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How to create an intuitive user onboarding checklist in 7 steps

A user onboarding checklist helps your business guide people toward the end goal of adopting your product and using it to better their lives. Having a product without an onboarding checklist is like asking your users to go on a treasure hunt without a compass or a map. 

But, given the different types of users and onboarding experiences out there, it can be hard to know what to put on your SaaS onboarding checklist to help your customers quickly achieve their goals and reach their ‘aha moment’—when users perceive a product’s value.

Last updated

26 Dec 2022

This guide gives you tips and examples to inspire you when you build your own checklist, so you can place your users at the center of your onboarding process and product. 

Create a user-centric onboarding checklist 

Hotjar’s tools help you create and develop your user onboarding checklist—and tell you what’s working and how to improve

7 user onboarding checklist tips to boost product adoption 

A user onboarding checklist is a simple breakdown of the steps users need to take within your software-as-a-service (SaaS) product to understand how to use and navigate it.

If left to discover your product without the guidance of an onboarding checklist, users might become overwhelmed, lost, or confused—and you may risk them underutilizing or missing key features that lead them to their ‘aha moment’. 

A solid user onboarding checklist includes: 

  • Achievable tasks 

  • A progress bar

  • Incentives or games 

  • Animated elements

  • Action-based language 

  • Steps that lead to product activation 

#Kompassify’s onboarding process utilizes a checklist, progress bar, and action-based language for customer-centric onboarding.
Source: Kompassify
Kompassify’s onboarding process utilizes a checklist, progress bar, and action-based language for customer-centric onboarding. Source: Kompassify

Use the tips and user onboarding best practices below to inspire you as you build your user onboarding checklist, so you can boost customer success and engagement within your product:

1.  Know your users 

Gaining insight into your users’ technical knowledge, roles, and how they onboard lets you design an intuitive checklist that helps them reach their goals.

How to get to know your users to create a user-centric onboarding checklist: 

  • Refer to your ideal customer profile (ICP) or the specific characteristics that make up your ideal user persona to determine how they learn, what they respond to, and what items to include on your checklist

  • Ask for user feedback: place unobtrusive customer feedback widgets throughout your onboarding process to get access to user sentiments, frustrations, or experiences while they’re still fresh

  • Administer user persona surveys to find out the main needs of your target user, and why they use your product or service. Use this to inform your ICP and stay on top of shifting user needs—so you can create a streamlined, relevant user onboarding checklist.

#Hotjar’s user persona survey gives you important insights into what you need to include on your user onboarding checklist. 
Source: Hotjar
Hotjar’s user persona survey gives you important insights into what you need to include on your user onboarding checklist. Source: Hotjar

2. Map the user flow within your product

Understanding the way users move through onboarding is an integral part of crafting a logical progression for your user onboarding process and checklist—especially because different users might have different flows based on their individual goals and jobs to be done. 

For example, your SaaS product for workplace communication might create a different user onboarding checklist based on specific business roles. Here are some user onboarding examples for various ICPs: 

1. To cater to your HR manager ICP, you might get them to share the tool across teams before sending their first message—to get the immediate value of simplified internal communication. 

2. For your marketing manager ICP, you might ask them to integrate your software with product experience (PX) insights tools like Hotjar, to show them the benefit of instant incoming feedback shared across teams. 

3. For product teams, you could ask them to create a communication channel before integrating it with PX tools, to experience the value of group chat communication across product development and design teams. 

Here’s how to map the user flow within your product to create a hyper-relevant user onboarding checklist: 

  • Analyze heatmaps of user activity: see where users click, how far they scroll, and what blocks them throughout onboarding. This helps you understand if you have an intuitive process based on how many users click on the first step or try to click elsewhere. 

  • Watch recordings of user sessions to see how they experience onboarding and whether they intuitively flow through it. If you’re using Hotjar (hi, there 👋), filter Recordings by user segments—for example, users who completed onboarding or those who didn’t—for detailed insights into the customer experience.

#Hotjar Recordings show you exactly how users engage with your user onboarding checklist. 
Source: Hotjar
Hotjar Recordings show you exactly how users engage with your user onboarding checklist. Source: Hotjar

3. Align key activation touchpoints to checklist steps 

The steps in your checklist should reflect key touchpoints that help users activate your product. So after completing each step, the user will feel a sense of accomplishment and added value. 

