7 Ways to Measure the Effectiveness of User Onboarding

Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper · 5 min read

If your churn and retention rates are staying the same or worsen for individuals who go through your onboarding process, you’ve got a problem.

User onboarding makes for healthier, happier customers and more informed product teams. In fact, with a practical, well-oiled onboarding program, companies can see 4x higher growth and profitability:

You can use user onboarding to improve customer experiences in several different ways. While many use it specifically for new users, you can also see benefits when introducing new products or reintroducing functionality after a user has had a period of usage lapse.

But how do you measure whether your work is effective or ineffective? Historically understanding the impact of user onboarding has been complicated. In this blog post, we’ll break down seven different ways to measure your onboarding effectiveness and continue to improve on it.

Have a baseline

How are you supposed to know if you are improving if you don’t have a baseline to measure against? In science, this is called a control. The first thing you need to know about your onboarding’s effectiveness is what your performance would look like without it.

While it may be impossible to understand what your metrics would look like if you’ve already been doing onboarding for a while, you can at least look back historically and pull data from the past. Pull information about your NPS, CSAT, churn and retention metrics, and any other customer-facing data that you can use to understand where you’ve come from before mapping out where you want to go.

Engagement rate

The first thing to measure is whether your customers are engaging with your onboarding content. After all, if users are just skipping over your messages as soon as they appear, they aren’t likely to be very useful, are they? There are a few different ways that engagement rate can be measured and defined:

  • Have your users started your onboarding content?
  • Do your users complete the content?
  • How much time do your users spend with your onboarding content?
  • Do your users engage better with one type of onboarding or another?
  • How do your users travel through your onboarding funnel?

Most of these metrics are measurable by in-product analytics or the analytics offered by your third-party onboarding solution. The last two can be measured using A/B testing or onboarding funnels.

Like the above example funnel, your funnels will give you a picture of how many of your users complete predefined steps that your onboarding drives them to. Depending on how many users trail off on each step, you can understand how effective your onboarding is and which actions need to be improved or modified to encourage more users to move forward.

Product adoption

If you haven’t already, create a customer journey map to understand the moments of value within your product. These are the areas where users have their “Ah-ha!” moments, and the value that your product provides to them is immediately evident.

From there, track the individual adoption of each of those points. If you are doing your onboarding successfully, the unique adoption of those product features should be going up. This is specifically just a binary measure about whether or not customers use features, rather than a quantitative measure of how much they are using them. That measurement comes next.

Product usage

On the flip side of product adoption is product usage. If you know whether customers are using a specific feature, you can then measure how much. Three different metrics can be informative of product usage:

  • How does the depth of use increase across average users?
  • How does the depth of use increase on an individual level?
  • Are your daily/monthly active users going up?

If all of these are trending upwards, it is an indicator that your onboarding strategy is working!

Trial conversion rate

One of the best indicators of your product’s success is people’s willingness to pay for it. If you offer a trial, it’s a critical point in the customer experience. They learn whether they can get value out of your product and, if so, how much. Make your trial fully-featured, and be sure to support your customers in onboarding as soon as they sign up and are able to use the trial. Consider setting your trial timer to only start after your customers have fully onboarded and gotten the functionality set up to use.

Consider how many of your trial users convert to fully paid users and how long it takes for them to do so. For instance, do they convert immediately after the trial, in the middle of it, or does it take some time between trialing and conversion?

In the long run, they should convert either during the trial or immediately after—if they’re waiting, it’s because they haven’t seen the value of your product.

Net Promoter Score

Do you see an increase in NPS overall? What about the specific segments that you are targeting with your onboarding series? If not, your onboarding may not be as effective as you would like.

If your onboarding is successful, you should score higher with individuals that go through your onboarding experience than with your control group. Onboarding should feel delightful and helpful, rather than a chore. If you ask too much of your customers during the onboarding period or have not made it intuitive enough, you’ll see this reflected in your NPS.

As NPS lifts or lowers, use it as an indicator of successful strategies or things that need to be changed both within your onboarding practices and your product.

Churn and Retention

These revenue metrics should be health indicators across your company, not just for your onboarding strategy. That said, if you’re doing it right, your retention should get higher as you increase adoption across the board, and your churn should get lower.

You can calculate your churn using the following formula:

number of churned customers / total number of customers

You can calculate your retention metrics like this:

Measure these across specific cohorts (ie. groups of customers who signed up at the same time) to understand the impact of your work.

Onboarding’s main goal should be to boost your product adoption, create a stickier experience for your customers, and promote healthy usage in the long term. If you’re not doing that, your churn and retention will remain the same.

Continue to improve

Measuring these metrics will allow you to know where you are having an impact and what you can hope for moving forward. Start with a baseline: understand where your metrics you would like to use are currently at so that you can know how much the numbers are growing through your efforts.

Work to understand how customers are engaging with your product after onboarding. Metrics like engagement rate, product adoption, and product usage are the best ways to tell if things are trending upwards or downwards.

Then, learn more about your customers’ experiences. Do they convert after your trial, or are they not seeing the value? Would they talk about your product to friends, or are they frustrated with their experiences? Lastly, how are they spending their money?

If your churn and retention rates are staying the same or worsen for individuals who go through your onboarding process, you’ve got a problem.

Keep your thumb on the pulse, and you’ll always be able to get better through your insights.

How did you like this blog?


Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper

Mercer is the Head of Support at Appcues, a yoga fanatic, and strives to make the world a little bit happier one customer at a time. You can find her at mercenator.com and on Twitter at @mercenator.

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