The 2 Stages of User Onboarding

Visualizing the user onboarding process

User onboarding is a type of a managed learning experience. Like all learning the onboarding process typically follows the same universal 2-stage pattern in a continuous looping cycle.

The 2-Stage User Onboarding Diagram

During the first stage, as you first introduce the product to your new users, the focus is on helping them achieve the core value that the product delivers. For every product there is typically one key feature that sums up its (initial) value to users. It is in this first stage where new users will master that one feature and reach the state of first core success from using your product.

For most products their entire success with users hinges on this first stage of user onboarding experience. Without successful completion of the stage one, there will never be stage two.

Initial Value Loop

Each feature of your product carries a promise of value. When you present it to users you make a statement of this value, which turns into an expectation and a benchmark of performance. In other words when you promise your users that your product will help them reach a certain outcome, they expect to see this outcome from using your product. This is logical.

As you take your users through the first stage of the user onboarding process, they will travel from expecting value to achieving this value. This journey in turn will equip them with the working knowledge of the motions required to achieve this value.

Having gone through the first stage, your user walks away with two things:

  1. Confirmation that your product works as expected (advertised);
  2. Muscle memory of using the product to achieve desired outcome.

And these are not small achievements. In fact they are huge.

Now, with the initial value achieved and working knowledge of the product, you have a strong foundation to move into stage two — Trying new features.

Carrying that initial success under their belts your users have confidence in your product and are much more willing to discover new value from other features of your product.

So there you have it — the continuous 2-stage loop of user onboarding:

  1. Help users master a feature through achieving clear repeatable value.
  2. Suggest new features that build on the existing foundation. Repeat step 1.