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Who Owns User Onboarding (hint: there is no user onboarding specialist)

In this article, I will talk about whether there is a team or person that can handle user onboarding alone and why the answer is no.
Written by
Hilal Yıldırım
Published on
February 22, 2023

User onboarding is a continuous process of getting users familiar with a given product and eventually capable of using the product to its full extent. What makes it a continuous process is that such a process essentially has no end since almost all SaaS products get frequently updated with new features and alterations. 

If you go on LinkedIn and search for the people who identify themselves as user onboarding specialists in the United States, the number of results you'll find is close to none.

Today, I will explain why this is so as we explore who owns user onboarding and the reason behind a very clear lack of user onboarding specialists when there are other similar jobs like customer onboarding specialists, HR representatives, etc.

To do so, we must first start with a clear picture of what user onboarding really is.

What Is User Onboarding?

User onboarding is a continuous process of getting users familiar with a given product and eventually capable of using the product to its full extent. What makes it a continuous process is that such a process essentially has no end since almost all SaaS products get frequently updated with new features and alterations. 

Most often than not, the attention given to user onboarding in smaller or medium-sized companies is barely enough to retain customers. But this is a serious problem when the primary goal of the onboarding experience is retaining the newly acquired users as well as the older ones.

This raises the question: "why are there no dedicated user onboarding teams if it is so crucial?"

And the answer is the very reason we are talking about a lack of user onboarding specialists today.

User onboarding simply cannot be handled by one team or individual.

Then the question becomes, "why not?" and to answer that, we would have to know the importance of user onboarding for users at the very early stages of their customer lifecycle.

Why you should have the perfect onboarding process for new users

A quite popular stat by Wyzowl shows that 86% of users agree that products that provide them with educational content regarding the use of the product have a higher chance of retaining them and gaining their loyalty. 

We are already aware that user onboarding is a great tool to retain customers.

Even if we weren't aware of the findings that suggest so, for example, 80% of users delete an app if they can't figure out how to use it, we would still find a connection between user retention and great user experience during product adoption. 

But it's not just about customer retention or customer journey.

On a bigger scale, providing a good user onboarding experience shows growth as a company. And from the eyes of your users, it shows that you care. 

Knowing that you care, users find value in your product easier; when they find the value, they become loyal to you, customer loyalty means retention, and retention means growth.

So, whatever point of view it is that you are looking at user onboarding and whether it matters as much as we make it out to be, there is one fact.

An effective user onboarding experience equals growth when done right.

But before you run to start the best user onboarding team out there, there is one more thing we need to discuss: why user onboarding teams don't exist. 

Who Owns User Onboarding?

There are two answers to the question of "who owns user onboarding?"

No one, and everyone.

Even if you are totally unfamiliar with the inner mechanism of user onboarding, you must have come across some sort of onboarding in your life, be it Facebook's product tour or Notion's feature announcements.

When you just think for a second, you will realize that user onboarding needs attention from the sales team with their demos and meaningful user segmentation methods.

Or you could associate it more with the product team as it all happens within the product.

You could say the marketing team should also have a say in it since onboarding emails and branding matter a lot.

You can even decide that the customer success team would influence the onboarding flow thanks to their quantitative knowledge of customer issues and the attitude of a potential customer.

But in the end, none of these teams ever really try to own the user onboarding.

And there lies the irony.

Why There Is No User Onboarding Specialist

User onboarding cannot be handled without collaboration between teams, yet no one wants to own it anyway.

A user onboarding specialist would be the missing link between the teams, yet when we look for one, there is no such position. Why not?

The most sensible answer would be: it doesn't help.

Even if there was a specialist to oversee all the work regarding the user/customer onboarding process from the sales team, the product team, sometimes the customer success managers and support, they would have to report directly to the CEO and the decision-making process would be quite exhausting.

Thankfully, one of the experts in the user onboarding field, Ramli John, has something to say about a possible user onboarding team.

The Product-Led Onboarding author explains three different ways of doing onboarding for those after long-term success and an exceptional customer experience. 

Companies can opt for either product-led onboarding, sales-led onboarding, or hybrid onboarding.

While these types of onboarding clearly draw the most attention to the product managers and salespeople, it doesn't necessarily mean they will be the only ones on a potential onboarding team.

When asked the "who owns user onboarding?" question, John advocates that user onboarding shouldn't be owned but championed.

And as such, in different companies, different teams champion user onboarding.

Setting Up Your User Onboarding Task Force

A successful onboarding team needs all its components working collaboratively. 

But of course, the components are up to you, your product, and your customers.

In a typical scenario, customer satisfaction might depend on the direct relation of your customers to the teams within your organization.

Let me explain it this way:

Small business offering high value?

A small or medium-sized business bringing in the money thanks to its product's high value and advanced capabilities in the users' eyes would automatically need to champion its product team for excellent user onboarding flows.

This is because such businesses are the best fit for a product-led growth plan, as well as product-led onboarding. Because their customers aren't necessarily enterprises, the product in and of itself plays the biggest role in making loyal customers.

Bigger business with enterprise-level customers?

If you are closer to an enterprise with a hardworking sales team bringing in thousand-dollar deals, you might depend on your sales team to not only increase conversion rates but also retention rates.

A product-led onboarding makes no difference when the customer is more interested in being told about the value of a product than seeing the value for themselves. 

If you are this kind of business, you might want to champion your sales team for user onboarding.

User personas have a big impact on your business?

Some businesses might have really particular users or they just might prioritize the users' emotions first and foremost.

In such cases, the customer success team as your user onboarding champion would make the most sense, as they would be the most familiar team with customer mistakes, customer feedback, and the overall product experience of users.

Have a loud brand voice and good branding?

A business that benefits the most from marketing in general, could prefer to entrust user onboarding to the marketing team.

Although not the entire onboarding process, email campaigns and the signup process have their fair share in user onboarding. Moreover, the marketing team is the best in showing the value of your product.

Late to the party?

If you already have an established product that lacks a proper onboarding flow, you are either a small or a big company. Either way, you would have a growth team.

And the growth team is the perfect team to champion user onboarding where the other teams might come short of the task.

A different case?

You can always bring together people from different teams to create an onboarding team. If you need a balanced outlook, try out hybrid onboarding or sales-assisted onboarding, another concept by Ramli John.

Whatever is the case, don't forget the reason why there are no user onboarding specialists. No one team or individual can own a good user onboarding.

User onboarding is the one thing that needs the attention of more than one team. But it promises more than it takes. Take a chance and enhance your user onboarding flow today. You may find further direction in Academy's other articles.

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