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4 Tips for User-Friendly Onboarding in Your SaaS

SaaS apps can be complicated because they are seldom narrowly focused. One product tries to be useful for freelancers, small teams and huge enterprises. For marketers, salespeople and UX designers. For Asians, Europeans and Americans. As a result, new users can be a bit confused by the number of options available.

Imagine you enter a strange house to see three doors, all clearly marked.

Okay, you think. Let’s try the left one. You open the door just to see a series of other doors, and this time signifiers seem not so clear. You follow your gut, choose one to end up in an unexpected place.

Confusion is probably the single biggest killer of user retention

You go back to try another door and continue wandering the mysterious house until you realize that:

  • You still don’t know what you can do in the house;
  • You don’t know if there is something inside worth your effort;
  • You are tired of your trial and error learning experience.

So you leave and go to a familiar place that looks not so fancy and has just a few doors, yet coherent and predictable. Just like new users leave fancy SaaS apps that overwhelm them.

The line graph below shows the scale of the disaster — an average SaaS app loses 70% of its users during week one. In contrast, people that retained during week one and apparently realized the value of the app, churn in a much slower tempo — the graph slope is almost flat.

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People like intuitive applications that offer an instant and hassle-free solution to their problems. They don’t like to climb steep learning curves having no idea if they find the needed solution on top. If you make them wander around without any sign about what they should do, they will leave your platform without looking back.

SaaS onboarding exists to make sure that doesn’t happen.

What is customer onboarding?

Onboarding means helping customers when using your SaaS application for the first time. It can take the form of tooltips, educational videos, tutorials, or learning guides — all to fight confusion, make the user experience intuitive, and help people realize the unique value your app offers as soon as possible.

Why do you need an awesome customer onboarding

Optimizing the first users’ interaction with your app, you organically complement the user flow, guiding people through the bottlenecks and appearing exactly where the users need it. As a result, improve the chances that people will use your app more than once.

Good onboarding helps to eliminate decision paralysis. Your clues highlight a clear path among a ton of equally important options. That helps users to fight confusion and begin to explore a new tool.

Onboarding educates and engages users. It helps to discover new features when you need it most. Thus, users can feel their “aha” moments — emotional reactions to the discovery of how they can truly benefit from your app.

Look how Slack pulls off that trick with its Slackbot. As soon as you try to share a Google Doc file in your newly created workspace, you get a hint saying it could have been working better if you activate integration with your Google Drive account. Everything could be done in one click, and the button needed is immediately accessible.

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There is a clear correlation between customer onboarding and retention improvement. From the very beginning, you give users a positive perception of your app, providing them with enough knowledge and support for their further success.

4 Tips to build a successful onboarding experience

Here we have some proven ideas that will help you in creating a robust onboarding plan.

1. Use segmented onboarding

If a product is targeted at multiple audiences, it makes user onboarding harder. You risk focusing on one group while overlooking another, or,  more often, try to please everyone (pleasing no one).

In such a case, it makes sense to break the tie by asking newcomers what is their job customers are “hiring your product” for. That information will help you to personalize the onboarding experience. Check out how this step looks like for Canva.

Canva asks newcomers about their aims for a personalized experience

As soon as Canva figures out whether a newcomer is interested in designs for lessons of small business needs, it will show only those templates and features that make sense for the customer needs.

2. Think of the perfect product tours format

That’s probably the most common way to get new customers acquainted with a SaaS product. After registration, users view short instructions on how to use various features of the application just enough to start their own investigation.

One format is modal windows, which explain the product in one go through several screenshots, illustrations, or animations. Just like Evernote.

That’s how Evernote welcomes its users to a product tour

Another popular format is the video format. Video is probably the best way to disseminate information in a fast, engaging, and efficient way. Xero, for instance, has chosen video tutorials as a primary onboarding method.

Xero and its video tutorial


3. Think of integrating tooltips

Product tours can be performed as a series of tooltips when in each step, one area on the screen is highlighted. A small snippet of text pops up to explain the functionality of the highlighted part. Slack uses this intuitive product tour format for its app.


That’s how Slack uses tooltips for its product tour

4. Gamification may help you to improve user engagement

Users love games. So why not use their addictive mechanism in your onboarding process? The idea is in rewarding visitors for performing certain actions in your onboarding plan. You may use any bonuses, statuses, or other virtual benefits.

Postify, for instance, uses an onboarding checklist. As you see a few unfinished tasks, you will scratch that itch to finish the list and complete the onboarding.

Postify makes you complete your onboarding

Wrapping up the onboarding process

To optimize your onboarding, listen to the customer feedback and adjust to their needs accordingly. Also, don’t forget to proactively collect insights from the onboarding data to constantly improve user experience.

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