Onboarding is Unboxing

Kristen Gallagher
Feb 2, 2017 · 5 min read

This post was originally posted on my other Medium account not two days ago, because obviously I can’t use Medium.

It seems that lately the chatter about how important people are to tech companies has been rising (this is surprisingly not surprising to me). However, this post isn’t about that… this time, we’re going to talk about unboxing. That’s right, unboxing like the kind some 15 year old kid makes videos for on YouTube. Specifically, I’m going to show you that onboarding is the same as unboxing.

So why care about onboarding? Onboarding new hires — whether or not you have an onboarding program — is an expensive investment. What’s even more expensive? Losing those new hires within 6–12 months. I calculated for a client once that it cost them about $350,000 to replace a junior engineer if she left at 12 months. We’ll go into that math another time, but suffice it to say, I’m not the one who’s going to explain to investors why a given company is spending millions of dollars on people not even on the payroll anymore.

Take it from the Aberdeen Group: A 2009 study of senior executives and people operations discovered that 86 percent of them felt that new employees make the choice to stay within their first six months. BambooHR also found that 16–17% of new hires in their 2014 survey of 1,000 people left between their first week and third month. PAUSE. This is ridiculous. This is expensive. This is painful for not just the new hire, but your company!

We can’t let that happen.

What to do… what to do? Let’s turn to product unboxing for some answers. Stick with me here, I promise it’ll make sense. First, what is unboxing? Harrison Dromgoole explains on the Ordoro blog that “it’s a social occasion that partially replaces shopping in bricks and mortar stores. When you can’t touch or feel the product unboxing videos provide transparent, human validation and a glimpse at the product in a way that’s unmediated by the brand.” He goes on to describe unboxing as both the actual product and marketing for your product. The customer’s experience begins the moment the package is delivered. The same is true for software and e-commerce — we don’t have to look far to see that initial user experience makes or breaks an app (see Samuel Hulick’s tear-downs for a primer!)

PillPack demo as seen on Gestalt Design

A great product has a built-in “unboxing” planned from the start. It never leaves customers thinking about how to do something or figure it out. From Ikea furniture to Birchbox, Dollar Shave Club to Pill Pack and hotel room unrooming, great product designers consider the full lifecycle experience of their customers. Even real estate is getting in on the unboxing with VR of new homes!

A screenshot from Heroine in Heels’ Unrooming YouTube video

Perhaps not unexpectedly, there is a lot of data on why great brand experiences keep customers around. Richard Lazazzera wrote on the Shopify blog that “In a recent survey from Dotcom Distribution they found that 52 percent of consumers are likely to make repeat purchases from an online merchant that delivers premium packaging. In that same study, Dotcom also found that nearly 4 in 10 consumers would share an image of a delivery via social media if it came in a unique package.”

A screenshot from Funky Fairy’s Birchbox unboxing video.

That’s interesting. Basically, if customers like their unboxing experience, they’re more likely to be repeat customers and to tell other people about it, especially if it was unique! This sounds familiar in people ops land… oh right! It’s because new hires who have a good onboarding experience tend to stay with the company longer, and happy employees beget happy employees because they refer people. Training Magazine ran a story by Kyle Lagunas, a Talent Acquisition Analyst at Brandon Hall Group, in which he noted that organizations that consider their onboarding programs to be effective (27% of his survey) found that they saw increases in revenue, positive gains in KPI metrics, less turnover and employee absenteeism, and more employee satisfaction. Learning from unboxing, we can see a few characteristics that might be valuable to translate into onboarding programs:

  • Great unboxing experiences show the brand well
  • They show the culture (through multiple channels — aesthetically, via text, via tone, etc.)
  • They encourage usage because they’re fun
  • They set the user up for engagement with the brand
  • They enable the user to avoid learning a bunch of new things “the hard way”
  • They foster connection

The interview is mostly a sham from the perspective of actually finding out what the company is like, and the website doesn’t usually tell you much either. Glassdoor and salary sites are like the cellophane wrapper on the box. Their first day on the job is their opportunity to open up the box — and you want to be the one who manages what’s inside that box.

Can we draw some conclusions about unboxing and employee satisfaction? I think we can. Back to HR data: Roy Mauer reports in a SHRM article that the Bamboo study noted that of the new hires who left during their first six months on the job, “23% said “receiving clear guidelines to what my responsibilities were” would have helped them stay on the job. Twenty-one percent said they wanted “more effective training,” 17 percent said “a friendly smile or helpful co-worker would have made all the difference,” 12 percent said they wanted to be “recognized for [their] unique contributions.” About one-third of the new hires who had quit said they’d had barely any onboarding or none at all, and 15 percent of respondents noted that lack of an effective onboarding process contributed to their decision to quit.”

Curious about what a great employee “onboard-unbox” experience looks like? Try this one from ad agency Droga5. They created an entire visual ensemble to provide new hires with reference points during their first week.

“Dinner’s Here” Placemat, Droga5 New Hire Onboarding via Under Consideration

Are there other reasons you should care about how your company is unboxed by your new hires? You betcha!

  • Companies that rely on customer service teams to engage with their customers typically see high turnover, and high turnover can lead to loss of market share.
  • Engaged team members are more productive (this is good obviously because it costs you money to get an employee to productivity in their first place, so you need a return on that)
  • Happy employees beget other great hires (referrals!)

So go ahead, make your onboarding an unboxing experience. We put so much time, money, and effort into our products — why not our people?

Kristen Gallagher

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Founder, Edify. Learning strategist. Tea not coffee.