Onboarding strategies to make a lasting impression

Onboarding strategies to make a lasting impression
By Connie Sisco and Bindu Gupta
Sep 16, 2022
5 MIN. READ
You know the old adage about never getting a second chance to make a first impression? The same is true when you connect with a customer for the first time.

However, an effective onboarding strategy provides the opportunity to reinforce, or remedy, that first impression well beyond those first moments. Customer onboarding is the process of introducing your customers to your brand, products, and values—all while reinforcing the benefits of engaging with your brand. It should demonstrate how the brand can help customers solve a problem, reach a goal, or enhance their life.

Onboarding starts the first time you engage with your customers, and growth happens as you perpetually repeat that process along their journey with the brand. The importance of a seamless, positive onboarding experience cannot be overstated. 86% of people say they’d be more likely to stay loyal to a business that invests in onboarding content that welcomes and educates them after they’ve made a purchase.

However, despite the clear desire from customers for welcoming and informative communication, 60% of companies say they are not satisfied with their current user onboarding experience for their product. So, what improvements can brands make to their onboarding experience that will have lasting impact?

Here are four best practices critical to making the best first impression with your newest customers:

Communicate expectations and set milestones

When you communicate expectations, you are helping customers fulfill their purpose. But brands looking to up their onboarding game can go a step further and ask questions to find out as much as you can in those initial days and weeks of engagement (e.g., Why did you join the program? Why did you purchase the product?). With their input, you can let customers help set milestones to achieve their goals throughout their journey. Below are some creative ways to achieve this.

  • A warm welcome that sets expectations: Sephora keeps the welcome concise, while also taking a moment to set the expectation for the content they will be delivering to your inbox.
  • An onboarding checklist: StoryChief provides users with an onboarding checklist that clearly defines the next steps for new customers to follow and make the most of their product.
  • Set the stage for a meaningful relationship: Petco’s welcome email elicits emotion with a customized header welcoming you “to their family” and provides a simple value proposition: that their goal and priority is the same as yours as a pet owner—keeping your pet happy and healthy. Petco positions itself as a partner for pet owners and uses the welcome email to convey this message.

You can have too much of a good thing though—so don’t bombard customers with questions if you can’t action on the data that will result. Only ask for what you need to enable the experience your customers crave. Ask the right questions and then wow them with what you do with the data garnered. If the data isn’t going to provide the right value for you or the customer, asking for it can cause unnecessary friction.

Customize the experience

Mindfully design the experience to be specific to the customer—making their onboarding experience personalized to them and their needs. Make it valuable, useful, desirable, and accessible. Use regular check-ins to ensure effectiveness.

  • Personalize the onboarding experience and simplify UX: Duolingo uses multiple techniques to make learning a new language personal. Their understanding that different users are at various stages of learning makes the onboarding process meaningful and supportive. The simple and intuitive UX also keeps the user engaged.
  • Focus on customer needs and leverage multiple channels: Canva guides users through an onboarding process that focuses on user needs rather than product features. This enables the brand to provide personalized usage recommendations. Email push notifications are also leveraged to highlight new features.

Gather valuable data, then do something with it

Prove your value by using the data you collect. This cannot be stressed enough, especially with the rising importance of first- and zero-party data collection. Gathering data is not only essential at the beginning but remains mission-critical throughout all stages of the journey.

  • Ask customers what they want: Adidas’s welcome email sequence asks users to complete their profiles so they can get customized recommendations and event invitations based on self-reported data.
  • Acquire and action on data to keep experiences relevant: TikTok does a great job of harnessing the data they acquire from customers as they interact with the brand and using those insights to drive personalization. This also enables the brand to evolve alongside their customers to keep them engaged.

Make it interactive

Using an interactive omnichannel approach during onboarding can help save customers time, leading to positive experiences that will keep them engaged with the brand. Sixty-six percent of adults believe that a company valuing their time is the best online user experience they can receive. But be careful not to make the onboarding process so rigid that it doesn’t leave room for change.

Customers are diverse and have unique needs and preferences. Incorporating interactive elements into your omnichannel approach will help keep customers engaged during these critical early moments while they get to know your brand.

  • Inspire fun interaction (gamification) + instant reward: United MileagePlus offers an interactive digital game in the onboarding experience for new members to jump-start their journey. It encourages customers to see how the different tools work and instantly rewards them for playing the game.
  • Let customers learn by doing: Slack immediately starts exchanging messages with the Slackbot when the user first enters the app. The bot provides information about how to use the platform, highlighting features that may be useful to the user, so they are more inclined to use them and gain more value from the product. Slack goes one step further by having the customer use the tools and features while they interact with the bot, giving them the opportunity to learn by doing.

Keeping the onboarding experience simple and welcoming, using steps to set expectations, congratulating customers on their engagement, and using a progress bar to show them the way are great ways to activate your customers in those crucial early stages with your brand.

But don’t stop there—continue acquiring the right data throughout the journey so you can keep your customers’ experiences with your brand differentiated, intentional, and relevant. Looking for a partner with deep CX, analytics, and strategy expertise that can help you formulate and execute on the right approach will get things started successfully and have lasting benefits for both your customers and your brand.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the authors
  1. Connie Sisco, Senior Strategist, Customer Loyalty
  2. Bindu Gupta, Senior Director, Strategy
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