6 Tips for Writing Effective Onboarding Email Sequences

When you’re decorating your home, are you more likely to keep your front yard welcoming with lights on and a clean pathway, or would you choose to keep your entranceway dark and unapproachable? Unless it’s a spooky holiday, you’d probably choose the former. 

Whether it’s with your home or your product, it’s essential to make an excellent first impression and show people that their experience is important to you. Onboarding is how you create that experience for your customers. About 63% of customers consider a company’s onboarding program during the purchasing process: they also want a well-lit pathway, rather than a scary romp through the unknown. We’ve collected six tips and examples to maximize your onboarding with useful email sequences. Engage and delight all of your new users and bring them safely where they need to go.

Get them excited to get started

Nothing beats the excitement of getting a new product and playing with it for the first time. Keep that excitement rolling in the first email that you send to your customers post-purchase or sign-up. 

Take, for example, this first message from Shopify welcoming customers to their free trial:

Welcome to Shopify onboarding email gets users excited about their journey.

Pay attention to the language that they are using. Words or phrases like “congratulations,” “excited,” “can’t wait,” and “stunning” mirror the emotions that your customers are feeling, and help them feel like you are aligned. 

Beyond that, it invigorates them with energy to get started using your product and begin their journey. Try to use exciting language that gets your users pumped up about getting started and all of the things they can do with your product moving forward.

Set expectations appropriately

People want to know what they’re getting into. On an Intuitive Customer podcast episode, Professor Ryan Hamilton explains that almost all human decision making relies on relativity and reference points, rather than absolutes. As a species, we are hungry for benchmarks and information to understand what to expect and how to know that we are doing well. Give your customers the information that they are craving right from the start.

Take, for instance, this email from James Clear:

James clear sets clear expectations in his newsletter onboarding email

This email does a great job of setting expectations for the reader. They can expect to receive one to two emails a week for the next several weeks, on Mondays and Thursdays. If the customer wants to devote time to focus on learning this content, they can use this information to set their schedule for what time they need to set aside.

This expectation setting creates better customer experiences and serves to generate power users for the company.

Make steps meaningful and small

You don’t want to overwhelm your readers right from the get-go. The longer you ask a user to spend on an onboarding step, the less likely they are to complete it. If an action takes longer than a minute, 61% of your users will be frustrated. That’s the opposite of the experience you’re trying to provide. Keep each step clean and straightforward, like this onboarding email from Sqwiggle:

Sqwiggle sends a number one tip for their email onboarding.

This email does so much with so little: it lets the user know why the action is essential, what the action is, and then gives them the one step they need to take to do it. Amazing.

Teach about things they’ll need, rather than something you want them to use

Most companies have definitions of the actions that users need to take to be successful with their products. Your first onboarding experience with a customer may feel like a tempting time to walk them through all of those steps. Don’t.

An old saying goes, “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Your onboarding emails are the best place to teach your users about what they’ll need to be successful, rather than teaching them about everything in your product.

Take, for instance, this email from Headspace:

Headspace's onboarding email

Headspace even limits the amount of content their users have access to at the beginning of their membership. They restrict access to a few beginner courses to give their users training wheels before diving head-on into their meditation practice.

Not only does this teach their users the necessary skills that they will need to be successful in the future, but it leaves some things to be fresh and exciting. Discovering something new or meaningful for themselves will deepen their bond with your product or service. 

Giving your users autonomy after prepping them with necessary skills creates a much healthier baseline for being a superuser in the future.

Use your product as a backup

Nothing is better than allowing the user to use your product to learn about your product. Email is great for onboarding, but the more you can supplement it by incorporating the actual steps that you’re teaching them about, the better. 

Here’s a great example from Groove, a helpdesk software: 

Groove pre-populates its help desk with onboarding emails.

Every person that signs up for Groove gets these pre-populated emails in their inbox. The user gets to work through each of the actions they’ll need to take to be successful. They also get their confidence up by taking low-stakes steps inside the product itself.

There are all different kinds of learners, and, for some, getting their hands on the product will be the best way for them to integrate anything you’re teaching them. In-product training best fits as a supplement rather than a replacement for email onboarding, as more traditional strategies may better meet other learning styles.

Don’t force them to do it

There’s nothing less pleasant than being forced into something that you didn’t ask for and aren’t interested in. Unfortunately, many of the emails that come through people’s inboxes are just that. 

A more targeted approach can have a big impact on engagement. When customizing onboarding to fit their readers’ wants, companies see 100.95% higher click-through rates and 18 times more revenue.

Add more in-depth targeting that considers the different audiences you might have for your email onboarding. Here’s an example flow chart from CleverTap

Sample Email Onboarding Sequence for active and inactive users.

The more you can customize the experience for your different types of users, the more engagement you will get from them. Never force anyone to participate in something that they don’t want to.

Get them started the right way

Across the globe, 3.9 billion people use email. It’s one of the best places to guide your customers, but let them partake on their own time. As you craft your email onboarding series, consider your audience and what they care about. Instead of guiding them through everything your product offers, set them up with a few easy-to-accomplish tasks that are great for getting started. You want to showcase your product’s most valuable parts and let them do some exploring and discovery, rather than giving them a grand tour.

Onboarding should be about empowering your users, rather than teaching them. Give them the tools that they need to succeed and then watch them go!

What are some of your favorite email onboarding sequences that you’ve been sent? Let us know in the comments.

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