This post is by Jonathan Kim from Openview Labs
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The vast majority of SaaS companies are missing out an important growth opportunity. Recent research found that one of the things the top 10% of SaaS companies have in common with each other is a retention rate that’s 20% higher than the median. More to the point, the typical drop off that led to a decrease in the competition’s retention happened within the first week of use. It’s not hard to connect the dots and figure out that onboarding plays a central role in influencing short- and long-term retention rate. The critical misstep many SaaS companies make is failing to be intentional about their onboarding experience. Done right, the onboarding experience is a gold mine of opportunity. Done wrong, it can sink your customer relationship before it’s even gotten off the ground. In the same way that it’s easier to retain or upsell an existing customer than it is to
a new one, it’s easier to get a new user to develop a new habit than it is to reengage a lapsed user who failed to develop the habit in the first place. Nailing your onboarding experience is crucial to getting users on the right path right from the start. My company, Appcues, works with product managers, growth marketers, and customer success teams at bottom-up, product-led companies to help them iterate more quickly and effectively on their onboarding UX. We enable folks to create a superior customer experience that’s personalized to each and every user. This helps them drive adoption, retention and overall customer satisfaction. And really good UX isn’t just something we do for our clients; it’s something we think about all the time for our own company. Experience has shown us that even a moderate level of effort can deliver huge returns, and a strategic effort can shift a business’ growth substantially. More than just a way to get your customers started with your product, onboarding is a powerful tool that helps you deliver value, provide support, and improve ease of use, all of which results in happier customers, improved activation, increased retention, and higher profitability.
The Onboarding Opportunity: Get IntentionalWith its ability to deliver all those game-changing benefits, a well-structured and customer-centric onboarding UX should be high priority; but the sad truth is that most products have no intention behind their onboarding experience. In far too many cases, the product just drops the user into a dashboard with all zeros and no instruction about what to do next. This is the biggest low-hanging fruit I see—to just put some focused thought into how your onboarding can improve the customer experience. The next-biggest opportunity is to think about the onboarding experience for invited users—what we call ‘the nth user problem.’ Ten out of ten companies that we talk to at Appcues never consider what happens when someone is added to an existing account. In a lot of cases, there’s no onboarding at all, and even when there is some level of invitee onboarding, it lacks the depth of what initial users see. Invited users are rarely driven to webinars, connected with their CSM, or alerted to features that they might like. If a company does think to bring some of this content to invited users, it’s usually via email or a blog post and hardly ever embedded into the product. As you can see, there is a ton of opportunity to do better. The problem is that the traditional approach to iterating on your onboarding experience is not built for speed or ease. Frankly, it’s an outdated process that involves getting changes added to the backlog and working with engineering to implement even the tiniest optimization. It eats up a lot of time and makes it almost impossible for product teams to respond to user needs in a timely manner. We built Appcues to help solve that problem by creating an entirely new, fast, simple, code-free process that allows anyone—product managers, growth teams, marketing staff—to iterate on the user experience. We have a couple of goals for our customers—speed and personalization. Accelerating improvements to customer UX helps companies achieve a much more competitive time to value. Shifting from a one-size-fits-all to a personalized UX with contextual experiences based on who the user is and how they have engaged with a product can make a major difference in engagement and, ultimately, retention.
Easy Ways to Get Started with Intentional OnboardingIf you’re just getting started with a more intentional approach to onboarding, it’s important to know that there’s no universal onboarding solution that will fit every type of product. There are, however, a few things that can be adapted to pretty much any company. To start, just welcome new users to your product. Not only does this humanize their experience, it helps them remember how they got where they are and why they signed up in the first place. In most cases, they probably came from a marketing website that touts the product’s benefits. They’ve gone through however many steps there are in the signup process, and then they land in the product. Take a moment to say hi, thank them for being there, and close the loop on the conversation you started in the marketing materials. If they clicked through from a landing page about a specific feature, use that information to get them started with that feature. A big part of onboarding’s role is to help people orient themselves within your product so that you can help them build momentum toward getting the value that you promised. Make sure you take every opportunity to guide them. At Appcues, we use a variety of other tools and techniques to address the cold start issue that exists in any product, and many of these tactics can be adapted for other kinds of products as well. For example:
- Tool Tip Tour with Video: As soon as someone signs up for Appcues, they get a welcome module that asked if they’d like a walk-through of the product. If they say yes, the product takes them through a “tool tip tour” that teaches them about our editing experience. This presentation ends with a video from one of our product managers who talks about the context the user is about to enter, and from there the user can jump right into building their initial experience.
- Experience Templates: We also have some templates built into the welcome experience. These templates will actually try to pull in data from the user’s site—logo, metadata about the company, etc.—in order to do some initial customization of the template. This potentially allows the user to just hit publish and they’re off and running.
- Chrome Preview Extension: We have also implemented a Chrome extension that allows a user to preview—without installing anything—an Appcues module as if they were an end user. This means that someone can see what the product will look like on their site before ever talking with a salesperson or inserting a credit card or involving the in-house dev team. It’s a great way to help remove friction from the process.