A Definitive Guide to Product Onboarding

First impressions matter.

And in the case of products, a first impression is not only what users see inside the product but also what they see in it.

I’m talking value, I’m talking long-term retention, I’m talking product onboarding.

And why it all matters?

One of the most make-or-break points in a product user journey is where it begins. 

Onboarding is one of the very first experiences a user can have with your product. This very first step can either create a bond between the user and the product or break it all together and cause churn. 

Remember, you never get a second chance at first impressions.

So, how can you make good first impressions and deliver an excellent product onboarding?

In this guide, we are talking about:

Let’s start with defining the product onboarding flow and move on to the rest of the guide!

What is Product Onboarding?

Product onboarding is introducing a product or service to users or customers. Product onboarding makes up a crucial part of the product adoption process. It allows users to learn a product’s features, how to use it, and warm up to it. With the help of product onboarding, you help your users learn how to make use of your product to the fullest.

So, product onboarding, often used synonymously as product adoption, refers to a process of implementing, integrating, and adding value to the day-to-day life of customers. It involves both training and support.

It’s essential to understand the product onboarding and the adoption process because both are the key elements for your business – particularly if you wish to improve your user onboarding process. 

what is product onboarding
Product onboarding is an ever-ongoing process.

But before that, let’s tackle a tiny misconception, shall we?

What is the Difference between Product Onboarding and User Onboarding?

Here’s the thing: product onboarding and user onboarding are the same.

But also not.

Product onboarding refers to the macro systems adopted to make the product more discoverable, especially during the early stages of a customer’s journey, while user onboarding is applying those systems at the individual user level.

So, in short, product onboarding is the part that’s concerned with product features, in-product user journey, and all that, while user onboarding deals more with the user onboarding experience.

Basically, they are two sides of the same coin.

Keep it in mind:

👉 Product onboarding and adoption focus on product experiences.

👉 User onboarding and adoption focus on the user experience.

The key difference between product onboarding and user/customer onboarding is all about the underlying model, framework, and strategy for the product. 

Apart from its role in the customer journey, product onboarding also constitutes a part of the employee life cycle.

It helps employees understand the product and how to get the most out of it—in short, establishing new strategies to develop your onboarding processes is critical for users and employees to adopt new technology faster and more effectively.

Why Product Onboarding Matters

It is simple enough to see how a good product onboarding would affect business.

There are simple reasons like enhancing the user onboarding experience, smoothing out the onboarding flow, and highlighting key features.

Then there are the long-term goals of user onboarding.

From increasing retention rates and creating loyal customers to decreasing churn rates and enhancing conversion rates, effective onboarding for your product can achieve many goals and even reinforce the main goal of user onboarding: to help users see value in a product.

Let’s also not forget the main concerns of any SaaS business: 

  • Improving software ROI
  • Raising users’ skill levels effectively and quickly
  • Streamlining the onboarding experience to minimize user frustration and burnout
  • Helping users utilize the software to the full extent
  • Increasing employees’ productivity

These are all concepts highly associated with product onboarding AND the reasons why it matters so.

why product onboarding matters
Product onboarding is shedding light on the road for your users.

Product adoption is an essential stage in the product experience that can have an immense effect on any business invested in technology or product such as SaaS.

But what defines long-term success when it comes to product onboarding?

What Defines Successful Product Onboarding?

Now that you know the answer to “what is product onboarding,” we can discuss what defines successful onboarding.

We will go into more detail later, but for now, know that an ideal product onboarding process should meet these qualities:

what makes product onboarding successful utility usability usefulness

Usability: Your product onboarding, much like your product itself, should be easy to use. The more usable a user onboarding flow is, the higher the user engagement. It also reduces customer frustration, increases activation rates, and enables customer success.

✅ Utility: Utility indicates functionality or, in other terms, whether the product does what the users need to do. In a product onboarding process, this might refer to just how functional each onboarding UX pattern is.

