Imagine this: You’ve fine-tuned your user onboarding process until it’s as short and simple as possible. You’ve included helpful UI/UX patterns that gently push users toward the most important features of your app. You’ve A/B tested, beta tested, and usability tested your onboarding process to distill it to its purest and most friction-free form.
Then you release it to the masses and a large percentage of your customer base still fails to complete their onboarding. 🥺
People subscribe to your product with every intention of using it to transform their day-to-day—but then their lives distract them from what they’re doing. That’s because we often forget that our products exist in the real world. Sometimes even the most focused users need a reminder to pick up where they left off—so sending them a friendly user onboarding email can help them get them back on track.
What is a user onboarding email?
A user onboarding email is a communication sent to a product’s recently subscribed users to get them to return to a product after their initial sign-up. An incredible 21% of users only use an app once before abandoning it. (And this alarming statistic doesn’t even factor in users who drop off after two or three sessions—which is well before they’ve developed long-term usage habits.) User onboarding emails encourage users to revisit a product quickly rather than hoping they’ll come back to the product in their own time.
Onboarding emails contain a call to action (CTA) that brings users directly to a product’s aha moment. This event or feature causes a user to realize a product’s immediate value and long-term potential. Users who quickly reach a product’s aha moment have a better chance of becoming habitual users who stick through the onboarding process and beyond.
The qualities of a great onboarding email
Let’s face it: marketing emails are tricky. There’s a fine line between being interesting and being downright spammy. Ensure your onboarding emails fall into the former category by making them:
- Personalized and timely
- Complementary to your in-app onboarding experience
- Reiterative of your app’s value propositions
71% of customers expect personalized communications. In the case of onboarding emails, this means more than just adding a recipient’s first name to the subject line. It means ensuring that each email is relevant to where a user currently is in the onboarding process. A “Thanks for signing up!” email won’t make a lot of sense if a customer receives it six months into their subscription. Base your onboarding email schedule on the actions users take inside your product to ensure that you're delivering a timely and relevant message.
Effective onboarding emails keep users on track and turn them into engaged, long-term users. The more helpful your early emails are, the more likely your users are to trust and engage with your email outreach in the future. This sets your future marketing efforts up for better success down the line.
The 3 essential types of user onboarding emails
Every day, users sift through dozens of bland marketing emails. This gives particularly creative emails (and those who write them) power in the campaign for a customer’s attention. Don’t settle for cookie-cutter onboarding emails. Use these three formats to engage your users and break up their inbox monotony.
1. The warm welcome email
Never underestimate the power of a warm welcome. Welcome emails have a 91.43% open rate. That’s because new users are excited about your product. They’ve made the decision to engage with your brand and are highly receptive to hearing from you at that moment.
Don’t waste this opportunity by turning it into a hard sell. Instead, use this email to lay the foundation for a meaningful relationship with your users. Be genuine and welcome them to the community while highlighting how your product benefits them. Not all of us have big imaginations so you want to help users connect the dots on how your product can actually improve their day-to-day. This practice helps drive new users to their aha moment and keeps them excited about what’s to come. (Win-win!)
Let’s take a peek at Headspace’s simple (but warm!) welcome email. It reiterates its core value without overwhelming new users with too much information. The use of a single CTA keeps the email focused and makes it easy for users to take the next step. Headspace provides more context for users who need that extra push, including compelling, science-based testimonials.
2. The social proof email
If you’re not telling stories about how your current customers love your product, then you’re definitely missing out on a high-impact content opportunity. People expect you to think your product is great, but they won’t know how customers feel about it unless you tell them. Testimonials use successful case studies and IRL customer experiences to convince new or reluctant users to give you a shot.
Thumbtack does this well—using a video to showcase a specific customer experience. Thumbtack follows the video up with more reasons explaining why they’re worth a second look, giving this email a powerful pitch from start to finish.
3. The early re-engagement email
Customer churn and app abandonment are some of the biggest challenges marketers face today. That’s why using a re-engagement email to motivate new or lapsed users is crucial to your onboarding strategy. This method gives people the gentle nudge they need to pick up where they left off and continue down the path to adoption.
Slack’s re-engagement email cleverly entices lapsed users with a FOMO-play. The email encourages users to to see what convos their teammates are having by exploring Slack channels they’re not a part of. It provides a short synopsis of the three conversation types that happen within Slack below the CTA. It also links to their Essentials guide to provide curious users an avenue to learn more. When it comes to hesitant users, providing more (FOMO-driven) context is a great way to get more engagement.
