This year, I decided to take advantage of Black Friday and did some shopping for smart home devices — a thermostat and doorbell.
I’m not exactly Mr. DIY, but I decided to attempt to set the devices up myself.
As I began installing them, it immediately became clear just how much time the companies had invested in making their onboarding experience as seamless as possible. Everything from the packaging to the setup instructions was laser-focused on ensuring I could get these products up and running myself.
The attention to detail that the companies had put into the onboarding process was very remarkable. They had included extra wires, screws and even the drill bit I needed to create holes for the screws.
It made me think of one of my main responsibilities right now — onboarding our company’s customers onto our networks. And I realized that whether it’s hardware or software, having an easy onboarding process is critical in order for customers to successfully use your product.
If your customer onboarding experience is not seamless, customers won’t be excited to use your product.
Today, it’s so easy for us to take an effortless onboarding for granted.
You can go to LinkedIn right now and create an account within seconds. Even when it comes to hardware, you can take an iPhone out of the box and be productive on it within minutes. The companies walk you through everything, step-by-step.
It wasn’t always like that. Ten to fifteen years ago, it was an arduous process just to get a webcam set up — which of course, you had to buy separately from your computer.
There’s a whole generation that doesn’t know the pain of installing software on your computer to get a hardware device to work.
Now, most companies understand the importance of the onboarding process. They know it’s the first experience a user has with their product, and they try to make it as painless as possible.
Building a great onboarding experience requires you to make assumptions about your users.
Initially, you don’t know who your users are, what technical abilities they have, or if they will be able to setup and use your product. You have a high-level idea, but you only learn the details after you start interacting with your customers.
So you make assumptions on their abilities.
These assumptions will lead to a gap between what you think they can do and what they can actually do — which makes your onboarding experience sub-optimal.
As you get more and more users, test your initial assumptions to make sure they still hold. Over time, you should remove any assumptions as you get more feedback from users. Once you can operate without assumptions, your onboarding experience will be ideal for your users.
At work, as I’ve been helping onboard customers, our team had an initial assumption about who our target user was and how knowledgeable they would be about cloud technologies.
We figured it would be an IT professional in a large company — someone who could understand this domain.
Our assumption was a little off. Many users didn’t have enough detailed knowledge of the technologies. Some were non-technical people and others were in completely different IT domains, and our initial documentation didn’t take that into account. We ended up having to do a lot of the onboarding work for our users because they couldn’t install the software on their own. So, we reduced the number of steps, automated certain processes and made it easier for people without as much technical knowledge to use the software to join our network.
Situations like ours are a good reminder that you have to test your assumptions about the level of expertise your customers have, rather than just hope for the best.
A good way to do this is to ask people who have varying levels of technical knowledge in your company to go through your product onboarding process — maybe someone in a different function, a junior employee, and an executive. Observe who gets stuck and where that happens, and get them to give you detailed feedback.
Then, based on that, adjust to make it as simple as possible.
Whatever your product, the onboarding experience must be quick and pleasant without any hoops to jump through.
Onboarding is really about making sure you’re taking the mental load off the user.
Simplify the setup. Reduce the number of steps involved because each step could be the one where you lose a user. The fewer things they have to do, the less likely they are to give up.
You also have to think about the prerequisites for someone to use the product. In the case of my doorbell, it could only work with an existing doorbell. Users need to know what’s involved before they begin the setup because if you don’t specify the prerequisites clearly, they may get halfway through before finding out the product won’t work for them.
It’s always better to clarify requirements with the user beforehand so they know exactly what they’re buying.
Over-communicate as much as possible, because if someone has the opportunity to make an assumption, they will.
Also, when users do get stuck, make sure they have the tools they need to help themselves. Put the necessary documentation online, create online forums where people can ask questions, share explanatory videos on YouTube. Some customers will still want to talk to your team on the phone, but minimizing the number of people who have to call you is a win-win.
The onboarding is your users’ first experience with your product — before they even have an opportunity to see what it can do. If it doesn’t go well, they may not recommend it, and they may even spread a bad word about it. And nothing will kill your product faster than a slew of reviews against it.
Don’t skimp on the onboarding process, or you may find that no one is actually using the product you took so long to build.