GuidesUser experience (UX)What is user onboarding? Examples & best practices

What is user onboarding? Examples & best practices

Last updated

30 August 2023

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Dovetail Editorial Team

You might have an incredible product that can solve a significant pain point for its users. Still, if those users don't know how to use the product effectively, they’ll look elsewhere for a solution, and your product won’t get used (queue sad trombone music).

Here’s where user onboarding can help. More than a first impression of your product or service, onboarding guides users through those first uncertain steps until they reach an aha! moment—that split second in which it becomes undeniable clear that your product does solve their problem—hurray!

Successful onboarding helps users gain confidence using your product and sets the long-term stage for an ongoing, positive, productive experience. 

Here’s a guide to shaping your user onboarding experience into a seamless, memorably positive experience.

What is user onboarding?

User onboarding is introducing new users to your product or service and showing them how to interact with it in a way that highlights its functions and features.

The goal is to bring first-time users through a series of steps using clear guidance, relevant information, and sometimes interactive tutorials, eventually illuminating how your product or service solves their problem.

And a well-developed onboarding process doesn’t just benefit users. Smooth onboarding helps increase adoption and engagement, boosting overall satisfaction and supercharging retention rates. 

What are the components of user onboarding? 

The user onboarding experience might start as soon as the customer decides to try your product, but it usually doesn’t end there—it can extend well into their customer lifespan.

Here are some key components of an excellent user onboarding process:

  • User-friendly registration

  • Welcome messages

  • Product walkthroughs

  • Tutorials and guides 

  • Personalized recommendations

Ultimately, what you include in your user onboarding process will largely depend on your product and customers. 

Tracking onboarding metrics like product engagement score, completion rate, or retention rate can help pinpoint what's working and what you need to refine. 

What is user onboarding vs. customer onboarding

Both user onboarding and customer onboarding are crucial to creating a positive customer experience and fostering long-term relationships with users and customers. 

User onboarding focuses on the initial experience of new users who have just signed up for a product or service. It aims to guide them through getting started, understanding the features, and using the product effectively. 

User onboarding enables a smooth and successful first interaction with the product. User onboarding is more transactional. It focuses on providing the necessary information and guidance to help users understand how to use the product effectively. The primary goal is to help users overcome any initial hurdles or confusion they might face when using the product for the first time. 

User onboarding is often the first step in converting new users into customers. Providing a positive initial experience increases the likelihood of users continuing to engage with the product and eventually becoming paying customers.

Customer onboarding is a broader process encompassing the entire journey of engaging and retaining customers throughout their relationship with your company. 

While user onboarding is a component of customer onboarding, customer onboarding extends beyond the initial sign-up phase. It involves nurturing the customer relationship, providing continued support, and demonstrating the product or service's value over time. 

Customer onboarding is more relational and aims to build a stronger, lasting relationship with the customer. It goes beyond the initial steps of using the product. It focuses on helping customers realize the value of their purchase by personalizing interactions and showcasing the benefits of being a loyal customer

Customer onboarding contributes to building loyalty and retaining customers over the long term. It helps customers see the ongoing benefits of the product or service, fostering a sense of loyalty to the brand.

What user onboarding is not

  • It's not a product tour—user onboarding goes beyond showcasing features and creates a meaningful first experience for the user.

  • It's not showing off a great-looking UI—although a well-designed UI (user interface) is essential, user onboarding is about more than showing off great aesthetics. It's about helping users achieve their original goals for using the product or service in the first place. 

Why great user onboarding is so important

User onboarding can really make or break product success. When you successfully onboard users, you create a positive first impression of your product. Good user onboarding accelerates the time-to-value, reduces friction, and drives user adoption and retention. A smooth onboarding experience instills confidence in the user, motivating them to return to the product repeatedly. 

The users who understand your product's value will be more likely to engage with it and integrate it into their daily routine. Investing in a well-designed user onboarding process can help you establish a foundation for long-term success and many happy, engaged customers. 

How to successfully onboard new users

Here are some best practices to follow when developing your onboarding process: 

Understand the user's journey

To help users get proficient with your product, you need to understand who they are and what brings them to your product. Get to know them and their user journey—from their first interaction with your product to achieving their long-range goals. User interviews are one of the proven ways to collect this information. 

You can easily identify potential pain points or hurdles by deeply understanding the user journey. You can then work to remove those obstacles or build steps into the onboarding to make them more manageable. 

Get to that first aha! moment fast

Design your process so new users quickly see the product's value. Experiencing a tangible benefit early on can motivate them to keep using and exploring the features and get them excited about continuing to use the product. Seeing how the product solves their problem can create loyal customers and passionate brand advocates.

Give users a personalized learning path

Tailor the user onboarding experience to the user's specific goals or preferences. For instance, include tips on features that interest them or give them relevant resources needed to meet a particular goal. Find out what the customer wants to do with your product, then show them how to achieve their goal.

Start with the things most familiar to the user

Build on the user's existing knowledge. Start with features familiar to them from other products or show them the functions of the products they may have seen before. Starting with the things most familiar to them will help users understand the product and make it easier for them to use. It can also instill confidence that they can successfully use the product.

