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How to automate user onboarding

Automating your user onboarding process is easier than you think. We've assembled tips and examples to show you how to get started.
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In 200 years, the percentage of farmers in the US labor force dropped from 80% to about 2%. No, it’s not because we’re eating less or working harder—it’s because of automation. Automation grew the economy in new ways by allowing US farmers to work smarter.

User onboarding is going through a similar boom in automation. 200 years ago new customers were onboarded manually; now, most of that work can be done by computers. There’s no need to manually email new customers or set up a time to walk them through your product. Instead, leave the repetitive tasks to R2-D2 and use your company resources on important things like customer service, product development (or questionable office ping-pong tournaments).

The benefits of automation are enormous: users onboard on their schedule, companies are freed up to focus resources on more important jobs, and employees don’t have to send the same welcome email hundreds if times a week. It’s a win-win-win—and it’s easy to implement. SaaS products like Appcues remove the technical coding barriers out of automation so any team can automate their onboarding processes. There’s no reason for your product to be stuck in the digital equivalent of the 1800s (circa 2003), so here’s how you can start automating your onboarding today.

GET STARTED

Create stunning onboarding flows without developers

  • Increase activation and conversion
  • No code design
  • Integrate your tech stack
Charts and graphs

The importance of user onboarding automation

One of the most important advantages of onboarding automation is that you can optimize every step of the user experience more easily. Ragini Vaid, product manager at Collegedunia, points out that an automated onboarding process lets you map out “customer responses in real-time to decide the next best action towards nurturing your user.” In manual onboarding, that’s nearly impossible because every interaction will look a little different when a human is introducing your product.

But the underlying reason you need to automate your user onboarding is to create a better overall customer experience. 63% of people reported weighing the quality of onboarding into their buying decisions. If your customers have to wait a week to speak with one of your team members, they’re probably going to check out your competitor’s offering. Automating onboarding has many key advantages, including:

  • Businesses can focus their labor on areas that need more high-touch effort, like sales.
  • It’s easier to scale.
  • Automated onboarding flows are less likely to have human errors.
  • Users receive personalized experiences on their own time.

Some people might critique automated or passive onboarding for being less personal, but that isn’t necessarily true. As Martin Gontovnikas, co-founder of HyperGrowth Partners, reminds us: “The idea that you must sacrifice personal interaction for automation and scalability is a false dilemma.” With the right UI, resources, and analytics, it’s possible to make an onboarding process that’s cost-effective, scalable, and personalized for your product.

4 tips for creating an automated onboarding process

Onboarding comes in all shapes and sizes, so what works for one product might not work for yours. However, there are some standard onboarding practices that nearly all products could automate for a more efficient and engaging experience. If you want to automate your onboarding, here are the four best places to start.

1. Create an automated welcome email campaign

Communication is key in any relationship, and the relationship between a product and a new user is no different. Welcome emails are an essential part of this customer communication strategy because they increase early engagement by about 33%. When users are engaged, they’re far less likely to churn, which means more dollars heading your way.

Welcome emails are also dead simple to automate. Instead of manually emailing each of your new users with slightly different versions of the same email, you can use a product like Mailchimp to do it for you.

MailChimp automated welcome emails
Image from Mailchimp

And now that you’ve got the automation-train started, you don’t have to stop at one email either. Use automated emailing throughout your onboarding to introduce product features or re-engage users after their first week. You could also introduce a hybrid model like CloudApp. CloudApp uses automatic emails to help users who’ve gotten stuck in onboarding, which frees up its team to handle direct upsell communications.

If you need more help getting your first emails right, check out our guide to the 3 must-have user onboarding emails.

2. Organize new users into cohorts

These days, personalization is all the rage, but doing it manually is likely to lead to a personalized headache. Avoid the hassle and let automation tools do that sorting for you, so you focus your efforts on delivering new users a good experience.

One of the easiest ways to sort new users is to have them choose their own onboarding adventure with a survey. Who’s better at sorting your users than, well, your users?! At the beginning of their onboarding flow, Headspace meditation app asks users what they want out of their meditation practice.  

Headspace onboarding survey
Image from Headspace

Users are then placed into unique cohorts with onboarding materials that help them achieve their selected goals. You can use this same trick with your own product by customizing the questions to funnel users into relevant cohorts. But the real fun begins once your users are sorted—because that’s when you can begin personalizing their onboarding experience.

3. Design onboarding flows targeted at user activation

The best onboarding flows build toward an activation event: an aha moment where users get to experience the real value your product offers. If you’re Amazon, that event might be one-click shopping. If you’re a debt consolidator, it could be a customized financial plan to get your client out of the debt they accrued from one-click shopping.

The trick is that different user cohorts could have different activation events. Since you’ve already segmented your, you’ll need to understand what each cohort’s activation event is so you can optimize for it.

