What happens after user onboarding?

Photo by Leio McLaren

Okay, I confess, this is kind of a trick question. The end of a user onboarding experience for one product will not be the same for another. It all depends on how you define an “onboarded” user. Let’s compare Canva and Slack. One, a graphic design tool and the other, a professional messaging platform. So they have wildly different goals: the first is to create and the latter is to communicate. Their inherently different product DNA makes their onboarding goals different.

Understanding your user onboarding goals will help you figure out your onboarding “border”, the line between first-time users who are adept enough with your product and those still figuring it out. 

So before you can ask what happens after user onboarding, you need to ask when the user onboarding itself is over? To determine this, you have to look at how users find value in your product.

Data is your friend with product development, especially user onboarding. By combining qualitative and quantitative findings, you can really start to understand user behavior. This will let you know when the user does and doesn’t need assistance. The moments that help a user engage and see value in a product are called AHA moments. Measuring the time it takes to get to these moments is called Time to Value (TTV). Being able to recognize and capitalize on these interactions will help you figure out the border of your user onboarding experience. 

Now that users have started to see the value in your product clearly, how do you use this to help figure out your border? Combine these AHA moments with two measurements: a measure of time and how many times the action happened. This is your user onboarding hypothesis. 

Take Slack, for example. Slack defines a user as being onboarded when they send 2000 messages in 28 days. Let’s break this down.

  • The key AHA moment that Slack leverages here is being able to communicate quickly 
  • They quantify this AHA moment at 2000 messages sent
  • Measured over the span of 28 days 

All of these factors were determined through rigorous research and iterations. Combined together, it delivers a solid user onboarding hypothesis that has a 93% success rate. Slack’s user onboarding hypothesis is a gold standard to strive towards. It helps them understand the boundary of their user onboarding experience and product adoption.

1. The post trial experience

Free-to-paid user trial conversions are critical metrics in user onboarding. The trial period lasts an average of 14 days. Once the trial is over, there’s a new time frame to be wary of: the 90 days after the trial.

What’s the huge difference between the first 14 days during the free trial and the 90 days after the trial? Simple, there’s less need for hand-holding. 

There are a lot of resources committed to the initial user onboarding phase. Those first 14 days will be all hands on deck for the employees attached to the onboarding experience. More often than not, this will be:

  • Customer service guiding struggling first-time users
  • Account managers who follow up with users on the fence 

In some onboarding experiences, this will include a sales-led approach as they are also focused on upselling and demystifying the product for users. The need for these team members to be proactive is reduced when users become customers. Specifically, when they become customers through an effective user onboarding experience. 

Once you’ve passed the 90-day mark, the odds for churning go way down.

2. Feature adoption

Wherever user onboarding ends for a particular product, plenty of work still needs to be done to prevent the user from deboarding your product.

So, how do you do this?  One important tactic is to stay competitive. Yes, this might seem like a no-brainer, but it does need to be said. 

Since one of the best ways to stay competitive is to grow and evolve your product, feature adoption becomes critical. This is where the onboarding process can reappear again. It does depend on how complex the feature is. How much does it adjust the UI of the product? Does it change the key part of the application that users enjoyed? Is it a nuisance or is it helpful? Before even thinking about deploying, really go through these questions as you research the feature you are thinking about integrating into your product. 

A basic overview of the feature adoption process is 

Introduced → Activated → Used → Adopted

The introduction plays to your favor since you have the user’s information and can get their attention with SMS, email, and within the product. This also doesn’t mean that it will be used since activation is the most challenging hurdle. If it has nothing to do with the user’s primary interest in the application, they will be stubborn to adopt it. 

feature adoption

Sometimes feature adoption can be part of the initial user onboarding process itself. If the product is feature heavy, this can be overwhelming for the user. So, gradually laying out aspects of the product, feature by feature, can help the initial onboarding process.

Vimcal, a Calendar planning product, is an excellent example of this. They use their feature-rich product to drive their email campaign.

feature adoption

3. Users becoming fans of your product

Getting your user to become engaged customers quickly and confidently is the ultimate goal. Achieving this alone is a significant milestone. The best part is, with great user onboarding fundamentals, almost anyone can accomplish this. 

However, there is this rare phase in the customer experience that happens after users effectively onboard: users becoming fans of your product. By fans, I mean users who enjoy your product so much they give out free advertising by word of mouth. The power of this phase is immense for your brand and your company.

fans of a product

Imagine you are looking up a new VPN service, and you’re looking for information. Which has more weight, a recommendation from a trusted friend or an article you skimmed through? My guess is the former. To put it another way, word of mouth marketing brings in 5 times more sales than paid media. 

There’s a reason that positive quotes about a service or product are a huge resource for landing page content: they build trust quickly. Getting to this fandom stage is a great competitive advantage. 

Okay, yes, excellent user onboarding alone will not be responsible for users becoming fans (much to our disappointment). It is the process of a finely tuned holistic product experience, from color scheme to customer service. 


A great product experience starts with a great user onboarding experience.

5. Conclusion

User onboarding ends at a certain point for each product, but the effects reverberate through the rest of the user and customer experience. It can help make the post-onboarding experience run smoother. Any SaaS product that wants to remain competitive will have to grow their product by introducing new and improved features. Using the onboarding principles that were part of the original experience will help with the inevitable feature adoption in the future. 

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