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7 steps to follow for a smooth user onboarding process

Like a first date, your user needs to get to know your product to see how well they get on—and whether they want to incorporate it into their everyday lives. 

The best user onboarding processes help you quickly show your users product value while tailoring the experience to their individual needs. But creating an exceptional and intuitive onboarding experience can be a challenge—especially when you need to build a personalized product experience (PX) for a variety of users. 

Last updated

7 Oct 2022

Reading time

10 min


This is your guide to the seven steps you need to follow to create a smooth user onboarding experience. Learn how to put your customers at the heart of your onboarding process—with actionable tips and tools—and delight them all the way to product adoption.

Want to create a seamless user onboarding process?

Hotjar’s tools give you valuable insights into your users’ onboarding experience, so you can remove any roadblocks along the way.

A 7-step framework to create a successful onboarding experience for users

A strong user onboarding process walks users through key product features and functionality without distracting them from your product value. It makes sure users quickly understand how they can use your product to solve their problems or achieve their goals

Without a customer-centric onboarding process, it takes longer for users to reach their ‘aha moment’ within your product, which negatively impacts customer experience (CX)—and ultimately, product adoption and revenue. 

Use the following steps to influence and inspire your onboarding flow, so more users get value out of your product, fast:

1. Understand your customers’ goals

A large part of understanding your customers is defining their jobs to be done (JTBD). JTBD is the process of developing products based on your ideal customer’s specific needs, goals, or ‘jobs’, and their approach when downloading or purchasing a product to get the job done. 

This framework helps you identify what your users are actually trying to achieve when they purchase a product—so you can make it a crucial step in your onboarding process. 

By addressing customer needs upfront and giving them the resources and tips they need to succeed within your product—and do their job—it’s more likely users will complete onboarding and incorporate your product into their daily lives. 

So, how do you understand your customers’ jobs to be done to create a more user-centric onboarding process? 

  • Collect user feedback: place unobtrusive feedback widgets strategically throughout the customer journey and user onboarding process to determine how customers use your product, what’s missing, and whether your onboarding process successfully conveys product value

  • Watch recordings of user sessions on your website or digital product to observe user actions, blockers, and achievements. See how they use your product to get their jobs done, and whether it's meeting their needs. 

  • Survey your customers with customer experience surveys or product-market fit surveys to see if your product satisfies market demand and user needs. Use their responses to improve your product and onboarding experience. 

#Product-market fit surveys let you determine if your product helps users do their jobs. Source: Hotjar
Product-market fit surveys let you determine if your product helps users do their jobs. Source: Hotjar

💡Pro tip: get all your product experience insights in one place to make communicating with your team easier and prioritize updates. Use Hotjar Highlights to zone in on key user behavior throughout the onboarding process and create collections of related insights—so you can better prioritize onboarding improvements based on patterns in your user experience (UX). 

#Hotjar Feedback tools let you gather user feedback in the wild. Source: Hotjar

Hotjar Highlights lets you group clips of user behavior based on their user onboarding experience. Source: Hotjar

2. Design a customer-centric onboarding flow 

Designing a customer-centered onboarding flow means using your insights to map out a logical onboarding journey that highlights the benefits of your product. This involves: 

  • Creating an intuitive user interface (UI) and UX design that promotes clarity and seamless transitions 

  • A sign-up flow that points your customers to useful product elements

  • An in-app onboarding flow that guides users through each step of configuring your product

  • Notifications to let users know when they’ve completed key steps, like verifying their account

Remember: center every step of your onboarding process around getting users to adopt your product. Remove any unnecessary steps that don’t contribute to that end goal. 

Here’s how to design a customer-centered onboarding process: 

  • Determine your ideal customer profile (ICP) or the relevant characteristics of your target accounts—and create targeted user personas that match your ideal buyer. Use this information to predict and meet different customer needs throughout user and product onboarding. 