Optimize the onboarding process with tools 

Tools can help you streamline the user onboarding process. Chatbots, videos, or tooltips can help guide users through the experience and reduce the learning curve. Visuals are often easier for the new user to follow and take less time than reading through documentation. Good tools can reduce the friction of learning something new and help users navigate something that might be unfamiliar to them. 

Keep refining the experience

Keep refining the user onboarding experience based on user feedback data collected through interviews, usability tests, analytics, or surveys. Keep an eye on industry trends to get inspiration about improving your onboarding process. When you monitor user behavior and refine the process, you can continue building user satisfaction and conversion rates. 

Things to avoid during onboarding:

Do your best to avoid two common pitfalls when creating your user onboarding experience

Information overload

One area where many user onboarding experiences fall short is information overload. Avoid overwhelming new users with excessive information. Too much info can lead to disengagement and leave the user feeling confused. 

Remember, your users don't have to know every function of the product right away. Instead, focus your onboarding process on the most critical aspects of the product to start. Once users have had time to explore the basics, you can gradually introduce more advanced concepts. 

Ignoring feedback

The most critical thing to avoid is failing to listen to feedback. User feedback on the onboarding process is invaluable. It helps you refine and improve the experience. Avoid dismissing or ignoring user feedback, and actively incorporate it into your ongoing onboarding optimization efforts. 

User onboarding metrics and KPIs to track

Carefully tracking specific metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) can tell you how effective your user onboarding process is and where you might need to improve it. Keep a close eye on monitoring these metrics: 

  • Completion rate Measure the percentage of users who complete the onboarding process. A higher completion rate indicates a smooth, enjoyable onboarding process. 

  • Daily active users Track the number of users engaging with your product daily after completing the onboarding process. It can tell you if it gave the information necessary to go on and use the product independently. 

  • Stickiness (DAU/MAU rate) Calculate the ratio of daily active users (DUA) to monthly active users (MAU) to get your stickiness rate. A higher stickiness rate suggests higher user retention, which reflects well on your onboarding. 

  • Retention Measure the percentage of users who continue to use your product over time. Higher retention rates over time suggest you have a good onboarding process that encourages users to stick around. 

  • Churn rate Monitor the number of users who discontinue using your product. If you have a high churn rate, it's worth investigating at which point users stop engaging with your product and whether improving the onboarding process could help. 

Best user onboarding examples for your inspiration 

Want to see great user onboarding in action? There are many outstanding examples of how companies use the onboarding process to engage users and make them loyal customers. Here are a few models you can study, adapt, and incorporate into your onboarding process. 

Asana

Asana is a popular project management tool. The onboarding process is a step-by-step walkthrough of Asana's key features. The company provides interactive tutorials and personalized tips to help users understand how to utilize the platform effectively. 

Grammarly

The online writing assistant uses a "learn by doing" approach to their onboarding. They give new users a demo document to edit, highlighting areas where users can improve. It’s an excellent example of a hands-on, interactive approach to onboarding. 

Duolingo

This language learning app takes a gradual approach to onboarding. They introduce users to the app's features individually and use gamification to keep users motivated and engaged throughout the onboarding process. 

Slack

The team communication platform uses a chatbot to help guide new users through the platform's features. The chatbot shows users how to set up their workspace, create channels, and invite team members. It's a conversational approach that encourages engagement from the start. 

Canva

The graphic design tool focuses on user intent and personalization. The platform asks users what they want to create and then shows them how to achieve their goals using step-by-step instructions. Doing so delivers immediate value to the user and helps them accomplish their goals quickly. 

Your user onboarding checklist

Ready to create a user onboarding process for your product?

Here’s a list for developing a practical, comprehensive approach: 

  • Define your onboarding goals clearly. Determine what your users want to achieve during onboarding, such as understanding key features or completing a task. 

  • Understand your target users and what they need. Conduct user research on users’ motivation, pain points, and expectations to tailor the onboarding process accordingly. 

  • Map out the user journey. Write out the step-by-step process users take through onboarding. Identify roadblocks or places of friction that might cause a new user to disengage, then take steps to make those spots smoother. 

  • Create personalized onboarding experiences. Tailor onboarding to different customer segments based on their goals and needs. Personalize aspects like recommendations, tooltips, and tutorials. 

  • Test, test, and then test again. Do usability testing and gather feedback from users throughout the onboarding process. You can do this via in-app surveys, questionnaires, or in-person interviews. Use this feedback to refine the process and address any confusion in the onboarding. 

  • Continuously analyze and optimize. Track your metrics and analyze user feedback data to see what's working and what you can improve in your onboarding process. Enhancing onboarding over time ensures the process is relevant to new customer segments. 

Use Dovetail to help improve user onboarding

When you’re optimizing your onboarding process, having the right tools will make a significant impact. Dovetail is a customer research and analysis platform that can help you surface valuable, actionable insights to improve the onboarding process. 

Using the Dovetail platform can enhance your ability to gather, analyze, and leverage user feedback to optimize user onboarding. Learn more about the analysis features, or try it for free today.

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