Onboarding AMA Recap: Exploring The Keys To A Great New User Onboarding Experience With Fraser Deans

Todd Eby
Todd Eby
Sep 1, 2016 · 9 min read

Last Thursday, Fraser Deans joined us on OUTCOMES to talk about practices for onboarding new users. If you missed the AMA, read on for a full recap!

Curious to learn more about Onboarding? Be sure to check out all the great information available on OUTCOMES: The SuccessHacker Customer Success Community.

Fraser is the co-founder and product designer behind Nickelled, a tool designed to help you create simple, step-by-step website tutorials to activate and engage every user. With step-by-step guides, customers learn what success looks like and how to achieve it. Boosting engagement, activating users and driving rapid adoption. Nickelled helps your customers to utilize your product to it’s fullest.

During the AMA Fraser shared his expertise on:

  • How to identify the key moments in your onboarding flow
  • Designing an onboarding flow that offers users a structured set of steps to walk through so that there is a clear path to completion and rapid time to value
  • Identifying opportunities to help users form habits that will keep them coming back to your application
  • Using analysis to find the points in your onboarding process where users drop-off so that you can address them and deliver a seamless experience
  • Identifying the right metrics you can start using now to measure and understand the effectiveness of your on boarding strategy

Read on for some great advice on how to deliver awesome onboarding experiences for your customers!

Q. At which point of the onboarding should a CSM be involved with? At the very beginning of the customer journey, or should that be managed by Support so the CSM can focus on more advanced topics, considering that he/she can’t follow up with tens of customers on every point?

A. Great question. Unfortunately, it’s not a one-size fits all answer. Your answer depends on many factors including team size, role distinction, onboarding complexity, sales cycle, business model etc.

As a good rule of thumb though, I’d have my CSMs focusing on the highest priority customers ensuring that your customers are achieving true value with your product as quickly as possible. That probably means getting your CSMs involved as soon as your customers starts a trial or when the sale is made (depending on your sales process).

How do you decide who your highest priority customers are? Rank your customers based on how ‘ideal’ a customer they are (use the ideal customer profile framework) and the predicted life time value based on previous customers. If predicted life time value is too complicated to work out (or you don’t have enough historic data) make a judgement call based on contract size.

Your CSMs should additionally produce useful content for low-touch onboarding for ‘lower-priority customers’ which is well distributed to them (right at the point and time they need it) — think interactive guides, help pages, FAQs, videos. Then any additional assistance lower-priority customers need, your CS agents can help.

Q. One of the key things that you need to do during onboarding is getting your customer to those “aha” moments that really demonstrate the value of your product. What are a couple of great ways to identify and validate your “aha” moments?

A. Those moments when the penny drops are what onboarding pro’s jump out of bed for in the morning.

By far the best way is to conduct in-person usability testing. This always sounds more scary than it actually is and I urge all CSMs to start doing it. In-person usability testing is basically peering over the shoulder of a user whilst they complete a task within your application to see what they do. It really opens your eyes to what your customers are seeing and doing! It’s important that you get them to speak their thoughts out loud as they go through the process and you’ll start to really see they pain and literally hear them say “Aha!” when the penny drops.

If you’re unable to conduct in-person usability testing you could do remote usability testing (UserTesting.com is a great service for this — you’ll be sent a video of a person completing the task). Additionally take a look at services like Hotjar that will record real life users interactions for you to view later.

Another method is interviewing customers who recently signed up and asking them: “what was the moment you understood X?”.

And finally, look at the data. What is the common event that all your paid customers have done and your non-paying users haven’t done? Answer that and you’ll be on the way to discovering your ‘Aha’ moment.

Q. Tracking customers progression through onboarding can be a struggle, particularly if you have a fairly complex product that requires a lengthy onboarding program. Do you have any suggestions for how to track this progression if we don’t have a tool in place? Something that we could put in place without having to get our Product team involved?

A. That’s a great question but it depends a lot on your existing set up and knowledge of your users.

If you’ve got user activity monitoring already set up (either in-house user logs, Segment or Intercom) you can extract that data and dump the data into a spreadsheet. If you don’t have user activity monitoring then hopefully you’ll have some analytics running (GoogleAnalytics, MixPanel or Amplitude) then you can create a funnel or dashboard to display an overview of your customers onboarding progression.

Knowing what to track is also very important, don’t track everything and focus on the key activation events.

Q. How do you recommend leveraging the voice of the customer to improve the onboarding experience for customers?

A. It’s a cliche but you’ve got to speak the customer’s language. Use the words they use, avoid introducing new jargon and repeat their goals back to them.

What are the top 3 mistakes that you see companies making with their onboarding process?

  1. Making it too complicated.
  2. Making it irrelevant to their problem.
  3. Giving new users/customers too many options.

Q. Building up momentum and keeping customers engaged during onboarding has been identified as a major challenge by community members. What are some things that you would recommend that can help with these two challenges?

A. Ah this is tricky. During onboarding you’re asking people to change their pre-existing habits. You need to make onboarding feel effortless for them.

  1. Set Expectations

Let them know what is expected of them and when. You can outline a success plan in the early stages of the relationship. It only has to be a few lines. It should cover: their goal, their responsibilities, your responsibilities, what actions need to be taken and by which date.

