How to reduce drop-offs during onboarding

With a plethora of options available and people’s patience running low, if they do not see value in your product quickly and effortlessly, the chances of them looking elsewhere are high. A high drop-off rate will directly reduce your product’s revenue. If you want to keep your users close and you’re choosing to showcase your product’s value to them, their first interaction with your core product, aka your onboarding, is the perfect opportunity to set the tone.

This guide is going to help you optimise your product’s onboarding to reduce drop-offs. Don’t worry, we won’t talk in hyperbole and give you advice that’s unactionable. Instead, we’re going to take examples from our own product — Pause, and demonstrate how we apply the principles we preach.

4 things you can do reduce drop-offs during onboarding

So what’s important for a product’s onboarding to help reduce drop-offs? Here’s what we think is absolutely necessary:

  1. Reduce onboarding time down to the very last second
  2. Give your users a plan of action
  3. Set expectations to get customers  to buy into the process
  4. Don’t buy into the “fewer clicks are better” fallacy

What’s the meaning of all of this, you ask? Hang on, we’re just getting started! Let’s dig a little deeper:

For Pause, we ensured onboarding took just about a minute

Reduce onboarding time down to the very last second

How often have you stuck around in an experience that feels… tedious? We’ll take a wild guess and say, never.

The SaaS industry is laden with products that have their customers wade through onboarding processes that are clunky, time-consuming and booooring. With a product that relies on a bottoms-up, self-serve experience to grow (like Pause does), you simply cannot afford to lose customers at all, let alone because it’s all too time-consuming.

That’s why, through ruthless prioritization, we made sure that onboarding took just about a minute. That’s pretty much unheard of in the same breath as leave management tools.  

Psst, here’s another secret: we might’ve added some steps to get this speed.

Confused at how counter-intuitive that sounds? The truth is, adding steps can make your experience simpler and clearer. Both of these can reduce the cognitive load on your customer and end up decreasing the time they take to complete a task! Not so counter-intuitive, huh?

Give your users a plan of action

Think of the last time you did something you just had to but without a goal in mind. Drawing a blank? Yeah, we bet.

Psychology has it that goal-setting inspires motivation and drive. It gives your actions a purpose. This is why setting expectations for your customer and communicating the steps it will take for them to achieve a task is directly proportional to them completing it.

With onboarding, it’s common to see the Zeigarnik effect in play — you’re actively highlighting a customer’s progress as and when it’s happening. Actively and visibly displaying traction contributes to a sense of accomplishment, much like scratching off a to-do list. And that then keeps the user going.

With Pause, we also went a step ahead and chose a delightful and interactable interstitial state, instead of a regular progress bar. Why? We wanted to add delight, celebration and charisma to our onboarding experience. 

Set expectations to get customers to buy into the process

For Pause, the interstitials mentioned above served two purposes:

  • Showing progress, and
  • Setting expectations for what comes next

Using the Expectation Effect can nudge the customer’s behaviour towards a perception of control and motivation. It clearly explains what they have to do and what that does for them. Why make space for these seemingly obvious actions? Because people like predictability and are naturally drawn to experiences that make them feel secure. 

Setting expectations might also take the form of an opt-in. For us, this meant hinting at the inescapable length of the onboarding right at the beginning. We not only articulated the time it would take to complete but asked them if they’d like us to help them through it. Seeking this early on in the process is quite like asking for someone’s hand before helping them cross the road. Now, that’s the kind of feeling you’d hold on (pun intended) to, right? So will your customer. This, then, delays the inevitable fatigue and impatience a user can feel while completing a form longer than 3 fields (common with consumer apps, and ones they’re most used to).

Don’t buy into the “fewer clicks are better” fallacy

“Keep it simple, silly”! How many times has this cliché made its way to your ears? There’s no escaping the inherent complexity of a SaaS product. How might we then keep it simple?

In the insightful words of Donald A. Norman, “complexity is like energy”. It can’t be created or destroyed, only moved somewhere else. In the context of software, this translates to moving the inherent complexity of a product away from the customer and onto the way the product is built.

For Pause’s onboarding, this meant breaking down every individual step into small ones to beat the complexity out of it. Naturally, this increased the number of clicks it demanded. Despite that, however, the experience is more facile, uncomplicated and well… simple.

Try this one out for yourselves. Your customers might thank you (through reduced drop-offs, of course!).

We hope this guide brought value to you. If you have any ideas, questions or follow-ups, use the chat icon to write to us. 

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