You can find activation events by:

  • Studying user data to see what events are most likely to lead to long-term retention
  • Surveying and interviewing existing users
  • Brainstorming with your team

After that, you can start building your onboarding flows by working backward from the activation events for each cohort. What resources, education, or information gathering do you need to accomplish before users reach their aha moment? Ideally, you want these flows to be as short as possible, so users see the value of your product before they have time to think about churning.    

If designing even one onboarding flow seems intimidating (let alone multiple), then we’ve got great news for you. Appcues lets you build no-code onboarding with built-in analytics so you can optimize and build on the fly.

Get started

Discover how Appcues enhances your user onboarding flow

  • No dev resources needed
  • Boost your activation overnight
  • Integrate easily with other analytics tools
Charts and graphs


4. Develop self-service resources to support users

Your onboarding flow might be done, but that doesn’t mean your users are done learning. You want to continue to encourage users to interact with your product, adopt new features, and get more value over weeks, months, and years to come.

One way to encourage these behaviors is to create self-service resources where users can learn about your features at their own pace. Creating these resource documents helps:

  • Answer common customer questions reducing the strain of your customer service team
  • Teach users how to complete more technical or advanced tasks with your product that weren’t addressed in onboarding
  • Promote continued engagement in your user base for higher retention rates

Once these resources are created, don’t forget to promote them. Make users aware of these help docs by introducing them in onboarding and drawing their attention to them with in-app messaging.

Zendesk user resources
Image from Zendesk

Creating these resources is easier than you think. A simple blog is a great place to educate users about what your product does and the new features coming out. If you want something a little more high-tech, then an interactive knowledge base can be created with products like Zendesk or Notion.

Need help with picking the right tools for your onboarding? Read 29 user onboarding tools to drive growth to find the tools right for you.

3 examples of user onboarding automation

Sometimes before you can start building, you need a little inspiration. These three examples can serve as food for thought on how to bring your user onboarding process into the 21st century.

1. Wattpad: Get to know your users

Wattpad is a platform where users share stories and experiences with an online community. Its website usually has three kinds of people who sign up: those who read, write, or do both. Readers will want to know how to find relevant stories, while writers need to understand how to publish.

To intake these different needs, Wattpad starts its onboarding by asking users what kind of experience they want right from the get go.

Wattpad user survey
Image from Wattpad

Wattpad then asks users questions to really understand who they are. For instance, if you say you’re a writer, Wattpad will ask you about your writing goals.

Wattpad wanting to know why you write
Image from Wattpad

Wattpad uses this information to better understand who is signing up for its platform. Not only could this information be used to improve the onboarding, but it can also help Wattpad market its product, plan new features, and much more.

2. Reclaim: Shorten time to value

Reclaim is an AI calendar assistant that helps you arrange your schedule and make the most out of your time. But there are lots of calendars out there. Reclaim’s challenge was to prove its unique value to users early, before they tried something else.

Reclaim does this by starting its onboarding showing users how AI upends traditional calendars.

Reclaim onboarding activation
Image from Reclaim

The first thing you’re asked to customize during Reclaim onboarding is lunch. We all eat it, and most of us like to carve out a period in our day so we can enjoy our ham-and-cheese sandwich in peace. Instead of having to rearrange your whole schedule when a new meeting gets added in the middle of your lunch break, Reclaim will do it for you.

That small change can make a huge difference. No more rewriting schedules manually multiple times a day—just set your priorities and chill. Setting flexible lunchtimes is one of Reclaim’s activation events. By showing it off early on, they encourage users to complete onboarding and make Reclaim a part of their daily lives.

3. Notion: Create resources to make user success easy

Notion is a project management software whose onboarding is supplemented by a resource database that makes adopting Notion super easy. After onboarding, Notion helps users create their own resources by leaving them with a collection of actionable templates.

Notion templates
Image from Notion

By exploring these templates, users learn about the different ways they can use Notion. Some users may have come to Notion to create a content calendar but end up using it for so much more once they’re introduced to all of its use cases.

Notion could have placed this information in the original onboarding flow, but that would have slowed down the process and delayed their activation event. Now users are free to explore on their own and learn at their own speed.

Learn what great onboarding experiences are made of

An automated onboarding experience won’t work if it’s not designed well. Since no one is actively walking users through their experience, any problems, ambiguities, or difficulties could lead to frustration and churn. It’s never been more important to get your onboarding right—here are some resources that’ll show you how to get it done as quickly (and correctly) as possible:

Author's picture
Lyla Rozelle
Sr. Customer and Lifecycle Marketing Manager at Appcues
Lyla is a marketer working on growth at Appcues. She works remotely from the hilltowns in Western Massachusetts where's she usually hiking with her hound dogs or researching antiques.
Skip to section:

Skip to section:

In 200 years, the percentage of farmers in the US labor force dropped from 80% to about 2%. No, it’s not because we’re eating less or working harder—it’s because of automation. Automation grew the economy in new ways by allowing US farmers to work smarter.