2. Give Them A Reason

Let them know why each onboarding step is there. The word ‘because’ makes it crystal clear that completing an action gets your user closer to their goal. It gives them a reason to do what you’re asking.

3. Do As Much As You Can For Them

People want to use your services to get rid of their pain, they don’t want to sign up to get more work. If you’re low touch, ensure the software does the heavy lifting. If you’re high touch, ensure your sales team does the heavy lifting.

Q. Do you think that you get better results with a specialized team that does onboarding or is it something that you think all CSMs should do?

A. Let CSMs manage onboarding if your product/service is simple. CSMs can become an expert in all areas of the product and will enjoy the diversity of their roles.

If your product is complicated hire a specialized onboarding team to deal with the intricacies of getting setting up.

Q. Maintaining communication with clients and managing expectations during onboarding has been highlighted by the community members as a challenge. What tips do you have to help with ensuring that these critical elements don’t become problematic?

A. I love a good Success plan. You only need a few lines that clearly articulate…

1. Their goal in one concise sentence.

2. The responsibilities of your company.

3. The responsibilities of their company.

4. What actions/information needs to be done/retrieved before going live.

5. A deadline for each action in step 4.

Q. Do you think there is an optimum amount of time that onboarding should take? How do you avoid having onboarding be this never-ending story where the customer gets lost and the onboarding team gets bogged down?

A. I wouldn’t say there was an optimum time. Great onboarding happens as fast as possible but shouldn’t be rushed. Ensuring the customer sees value and understands how your services are going to benefit them is most important and sometimes that just takes a while.

In low-touch onboarding (thinking SaaS here), the first time user experience is so important and if you don’t inspire and get them to that ‘Aha’ moment there is a high chance that they won’t give you more time. So make it count.

In higher touch onboarding, maybe you need to collect a lot of customer data, you have a little more room to manoeuvre. Ensure the customer know what’s expected of them and set mutually agreed deadlines to encourage them a long (maybe even with a price discount to really incentivise).

Q. As we all know, nailing the hand-offs is critical to Success. Do you have any tips for nailing the hand-off from Sales to the Onboarding Team?

A. Get yourself a quality CRM system. Ensure your sales team nail the problem the customer is looking to solve and enters that in the CRM. Additionally, create a series of customer success playbooks specific to those customer problems. The onboarding teams can then pick up exactly where the sales team left it.

Q. What do you think is the most effective form of onboarding? In-product or via a guided tour by an Onboarding Rep/CSM?

A. I’d say the most effective onboarding is actually a ‘blended onboarding’. CSM agents are great because they can think on their feet and provide a personal, human experience to onboarding. However, they can’t provide the scale that ambitious companies are after.

Guided tours (like Nickelled — cheeky plug) are great because they do scale — helping 1 person or 1 billion — and allows your CSM to focus on priority customers.

Blended onboarding is not dogmatic to one mechanism: it uses people and technology intelligently to each of their strengths. Some customers will want to speak with a person, others prefer to work it out for themselves and others prefer to be shown.

Let’s switch roles for a sec. Imagine you’re a new customer onboarding onto a new website. You’ve signed up, gone through the first stages of the website but got a bit lost. So you have a chat with a CSM, they show you where you went wrong. Then after then send you some helpful guides tours for the next steps to go through when you’re ready. That’s a nice onboarding experience which puts the user in control.

Q. Lifecycle emails can be a great tool for helping to keep users progressing through the onboarding process. What tips can you share about using them to maximum advantage? What are the must-have emails to include in your onboarding mail campaign?

A. Two crucial emails are the ‘Welcome to X’ email and the ‘Thanks for signing up’ email (it could be that these are the same email). These aren’t necessarily for conversion, it’s more because it’s a nice thing to do and adds a human touch. People want to feel welcomed when they sign up to a new product and appreciated when they give you their money.

Make every email you send add value to your user. Every interaction is an opportunity for the human at the other end to fall in love with your company. So teach them, entertain them or make them laugh. Don’t waste their time. If it doesn’t add value, get rid of it.

Want some great tips on how to write great Onboarding emails? Check out Nickelled’s 25 page eBook — The Elements Of The Perfectly Persuasive Onboarding Email

Looking to take your Onboarding to the next level? Our 12 Tools To Help You Bootstrap Your Customer Success Program guide details the tools you need to build a killer Customer Success stack.

Brought to you by the SuccessHack-tivists at SuccessHacker. Your go-to partner for Customer Success. Follow us on Twitter @success_hacker.

Want more inspiration, advice or just to connect with thought leaders like Fraser? Join OUTCOMES: The SuccessHacker Customer Success Community.

Subscribe to the Customer Success Journal. Read by 1000+ Customer Success professionals around the globe, The CSJ gives you the competitive edge to stay ahead in Success. Insights you need. Guidance you can trust.


Each companies journey towards delivering Customer Success is complex, uncertain and individual. We're sharing everything we've learned during ours to help make yours a little easier.

Todd Eby

Written by

Todd Eby

I help companies to understand and capitalize on a simple truth. Successful Customers = Successful Company. Co-founder @SuccessHACKER.co | Host @ OUTCOMES


Each companies journey towards delivering Customer Success is complex, uncertain and individual. We're sharing everything we've learned during ours to help make yours a little easier.

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