  • Ask your users with feedback and survey tools what type of learning and resources they want and if your current onboarding process gives them the support they need

  • Keep onboarding short: don't overwhelm your users with too much information at once. Instead, focus on the key points of your unique value proposition that'll help them get started.

  • Make it interactive with visuals, animated features, and checklists to inspire action throughout onboarding and keep users interested

  • Measure success: use web analytics and product experience insights to track your users' engagement and adoption rates. See if your onboarding process inspires product adoption, and if not, use the Hotjar Dashboard to get a high-level view of user data and find deeper customer insights to improve it.

3. Offer value early 

Offer value early on in the onboarding process by showing users what your app or website can do for them. The key is to start with the basics and gradually build up to more complex concepts. 

Displaying product value early and helping users reach their activation event enables you to reduce customer churn. For example, a SaaS product for scheduling meetings might ask new users to sync their calendars to the tool during onboarding to immediately showcase its value and get users to activate the product. 

How to offer value early in the onboarding process and help ensure customer activation:  

  • Focus on key features and functionality that are most useful to your target users. Guide your users—with product guides, videos, etc.—through the tools or features that help them get their most pressing jobs done, and let them discover other features at their own pace. 

  • Send behavioral emails to motivate users during onboarding based on certain user actions. For example, you might send new users an email related to a specific task in your SaaS app with a CTA linking them to that task. 

  • Identify points of friction by watching recordings of user onboarding sessions within your website or product. See how users move through their onboarding journey, what blocks them, and what steps could be removed to streamline their experience. 

#Hotjar Recordings help you spot user friction in your onboarding process. Source: Hotjar
Hotjar Recordings help you spot user friction in your onboarding process. Source: Hotjar

4. Make sign-up easy and intuitive 

The best onboarding experience makes it easy for users to sign up and instantly reap the benefits of your product. Sign-up forms should ask the bare minimum to get started—for example, name, email, and company name should be all you're asking for in the beginning.

A simple sign-up process gives users a good impression of your onboarding flow and encourages them to commit to your product and initiate onboarding. If signup is too complex or time-consuming, you’re likely to deter users from registering altogether. 

How to create an intuitive user sign-up experience:

  • Limit input fields and only collect important user information. Gather any other customer information after signup to get users to activate your product before blocking them with extra tasks. 

  • Use popups as your signup forms to show users how quick and easy your signup process is. There’s nothing more off-putting than a long signup form with a lot of text, steps, and pages. 

  • Make signup forms and CTAs easy to find: strategically place your signup form and calls to action on key conversion pages like home and landing pages so users don’t have to go looking for them. Then, use Hotjar Heatmaps to track user activity like clicks and scroll depth to validate whether you've got a clear pathway to signup—and smooth out any distractions if necessary.

#Hotjar Heatmaps show you key user activity on your website or product. Source: Hotjar
Hotjar Heatmaps show you key user activity on your website or product. Source: Hotjar

5. Pick your onboarding elements 

Now that you understand your users' motivations and their jobs to be done, it's time to select onboarding elements that'll help them learn about your product and use it effectively.

Onboarding elements guide users through onboarding and can be used separately or together to better meet your users’ specific needs. Some examples include: 

  • Onboarding emails: to welcome your users and guide them through the onboarding process

  • In-product guided tours: step-by-step guides that help your users learn about your product

  • Tooltips, pro tips, banners, and callouts: to point out key features and functionality throughout your guided tour 

  • Checklists and progress bars: to keep users on track and show them where they are in their onboarding process 

  • Walkthrough videos: to show your users exactly how to use your product 

  • User manuals and self-service resources: create a knowledge base or help center that covers a wide range of frequently asked questions and product tips so users can familiarize themselves with your product.

#Hotjar onboards new users with clear steps, tooltips, and animations. Source: Hotjar
Hotjar onboards new users with clear steps, tooltips, and animations. Source: Hotjar

But, how do you choose which elements you need to include in your onboarding process based on user needs? 

