Creating a UX Playbook for Onboarding Users to Your Product

The Onboarding Experience

Mastering the art of user onboarding

A column by Himanshu Sharma
April 22, 2024

We are living in an era of product-led growth (PLG). This popular growth strategy relies on the actual product experience in driving acquisition, activation, conversion, and retention. What this means is less reliance on people booking demos, downloading whitepapers, and speaking with sales representatives. Today, most products strive to provide value to their customers or users in self-service mode.

The rise of software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications has made it easier for customers to switch to a different product. Therefore, if customers don’t immediately see the value of your product, they’re likely to abandon it and move on to something else.

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Since we’re striving to cater to different types of users—from tire kickers to novice users to power users—it becomes imperative to understand the different contexts from which these users have come. This means you must consider all the entry scenarios for onboarding users to your products and facilitate their first Aha! moment so you can quickly hook them on your product and avoid churn. In fact, you must devise not just the first Aha! moment, but a series of Aha! moments.

Such scenarios make a compelling case for considering the onboarding experience as a strategic lever for revenue expansion. Onboarding is a journey that requires multiple actions, not just a one-time activity. It bridges the gap between a user’s starting point and a sustainable, successful end state.

Why Create an Onboarding Playbook?

Creating an onboarding playbook is crucial for sustaining and scaling growth. Let’s consider some benefits of creating an onboarding playbook, as follows:

  • providing a consistent, standardized onboarding experience for customers
  • reducing the time it takes for new customers to get up and running with the product or service
  • helping customers achieve their desired outcomes with the product or service
  • significantly reducing customer churn
  • increasing customer lifetime value
  • providing a centralized repository of knowledge and best practices for the onboarding team
  • accommodating new customer segments, product features, or onboarding channels
  • continuously reviewing, updating, and evolving the product’s features based on customer feedback and data insights

Creating a Playbook for the Onboarding Team

An onboarding playbook provides a centralized guide that aligns a cross-functional team’s efforts. It outlines standardized onboarding processes and ensures a consistent, user-centric approach. The onboarding playbook facilitates clear communication, streamlines decision-making, and defines best practices. Plus, it facilitates internal alignment by fostering a shared understanding of goals, user personas, and design principles. Regular updates to the playbook incorporate insights from user research and feedback, enabling the team to adapt onboarding strategies for continuous improvement. In essence, the onboarding playbook is a collaborative tool that enhances efficiency and cohesion across the onboarding team.

Let’s take a deeper look into the guiding principles behind the onboarding playbook, along with an example case to help you understand each step, as follows:

As a social-media management tool, our long-term goal is to enable organizations to successfully manage and schedule social-media posts across multiple social-media platforms. Social-media marketers are one of our primary users, and they might have long-term goals that range from increasing brand visibility, to driving business growth, to fostering consistent engagement.

Step 1: Define Your Product’s Core Value

Different customers buy an app or other product for different reasons. The task of onboarding is to ensure that users receive value for the specific reason they came to your app. You must connect the information that you provide through education to meaningful interactions rather than explaining things out of context. To define the product’s core usage, start by answering why rather than how.

Let’s start with a core use case for our example: “Increase brand visibility by 10% on a monthly basis, measured in terms of impressions.”

While there could be a number of core use cases such as increasing brand visibility by increasing organic impressions by 10% or achieving consistent engagement, I have taken a very simple case to drive my point home.

Step 2: Define the User’s Entry Scenarios

The key point to note in defining your entry scenarios for users is that these scenarios are not equivalent to the entry points that are the various touchpoints that brought your users to your app such as an invitation link, a social-media post, an ad, or a Web search.

Each entry scenario refers to the context and motivation that users bring with them and the value they’re seeking. Remember, different customers come to your product for different reasons.

In our example, the different entry scenarios could be, as follows:

  • entry scenario 1Users seek a solution for staying ahead of social-media trends and want to explore the platform’s features. While researching social-media trends online, the user discovers the platform’s capabilities.
  • entry scenario 2A business with an existing social-media presence decides to transition its accounts to a comprehensive social-media management platform.
  • entry scenario 3Content creators who are interested in diversifying their reach and increasing reader engagement explore new social-media management tools.

Regular tasks are actions that users need to perform consistently to achieve the product’s main benefit. In our example, the user must regularly perform the following tasks to boost brand visibility, which is the user’s main goal. To create a complete list of tasks, consider interviewing users who represent various personas or archetypes. For example, talking to a social-media marketer who regularly posts content could provide valuable insights. Remember, this step is not about discovering new features, but understanding the user’s priorities and speeding up the onboarding time until the user gets to see value.

