Customer Onboarding: The Solution to User Engagement Crisis

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by Paul Cross, Some Rights Reserved

Reading the NYT review of the new Apple Watch, I’m reminded of what it was like to first use an iPhone.  Having cracked all the shrink-wrap and pulled apart each of the black and white paper boxes that include instructions no human would ever read, and there it was, a shiny, all-black obelisk. Like the ape in 2001, I was transfixed by how monumental, smooth and shiny it was; almost drawn towards it, but not sure how exactly to turn it on.

After picking it up and turning it a couple of times in my hands. Nope. No “on” switch.

There are two buttons, so I had a 50% 50% chance. With a firm press, I entered the 21st century and my old clamshell phone would never again receive that 5V signal that it was needed.

But in the end, what was so captivating and unique about apple’s iPhone seems to be missing from the first generation of the Apple Watch, which is an obvious way to interact with it. With a 36 sq in screen, your finger seems like an apt tool for swiping. But in the words of the tech reviewer, “Indeed, to a degree unusual for a new Apple device, the Watch is not suited for tech novices.”

Increasingly this will be the trend; products that will insist on creating their own uses. I never knew I needed a mini computer in my pocket until I had one, and while that may be the case with the company’s newest mini computer, product designers will have to devote even greater attention to guiding and teaching their customers to recognize new use cases they’ve never considered (feeling someone else’s pulse through your wristband).

Some of the best examples of user onboarding is done in the newest generation of video games. By using pace, color, sound, and text, video game designers create fun and visceral experiences that rewards new users right away, by focusing on key capabilities, and progressively overlaying additional capabilities through contextual prompts and right-on-time instructions.

These ideas have begun seeping into B2B and B2C applications in the form of gamification, as we see user badges, progress bars, and social leaderboards proliferate. While these ideas aren’t new in the commercial space, their potential has hardly been reached with Business IT applications.  Given the state of user adoption for most IT projects, as measured by The Standish Group in 2008, which found that 45% of features delivered are never used, we need to try SOMETHING to fix this problem.

In the words of one UX expert, describing the type of connection they were trying to create in their interface, “…you need at least 40% of users to feel “very disappointed” without your product”. But if users, in general, are not taking the time to learn all of the features included in a given product, how could those “very disappointed” users ever know what they are missing? Take Google Drive, for instance: The service has over 120 million users, but, according the same article, mentioned above, “less than 15% of that number have watched a tutorial on YouTube since 2012.” For a complex service like Google Drive, this most likely results in most users not understanding all of the capabilities available, and thus being at risk of not getting everything they could out of their interaction with the product.

Examples like the one above illustrate the potential risks companies take when they choose not to build a robust onboarding experience for new and repeat users. These initial interactions could form the basis of a long and committed relationship between an application and its user-base, but only if that product’s designers are committing to taking the time to onboard their users in an affecting way.

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