CONVERTED Speaker Series: Samuel Hulick Shares Onboarding Best Practices to Make Customers Fall in Love at First Use

Samuel Hulick has helped improve the onboarding experience for customers of several well-known companies, including WordPress, SurveyMonkey and MailChimp. He provides “teardowns” or evaluations of initial user experiences on his website, User Onboarding and he is a regular speaker at conventions and on podcasts. He’s even written a book on user onboarding.

I got a chance to talk to Samuel about user onboarding best practices, why they matter and how a good user onboarding experience can benefit your company.

What Is User Onboarding?

The user onboarding process begins the first time your customers (or users) interact with your product or service. That can be anything from the first time they open your software to the first time they come into your gym to use a trial membership. Done correctly, a thoughtful user onboarding sequence increases the likelihood that your customers will successfully adopt your product.

That first impression can be the difference between someone just using your product once or twice, and becoming a lifelong customer. Samuel likens it to organ transplant surgery. Sometimes the transplant takes and sometimes it doesn’t. There will always be customers who do not become regular users of your product, but your goal is to make these instances as rare as possible.

“You need to ask, ‘how can we increase the likelihood that people will be successful when using our product so that they continue to use it over time?’” Samuel says. “Because you really want your product to take when someone’s trying to incorporate it into their life.”

Your Customer’s First Post-Sale Experience

The first time your customer engages with your product after they’ve purchased it, whether they’re opening a box or opening a software program, can affect every other interaction they have with your product going forward. A great first experience might prompt someone to become a regular user, while a disappointing one could prompt them to ask for a refund or simply abandon the product.

One of Samuel’s recommendations is to welcome your customer in a warm and human way:

“It’s pretty surprising how often [software] products will present this antagonistic or accusatory tone of ‘you haven’t done anything yet,’ or ‘this is empty because you haven’t filled it with things.’”


This can be as simple as displaying “Oh, sorry, our servers are down. They’ll be fixed in just a minute” instead of “Error Message 489n0, Contact Administrator” when there’s a problem on your end. Giving your product a more human feel gives your customer the chance to form an emotional bond with it.

Another way to give a positive first impression is to clearly lay out methods for using your product. Many companies have tutorials, pop-up instructions or user guides that fill this function, all of which may or may not be good ways to engage your first-time users. But there are more compelling ways.

Samuel holds up Basecamp, the online project management software, as an excellent example of good customer onboarding. Instead of introducing you to an empty project list, Basecamp gives you a sample project that demonstrates how to use Basecamp.

Basecamp’s test project shows up on your home screen
Basecamp’s test project shows up on your home screen

Once you open Basecamp’s test project, you can see how each section should be used once you start your own project. Each of the entries gives you information on how to use Basecamp, including a pictures of the Basecamp team, video tutorials, blog posts and demos of how the system works.

When you open Basecamp’s project, everything is designed to show you what you can do with their software.
When you open Basecamp’s project, everything is designed to show you what you can do with their software.

Here at LeadPages, we strive to give new customers a similarly inviting experience.

New LeadPages® customers will find tips and tricks videos under each of our feature tabs so they can find the information they’re looking for quickly and easily. We also offer the weekly Launchpad webinar, where Bob the Teacher walks you through setting up your account and creating your first landing page.

New LeadPages members can watch quick start videos and sign up for the Launchpad webinar.
New LeadPages members can watch quick start videos and sign up for the Launchpad webinar.

Samuel notes that the flow of a first-time user’s experience is incredibly important. For instance, if you make someone respond to an email to get into your website or application, you risk them getting distracted by their inbox and never returning to finish their initial session. Anything you can do to keep the flow of a first-time user’s experience as smooth as possible will help convert them into a regular user.


Keeping Up the Relationship

Once your customers have used your product for the first time, you need to keep them coming back for more. Samuel recommends reengaging your customers with emails. This is a simple, effective way to shift their focus back to your product without being intrusive.

Most people make purchases with the intention of using a product to “make something better.” Your customers may have purchased your product to grow their business, or they may want to improve their health or manage their time better.

Whatever their goal, Samuel recommends gently reminding people of that intention when you reach out to them. Make that connection between their original problem and your product as the perfect solution they had been searching for. Triggering that memory, and reaffirming that promise, can help you reengage your customers.

How Do You Introduce Your Customers to Your Product?

Do you have a user onboarding plan? Do you use some of the same techniques Samuel mentions here? What do your customers see when they use your product for the first time? Tell us about it in the comments below.