✅ Usefulness: The Nielsen Norman Group highlights that usefulness depends on utility and usability. By making sure a user/customer onboarding process is easy to use and actually functional, a useful product onboarding can be created.

✅ BONUS – Simplicity: Though not directly a part of the original UX design criteria, simplicity is key for a product onboarding process in 2022. Simple user experiences let users complete their goals quickly while also keeping them engaged.

Coincidentally, the criteria that define success for product onboarding are the same as successful UX design.

And that ought to tell us just how intertwined they are.

To understand product onboarding and how it can be sustainable in the long run, to achieve customer retention and positive user onboarding experiences through the product onboarding process, it is important that product teams know these criteria.

Since the onboarding process also includes areas such as product training, product design, customer support, and UX design, a detailed perspective is necessary.

But remember: at the end of the day, what makes a product onboarding successful is the same thing that makes the users have an overall positive experience with your product.

Biggest Challenges You Might Face

I have put forward the advantages of product onboarding, such as enhanced customer experience, increased productivity, and improved engagement for first-time users as well as the existing customer base.

However, things aren’t always sunshine and butterflies.

There are certain challenges that many companies and especially the customer success teams, come across when offering potential customers and users product onboarding.

Here are some product onboarding process challenges that need to be overcome at the onboarding strategy stage:

  • Learning curves: In terms of a SaaS product, the biggest challenge you can encounter is the “learning curves.” The onboarding process should apply to learnability because every SaaS software solution has a specific learning curve. Product design, support, and training are all important factors that affect learning curves. Therefore, you must focus on improving and optimizing learnability over time.
  • User frustration: If your SaaS product’s training is ineffective, the design is confusing, and the support is poor, users can easily get frustrated. This, as a result, leads to burnout and abandonment, contributing to a high churn rate. 
  • Burnout and abandonment: When customers abandon a product, chances are they won’t return again. In order to avoid this situation, onboarding specialists should identify why users abandon the product and do their best to fix the problem. 
  • Disengagement: Users can experience disengagement, for example, if a product is uninteresting, if it’s challenging to learn, or if your onboarding process isn’t welcoming enough. You should avoid disengagement at all costs because it can cause many issues, including low user productivity and user churn. An onboarding checklist and similar onboarding UX patterns might help.

Obviously, there are a lot of pitfalls to avoid and challenges to overcome. Still, the good thing is you can prepare an amazingly effective product onboarding with careful planning and a structured approach. 

So, now that we have covered all the primary knowledge bases about product onboarding, let’s take a look at some product onboarding best practices.

5 Product Onboarding Best Practices, Tips, and Strategies

Below, I will go over some of the product onboarding best practices to help you outline an onboarding strategy in order to optimize your product’s onboarding process. 

1- Establish a Structured Onboarding Process

Whether you are running a medium-sized or large enterprise, developing new products, or adopting them internally, a structured product onboarding can bring a high return on investment (ROI.)

However, the first step is to actually decide to implement a product onboarding process, which requires a commitment.

Why commitment?

Because we need to demonstrate the value of the process and earn support while also:

👉 Developing proposals, strategies, and project plans,

👉 Obtaining executive sponsorship,

👉 Constantly enhancing the product

Of course, if the organization already has an onboarding process, then these steps may not be necessary. Instead, professionals should evaluate the results of the process and if it is sufficient to meet the goals.

2- Leverage Data & Insights to Make Decisions

Data and insights are the cornerstone of any business project, including product onboarding.

You can leverage them to assess the performance of the product onboarding process and identify problems and other points of interest that require improvement.

Apart from these, data and analytics can help:

👉 Improve and optimize the onboarding funnel,

👉 Monitor user engagement, behavior, performance, and sentiment,

👉 Provide insights into the product design, and

👉 Offer insights into the onboarding process

Key performance indicators (KPIs) and other metrics allow you to determine the value of onboarding, track progress, evaluate pros and cons, and they give you insights on how to keep customers engaged as well as further improvements.

