Are you familiar with the user experience quote, “User interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good.”? While clever, that statement is far from true.
User interfaces shouldn’t be complicated, but you can’t expect a new user to understand a new interface without any direction. Similarly, you can’t expect an existing user to understand an updated interface or a new feature without any direction.
That’s where user onboarding flows come into play. Proper user onboarding leads to more money in the bank. It’s a familiar concept for most, yet user onboarding flows are often created during development and forgotten about.
Onboarding flows deserve innovation, experimentation, and optimization, too. You might be surprised by the ROI.
Types of User Onboarding Flows (and Why They Matter)
There are two different types of user onboarding flows: mobile and desktop. Mobile user onboarding flows introduce you to a game, a productivity app, a banking app, etc. Desktop user onboarding flows introduce you to a task management tool, a conversion research SaaS, etc.
5 Ways to Onboard New Users
There are also different subtypes depending on how you are onboarded.
- Benefit-Focused: Explains the 2-3 core benefits and how to achieve that benefit via the site / product / app.
- Function-Focused: Explains the 2-3 core functions of the site / product / app and how to use them.
- Doing-Focused: Walks the user through the first or most common actions.
- Account-Focused: Walks the user through the account / profile creation process, including finding and adding friends or interests.
- All: For particularly complex sites / products / apps, it may be necessary to combine the four above.
The onboarding type is clearly dependent upon the medium, but the five subtypes are all viable options. It comes down to how much information your new users need to get to the core value, how easy it is to discover the core value organically and how “new” the core value is.
2 Popular User Onboarding Myths
Despite popular belief, user onboarding does not begin and end with the first experience. There are three stages of user onboarding:
- Before: The sign up / registration phase. How friendly is your form?
- During: The initial user onboarding flow that most people consider “user onboarding”.
- After: All other stages of the customer lifecycle. How can you help existing users understand new features?
Another common misconception is that onboarding email flows and on-site / in-app onboarding flows are to be kept separate. The two should complement one another, working together to bring the user to the core value as quickly as possible. On their own, they’re rarely successful.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Designing a User Onboarding Flow
Before you choose a type of onboarding flow, you have to ask yourself a few questions…
- What’s the core value you’re trying to deliver to your users?
- What steps do new users need to take to receive that core value?
- What friction might exist within those steps?
- What actions do long-lasting users take? How can you encourage new users to take them?
- How familiar are your new users with similar products?
- How easy is it to understand your core benefits / functions?
Nate Munger from Intercom explains why the answers to these questions are important…
There is no “right” or “perfect” user onboarding flow. What works for one site / product / app might not work for another. In fact, that works for one of your users might not work for another. Designing a user onboarding flow that works for you is complicated. It involves a lot of research, testing and optimization.
For example, you might need to onboard a developer vs. an average user. In that case, the flow will look very different. As Sascha Konietzke said, “Onboarding for API-centric products is very different. Developers don’t want a forced click-through tutorial, they want to use your API right away. Support them with quick start documentation as well as example code and get out of their way as soon as you can.”
While there are no absolutes, Samuel Hulick of UserOnboard.com has some core principles to onboard by…
User Onboarding Tools to Try
Given the number of different ways to onboard a new user, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that there are a wide variety of user onboarding tools available. Here are just a dozen…
- Tour My App
- The Joyride Kit
- Inline Manual
Why Are User Onboarding Flows Important?
When I say “user onboarding”, you likely think of SaaS companies first, right?
According to a 2014 State of SaaS report from Compass, SaaS is a $10B industry in North America. Yet 51% of SaaS startups surveyed were not profitable and only 33% of them expected profitability within the next 6 months.
The same report found that less than 7% of SaaS companies achieve 10K users… ever. And only a little over 25% of SaaS companies with less than 10K users spend money on user acquisition.
So, what does that mean? It means that user retention becomes even more important. If users are not onboarded properly, the chances of retention are minimal.
If you weren’t originally thinking of a SaaS, you were probably thinking of a mobile app.
According to Go-Globe, mobile apps now account for 52% of all time spent on digital media. Why? Perhaps due to personal preference and ease of use…
But they’re not just browsing, they’re converting. For the leading 500 merchants, 42% of all mobile sales generated come from mobile apps. In fact, mobile app revenue for 2016 is estimated at $58 billion.
So, all-in-all, mobile apps can be quite profitable, right? Right… if they’re used more than once. Unfortunately, 20% of mobile apps are not opened after that initial first visit.
What makes an initial first visit memorable? And what makes a user come back again for more? A great user onboarding flow.
How Can You Set User Onboarding Goals?