Typical tasks of a social-media manager include the following:

  • scheduling two social-media posts weekly
  • designing creatives
  • getting approval for creatives and copy
  • replying to engaged customers and mentions
  • monitoring weekly and monthly organic reach
  • crafting copy for a sponsored post
  • setting up budget planning for a sponsored post

Step 3: Conducting a Mapping Workshop and Visualization

Now, let’s link routine tasks with entry scenarios. You could organize a team workshop for this purpose, then follow these steps:

  • Use Miro or Figzam to create a square.
  • Place the core value at the center, as Figure 1 shows—in the example, Increase brand visibility by 10% on a monthly basis, measured in impressions.
Figure 1—The core value
The core value

Now, draw a bigger square and put sticky notes inside it that cover all the routine tasks that you have identified, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2—The routine tasks
The routine tasks

In the space below the square, add a sticky note and write down a specific entry scenario, as shown in Figure 3. In our example, we’ve already identified several entry scenarios. Write this entry scenario on the sticky note: Users seek a solution for staying ahead of social-media trends and want to explore the platform’s features. While researching social-media trends online, the user discovers the platform’s capabilities.

Figure 3—Adding entry scenarios
Adding entry scenarios

Next, let’s break down a regular task by moving from the task itself back to the starting point at the bottom. In this example, focus on the routine task Schedule 2 social-media posts weekly.

Ask your team members to jot down all the steps that a user might take before scheduling two social-media posts each week. This could be a collaborative team activity or individuals could do it on their own. Figure 4 shows how this process might unfold.

Figure 4—The actions the task comprises
The actions the task comprises

Here is a list of the actions that the task comprises:

  • Customize the platform to reflect the business’s branding, including profile information, logos, and any other relevant details.
  • Link and integrate the existing social-media accounts.
  • Import existing content and analytics from the individual social-media accounts.
  • Turn on notifications for the platform to receive alerts for messages, comments, and mentions.
  • Upload the copy and other content of the social-media post.
  • Use the scheduling features of the management platform to create a consistent posting schedule.

Step 4: Prioritize All the Tasks

In this step, prioritize all the tasks that you listed with the goal of providing maximum value for onboarding users, by following these steps:

  1. Create a table comprising the following columns: Routine Tasks, Entry Tasks, Immediately Beneficial?, Can Be Combined?, and Frequency.
  2. List the routine tasks.
  3. List the entry tasks.
  4. Add the details for each entry task to the other columns.
  5. Identify the purpose of this process, which is as follows: Understand which actions are crucial to providing a faster onboarding journey that quickly delivers value.
  6. Identify the tasks with immediate benefits. These include tasks such as linking existing social-media accounts, giving users quick access to the app.
  7. Identify the tasks with no immediate benefits. These include tasks such as signing up, customizing the platform, turning on notifications, uploading content, and copying.
  8. Combine tasks if possible. Consider combining tasks such as signing up and linking existing social-media accounts if users can sign in using social-media platforms.
  9. Streamline the onboarding journey by prioritizing tasks with immediate benefits and exploring opportunities for combining tasks.

The goal is to invest in actions that reduce the time it takes for users to see value in the onboarding process. Remember, keep it simple, focus on immediate benefits, and explore ways to make the onboarding journey more efficient.

Evaluate various onboarding scenarios based on different entry scenarios. If someone wants to try the scheduling feature first, you could postpone the turn on notifications step. On the other hand, if the entry scenario involves a business with an existing social-media presence that is transitioning to a comprehensive social-media management platform, turning on notifications early would be beneficial because users could stay informed about any new comments or mentions they receive.

By planning these steps, you can ensure that you’re guiding new users to a clear goal, even though their paths might vary. Deciding on and prioritizing these steps helps focus your onboarding effort on the most crucial moments. Now that you know the essential onboarding actions, you can guide new users through meaningful interactions, moving them from one step to the next. 

Senior UX Consultant at Publicis Sapient

Potsdam, Berlin, Germany

Himanshu SharmaA seasoned product designer and onboarding UX consultant consultant with more than 12 years of experience crafting easy-to-learn, engaging user-onboarding experiences. He has helped drive user adoption for major brands such as HSBC, Michelin, IBM, and Publicis Sapient and is passionate about unlocking a product’s true potential through best-in-class onboarding practices. Himanshu also holds an MBA in Marketing and International Business.  Read More

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