Improving onboarding for users and staff

We take a look at how to set up a good user onboarding experience, and what happens when we bite the bullet and apply this to our onboarding of new staff at Portable.

Do you remember the first time you downloaded Spotify? Finding new music amongst the millions of songs available would have been a struggle if it wasn't for for Spotify radio. Then, as you build up your library they made it easier through "Discover Weekly" giving you a regularly updated list of new music right on your home-page. How about when you opened your first bank account? You wouldn't be alone in being frustrated when waiting in line to have an account opened — at least this process seems to be improving.

Both of these are onboarding processes, and it's easy to tell whether you've had a good or bad experience. We know that the way a user is introduced to a product sets an important precedent for how they continue to engage with it. Here at Portable we create onboarding experiences all the time. Most recently we had to consider this with our newly created product, Yourcase. The Yourcase app was built with co-design support from victim survivors to help Family Violence Intervention Order applicants navigate the court process.

One of our Senior Producers at Portable recently presented a talk to our team based on a session run during Web Directions 2019, by Krystal Higgins. Krystal is an Interaction Designer & Storyteller who shares her passion for user onboarding in presentations, workshops, and writings. On top of helping us think more about onboarding design, this session also prompted us to ask, "Can we take our knowledge of creating good onboarding experiences and apply that to the way we bring new staff into our business"?

Creating a good user onboarding experience

But first, let's look at what it takes to onboard a user well. Based on a 2018 study by mobile engagement platform Localytics, 21% of users stop using an app after just one use. In an ideal world you would barely notice the onboarding process that takes place during this first use, or you may even enjoy it. Yet too often users get bogged down by information or annoyed by onboarding that takes them away from the task at hand, and end up abandoning the product. Onboarding models like a benefits tour, UI pointer or commitment wall often fall short by making a user feel they don't know enough or that their time is being wasted.

“Onboarding is a process linking many events together" - Krystal Higgins

This quote from Krystal Higgins hits the nail on the head — onboarding needs to be a process rather than an attempt to tick the box, and it needs to create links between events that make sense to the user. To create this kind of onboarding, you need to identify the key actions taken by your users and align onboarding with these actions. You also need to think proactively about linking key actions with next steps, and creating diverse ways to communicate this to users.

There is a delicate balance to consider. You need to weigh teaching a user what they can do against the user's need to complete the task they got the product for. Lean too heavily on teaching them about your product's potential and they might delete it out of frustration. So, how do you onboard well within this delicate balance of competing needs? It centers on identifying your product's core uses and considering your priorities.

A good way to prioritise your onboarding is to consider:

  • will the user fail without the knowledge?
  • does the information support multiple entry points into the product?
  • are there obvious links to user routines?

User experience is diverse, and your onboarding process needs to reflect this. By considering your priorities and the balance between what you want to teach and what the user wants, you will be well on your way to creating a good onboarding experience.

What does this have to do with staff inductions?

The experience of being on your first day at a new job is very much like being a new user of a product. You are trying to complete the task at hand (doing your new job), but you need to learn the structure of the business and where you can go for information, resources, and guidance. And like user onboarding, those designing the onboarding process want you to get to the stage where you don't just complete the task at hand but grow in your role through knowing how to use the company's resources to expand your capabilities. And like bad user onboarding experiences, a study by Digitate shows that poor staff onboarding results in new hires being two times more likely to look for other opportunities.

These similarities between user and staff onboarding allow us to apply the thinking around creating a good user onboarding experience to staff inductions. This is a new way of looking at staff onboarding for Portable. Over the last 18 months we have had an increased focus on how we bring in staff and the experience of new team members, but we are always striving to do better and by applying a user onboarding lens to our induction process we have discovered a few areas where we can improve.

That being said, we do have some great strategies in place to make our new hires feel more comfortable. By managing our hiring process through Greenhouse we have a more organised recruitment and hiring culture, which makes the experience of being hired easier. We use Enboarder before a new team member starts their role to send them information and tell them a bit more about what to expect. Once they start, new staff are assigned a buddy to check in with and support them, and new staff are invited to discipline meetings with others in similar roles. At the end of their first or second week we also have a team afternoon tea and a welcome drinks event where people can get to know each other. We also have a people management system — every staff member has a people manager, not to manage their work but to talk through issues, provide advice, help them think about their career and how to build their skillset.

Looking at these activities through the priorities of user onboarding we can see that our staff induction strategies satisfy some of the considerations, but they also reveal where there is room for improvement.

Will the user would fail without the knowledge?

Providing staff with information before they start and different touch-points within the business ensures new staff have the knowledge that they would fail without. Yet, we could improve our support by providing concrete information about the structure of the business and where team members fit into this.

Does the information support multiple entry points into the product?

Creating a broad induction process and then narrowing down to specific information about a new hire's role does connect them with their discipline and allow for multiple entry points. However, our induction process could be better refined through catering a new staff member's induction to their role within the company.

Are there obvious links to user routines?

Having meetings and introductory events as part of the schedule allows new hires to feel more connected to the induction routine. Yet we struggle to communicate the "next steps" for new team members after their first few weeks.

Recently we have had Kathryn Foster start with our team as a new Head of People and Culture. Kathryn is helping us to ensure our onboarding experience is as thorough and considered as our user onboarding processes.

We want to create an onboarding process that makes new staff feel like we have thought of everything, and will be working towards filling the gaps that this exercise has highlighted. This means we are working to provide staff with real clarity about the business and where they can find support from their very first day. There are always ways we can improve, and sometimes you need to look at things in a new way to see what needs to change.


This blog was prompted by Krystal Higgin's Web Directions 2019 presentation on "Designing a user onboarding compass". Visit her blog to see more of her work on user onboarding.


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