3- Keep Your Strategies User-Oriented

Today, when we talk about business strategy or digital transformation, it doesn’t solely mean employing the latest technology tools.

It also includes delivering value to customers.

In terms of providing value, user experience has taken the spotlight long ago in any business model. That means your product onboarding strategy should be user-oriented.

After all, it is your customers’ experience with your product that defines its success. 

Being customer-oriented means that your customers and their product experience should be the main concern when it comes to:

👉 Product onboarding, from the signup process to update notifications,

👉 Product design,

👉 Product adoption,

👉 Every other aspect of product experience, from marketing to support

Always remember: however you define the goal of onboarding for your case, it will always include something to do with your users/customers.

4- Focus on Staying Agile & Adaptable

Just as I said above, and as with any other customer-centric process, product onboarding should be shaped around the customer/user. Since the needs, goals, and expectations of users continuously change, products, product adoption processes, and product onboarding programs should be able to adapt and change as well.

Therefore, staying agile can benefit any business area, including experience management and onboarding.

From this aspect, products and related processes should be:

👉 Adaptable,

👉 Efficient,

👉 Responsive to the changing user needs

5- Look at the Users’ (and Employees’) Entire Digital Environment

Not only customer needs but also the digital environment they are in is continually changing. Many experts agree that constant learning and growth are the new normal. 

It’s easy to see why.

Today, employees need to learn and adopt new digital tools constantly.

They need to learn, train, and upskill to stay competitive. Employers also require them to learn digital skills quickly and demonstrate maximum productivity. 

However, with the digital disruption of the workforce, not all employees possess the required skills. In fact, most of them don’t.

And this is true for your users too.

Since the digital environment continually introduces new digital tools, organizations should leverage product onboarding to teach the right digital skill set both to employees and to users.

Employee onboarding is particularly essential for SaaS companies’ employees as well as any business invested in technology. 

To adapt to the digital environment and improve productivity with product onboarding, businesses should concentrate on;

👉 Streamlining and integrating digital workflows

Most employees use multiple tools to complete a given task. That’s why adoption and onboarding specialists should include the digital workflow as a whole and not just a single tool.

👉 Support perpetual digital adoption and training

In today’s business environment, the tools and software upgrades regularly change; employees also need continual skills development for maximum productivity.

👉 Maximizing productivity across multiple platforms

Just as optimizing the product onboarding process for the entire workflow, organizations should also include multiple platforms in the process.

As it’s clear to see, product onboarding goes beyond just the user and the product. It includes a smooth transformation to prevent digital disruption.

Now that we’ve gone over some of the most essential details of product onboarding let’s take a look at some great examples of a successfully executed product onboarding process.

3 Best Product Onboarding Examples

The user/customer onboarding process, as I mentioned above, might be quite holistic and focused on the user experience.

Product adoption, on the other hand, focuses more on getting users to understand and see the value of a product. In an ideal scenario, product-led onboarding is employed.

Here are some cool examples of product onboarding done right.

1- Adobe Premiere Pro

Adobe Premiere Pro, a video editing platform we all know and love, offers a set of product tours as a part of their onboarding strategy.

There are contextual onboarding flows on each main page of the software, and users are assisted with hotspots to see where they should be headed next after completing their onboarding tasks on one page.

adobe premiere pro product onboarding example

While product tours can be risky to use over and over again, when done right, like in Adobe Premiere’s case, they can work to pull the product onboarding process together.

2- RAM

RAM, a hand-to-hand courier service, decided to adopt a product onboarding process for their new IT system last year. The audience, however, was their own employees.

The product onboarding process they designed consisted of contextual product tours and interactive guides while a fun character, Sam, accompanies the users – in our case, employees.

ram product onboarding success story
ram product onboarding

The new product onboarding process was a huge success for RAM as the onboarding workflow had high completion rates and all employees started using the new system smoothly.

Read the rest of the success story here.

3- Genially

Genially is among the best interactivity solutions out on the market, and its product onboarding process is one to keep up.