For example, if the value of your SaaS product for sales engagement relies on syncing the software with a user’s Gmail account, you need to include that as one of your first steps to make sure the user quickly reaches their ‘aha moment’. 

How to align key activation touchpoints to checklist steps to boost product and customer success: 

  • Define your users' jobs to be done (JTBD) to better understand what problems users want to solve, or tasks they want to achieve when using your product, so you can determine which steps are the most crucial to user success.

  • Always ask for user feedback: keep iterating your user onboarding process and checklist by regularly collecting and analyzing user feedback. As you roll out new features, user feedback will help you re-evaluate which steps contribute to user satisfaction and product adoption—and which don’t.

#Hotjar’s Feedback widget lets you collect user insights about key activation touch points in your product. 
Source: Hotjar
Hotjar’s Feedback widget lets you collect user insights about key activation touch points in your product. Source: Hotjar

4. Add a progress bar and animated elements

A long user onboarding checklist can overwhelm users—especially if your software comes with a learning curve. Seeing a long list of tasks that lie ahead, users might simply leave your app and never activate your product. 

Adding a progress bar and animated elements—such as confetti 🎉when a user completes a task, or an animated green tick ✅ to your checklist can inspire users to carry on with onboarding. 

And, since some onboarding experiences don’t necessarily provide significant value after each task, the sense of achievement (shown by the progress bar) keeps users interested until they can glean value from the product.

#Hotjar tracks user progress with automated elements like crossing out user tasks and green check marks on their onboarding checklist.
Source: Hotjar
Hotjar tracks user progress with automated elements like crossing out user tasks and green check marks on their onboarding checklist. Source: Hotjar

5. Make tasks achievable 

To get the ball rolling with onboarding, give users a head start by making it easy for them to complete their first few tasks. For example, asking users to add their email address could be the first step in your onboarding process—even if they’ve already provided it to access your software. This lets them cross it off the list and quickly progress to the next step. 

Increase the complexity of your onboarding tasks as users progress—there’s a much higher chance they’ll complete these tasks as they’re already invested in completing the checklist and gaining value from your product. 

Good onboarding checklists must explore key features by order of relevance, difficulty, and importance. For an email service like Gmail, teaching the user how to send and receive emails is the most crucial function. It also happens to be the easiest, and should therefore come first. Ticking off this step gives the user a quick ‘win’, which motivates and rewards them to continue learning. 

Max Wesman

6. Gamify user onboarding

Incentivize users through gamification to make your onboarding experience engaging. Get users excited about completing their onboarding checklist by using action-based language, points, badges, or prizes—and give them rewards after completing each task or reaching a new milestone.

Or, you can turn your entire onboarding process into a game where users complete their tasks as if they’re in a quest or board game. 

For example, if you’re onboarding new users for your money management SaaS product, your onboarding process could resemble a game of Monopoly—and each time they ‘pass go’ or complete a task, the user gets rewarded with points that contribute to a free financial consultation.  

7. Follow up with users 

Follow up with users who prematurely leave the onboarding process—as well as users who successfully complete it and adopt your product—to validate that your user onboarding checklist meets customer needs.

You need a holistic understanding of which types of users your checklist appeals to and resonates with, and where you could improve—so more users experience success within your product. 

How to follow up with users about your user onboarding checklist and experience: 

  • Administer customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys: ask users to rate their onboarding experience and provide a reason for their CSAT score, so you get qualitative and quantitative insights into customer sentiments and ideas to improve your onboarding checklist.

#Customize Hotjar’s CSAT surveys to determine customer satisfaction levels with your user onboarding experience.
Source: Hotjar
Customize Hotjar’s CSAT surveys to determine customer satisfaction levels with your user onboarding experience. Source: Hotjar

User onboarding checklists: set users up for success 

A strong user onboarding checklist grabs users’ attention and helps set them up for success by giving them the tools they need to thrive within your product. 

By mapping how users flow through onboarding, making tasks achievable, and creating an engaging checklist with progress bars and games, you get more users to complete onboarding and adopt your product. 

Use our guide to help inform your onboarding process and create a customer-centric checklist. Then, use product experience insights tools to determine what you need to add, remove, or improve to better meet user needs, so you can create a user onboarding checklist that seamlessly moves users all the way through to product adoption

Create a user-centric onboarding checklist 

Hotjar’s tools help you create and develop your user onboarding checklist—and tell you what’s working and how to improve

FAQs about user onboarding checklists