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10 Great Examples of Customer Onboarding That You Can Learn From

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Your users’ first experience is absolutely critical. Here’s how to make it count.

What happens when a customer signs up for your product or service?

A lot of people think that that moment—the signup—is when they’ve “won” the customer.

But the reality is that in a world where 40-60% of software users will open an app once, and never log in again, that’s simply not true.

For most businesses, there are two key milestones that need to be reached before a customer can reach their full value potential:

  1. The moment they sign up for your product, and…
  2. The moment they achieve their first “success” with your product

A disproportionate amount of your customer churn will take place between (1) and (2). That’s where customers abandon your product because they get lost, don’t understand something, don’t get value from the product, or simply lose interest.

To minimize that initial churn, smart businesses focus on onboarding: the process by which you help a customer go from (1) to (2). Making that transition as fast and smooth as possible for your customers will win you higher retention and happier customers.

Today, we’re looking at 10 examples of user onboarding that we can learn from. Not so that you can incorporate all of them (you can’t and you shouldn’t), but to give you ideas on where your own onboarding process may be lacking and could use some clever optimization.

1) Set Expectations

What’s easier: starting a journey when you have no idea where you’re going, or starting a journey when you know exactly what it will take to complete?

Of course the latter is easier, and this applies in spades to onboarding.

By showing your users exactly where they are in the process and how much they have left to go, you make it easier to get started, and via the endowed progress effect, make them more motivated to finish with every step that they take.

Look at how Etsy does this when a user is setting up a shop, with a progress meter showing them what they can expect to be doing throughout the onboarding process:

2) Break Things Down

Perhaps the most common onboarding mistake is asking users to do too much from the outset. It’s overwhelming and, often, scary enough to ensure that they never return.

To avoid onboarding overwhelm, make every step in the process as small and simple as possible.

Dropbox could tell new users to “upload all of their files,” but instead, their onboarding flow prompts the user to upload a single file:

The rest of the steps are similarly granular. For example, instead of telling the users that they can share files, Dropbox gives you a tiny assignment: share one file.

Small tasks are simpler, faster and less overwhelming than large ones, so consider carefully whether any of your onboarding steps ask the user to do too much.

3) Do You Really Need All of That Info Right Now?

Do you really need your customer’s credit card from day one?

Or their mailing address?

Or even their last name?

Sure, some of us have legitimate reasons for needing these things, but how carefully have you thought through all of the information that you ask for in your onboarding flow?

What are you actually doing with your customer’s last name?

If it doesn’t deliver value to you or them, think about not asking for it. Every piece of information that you ask for is another step for the customer to complete, and every step is a potential abandonment point.

(I should note that there can be legitimate reasons to ask for more information than you need, and that artificial obstacles in the onboarding flow can keep your customer quality higher in some cases, though that’s different for every business, and that’s a whole other post.)

TravelZoo focuses on offering customers great travel deals in (or from) their hometown.

So their onboarding flow asks for only two pieces of information: email address and zip code.

That’s it.

Questions about interests don’t come until much, much later, once the customer has already gotten some value from the product. But getting started is really easy.

4) Call Attention to Important Elements

You know what’s easier than telling a customer to “Click on ‘Direct Messages’ in the sidebar to send a direct message”?

Showing them exactly where to do that, as Slack does here:

Overlaying onboarding instructions directly into your app or website used to require the help of a developer, but tools like AppCues and Nickelled, among others, make this easy for anyone to do today.

5) Leave Something to Discover

You’ve worked hard on your product or site, and it’s natural to want to show your new customers everything that you’ve built for them.

Resist. That. Urge.

Onboarding isn’t about sharing everything. It’s about taking the user through the first critical steps to success.

Continuing with the Slack example above, Slack has tons of valuable integrations, and “hidden” features like voice calls, do not disturb (my personal favorite), starred items and more, but none of these are part of the initial onboarding experience, because a first-time user doesn’t need them to have a fantastic experience.

Don’t worry about secondary features or non-core integrations in the onboarding process. Leave the user something great to discover about your business later on. For now, focus on getting them engaged enough to want to learn about those extra features.

6) Show Off the Product

Can you use any of your own product features to show off how it works?

Trello, for example, is a project management tool. They’ve built their onboarding guide directly into the product, with cards that both show and tell the user how things work.

We do something similar in Groove, populating new users’ support mailboxes with instructions.

Similarly, Dropbox puts a PDF user guide into every new user’s files.

If you have functionality in your product that you can use to both show and tell, doing so can be a great way to explain and reinforce the value of your product at the same time.

7) Videos Can Help

We love video at Groove. We use videos for marketing, onboarding, self-serve support and more.

And we’re not alone.

Many companies use videos as a way to walk new customers through a product.

When you sign up for Xero’s accounting software, the very first thing you see when you log in to your new account is a prompt to watch the ‘Getting Started’ video, a fantastic animated walkthrough that simplifies the onboarding process.

For inspiration, you can watch the full video, along with the rest of Xero’s excellent onboarding videos, here.

8) Make It Skippable

This is a simple tip, but overlooking it can frustrate a lot of customers.

For a lot of products, some of your “new” users won’t be new at all.

They’ll be users who are downloading your app onto a new device, signing up with a new email address, or any number of other scenarios that result in a returning user having to sign up again.

Don’t make these users go through your onboarding flow if they don’t want or need to.

Make a “skip” button easy to find and click, like Airbnb does here:

This will help your existing users avoid doing extra work, and offer an “out” to those new users who prefer to explore on their own to begin with.

9) Build the Relationship

In order to help your customers achieve success, it’s important to understand what success actually means to them.

You might have your own idea of customer success (for example, when a customer uses your product a certain number of times), but customers never think in those terms.

The best way to understand customer-defined success is simple: ask the customer.

That’s what we do at Groove with our very first onboarding email that every new user receives:

The answers that we get to that question are incredibly valuable when it comes to understanding how our customers define success.

We get responses ranging from “I wanted a help desk that could help us stop missing support emails” to “we needed something to help us respond to customers faster”, and everything in between.

Hidden in many of these responses is the definition of success for many customers. Once we know that, it becomes a lot clear what our product must deliver on within the first few user sessions.

Getting insight like that will help you improve your onboarding process, today and over the long term as your user’s needs change.

10) It’s Not Just About Product

Onboarding isn’t just about your product or service.

It’s about the entire experience of doing business with you. Including your customer service.

You might deliver the best customer service in the world, but if your customer never has the chance to find out, how will they know?

Companies that focus on great support can create tremendous goodwill with new customers by reaching out with proactive customer service from day one.

One of my favorite examples is the handwritten note sent by Stride (now ProsperWorks):

Other ways you can establish a foundation for great support include:

Great User Onboarding Is a Journey

Businesses who have effective customer onboarding flows are constantly testing and improving them.

There’s a good chance that many of the companies cited above may have different approaches in a month or year.

But that’s what I hope this post inspires you to do: test, learn and improve, always. Use the ideas above to figure out what works best for your customers, and keep testing to ensure that your process continues to get better.

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About the Author

Len Markidan heads up marketing at Groove. He’s focused on helping startups and small businesses build better relationships with their customers.

Read his latest posts or follow him on Twitter

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