Here’s a common misconception debunked by Samuel…
A trial-to-paid conversion rate or mobile user-to-customer conversion rate type metric is a good start. It’s close to the revenue, it’s measurable, it’s directly linked to onboarding. However, the true test of a user onboarding flow’s effectiveness is not whether there’s a conversion, it’s whether there’s retention.
Samuel suggests asking yourself whether more people are continuing to log in for longer. If so, your user onboarding flow is successful (but you should continue optimizing). If not, you have some work to do.
A successful user onboarding flow gets new users to perform the tasks that have signalled long-term use in the past. For example, Facebook has a seven friends in ten days metric. The theory is that if a new user adds seven friends in the first ten days, he’ll stick around. (If you’re interested in setting up a goal like this, I highly recommend reading this article from Andrew Chen on how to do so.)
ROBIN is an all-in-one eCommerce customer service tool. All-in-one tools are an easy target for user onboarding flow analysis. Since they are typically complex products with many different functionalities, poor onboarding can be detrimental.
You start at the registration page…
From there, you’re actually taken into a mandatory wizard, which guides you through the process of setting up your live chat, integrating your email / social, creating customer service templates, etc.
Note that in the welcome copy, they remind you why you want to use ROBIN in the first place. This is key for the users who would rather just get started right away. The stopwatch also subtly indicates that it will be a short process.
Notice that as you move through the process, the navigation to the left becomes active. At this point, you can see that you are in the “Team” section and have five more sections to complete.
In some cases, there are multiple steps within each section. For example, after completing the “Personal Information” step, you might’ve assumed you were finished with the “Team” section. It’s like a teacher assigning you questions 1-3, but each number also has an A-Z. Frustrating, right? Indicate progress as clearly as possible.
Up until this point, every step has been mandatory. Below, you’ll notice that there’s an “I’ll do this later” option appears…
The “I’ll do this later” options continue…
Here, you’ll see that ROBIN illustrates the email forwarding cycle so that users who are new to customer service tools in general get a complete understanding…
Again, more “I’ll do this later” options…
Above, you’ll see another illustration. Note that these are provided at times of friction. For example, connecting your email and Twitter accounts to a tool you’re unfamiliar with could be seen as a security risk. Questions like, “Will it tweet on my behalf?” and “Will it send emails to my customers?” begin to arise.
Now, in the final section, “Templates”, we’re back to mandatory steps…
If something is not mandatory, don’t include it in a mandatory set up wizard. Instead, suggest it on-screen as the user progresses. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a lot of information… if it’s necessary to move the user closer to your core value.
After the wizard is complete, you’re brought through a simple walkthrough of ROBIN’s core functions…
A demo message is in your inbox and you must open it to send a response…
Note the red dots scattered across the screen. These indicate key functionalities that will be explained, which also serves as a subtle progress bar…
It would be helpful if the red dot within the message itself, which is the step we just walked through, turned green to indicate completion.
Here’s what the rest of the process looks like…
It appears that this is the core function of ROBIN. Ensuring new users understand how to work this interface is paramount, then. Interestingly enough, you are not actually asked to take any of the actions described here, which seems like a logical next step for their onboarding flow.
This user onboarding flow is clearly extensive. A full, mandatory wizard with multiple steps within multiple sections and a mandatory walk through. This raises an interesting question: How much is “too much” when it comes to onboarding?
Samuel has a good rule of thumb…
Inbound.org is self-described as “the internet’s smartest marketing community”. Everything Inbound marketing is discussed there. Needless to say, encouraging a new user to become an active, engaged member of a community is not an easy task.
Here’s where you start…
While requiring a Twitter account certainly would help prevent spam, it also makes it easier to grow the community. First of all, Inbound.org knows that many marketers, their target audience, use Twitter to network with their peers. So, the channel selection (vs. Facebook, for example) is strategic. Second, syncing with Twitter makes it easier to recognize friends, follow friends, invite friends, etc.
Nate explains the power of social login in detail…
Of course, you must complete the basic (and familiar) social authorization…
From there, you’re taken to a simple profile creation page…
You’ll see that there are only a few fields and that “You can always add more details later.” This is a great demonstration of the “ask for only what you need” principle Samuel describes. However, what would be helpful is if Inbound.org were able to automatically pull in some information (e.g. location) from Twitter itself.
After completing the profile page, you are taken to the home page to begin browsing. That’s it. Three steps and Inbound.org gets out of your way. Except for this clever “Getting Started” box, that is…
You’re likely familiar with this type of onboarding tactic. If you use LinkedIn, you’ve experienced something similar. It’s a gradual onboarding process, which is a much different approach than ROBIN took in loading all of the onboarding upfront.
Each step within “Getting Started” is a link, which takes you to the page that allows you to complete the step. As you complete each, you receive a green check and your progress bar fills up.
When asked about how he feels about these “Getting Started” style tactics, Samuel had this to say…