What is User Onboarding and Why It Matters

Imagine you and your partner went to that new restaurant you've recently discovered and wanted to try out. There are hundreds of other places to go. Some of them you know, some of them you heard of. But this time you're in the mood to try something new.

From the outside it looks gorgeous. Parking was easy. As you arrived, the parking guy appeared, smiled and took care of your car. The hostess was lovely too. She smiled and immediately took you to your table which was nicely served. The waiter gave you a menu and asked if it's your first time. You've said yes. The waiter then asked a few more questions to understand your taste and mood better. He was friendly and very professional. After a quick chat, he recommended a few dishes and a wine to start with.

The menu was lovely designed. Everything was clear. Every dish had a picture and a simple description. Finding something special for tonight was easy. Also, you didn't have to call the waiter, as there was a small call button on the table. You pressed it, and the waiter came over to take your order.

It was even better than you imagined. When the waiter brought your order, because it was your first time in that restaurant, the chef came too. He talked a bit about the recipe and said that he added a slice of lime because the waiter told him that you like it and it really emphasises the taste.

By the end of the dinner, you've got a little present from the restaurant manager. It was small and lovely chocolate cake to take home.

You loved it. You loved it so much, you told about that experience everyone. Even those who live in other cities. You've decided you'll definitely come back even though it was a bit costly last time.

That's, what we call, the "happy path". Rarely happens. Now back to reality.

From the outside it looks gorgeous. You've easily found a parking space near the restaurant. The hostess asked if you have a membership card. When you said that you don't, she said that you have to sign up for it and started to ask you questions like name, email, phone, address, your marital status, how many children do you have, what kind of car do you have, and so on. She also asked for your credit or debit card details. By the end of creating you a membership card, she said that you can come in now and find yourself a table.

Every table had a menu on it, but the dishes names were very… creative and didn’t provide any information about the dish. There were also no images or clear description. Just some marketing slogans like "a different kind of pizza". You've spent a few minutes trying to understand what's going on and eventually decided to call a waiter. But no one came. Instead, there was a message on the big screen, that "waiters typically replies within a few minutes". You've waited a bit and went out.

As you went out, you've got an automated message from that restaurant, that they are glad you've decided to become a member of their club and if you have any questions you can simply reply to that message.

You've decided you'll never go there again. However, no matter what, you've kept getting those marketing messages.



Got it? If you think I'm exaggerating, I can easily show you ten apps that much worse than that including some big names.

But I understand it. User onboarding is hard. You've been working so hard on your new recipes (sorry, features). It is much more interesting, exciting and promising. But the point is that user onboarding is actually the most crucial part of a customer funnel. It's like unpacking a new apple device you've just bought - the moment magic happens. And it's hard to make it right.

It doesn't matter how big, well-funded, well-known your company is; user onboarding is one of the most significant issues every SaaS company is facing. First-time users usually do not know your story and purpose, and often, do not understand your value proposition yet. Registration and the whole initial onboarding process is your product's first impression. Have a bad first impression, and you won’t have the last impression to make. Statistically, out of 100 customers who clicked on a "sign up" button on your website, around 25% don't even finish the registration. About 65 per cent will never come back again. Companies lose 65 per cent of their potential customers because they fail to onboard new users.

As a customer activation specialist, I'm reviewing around 5 digital products a day. The fact that approximately 95% of them don't have any user onboarding flows whatsoever shocks me. Onboarding matters and this post is about why.

Users don't care

Fact number one. Millions of products competing for your customer attention at any given moment. No matter what industry you're in, the chances are high that there are hundreds of direct competitors and tens of thousands of indirect competitors.

Fact number two. Users don't care about your product. What users care about is themselves. They are using your product as a means to an end (until they'll know you better).

"When customers buy quarter inch drills, they really are buying quarter inch holes." Theodore Levitt

As a result, users don't have any intention to spend more than a second to learn about your new groundbreaking product. It's your job to make them want to spend more than a second. That what user onboarding is about - great first impression that leads to some form of initial success or realisation of potential value. Ideally it should be a “success”.

What is user onboarding

User onboarding is the process of leading a customer to the point of initial success or realisation of the potential value of a product or feature. This point is an emotional state of confidence and trust. A user (mostly subconsciously) is confident enough that he or she can rely on you to improve their quality of life in a particular way. That may be reduce the amount of efforts, reduce costs or increase income, increase social status and acceptance, etc. Whatever it is for that particular user, If he/she reached that emotional state, the chances are high he/she will come back again.

User onboarding is not just a registration and first-time user greetings. We also need to onboard users to every big feature that we have in our product. We need to onboard users who previously deleted their accounts and didn't visit for a long time. Same about a user who was invited by others or has different permissions. Each case is different and requires a different set of tools and rules to do things right.

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In conclusion

Every product is built to improve users quality of life in some way. Not everyone succeeds in that mission. But even those who do, know that it's not enough. If a user didn't get the value, didn't get that "mmm... I like it" moment, was confused during registration or onboarding and completed those funnels frustrated, or even not completed, he or she will leave and never come back again.

It doesn't matter how good your product is if user first impression wasn't great.