How to Design an Engaging Onboarding Experience
How to Design an Engaging Onboarding Experience

There is no second chance for a first impression. In this article, I’d like to define a compelling onboarding experience, run through great examples, and provide some action steps you can take to improve your own onboarding process to grow your user base.

The term “organizational socialization” derives from the human resources field. It refers to the process by which new employees get into the groove, acquire the right knowledge, skills, and behaviors to be effective as members of a large organization.

“Onboarding” is a much easier term to understand! In web and app design, we understand “onboarding” as the process of orienting and familiarizing your first-time users with the product. By providing essential cues, proper onboarding increases the likelihood of engagement and conversion into a loyal user.

The objective of the Onboarding process is to achieve a good first impression, explaining everything the user needs to know and nothing more. Beyond first-time use, successful onboarding will also help retain users in the long run; a great challenge that many companies face.

It is sadly true that companies focus on customer acquisition rather than retention, even though it can cost up to 7x more to acquire new customers. With Onboarding strategies, the goal is to familiarize the first-time user with your product and make it as nice and smooth as possible.

The issue of crafting an effective onboarding process is that it will only be done once, right after the user makes the decision to start the process. There are no second chances, and everything must be orchestrated well to educate and engage users before they start to get bored with the complexity of your product.

According to Ed Hallen, co-founder of Klaviyo, there are three main goals in building a great onboarding flow:

  1. Take care that the configuration is only once. For example, on Twitter, it’s about uploading a profile picture, entering a description, etc. This process should be painless – and better yet, fun!
  2. Generate excitement about using the product in the future. Even if users get to set everything up, you have to make them happy enough to keep them coming back. This is one way that Instagram stands out – it immediately shows us beautiful images that make us want to have one of our own.
  3. Teach the user how to use the product by doing, not by saying. Google’s introduction to MapsGL is a great example. You switch to MapsGL and have a tutorial that guides you through viewing world landmarks.
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Whitney Hess, an independent New York-based user experience design consultant, has identified the three A’s necessary for effective and successful onboarding: Accommodation, Assimilation and Acceleration.

Hosting your users means giving them the tools they want and need to use your site to their advantage. Assimilate means helping the user absorb the culture of the site and, in a sense, make it look like existing users. And acceleration generally applies to better and faster delivery of the “value proposition.”

To make your onboarding more complete, consider introducing some actions that the user has to take to complete the process. Make sure that the user is challenged, but not affected by the loss of time to complete the task that you have set.

Think of Twitter; its onboarding process requires you to choose a few people to follow before you can go ahead and start using your account. Tumblr asks you to follow some people and name your first article. Pinterest suggests some people / boards you might like to follow. LinkedIn is constantly reminding you to import your contacts so you don’t lose someone you have recently connected with. There’s a fine line you don’t want to cross when it comes to forcing users to take action. Make sure the action has benefits (more contacts, likes, fans, followers) and can be executed easily.

In these processes, less is more. Get rid of visual clutter and noise to increase the likelihood that a user will stick with the product from the start. Consider using fewer fields for data collection. Instead of asking for first name, last name, email, and password, do it with just the email and password during the early stages. Fewer user actions required will prevent “decision fatigue” and significantly increase your conversion rate. Consider using an email address in a signup form, rather than forcing the user to start with a username. For example, Pinterest enables a one-click login for new users, simplifying the onboarding experience.

Also, don´t be afraid of making (some) decisions for the user. Making decisions for users, especially novices, will help bring them closer to their goal. Dim the background intensity to highlight the button they need to click, place a hint pointing to an object they need to look at. Helps users conserve their willpower.




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