The tool follows a product-led onboarding model with interactive product tours around the platform that helps complete the primary onboarding for users. In the rest of the user experience, users are prompted with a user/customer onboarding checklist which is where the product onboarding merges into the user onboarding.

genially success story

Genially’s case is quite the grand one with many different onboarding UX patterns in its product onboarding. Read our Genially UX breakdown here.

3 Essential Product Onboarding Tools and Software

After talking about what product onboarding is, some product onboarding best practices, and some product onboarding examples, let’s answer another essential question.

So, what are some of the user onboarding software on the market?

Modern workflows require the use of multiple tools and platforms. So does onboarding. 

Here are some of the most common onboarding solutions:

1- UserGuiding – Better SaaS User & Product Onboarding

userguiding product onboarding tool
You can analyze and track the performance of your onboarding processes with UserGuiding.

UserGuiding is a no-code onboarding solution that helps you build interactive product guides in minutes.

UserGuiding helps you:

  • Segment users to give you the ability to understand each user individually,
  • Create unique and personalized interactive guides for each user to increase feature adoption,
  • Implement onboarding to the entire user journey and use in any department of your company, from customer success to marketing,
  • See in-depth analytics and optimize accordingly

If you want to increase product adoption quickly and easily, you can start using UserGuiding.

2- Wyzowl – Animated Video Onboarding

wyzowl video onboarding tool
For video guides, Wyzowl helps you achieve all of the above.

Wyzowl is an animated video agency, and they specialize in explainer videos that illustrate your product and your features.

If you think that the features of your product need more showing than doing, then Wyzowl is a great choice for you.

Wyzowl helps you create:

  • Animated videos
  • Demo videos
  • Interactive Videos
  • Live-action Videos
  • Animated Graphics

If you want to provide a better user experience during product onboarding, you can combine Wyzowl’s explainer videos and interactive elements.

3- Intro.js – Open Source Library for Creating Product Guides

Intro.js onboarding tool
With a little bit of technical background, Intro.js will provide you with the resources to create perfect guides.

Intro.js is an open-source library that you can use for creating user guides and feature introductions.

If you have a technical background or have a developer on your team, Intro.js can help you:

  • Customize the onboarding processes
  • Create step-by-step tours

However, if there is no one to code and maintain the product onboarding on your team, Intro.js might not be the best product onboarding solution for you.

Looking for a way of onboarding your employees? You might also want to consider using an HR or HCM platform.

HR Platforms & HCM Platforms

HR and HCM platforms provide a variety of HR-related functions, including:

  • Orientation and onboarding
  • Surveys
  • Training management
  • Payroll management, benefits, retirement, and insurance
  • Document processing
  • Self-service portals, and more.

Apart from onboarding software, HR, and HCM platforms, you can also consider using analytics tools, employee training tools, and digital adoption platforms (DAPs.) 

Conclusion

In this guide, I wanted to give you insights into product onboarding from many aspects, including what product onboarding means, the difference between a product and user onboarding and why it matters, product onboarding best practices, product onboarding examples, and tools to use.

I hope you found this guide helpful.

Wondering where to go from here?

Here is some other resources for further research:

Frequently Asked Questions


What defines successful product onboarding?

Successful product onboarding is the process of demonstrating and explaining the use cases and features of your product to users. The better you help users internalize and understand your product, the more likely you will be able to retain those customers. In other words, with a successful product onboarding, you help your users make use of your product in the best way.


What comes after onboarding?

Onboarding is an ongoing process because, after the initial onboarding process, you are responsible for helping your users learn about the new features that you launch. That is to say, you need to constantly keep updating users about what comes next.


What is the most common process of onboarding new customers?

The most common process of onboarding new customers is to help them via interactive guides. Interactive guides help you save time and resources. They are customizable and can be made personalized. With the help of interactive guides, you can engage with users throughout their whole journey.

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Serhat Erdem

Serhat is the Creative Content Writer of UserGuiding, a code-free product walkthrough software that helps teams scale user onboarding and boost user engagement.