How to Create a Successful User Onboarding Flow

Written by Adam Calica
Published on Oct. 06, 2020
How to Create a Successful User Onboarding Flow
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“Do you want to buy these jeans?”

If a customer is asked that question as soon as they enter a retail store, they’re very likely to turn around. 

According to Matthew Erley, the VP of growth at interior design platform Havenly, hitting a customer with the purchasing stage before they receive product education is a poor onboarding experience. Successful onboarding, he said, inserts the purchase point between the sweet spot of product education and value demonstration. 

Designing a successful onboarding flow, however, also requires analyzing and responding to customer interactions.

Erley, as well as Andi Kirtland, a customer success team lead at Documoto, said they use A/B testing and tools like Smartsheet, software used to track project progress and manage workflows, to determine how new customers best respond to their platforms.

Both professionals advised providing free onboarding tools like video tutorials or browsing experiences that allow customers to “shop around” at their own pace. Collaborative tactics like project updates and milestone celebrations are similarly effective at evolving relationships.

From there, they recommended that CSMs keep a close eye on each customer’s experience, frequently asking for feedback to address pain points and hopefully, develop a long-term client.

The following three pros share tips and strategies on how to build and enhance a user onboarding flow. 

Tips for a Better User Onboarding Flow

  • Know your audience
  • Understand user needs
  • Utilize analytics
  • Use incremental testing to discover bigger opportunities
  • Utilize social channels and established user community for feedback



Nick Breeser


Nick Breeser

What are the key considerations when first building out a user onboarding flow? 

We ask ourselves a few key questions before designing an onboarding experience. First off, what are we onboarding users for? We design onboarding experiences at Peloton for numerous reasons, including welcoming users to a new product and introducing them to what we offer on our digital platforms, such as iOS or TV. Depending on the use case of the onboarding, we set different goals. 

For our Bike and Tread onboarding, we aim to create a seamless and efficient path through activating the device, getting accounts set up and connecting other services to the software to enhance the experience. 

After establishing an onboarding flow, we think about the various types of users who may experience it. The person setting up the Bike may be the original purchaser, someone who received it as a gift or someone who got the Bike secondhand. We have several branching paths that tailor the experience to the user and what information they may have, such as a subscription key or an existing Peloton account. This flexibility allows us to make sure there is always a path forward, so the user can start working out as quickly as possible.


We ask ourselves a few key questions before designing an onboarding experience.’’ 


How do you continue to test and refine your user onboarding flow over time? 

There are three ways we evaluate the effectiveness of onboarding flows at Peloton. First off, we have a vibrant and vocal member community. Whenever we launch new features or make changes to one of our experiences, our social platforms light up with chatter and feedback. This is a great source of candid feedback and discourse around the experiences we design as well as an excellent starting point when analyzing how successful we were in onboarding users to changes we made. If we see many users confused about how an element of the experience works, that usually means we can improve the onboarding process for that feature. 

Second, we rely on analytics. We can track how many members are skipping onboarding steps rather than engaging with them to see how valuable each step is. For example, we are able to track the number of new connections made between members when they connect their Peloton account to Facebook. As our member community grows, we see an acceleration in the number of friends found when a user connects to Facebook in the onboarding experience. 

Lastly, to understand more nuanced areas of refinement, we rely on our user research team to conduct interviews or surveys with our members to get both qualitative and quantitative feedback on our designs.


Share an example of a change you've made to your user onboarding flow that had a major impact. 

We recently altered how we approach acquiring new members on iPhones and iPads. For this change, we ran a series of A/B tests to evaluate the impact of requiring payment to start a free trial versus allowing members to start a free trial without attaching any form of payment to their account. The test monitored rates of onboarding completion, account creation, free trials started and final conversion into a paid subscription. 

The underlying hypothesis was that by requiring a payment method to start a free trial, we would have fewer prospects starting the free trial but an overall higher conversion rate. The hypothesis proved to be correct but caused a sharper decrease in account creation than we would have liked to have seen. To combat this decrease, we ran an additional A/B test on the onboarding flow. We altered the copy on calls to action to less transactional terms. For example, we changed the phrase “start 14-day trial” to “get started.” 