User onboarding is going through a similar boom in automation. 200 years ago new customers were onboarded manually; now, most of that work can be done by computers. There’s no need to manually email new customers or set up a time to walk them through your product. Instead, leave the repetitive tasks to R2-D2 and use your company resources on important things like customer service, product development (or questionable office ping-pong tournaments).

The benefits of automation are enormous: users onboard on their schedule, companies are freed up to focus resources on more important jobs, and employees don’t have to send the same welcome email hundreds if times a week. It’s a win-win-win—and it’s easy to implement. SaaS products like Appcues remove the technical coding barriers out of automation so any team can automate their onboarding processes. There’s no reason for your product to be stuck in the digital equivalent of the 1800s (circa 2003), so here’s how you can start automating your onboarding today.

GET STARTED

Create stunning onboarding flows without developers

  • Increase activation and conversion
  • No code design
  • Integrate your tech stack
Charts and graphs

The importance of user onboarding automation

One of the most important advantages of onboarding automation is that you can optimize every step of the user experience more easily. Ragini Vaid, product manager at Collegedunia, points out that an automated onboarding process lets you map out “customer responses in real-time to decide the next best action towards nurturing your user.” In manual onboarding, that’s nearly impossible because every interaction will look a little different when a human is introducing your product.

But the underlying reason you need to automate your user onboarding is to create a better overall customer experience. 63% of people reported weighing the quality of onboarding into their buying decisions. If your customers have to wait a week to speak with one of your team members, they’re probably going to check out your competitor’s offering. Automating onboarding has many key advantages, including:

  • Businesses can focus their labor on areas that need more high-touch effort, like sales.
  • It’s easier to scale.
  • Automated onboarding flows are less likely to have human errors.
  • Users receive personalized experiences on their own time.

Some people might critique automated or passive onboarding for being less personal, but that isn’t necessarily true. As Martin Gontovnikas, co-founder of HyperGrowth Partners, reminds us: “The idea that you must sacrifice personal interaction for automation and scalability is a false dilemma.” With the right UI, resources, and analytics, it’s possible to make an onboarding process that’s cost-effective, scalable, and personalized for your product.

4 tips for creating an automated onboarding process

Onboarding comes in all shapes and sizes, so what works for one product might not work for yours. However, there are some standard onboarding practices that nearly all products could automate for a more efficient and engaging experience. If you want to automate your onboarding, here are the four best places to start.

1. Create an automated welcome email campaign

Communication is key in any relationship, and the relationship between a product and a new user is no different. Welcome emails are an essential part of this customer communication strategy because they increase early engagement by about 33%. When users are engaged, they’re far less likely to churn, which means more dollars heading your way.

Welcome emails are also dead simple to automate. Instead of manually emailing each of your new users with slightly different versions of the same email, you can use a product like Mailchimp to do it for you.

MailChimp automated welcome emails
Image from Mailchimp

And now that you’ve got the automation-train started, you don’t have to stop at one email either. Use automated emailing throughout your onboarding to introduce product features or re-engage users after their first week. You could also introduce a hybrid model like CloudApp. CloudApp uses automatic emails to help users who’ve gotten stuck in onboarding, which frees up its team to handle direct upsell communications.

If you need more help getting your first emails right, check out our guide to the 3 must-have user onboarding emails.

2. Organize new users into cohorts

These days, personalization is all the rage, but doing it manually is likely to lead to a personalized headache. Avoid the hassle and let automation tools do that sorting for you, so you focus your efforts on delivering new users a good experience.

One of the easiest ways to sort new users is to have them choose their own onboarding adventure with a survey. Who’s better at sorting your users than, well, your users?! At the beginning of their onboarding flow, Headspace meditation app asks users what they want out of their meditation practice.  

Headspace onboarding survey
Image from Headspace

Users are then placed into unique cohorts with onboarding materials that help them achieve their selected goals. You can use this same trick with your own product by customizing the questions to funnel users into relevant cohorts. But the real fun begins once your users are sorted—because that’s when you can begin personalizing their onboarding experience.

3. Design onboarding flows targeted at user activation

The best onboarding flows build toward an activation event: an aha moment where users get to experience the real value your product offers. If you’re Amazon, that event might be one-click shopping. If you’re a debt consolidator, it could be a customized financial plan to get your client out of the debt they accrued from one-click shopping.

The trick is that different user cohorts could have different activation events. Since you’ve already segmented your, you’ll need to understand what each cohort’s activation event is so you can optimize for it.

