How To Design A Magical Onboarding Experience In 10 Steps

Jose Llamas via Unsplash

A step-by-step playbook to higher completion and conversion rates

The onboarding process is one of the steps in your customer acquisition funnel where a low level of effort and simple optimizations can drive outsized returns. An improvement of just a couple of percentage points drives compounding returns throughout your entire business. But, designing an effective onboarding process is as much art as it is science.

After spending years honing this crucial process for successful companies like Betterment and Slice, Nick Gavronsky, now Co-Founder and Head of Product at Trade Coffee, developed an onboarding process that resulted in a stunning 90% completion rate and 12% conversion rate.

Trade makes it easy to discover and buy the freshest coffee from over 50 of the best roasters from around the country. Every bag of coffee on Trade is freshly roasted to order and shipped straight to your door.

Gavronsky recently spoke at FirstMark’s monthly Design Driven event in NYC to share his 10 key steps that developers and designers should take in order to optimize their onboarding flow.

1. Throw Away Assumptions

The first step to creating a great onboarding process is to throw away any assumptions you might have about what makes a good or bad experience. Let go of any assumptions you have about the industry or your customer base and start from scratch. Then spend time researching the products and customers on each side of the marketplace.

Nick Gavronsky speaks at FirstMark’s Design Driven NYC at BuzzFeed in June 2018

Meet with your customers and partners to find out what problems they’re having and determine how you can provide solutions. What are their pain points? What are they looking for in a marketplace? Can you identify problems with their current processes they might not even know about yet? Take a deep dive into that world to understand the psychology of your customers and the minute details of the products you’ll be handling.

“When we started Trade, we knew nothing about coffee,” explains Gavronsky. “But that was a huge advantage for us. It forced us to go back to the basics of customer development and immerse ourselves in it.”

Not knowing anything about coffee was actually a huge advantage for us. It forced us to go back to the basics of customer development and immerse ourselves in it.

2. Find Your Pivot Point

Once you’ve gathered enough information, determine what will differentiate your offering from what’s already on the market. What’s the selling point that will make consumers change their behaviors and buy your product or service? For Trade, it was taste.

“In talking with coffee drinkers, taste kept coming up as a problem in discussions,” says Gavronsky. “On the roasters side, individuals are hired to taste coffee and provide tasting notes based on scientific criteria. But consumers aren’t always able to interpret the tasting notes. Tasting golden raisin and elder flower in coffee is hard. So most consumers were buying brands based on packaging, the brand name and roast level. Correcting that disconnect became our focus.”

3. Bait the Hook

With a solid understanding of your potential customer base and the problem you’re trying to solve for, it’s time to start designing the onboarding process. And that starts with enticing users to start the process. It’s essential to play with the language, design and position on the site to make the onboarding process feel like an integrated part of the product. As you iterate, keep honing in on what catches user’s attention and gets them to click the button.

A well-designed landing page coupled with a clear CTA entices users to start the process. (Credit: Trade Coffee)

4. Merchandise It

After the language, branding and design are somewhat finalized, find places to weave the onboarding process into your site. It should feel like part of the fabric of your experience and ideally, it should appear to be another product within your experience. Find the right places to drop it into your site and give users a reason to take the first step.

5. Provide Context

Though you’ve successfully navigated the challenges of getting a user to begin the onboarding process, convincing them to continue can be even more challenging. To keep them engaged, it’s essential to provide context about why they need to answer questions. Show them the value of filling out your survey. You’ve no doubt spent hours determining which questions will best inform your algorithm. Don’t be afraid to share that information with the consumer.

“After each question in our onboarding survey, we insert text explaining why that information matters,” states Gavronsky. “We found it to be super helpful for customers interested in understanding why we are asking each question.”

Remember to reiterate the ‘why’ to the customer throughout the onboarding process to maintain engagement. (Credit: Trade Coffee)

6. Determine the Appropriate Length

You might initially assume the fewer questions the better, but that’s not always the case (re: Step 1). You want users to get through the funnel as quickly as possible. But that needs to be balanced with making users feel like your recommendations can be trusted. Too little information, and they’ll assume you’re not providing accurate or personalized recommendations.

You want users to get through the funnel as quickly as possible. But that needs to be balanced with making users feel like your recommendations can be trusted.

The best way to determine the magic number of questions is to user test. Each user base and product require varying amounts of trust building to occur during the onboarding process.

“We could technically recommend coffee with answers to two to three questions,” explains Gavronsky. “But in user testing, we discovered that people didn’t trust our recommendations. We wrote 150 questions and tested different combinations and links and found that six was the right number. It provided the right amount of information for a user to trust us, and for the world of coffee to respect what we’re doing.”

7. Deliver a Payoff with a POV

If you’re asking a user to answer a number of questions, give up information and spend time completing the onboarding process, you need to deliver a payoff. Build excitement as a user goes through the process to keep them engaged. Make it clear that the work they’re doing is going to lead to something — something worth waiting for.

When the survey ends and the customer is rewarded with a recommendation — like their perfect coffee — don’t skimp on the content. They’ve given up their time so make it worth their while. Trade offers content around why the coffee was recommended for the individual, playing back inputs from the user as to why the winning coffee is a good match.

Rewarding the customer with a meaningful (and personalized) result makes all the difference. (Credit: Trade Coffee)

8. Offer Choices

It’s important to give the user options with your recommendation, particularly in the food and beverage industry. (Platforms for financial services and B2B products can likely be a little more straightforward.) Make your featured product the hero shot, but offer other relevant options for users to explore, giving them the sense of being in control. Gavronsky notes that providing options is something that’s helped Trade with conversion.

9. Build a Modular Product

Your onboarding experience shouldn’t live on its own as an isolated experience. It should seamlessly integrate with the overall site experience, and it should be easy for users to move around and explore your products. It’s also a great place for both internal and partner ads, so be sure to share the space with customer acquisition and marketing.

10. Capture and Nurture Leads

Though obvious, this last step with worth stating: use your onboarding experience to capture, nurture and convert leads. Not everyone will convert, but these are high-intent customers or potential customers who have taken the time to go through your onboarding experience. If a customer has completed the onboarding experience, it gives your brand a good reason to reach out with a personalized and relevant message. So, it’s important to get their information and develop a really great nurturing campaign.

If you’d like to learn more about the 10 steps for designing a magical onboarding experience, you can watch Gavronsky’s full talk with Design Driven NYC here.

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How To Design A Magical Onboarding Experience In 10 Steps was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.