’t merely making a good first impression, but is also proving the value of continuous use.

2. Guide users through the journey they need to take in order to achieve their goals

Getting users to purchase or trial your product is a great win, however, getting them to stay and continuously return is the biggest challenge.
Once you’ve identified the key goals customers are trying to achieve, you’re ready to design the steps within your on-boarding flow.
Start by listing the ways in which your product makes the lives of your customers easier and educate them on what it is like to use your product and its key features. This helps reiterate the importance of introducing your product in their lives and the reasons why they should be continuously engaging with it.
Some products require users to go through a profile setting process. In such cases, we’d recommend explaining why this is needed and the value it brings to the customer. Enabling users to steadily set up their profiles whilst learning about your features reduces abandonment of the process. Slack- the team collaboration application- does this through a combination of tooltips and conversation with the app’s Slackbot. This enables users to progressively complete their account without feeling overwhelmed by the number of actions they need to go through.
Another important thing to consider is making users aware of the number of steps it would take them to complete the on-boarding process. This puts the user at ease and gives them a sense of how long it is likely to take.
Once the initial on-boarding journey is over, it is crucial for returning users to always have the ability to get adequate help with features whilst using the product. Don’t expect the user to remember your product’s interface and controls. Ensure that tooltips are present where necessary, along with links to resources and FAQs.

3. Learn, improve and retain

Once you’ve established the steps within your on-boarding flow, it’s time to reach out to users and get their feedback so that your proposed solution is validated. The earlier you do this, the better. So don’t be afraid to test low-fidelity prototypes as this will help you identify and fix issues early on, before you invest lots of effort and money on development.
Prior to test planning, make sure you’re clear on the objectives of the tests and the main goal you’d like users to achieve. An example goal could be that your users need to link their social media account to your product’s dashboard. Having a clear goal in mind enables you to write test tasks that help identify obstacles blocking users from completing the task in hand.
The participants you recruit should represent a mix of current and prospective customers, so that you get a broad range of feedback from individuals that are at different stages of the decision-making process.

Prioritising test findings

Following the tests, get your team to agree on the most important takeaways and prioritise the identified issues against the business’ objectives and user needs.
After implementing the changes to your flow, it might be worth conducting another round of tests, provided that you have the time and budget.
At this stage, you should be in a good place to launch your on-boarding and monitor its performance. Be prepared to see both positive or negative results, or even no change. This is completely normal since all the decisions you’ve made so far have not been based on live user data. Rolling out the design and starting to collect behavioural data is where your optimisation starts.
Monitor your analytics and start generating hypotheses that you’ll take action on. When writing the hypotheses, make sure you include success criteria so that you have a clear idea of the metrics your test need to achieve.
Once you’ve ran the tests, measure the results by evaluating the ways in which different designs have helped users complete specific tasks within your on-boarding process. Don’t forget to form a plan for measuring the future impact of these designs on the overall product engagement and user retention.
It doesn’t matter how many users sign up to your product if they’re unable to see its value and understand its features. This is why on-boarding needs to focus on the outcomes customers want and not the KPIs the business is trying to reach.
Don’t approach the design of your on-boarding as a one-off event. It is an on-going process that includes monitoring of behavioural data and continual optimisation that focuses on the success of both your business and users.