Recall your own experience signing up for free trials, new apps and technology products.
Did you receive email tutorials? Did you read them? Did they answer your questions? How did they make you feel about the product—better or worse? What sense did these communications leave you about the company—did it carefully anticipate your needs as an individual user or did you feel like a package on a conveyor belt? If you wanted more information immediately, how easy was it to find?
We’ve all seen good, bad and downright ugly email onboarding series. Standards and practices have improved in recent years, thankfully, but taking shortcuts is easy and tempting.
Don’t take shortcuts
Onboarding should reinforce your value proposition, answering users’ questions of “why” and “what’s in it for me?” It is a great way to show company personality, create connections and ask for referrals.
But slowing down to create a great email series is the biggest challenge. Before you draft that welcome email, first put the app in the hands of a few people who belong to your target market. They can be friends, relatives or employees at the company across the hall but should not have any connection to the product.
Watch what they do. Have them talk aloud about each step they take, what they want to accomplish and why. You may have already done this or something similar during the UX/UI design process but let’s say you have not.
Take careful notes (or record the sessions with permission). Make no assumptions, but take the observations to break down use of a product into discrete, single steps that don’t overwhelm newcomers and make them want more.
Don’t forget to say ‘Thanks!’
Rule No. 1 is to welcome new users and thank them. The product may or may not require them to activate their account from within this first email.
Out of the gate, make the welcome email friendly, as well as transactional. Let users know they’ll be receiving a series of emails. Tell them where to get more information NOW if they don’t want to wait. Ask them to whitelist the sending address to bypass spam filters and make sure they get everything they need.
Maintain momentum and send out the first informational/instructional email the same day. Plan on one email each day unless user actions (opening the email, logging in, creating a profile, etc.) can trigger successive emails.
Limit each email to a single call-to-action. If an onboarding email has 300 words, it is too long. In fact, 200 words may be too long. If you use video tutorials make a written post with screenshots available, too. Not all users learn the same way—some prefer video, some favor text, some may even want audio-only.
To the extent you can, allow newcomers to decide the format that suits them best. Again, people do not want to feel they are cogs in an information assembly line. They prefer being “spoken with” rather than “talked at.”
At the end of each email in the series, tell users what is coming up next. It’s not a bad idea to remind them of the core point in the prior email, either.
Wrapping it up and checking in
Somewhere in the middle of the series you may want to take a break and ask new users to follow you on social media. Another option: Invite them to a Q&A webinar with a real person answering real questions.
When the onboarding series is done, say so. Something simple and conversational works well, such as, “This is the final email in our introductory series but don’t be a stranger. Reach out to our help desk/awesome team/online chat at any time.”
Let them know you’ll check in from time to time as well as keep them updated on new features and product news.
What I’d like to see I rarely do—an email at the end that compiles links to each item in the series in one handy place. People are busy and may not read each piece as it comes in. Yes, the wrap-up will have more than 300 words, but as a user, I’d like the option of saving one email rather than several.
Onboarding a new user to an app or free trial or SaaS product should not be a chore for either party—the (presumably) eager new user or the organization. Each interaction is an opportunity to add value, and build a relationship.
Think of it as ordering another round of beer, or staying at the coffee shop for another 20 minutes of conversation. Make it something users want to do.