  • Collect user insights by administering customer surveys and watching session recordings (see sections above). Use these insights to determine your users' level of expertise. Are they advanced or beginners? Do you need to educate users about your product first, or adopt a ‘learn by doing’ approach? 

  • Run A/B tests using different onboarding elements to determine your target user’s learning style. Do they prefer visual or text-based instructions? Use your more successful onboarding variant to inform the overall experience. If you’re using Hotjar, you can integrate the platform with A/B testing platforms like Google Optimize and Optimizely, and segment your A/B tests by user type for even deeper insights.  

  • Collect feedback throughout the onboarding journey with Hotjar Feedback widgets that ask users to rate their experience and let them highlight specific elements, so you can see what users like and dislike, so you know what to improve. 

#Hotjar Feedback gives you direct insights into the user onboarding experience . Source: Hotjar
Hotjar Feedback gives you direct insights into the user onboarding experience . Source: Hotjar

6. Personalize onboarding 

Personalizing the user onboarding experience helps deepen your relationship with customers, keeps users engaged, and boosts activation and retention rates. It helps show different user types the value of your product and increases its relevance in solving their problems

As your product grows, you might find out that different users come to your product for different reasons and with distinct ways of achieving their goals. Instead of making everyone go through the same onboarding experience, create tailored experiences for your key user segments. These can include factors like jobs to be done, industry, company size, level of expertise, and role.

Alessio Laiso
Senior Product Designer, Hotjar

How to personalize your onboarding process for different user personas: 

  • Apply user data to your process: use tools like Clearbit to collect data about each user’s industry, role, geographic location, and tech stack. Personalize welcome pages and emails with users’ names and simplify your onboarding flow to meet their needs—so it feels like your product was designed specifically for them. 

  • Segment your users based on user persona, onboarding step, or activity within your product to deliver a more customized experience. Triggering tutorials based on user actions is especially useful for feature-rich products with several use cases. You can give each user a simplified tour based on their specific problems or needs. 

  • Let users self-select their path and onboard at their own pace based on their interests and preferences. Use their selections to inform the tasks, tips, or exercises they need to complete along the way. 

7. Engage in continuous discovery 

Even after users have finished onboarding, there's always more they can learn about your product or service—and there’s more you can learn about your onboarding experience. 

That's why it's important to keep refining your process while providing users with the resources and support they need to use your product after onboarding is over—and if their needs change.

Here’s how to engage in continuous discovery and improve your onboarding process: 

  • Keep up with market and user trends to understand how your product and onboarding process stacks up against the competition. Spot potential market gaps or trends and use them to inform your process. 

  • Use web analytics tools to track user engagement, activation, adoption, and retention rates. Use them to see any spikes or drops in your metrics and determine if you’re meeting user needs. 

  • Find out your NPS and CSAT scores with Net Promoter Score® surveys and customer satisfaction surveys. Then, use these scores to help spot areas of improvement in your onboarding process and increase customer satisfaction. 

  • Understand when and why users stop onboarding and ask them why they’re leaving as they’re leaving with exit-intent surveys. Get fresh insights into your onboarding process and identify any blockers to customer activation.

#Exit-intent surveys tell you why users abandon the onboarding process as they leave. Source: Hotjar
Exit-intent surveys tell you why users abandon the onboarding process as they leave. Source: Hotjar

Fuel your onboarding process with user insights 

Designing a seamless onboarding process involves knowing your users, their jobs to be done, and how they learn best—and guiding them based on their needs. 

Use our guide to creating a user-centered onboarding experience to spot ways to improve your current process and delight users the whole way through. Then, use product experience insights tools for granular insights into their onboarding experience, so you know what to improve and don't rely on guesswork. 

Want to create a seamless user onboarding process?

Hotjar’s tools give you valuable insights into your users’ onboarding experience, so you can remove any roadblocks along the way

FAQs about the user onboarding process