The path to building stronger connection starts with better onboarding.
Only a handful of brands win in the increasingly competitive landscape for customer attention. Whether growing through innovation, optimization, or M&A, the hard work of customer acquisition is wasted if ineffectual onboarding results in abandonment.
Onboarding is the essential first step in becoming a brand customers return to again and again, but businesses often neglect it. They focus on marketing effectiveness and view customer acquisition as the ultimate end, when in fact it is just the beginning. Furthermore, brands that do emphasize onboarding often focus on the first “90 days,” but modern customers form fixed impressions much faster than that.
Done well, onboarding can lead to emotional connections that last a lifetime. Our Sensitive Technology study explores best practices for brands looking to become deeply integrated into customers’ lives. A key part of our exploration demonstrated how the onboarding experience is a key steppingstone towards that goal. Below are four key takeaways to onboarding excellence.
Overcome the “first time” challenge.
Psychologist Gordon William Allport said, “effort, except in the area of our most intense interests, is disagreeable.” Even the tiniest amount of effort can feel taxing. In one experiment, participants were shown one of two screens—a blank screen, or a screen with a 3-letter word on it. The screens were displayed for the same length of time, but those who saw the word perceived more time to have gone by. To overcome this “first-time challenge,” new experiences must dramatically minimize friction and confusion.
For example, the first conversation you have once you’ve on-boarded to Slack, a team collaboration tool, is not with a colleague, but with a chatbot. The chatbot talks you through key features and before you realize it, you’re familiar with the interface you’ll soon use with colleagues.
How can you make the first time as simple and intuitive as possible?
De-risk the experience.
Especially with technology, people require added assurance that they are safe. Removing the prospect of loss is a powerful gesture. No matter what happens, you are covered.
Airbnb provides hosts with peace of mind by covering them for damages up to $1 million — an extreme symbolic measure to get hosts to overcome the initial anxiety of handing over their keys to a stranger. IG, an online trading platform, creates a risk-free zone by offering a demo account with a virtual $20,000 to practice trading.
Where might customers perceive risk, and how can you get ahead of it?
Bring joy quickly.
Whether we like to think it or not, most of us want instant gratification. In a revealing experiment, participants were shown an array of movies classified into “highbrow” (e.g., The Piano) and “lowbrow” (e.g., Mrs. Doubtfire) and then asked to choose what movie they’d like to watch today and in two weeks. When choosing for two weeks from now, 29% chose a lowbrow movie. When choosing for tonight, 66% did. When it comes down to it, we seek joy for our immediate selves. It doesn’t matter how much your experience might benefit or engage people in the long term, if they don’t feel some instant joy, you risk losing them.
Oscar, a health insurer, encourages its members to walk more by giving them $1 back for each day they hit their walking target. It sets the target low to begin with, at around 2,000 steps, bringing joy quickly before increasing the step count over time to personalized levels defined by medical professionals.
How can you add instant gratification to your onboarding process?
Start a productive habit loop.
We all have goals we aspire to, but often our motivation alone isn’t enough. The best customer onboarding processes “nudge” customers toward these longer-term behavior changes.The opportunities to extend this thinking into the customer experience are exciting and endless.
Digital meditation app Headspace places first-time users into a multi-day “course” based on their goal (e.g., sleeping better, being less stressed). Lesson one is “Lesson 1/10,” and Headspace provides daily reminders to complete the course, start a streak, earn a digital medal, and reach their goal.
What new habit loop can kick off your customer relationship?
Customers judge quickly—studies show that people can form a lasting impression in just 100 milliseconds.
And after an initial judgment, it’s hard to charge their minds. The good news for onboarding practitioners: if customers engage early on, even in small ways, they become more willing to take the next action. Straightforward onboarding changes can keep customers coming back again and again and, in doing so, you’ll lay the foundation for enduring customer bonds.