Best practices for creating engaging user onboarding email strategies
Onboarding emails work wonders at minimizing onboarding churn and fostering engagement. However, even a well-designed email can perform poorly with bad execution. To get the most out of your user onboarding emails, you must:
Reach out to most users more than once
Onboarding emails are most effective when deployed frequently. Your initial welcome email that greets new users is a great start! But in a perfect world, 100% of these users would open your email, click on the CTA, and jump back into your product. (Alas, 100% open rates will always be a pipe dream.)
But even email-openers aren’t guaranteed to move further along in your onboarding process. Some may open the link and bail if they realize they don’t have the time the progression requires. And if they’re too busy for that, what are the odds they’ll remember to return on their own to finish onboarding?
Your welcome email should be one of the several messages sent during your onboarding process. The number of emails you send to a customer should depend entirely on that customer’s behaviors within your app. If a single welcome email is enough to get your customer to their aha moment (and beyond), then great! But if a glance at your product data shows that certain users exhibit lackluster usage, we recommend reaching out to them with follow-up emails to reignite their interest.
A/B test for maximum impact
You test different iterations of your product to ensure optimal performance—and it’s a best practice you should apply to your onboarding emails, too. Different copy or design choices can impact how users interact with an email, and you’ll never know what changes are positive or negative without testing them directly.
A/B testing gets you the best possible results from your onboarding emails. For instance, your current welcome email could result in a 90% open rate. However, you’ll never know if that rate can be improved without testing its performance against those with different subject lines. Alternatively, you might increase the size of your CTA button, change out an image, or remove a line of text and compare how those changes impact your click-through rate.
Align onboarding emails to in-app messaging
Email onboarding is rarely a stand alone solution. SaaS apps are well-known for offering users a seamless, cross-channel experience that’s essential to user onboarding success. It’s important your in-app onboarding experience aligns with and complements your onboarding emails.
When a user clicks through to your application from an onboarding email, your in-app messaging should be primed to take over and continue the process. Use an omnichannel approach to reinforce core value props, repeat essential information in new contexts, and maintain user engagement both inside and outside your app.
Examples of onboarding emails
The best onboarding emails balance the need to engage wayward users with the ability to capture their attention. This balance is often hard to strike, but luckily, examples of onboarding emails done right are littered across the interwebs. Some of the best examples include:
Todoist’s approach to potential customer churn problems involve showcasing just how much they have to offer. Their point is simple: Todoist makes work life easier through countless integrations that streamline a user’s workflow. This compelling pitch reminds unengaged users of what they’re missing out on when they don’t user the app every day.
Squarespace’s re-engagement email offers encouragement to lapsed users. It states, “It’s not as hard as you think.” The email provides a wealth of resources and a sense of empathy to help hesitant users feel more inspired and confident to take the next steps in their content creation journey.
Asana uses its own team as a case study. This shows the company trusts its product enough to use it to accomplish its own business goals. And to add the cherry on top, they also include an eBook with one of their notable partners Eventbrite that serves as a secondary testimonial.
Invision takes a straightforward approach to their customer testimonial email with a featured image showcasing all the brands and designers that use their product. A short paragraph below the image and CTA invites users to get inspired by these stories. This results in a powerful testimonial email that sticks with Invision’s underlying theme of an aesthetically pleasing and understated design.
HomeAway’s welcome email uses the header to highlight its mission. The body of the email drives home the point with three key features to help accomplish this. The email functions like an in-app onboarding experience that helps users understand the benefits that HomeAway provides.
Zapier takes the welcome email a step further by tailoring it to the end user and how they signed up. Since this user signed up with Google, Zapier provides helpful tips about how to integrate Zapier with a Google account for a more seamless workflow. The welcome email is highly personalized to the recipient, so the user is far more likely to engage with the product meaningfully.
Plan ahead to get the most out of your user onboarding emails
Research drives successful user onboarding email strategies. You can design a thousand knockout onboarding emails, but sending them to the wrong users at the wrong time won’t improve your completion rates. Alternatively, generalized emails that target every user often lack the momentum, urgency, and personalization required to rekindle a user’s interest in finishing the process.
Study how your users behave within your product to get a sense of which events trigger drop off. From there, develop email programs that address user drop off head-on—and design them to be specific to each situation. And never forget: your users sift through dozens if a day. Capture their attention with an onboarding email that stands out in their crowded inbox, and remind them why they signed up for your product in the first place.
📖 Read more: User Onboarding UX: A practical guide for 2022.