This follow-up test erased the drop in account creation we were seeing. Overall, the series of tests resulted in a massive lift in our onboarding flow’s ability to convert prospective members to paid subscribers.




Matthew Erley


Matthew Erley

Matthew Erley, VP of Growth, said their “show, don’t tell'' onboarding mentality at interior design platform Havenly encourages customers to navigate the site at their preferred speed while educating them on the platform’s services. Instead of incremental changes, Erley’s team uses A/B testing to determine what stage works best to drive purchases.   


What are the key considerations when first building out a user onboarding flow? 

At Havenly, we are building our business in an industry where the alternative to interior design is DIY. This means our average customer is already anchored to the alternative price point of zero dollars, making it all the more important that Havenly’s onboarding flow focuses on leading customers through a process that both educates them on the service and further establishes the need state for interior design so that we can drive conversion and purchasing. 

Our user onboarding flow has a very intentional high level of friction so that we can create more and more intent as we move users deeper down the onboarding funnel. A lot of digitally native companies try to convert too quickly, before the user truly understands the product or service and is convinced of the value. 

I always use the example of what it would be like to walk into a retail store and have a sales person immediately come up to you and say, “Do you want to buy these jeans?” That wouldn’t be a great experience! Similarly, we need to use smart user onboarding to ensure customers are confident in what they are about to purchase. 


How do you continue to test and refine your user onboarding flow over time? 

We’ve found that for our business, it's been very difficult to simply tweak a CTA button, adjust copy or make other more incremental changes and have that lead to a meaningful boost in our user onboarding flow. 

Because of this, we typically use incremental testing to help us identify larger opportunities, where we can then take bigger bets. For example, we observed decreased conversion on our package payment page, so rather than continuing to rely on incremental adjustments to that page, we decided to A/B test a fully alternative process for customers to get started with their designer and then pay later, which moved the paywall deeper into the process.


We need smart user onboarding to ensure customers are confident in what they are about to purchase.” 


Share an example of a change you've made to your user onboarding flow that had a major impact. 

We’ve recently launched a new product called Explore, which gives pre-conversion customers an environment to browse our huge collection of design renderings, organize their favorites and shop products used in those designs. It’s a major enhancement to our onboarding flow because it is the first time we have built such a robust environment for pre-conversion customers to do more than just onboard themselves into our core interior design product. We identified that a lighter, more browsable and free tool would allow us to better nurture pre-conversion customers while we help them build their need to purchase an interior design package. This is our version of the “show, don’t tell” mentality of good product conversion.


Documoto, Inc.

Andi Kirtland


Andi Kirtland

Andi Kirtland, a customer success team lead at Documoto, a company that assists equipment manufacturers, said moving their onboarding process online, rather than onsite, allows customers to learn at their own pace. This shift also means customers are no longer tied to a customer success manager’s meeting calendar. 


What are the key considerations when first building out a user onboarding flow? 

To implement an effective onboarding program, specific tools and processes that are used for communication, project planning, training, and risk management should be taken into consideration. For example, managing a customer’s implementation project schedule using a spreadsheet via email is inefficient. Instead, the Documoto team adopted Smartsheet for project planning. This enabled the Documoto team to build and design a more collaborative onboarding program that encompasses implementation, project updates, training and go-live milestones that all stakeholders have access to. 


How do you continue to test and refine your user onboarding flow over time? 

The Documoto team continues to refine and improve the onboarding program by monitoring user adoption and supporting inquiries. In addition, the Documoto team conducts postmortems on all implementation projects to allow team members to share lessons learned and if needed, develop actionable takeaways for process improvement.


The Documoto team conducts postmortems on all implementation projects.”


Share an example of a change you've made to your user onboarding flow that had a major impact. 

One of the most time-consuming parts of Documoto’s onboarding program was product training. Switching from an on-site training course to an online self-service training program helped significantly. 

Documoto’s customers can now work through the training at their own pace without being tied to a customer success manager’s meeting calendar. 

Another bonus to implementing an online self-service training portal is that the customer success managers are now able to support twice the amount of accounts than previously. It also has helped the team identify solutions within Documoto’s products more constructively and quickly for customers. Which, in turn, adds value for customers who can leverage the solution within their own business more dynamically.  


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Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies.
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