A topic that is often neglected within a project is the onboarding of users: How does a potential user become aware that there is a new product that makes his life easier? What is the easiest registration process for the target group? How do the registered users come back a second time and how can we make sure that the users not only use our products, but also have an advantage and enjoy the use?
About a month ago I was at the MOBX conference in Berlin. The first presentation was given by Samuel Hulick, a UX designer from Portland (Oregon, USA) and the author of the book "The Elements of User Onboarding". During the lunch break I had the opportunity to ask Samuel a few questions:
Samuel, you have dedicated your work completely to user onboarding. How important is a good user onboarding process?
It is very crucial: if you look at the statistics, you can quickly see that 50% of all users do not log in a second time. A lot of time is invested in product development to produce a good result that really helps users. And in marketing, just as much work is invested to make the market and the target group aware of the new product. But then you stop accompanying the users on their way. They should acquire a habit and integrate the product into their lives, but they are no longer accompanied. That is a great, great pity.
Especially when you consider the effort and resources invested to create a new feature or experience. By definition, every user experiences onboarding. If this process is not really good, it is like a bottomless pit and all the effort is for nothing.
It's a bit like Super Mario, the video game analogy from my talk: the end of the game doesn't need to be really good if the beginning is terrible, because that way no one ever gets to the end. The start has to be really good, only then the user will continue to work with the product and ideally be able to use it better.
So with a good onboarding process you can increase the user experience of the entire product?
Exactly! Let's say that the product is extended by a new function. This feature is relevant for 6 out of 10 users who register for the product. But only half of the new users use the product a second time. Mathematically speaking, this leaves only 3 out of 10 users who can experience the new feature at all. The new feature could enhance the app, lead to better ratings and attract new users again.
The first use of a product is a moment that decides whether it will be successful or not. If you look at your product as a better way to get things done, it means that the user has to develop a new habit. To be more precise: there is an old, not so good way to get something done. Now the user is required to go through a new, unfamiliar process and develop a new habit. This usually requires more than just a tooltip tour.
How much effort is required to integrate the onboarding process in a later project phase and not to schedule it from the outset?
This is something that surprises many people again and again: I recommend not to invest too much effort in the onboarding interface at the beginning of the project or to not elaborate it too much. It is not yet known where users will run into problems or what users will do once they have logged in, or in what order they will proceed, etc.
My recommendation is to rather deal with the process itself: That is, to observe users who go through the registration process. This can be done during usability tests or live chats or by looking at customer support tickets. It's about understanding exactly where users are experiencing problems and where they are successful.
Of particular interest are all users who successfully pass through the process and become power users. What was their path and how does it differ from the average registration? Is it possible to develop a recipe for successful user conversion from this? And then, when you have understood all this in detail, you need to specify the path, adapt the interface and put in further development effort.
In your opinion, user onboarding does not only include the first use of an app. What else is part of the process?
My definition is perhaps a bit vague: Your product exists to enable your users to do a task more effectively. Every time there is a gap between how effective your users are right now and how effective they could be if they used the product to its fullest extent, this is an opportunity for onboarding.
A simple example: If your users know and use all functions of the product and a new feature is integrated, the possibility arises to familiarize the users with the new function via onboarding. Or if there is a portion of users who haven't discovered a feature for more than six months, then you should let them know. Explain to them that there is a way to make these processes easier and you want to help them do it better.
So, whenever users are not as successful as they could be when they use the product, the onboarding is not finished.
On your website you present many onboarding reviews of websites and mobile apps. Do you also have experience with other devices like game consoles or TV?
Interestingly enough, once you start creating reviews, you suddenly make them everywhere in your mind. I once checked into a cottage and there was a little booklet that told me about the WLAN password, the firewood place and everything else that was important. And this was so helpful that I thought: "Oh, they know all the questions I will have and they have already answered them all for me.
And I remember another hut where I was, where the fireplace was advertised extensively. But when I got there, there was no firewood. The firewood was supposed to be in a shed, but it was not said in which one. Then I found out that the shed was locked and there was no information where the key was. Not much attention was paid to the process here. All of this makes up the onboarding experience for a shed.
From a digital point of view, I also work with game consoles and the like. My experience with them has also changed since I started to focus on them professionally. But I have never published a review for anything other than a website or app.
What would you recommend in the following situation: Within a Video on Demand App you can search the entire offer as a user. As soon as you want to watch a content, you will be asked to log in or register. Would you always offer the same dialog or would you show different dialogs in different situations?
Well, I can argue both ways. On the one hand, you have uniform communication and thus a consistent experience. Users are not constantly confronted with new things to think about. I know how to log in to HBO Go because it's always the same process and I don't have to be really attentive to it. This is the big advantage here. On top of that, it's technically much easier to implement this way.
On the other hand I can answer this as follows: If you as a person would give different feedback in one situation than in the other, then this is a point where it is worth paying attention and investing effort.
If you are designing substantially different situations and only use one type of communication, then sometimes this is the right way, but sometimes it is not. This is then definitely a topic to deal with.
As a final question: Do you have any tips on how best to convince customers to invest in onboarding?
Of course! The following two things have been most successful so far: First, showing statistics as I had them in the presentation. Explaining to the customer that the user has to do the following X things with certainty in order to use the product successfully. And to tell him: "We start with so many users, but in the end there are only so many left and we can only hope that these few will stay to work with them". This is one way: to show a picture through statistics.
And the other way, which I find very effective, is to show a video of users going through the onboarding process and repeatedly encountering problems and error messages. You don't expect this during the process design phase, but it happens again and again. I've often seen executives, while watching these videos, say, "Oh, this is really a big problem. I already knew it, but now I can imagine it better".
Samuel, thank you very much for your time!