The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Writing an Onboarding Series

There has been no greater exercise to improve my writing than to write a series of onboarding emails. I’ve done this at InVision and Wildbit and am so thankful for the experience.

Onboarding emails have a stringent set of requirements. They must be:

  • brief
  • friendly, with some personality
  • informative and helpful
  • engaging

A tall order!

You cannot write a series of emails like these without some forethought. Well, a lot of it truthfully. The entire series must have an overarching purpose; this purpose must match the vision for your product. As well, each individual email must also have a clear goal.

Here are a few tips that I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Identify your goal: For most onboarding series I’ve created, the goal is feature engagement. The more features a new customer uses, the more likely they are to actually use your product and stick around. This means you have to believe in your product, otherwise this is a sales-focused email, not a success-focused email. When you care about the success of your customer and making their life better, you can feel a lot better about getting them engaged in your product.
  2. Be terse: No one wants long winded welcome emails … the customer has a job to do, so every. word. counts. Do not include fluff.
  3. Start simple: Remembering that they have a job to do, the first email should be warm and welcoming, then get out of the way. Give the customer the important details they need, then allow them to explore. Subsequent emails can introduce features or educate on best practices.
  4. Be consistent: The tone of each email in a series should match.
  5. Serve without pestering: I liken a good onboarding series to a good waiter/waitress. A great restaurant experience comes when your server is available when needed, friendly and knowledgable, but is not interrupting your conversation. It can be a hard balance to find, but is vital.
  6. Cadence is crucial: Not only is the content and tone of each email important: so too is the timing of each message. Like in the example above, a good server knows just when to appear at your table. Your emails should not feel like a burden to the new customer, so sending 5 messages in the first 7 days is heavy handed. Alternately, waiting 3 weeks to send the 2nd or 3rd informative message may be too long. One trick in this area is to be visual. Write out all your messages on index cards and lay them on the floor. Arrange them in a sample journey to get a feel for the flow. A Trello board also works well in this regard.

A series of onboarding emails may be your first interaction as a company with a new or potential customer (I say potential because a signup is not the same as a conversion in our try-all-the-apps economy). Your emails are setting the tone for your relationship with this person. The “design” of these messages is as important as any other aspect of your product.

It deservers a proper amount of time and consideration.

Most of this applies to an onboarding set of in-app messages as well.

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