You can find activation events by:

  • Studying user data to see what events are most likely to lead to long-term retention
  • Surveying and interviewing existing users
  • Brainstorming with your team

After that, you can start building your onboarding flows by working backward from the activation events for each cohort. What resources, education, or information gathering do you need to accomplish before users reach their aha moment? Ideally, you want these flows to be as short as possible, so users see the value of your product before they have time to think about churning.    

If designing even one onboarding flow seems intimidating (let alone multiple), then we’ve got great news for you. Appcues lets you build no-code onboarding with built-in analytics so you can optimize and build on the fly.

Get started

Discover how Appcues enhances your user onboarding flow

  • No dev resources needed
  • Boost your activation overnight
  • Integrate easily with other analytics tools
Charts and graphs


4. Develop self-service resources to support users

Your onboarding flow might be done, but that doesn’t mean your users are done learning. You want to continue to encourage users to interact with your product, adopt new features, and get more value over weeks, months, and years to come.

One way to encourage these behaviors is to create self-service resources where users can learn about your features at their own pace. Creating these resource documents helps:

  • Answer common customer questions reducing the strain of your customer service team
  • Teach users how to complete more technical or advanced tasks with your product that weren’t addressed in onboarding
  • Promote continued engagement in your user base for higher retention rates

Once these resources are created, don’t forget to promote them. Make users aware of these help docs by introducing them in onboarding and drawing their attention to them with in-app messaging.

Zendesk user resources
Image from Zendesk

Creating these resources is easier than you think. A simple blog is a great place to educate users about what your product does and the new features coming out. If you want something a little more high-tech, then an interactive knowledge base can be created with products like Zendesk or Notion.

Need help with picking the right tools for your onboarding? Read 29 user onboarding tools to drive growth to find the tools right for you.

3 examples of user onboarding automation

Sometimes before you can start building, you need a little inspiration. These three examples can serve as food for thought on how to bring your user onboarding process into the 21st century.

1. Wattpad: Get to know your users

Wattpad is a platform where users share stories and experiences with an online community. Its website usually has three kinds of people who sign up: those who read, write, or do both. Readers will want to know how to find relevant stories, while writers need to understand how to publish.

To intake these different needs, Wattpad starts its onboarding by asking users what kind of experience they want right from the get go.

Wattpad user survey
Image from Wattpad

Wattpad then asks users questions to really understand who they are. For instance, if you say you’re a writer, Wattpad will ask you about your writing goals.

Wattpad wanting to know why you write
Image from Wattpad

Wattpad uses this information to better understand who is signing up for its platform. Not only could this information be used to improve the onboarding, but it can also help Wattpad market its product, plan new features, and much more.

2. Reclaim: Shorten time to value

Reclaim is an AI calendar assistant that helps you arrange your schedule and make the most out of your time. But there are lots of calendars out there. Reclaim’s challenge was to prove its unique value to users early, before they tried something else.

Reclaim does this by starting its onboarding showing users how AI upends traditional calendars.

Reclaim onboarding activation
Image from Reclaim

The first thing you’re asked to customize during Reclaim onboarding is lunch. We all eat it, and most of us like to carve out a period in our day so we can enjoy our ham-and-cheese sandwich in peace. Instead of having to rearrange your whole schedule when a new meeting gets added in the middle of your lunch break, Reclaim will do it for you.

That small change can make a huge difference. No more rewriting schedules manually multiple times a day—just set your priorities and chill. Setting flexible lunchtimes is one of Reclaim’s activation events. By showing it off early on, they encourage users to complete onboarding and make Reclaim a part of their daily lives.

3. Notion: Create resources to make user success easy

Notion is a project management software whose onboarding is supplemented by a resource database that makes adopting Notion super easy. After onboarding, Notion helps users create their own resources by leaving them with a collection of actionable templates.

Notion templates
Image from Notion

By exploring these templates, users learn about the different ways they can use Notion. Some users may have come to Notion to create a content calendar but end up using it for so much more once they’re introduced to all of its use cases.

Notion could have placed this information in the original onboarding flow, but that would have slowed down the process and delayed their activation event. Now users are free to explore on their own and learn at their own speed.

Learn what great onboarding experiences are made of

An automated onboarding experience won’t work if it’s not designed well. Since no one is actively walking users through their experience, any problems, ambiguities, or difficulties could lead to frustration and churn. It’s never been more important to get your onboarding right—here are some resources that’ll show you how to get it done as quickly (and correctly) as possible:

Author's picture
Lyla Rozelle
Sr. Customer and Lifecycle Marketing Manager at Appcues
Lyla is a marketer working on growth at Appcues. She works remotely from the hilltowns in Western Massachusetts where's she usually hiking with her hound dogs or researching antiques.
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