App onboarding is the process of guiding a user’s first impression of an application – and sometimes business – in order to capture them as a new customer. Consequently, a lot of different people have a stake in the process and therefore, an opinion over what it should achieve and what should be prioritized.

To clarify what a good app onboarding should look like, in this blog post, I’ll share a few principles you need to keep in mind to keep your users engaged with your app and deliver the best possible experience.   

What Is App Onboarding?

App onboarding example
Example of an app onboarding.

In its most fundamental form, app onboarding is your users’ first experience with your application as dictated by a sequence of screens, pop-ups, images, or videos that direct them through the app interface.

The purpose of the onboarding process is to guide your user into understanding the true value of your app capabilities and ultimately sign them up as new customers. But it’s often used inefficiently, or just badly, leaving users with a poor experience and sending them to alternative apps.

Why Is App Onboarding So Important?

It is now easier and faster than ever to download and try out an application, and, much of the time, we do so hoping that we have come across the next great thing.

But your app users now possess an average attention span of eight seconds, and 25% of them abandon apps after one use. Furthermore, the global monthly time spent on mobile apps is increasing by 40% year on year, making effective onboarding more crucial than ever to increase user retention.

And onboarding itself is more relevant than ever. In the experience economy we now live in, customers are captains, and with so many of their journeys beginning digitally, the mandate for creating a great experience is no longer left to those with “CX” in their job title.

How to Design a Good App Onboarding Experience: Key Things to Keep In Mind

Show the customer what they can do with the app, and be quick about it.

Most users don’t want to waste their time with primary onboarding. They would much rather rely on their experience and knowledge from using other apps to immediately perceive the benefits this new app will offer.

Should those benefits not become immediately clear to them, then there is a high chance that they will simply consider the app to be bad and give it a review to reflect this.

This is why initial onboarding needs to be rapid and deliver core information through clean punchlines that people will actually read instead of skipping. This is also your user’s first impression, don’t use this space for a sales pitch, but prime them to become a customer.

Initial onboarding must have an incredibly tight focus:

  • What exactly is the user able to accomplish with your app?
  • How can you show them how its capabilities differentiate it from the competition?
  • And how can you make it both quick and engaging?

Leave additional onboarding screens for when the user needs them.

Complex apps will often have layers of features or multiple tasks to be completed by a user. In a well-designed app, the primary actions are perfectly visible, but the secondary actions can be more hidden and will benefit from a second or third onboarding.

The key to additional onboarding is the context in which you present it. Did the user choose to make a bank transfer for the very first time? Then show them an onboarding sequence that succinctly runs through your capabilities.

Simply put, show the user the right onboarding sequence, exactly when they need it.

Great onboarding leverages artificial intelligence to offer the best possible experience to users. These AI-enabled apps allow you to frame exactly when the user needs onboarding with a more complicated context. So, a specific use of the application triggers a specific onboarding sequence.

For example, is the user not taking advantage of a given feature that the AI knows it would benefit from? Then let’s run an onboarding sequence the next time they open the app to demonstrate why a feature will be of interest – elevating their continued experience of the app and making them more loyal.

Common Pitfalls When Designing an Onboarding Experience

1. The experience you offer to users to get the data you need.

Often to the detriment of onboarding, organizations are obsessed with data –  both obtaining it from their users as quickly as possible and using it to enhance their services. But over the last decade, your users have become far more aware of not only the value of their data and how it is bought and sold but also of the risk of security breaches, identity theft, and fraud.

So, when a user downloads a new application to try out and is bombarded with requests for their email address and permission to access their device’s camera, it can be enough to make them uninstall and never return.

An example of this is in a popular cryptocurrency exchange application. When downloaded and opened, its onboarding sequence requests the user’s full name, full address, a video call to confirm their identity, and a copy of a valid citizen’s card.

All of this before the user has had a chance to interact with the app and see how to set up a payment, the payment methods, or even how to purchase some crypto currency—which is the core use case for the app and likely the reason it was downloaded.

This is a great case for not asking for information until it’s actually needed. The crypto app doesn’t need any of this information until the user actually tries to purchase some coins, so why not ask for it then?

A contrasting example would be many retailing apps. You are free to browse products, add items to your cart, and even favorite items, and only when you’re ready to buy are you asked for your personal data. By which point, you’re already committed and much more likely to offer your data.

When the user signals that they have perceived the app’s value and they have decided to commit to it, it is the perfect moment to request their data.

2. Business aims vs. the user experience.

Bullish requests for user data or poorly timed onboarding is usually a result of an app being driven by the business goals instead of the customer experience.

Creating an app with the customer in mind and making sure the requests you’re sending for your users’ data are proportionate to the perceived value that they are receiving goes against the immediate corporate aims of capturing new data and new customers as quickly as possible.

The most important aspect of onboarding is not in the data; it is in providing a great experience that captivates your users and makes them happy. The business will get its data, it’ll just get it a little later. And if this isn’t the case and your users drop off, then you know there is something wrong with the onboarding experience that needs fixing.

3. The engineering mindset.

With the responsibility of CX moving across a business, it often falls to those responsible for building the app itself. This inherently supports a current trend in app development: that we must simply get it done and published.

This mindset disregards the user experience, often viewing user testing as a waste of time. Defining and testing a great user experience—including a great app onboarding—involves many people and many steps. Teams of UX and UI designers must follow a process that includes, for instance, discovery, user research, user testing, designing low-fidelity mockups, and design iterations that end in high-fidelity mockups that must be handed over to developers.

Sure, skipping this process will help you get to market faster. But as we know, a bad experience will damage your brand and see your users go to competitors.

There are excellent examples of user experience-centric apps out there, like Uber and Revolut. Your users will inevitably compare your apps with these best-in-class counterparts, and an app built with an engineering focussed development will simply never keep up.

The engineering mindset is to create an application for your company, not for your end-users. But the key is customer centricity: put the customer perception first, then build the app.

A few modern application development platforms already offer capabilities to accelerate the design process while meeting UX and UI best practices and overcome this challenge.

OutSystems, for example, offers the Experience Builder, a tool that allows development teams to create and test prototypes in hours and generate production-ready code with experience and development best practices built-in in minutes.   

Building a Smooth a App Onboarding Experience with the Experience Builder

The OutSystems Experience Builder is designed to enable you to build the app that your users want without burdening you with figuring out how to engineer your ideal app into existence. Instead, you can simply pull together powerful customer-experience-centric flows using best-in-class, ready-engineered components.

If you wanted to build a retail app, you would know that the parts you need to form the foundation of a great experience, such as initial onboarding, categorized goods, a shopping cart, and a checkout. In the OutSystems Experience Builder, these are all draggable, best-in-class pieces you can slot together to create a delightful experience that leverages both the native behaviors and the native device capabilities to empower your users – OutSystems does the rest.

By stripping away the need for complex engineering, the Experience Builder means you can take concepts from the drawing board and directly solve common problems that normal people have.

Find out more about how the Experience Builder can help you move from idea to live production faster. Or to see it in action in Experience Builder and What Happens Next.

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