Building Your Onboarding Crew

Onboarding Team

Concept by Artur Ovanesyan; Illustration by Angin Jabaryan, Raivix

In 2007 The show Kitchen Nightmares aired. The premise was simple: World famous chef, Gordon Ramsay, would diagnose and help restaurants in dire need. The anger-management-challenged chef began every new restaurant rescue with a simple question: who is the most important person in the restaurant? The chef who makes the food? The servers? Bussers? None of the above. The most important person is the guest. To best serve the guest, the entire restaurant must work in sync to deliver the best experience possible. This mindset is also applied to product development; the most important person on your team is the user. This article will outline best teamwork practices, onboarding team dynamics, and how to advocate for first-time users. 

Let’s get cooking!

All of You Buckle Up!

1.Before Getting Started

Building your team with a more intentional user onboarding focus doesn’t happen overnight. There is no wand that can be waived to solve every UX, CX, and employee experience (EX) pain points. Some guidelines can help nudge teams towards assisting first-time users to succeed. These guidelines begin a strong relationship with your users and customers.

2. Build your user onboarding hypothesis

While there is no true universal definition for user onboarding, it does have to be more than “the user created an account.” The definition of success looks different for every product. A hotel booking app will have a different outcome for its users than a food delivery app. They both want their users to quickly complete an action after they sign up. 

Let’s argue that first-time users in the food delivery app (let’s name this hypothetical app GetGrub) want to get to the key aha moment fast: being able to order food from their favorite restaurant. I believe the technical term for this user motivation is called “hangry.”  This information can be leveraged even before they interact with the app. Marketing will grab potential users’ attention and start them on the onboarding process.

By understanding your customer’s motivations, you can shape your UX and UI to really craft a user onboarding hypothesis. Sure, they order a 12-piece with an extra-large cherry coke at 2 am but in this case, and most cases, we’re looking to identify a pattern in the user data and behavior. 

Note: for this example, users might simply be churning because of the financial threshold related to the product. They might not want to cross it anytime soon or ever again. Not all churn is related to UX, UI, or CX. Sometimes it’s just the price. Factor this information into your customer persona. 

We are looking for three points to help build our user onboarding hypothesis

  1. The Key AHA Moment
  2. The frequency of said aha moment
  3. Measured over the span of X number of days

Back to our GetGrub food delivery service, the marketing and UX team’s research shows that most users start adopting the product around five orders, priced just under $35. The majority of these orders are sent in right after traditional office hours. The average ordering frequency is five-six per month. 

  1. The fact they can have food delivered from their favorite restaurant 
  2. Placing five orders under $35
  3. Having these five orders happen in less than a month (ideally) 

To make this more actionable, let’s boil it down further. 

GetGrub’s user onboarding hypothesis = a user making at least five $35 orders in the first month. 

By reducing all of this data into a single sentence it becomes more than a hypothesis; it becomes a mantra. Facebook famously did this in the early days to define when someone has adopted the product: 7 friends in 10 days. It was simple, easy to remember, and easy to share.

3. Take Action

Now that you have your mantra, the team can act!

Costumes are optional.

All of these roles have different needs, but they are all being steered by the user onboarding hypothesis, A user making at least five $35 orders in the first month.

UX Designers

Map out an experience that quickly gets first-time users from signing up to placing an order. Make it beyond easy for their first order to get them started.

UI Designers

Make the interface and interactions focused on CTAs (call to action) that nudges users or customers to their favorite restaurants. Show them an average wait time and let them know about nearby, similar options if the wait time is too long.

UX Writers

Help the UX and UI designers by removing any ambiguity. This is done through all in product content, including the FAQ section. Users are curious if they can cancel an order? Put it in the FAQs.


Based on the frequency of orders in the Onboarding Hypothesis, this seems to be more of a treat than an everyday part of their lives. Take advantage of this in the copy.  Make sure your language includes the value and instructions on how to reach it.


This isn’t a food delivery app for your ideal first-time users. It’s your customer’s favorite food waiting for them shortly after they get home after a long day. Market that.

Customer Support

Prepped to help those struggling to complete their orders and/or suffering from technical difficulties.


Note: this can also be accomplished by PMs. The advantage of getting executive leadership on board is the user onboarding definition has more clout and is harder to challenge. It also helps with accountability in the decision-making process.

Leadership and PMs are keeping everyone focused.  Checking in with the departments to make sure everything is getting done and providing support when ready. 

Stay on Target
Your users!

Remember what was said at the beginning? The most important person in the “restaurant” (product) is the guest (user). More than just a hypothesis and numbers to achieve, you are designing for people. In this case, you are designing for tired people at the end of a long working day who want to get food as quickly as possible.

Note: Sales definitely can play a role in the onboarding phase for users, but in this example, their time is spent better elsewhere. 

4. Picking Your Onboarding Champion

The way that I have described the following roles makes it sound like every company needs to have this exact “dream team.” Not quite. Companies will have different variations of the previously mentioned labor pool. The most important takeaway is to make sure that your team is using a multi-faceted onboarding experience to support the users and the customers.

I mentioned earlier that your user is on your onboarding team as well (or rather the workflow that oversees and shepherds the onboarding process). In order for that person to have a voice on your team, it’s important to pick an advocate for the first-time users. 

This will be your champion. The one who makes sure the first-time user’s voice is heard.

5. How teams grow and change when the onboarding changes

When the product’s onboarding changes, the odds are the team behind it is changing as well. This shift in the EX might seem like an extreme step. It depends on how radically the product’s onboarding experience has been altered. If the onboarding is emphasizing new features, this could be solved with text that manages expectations and a customer support staff with an updated script. If the onboarding experience was previously only a demo and now has some product-led practices, then yes, you will need to scale your team. Why? Because you’ve added a new type of customer to your onboarding flow, those who have the potential to figure it out on their own. This was the case with Lumen5, a content creation company that previously had a demo-only approach. When they added the option for users to make content on their own, a new need emerged from the product’s ecosystem: constant content and check-ins with this class of users that were at risk.

6. How to effectively collaborate

We’ve discussed the roles and labor that can be involved in the onboarding phase for the user. All of that time and effort can be wasted if there isn’t effective collaboration. Some quick tips to keep everyone aligned.  

  • More collaboration doesn’t equal more results. 
  • Have leadership that embraces initiative and accountability. 
  • Not everything needs to be a collaboration opportunity. Collaboration is a means to an end.
  • Get everyone aligned on metrics.
In a world of ‘You build it, you run it,’ where the whole team is responsible for the successful operation of software services, it is imperative to remove unnecessary barriers to team ownership of the software.

The great news is all of these tips are things that can be used for any stage of the product development lifecycle, not just the onboarding phase.

7. Conclusion

Building an onboarding team is a process of evidence and empathy. Evidence to build your user onboarding hypothesis and empathy for the user and for fellow co-workers. Scaling your team and potentially new responsibilities will be a challenge but it will pay off. Improving retention and revenue means focusing on user relationships. Behind every great product was and is a team that cares about its users and customers.

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