Build an Onboarding Engine for Product and Customer Success

Five best practices for product teams

User onboarding in B2B applications has become a critical function. The growth of SaaS software has dramatically reduced switching costs for customers and shifted purchasing power away from centralized IT teams to individual teams and lines of business. User satisfaction is established very quickly in the customer lifecycle, and is difficult to improve after a bad first impression. When onboarding is effective, it can help new users quickly become proficient in an application, it can help them perceive value more quickly, and it can lead to higher levels of satisfaction. A poor onboarding experience can exacerbate usability issues, turn off users, and set accounts on the path to churning. This guide walks through some of the important considerations, and best practices that product teams should leverage when developing both their onboarding processes and in-application experience.

Why are you interested in onboarding? the user lens and goal setting

Before building out or revising an onboarding experience in your product, it’s important to have clear objectives. Onboarding initiatives are sometimes hastily put together in response to internal fears—fear that users don’t understand how to use the product, fear that they won’t be able to get value out of it. This mindset can lead to poorly designed experiences, and a temptation to load too much content and too much learning material into an onboarding program. Instead, onboarding should be built around the user as an extension of their experience in the product. It should be noted however that even good onboarding won’t make up for a confusing, or poor user experience.

Onboarding projects should begin with a couple of key questions:

  • What are the key things that a user needs to learn in order to reach a minimum level of proficiency in the application?
  • What settings or set-up elements need to be in place for users to access those key functions?

Companies should address these questions in 2 ways:

  • Onboarding process: This can happen within and outside of the application. This process is a specific set of steps needed to address the settings or set-up elements. These elements may be completely self-service on the part of the users, but teams should document and understand what help mechanisms are in place and which people (whether Sales, Support, or Customer Success) are responsible for delivering the help.
  • Onboarding experience: This typically happens within the application, and involves the instruction mechanism that is used to educate users about the key features they need to learn. This experience is typically owned by the Product Management and UX team with input from Support.

The two components should be highly complementary and developed in parallel. The key to success here is to keep the user perspective in mind, and more specifically the “minimum level of proficiency” measurement. If the process is too internally-driven, there can be a temptation to pack too much education into an initial experience. Focus only on what is critical for initial success. Progressive learning can come later.

Onboarding process, stakeholders, and a framework approach

For new customers in the B2B world, onboarding is often more encompassing than just an inapp training experience. It is an entire process that covers the initial setup, the installation and any settings that are required for the customer to begin using the application. As we discussed earlier, this process should be documented and studied along with any in-app onboarding experience. Depending on the industry and use case the steps in the process might be entirely self-service on the part of the user, or they might be driven entirely by various teams on the vendor-side. Most likely, it is a mixture of both. In any case there are usually multiple stakeholders in the organization that have some level of responsibility for each of the elements in the process.

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