How psychology can help your emails make a better first impression

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Our on-boarding is terrible, and why yours should be too

by Colin Nederkoorn

We’ve had the same experience when you sign up for customer.io for about a year. Frankly, it sucks.

Customer.io Onboarding steps

See that last step? We dump you in to the application with a few example campaigns and a link to “Send us data”. Good luck with that!

Why is our really bad on-boarding interesting?

It’s interesting because our customers have been able to succeed (and so has our company) in spite of it. I want to show you how.

Before you optimize your on-boarding experience, consider doing a few things first. Here’s how we went about it:

Step 1: Make your product do something valuable to someone.

Easier said than done, but I’d start here.

A really common mistake I’ve seen (and made) is for products with no users or customers to build elaborate on-boarding wizards.

You could think of this exercise as building a road to nowhere.

The first goal of a new product (or feature) is to deliver value. A great test for a new product is:

Is the reward compelling enough that someone will figure out how to make our product work?

Maybe they can’t figure it out on their own, but if people want what you’re offering, and you give them a way to reach out, you can help people struggle through your immature product to reach success.

That’s what leads you to Step 2.

Step 2: Do things that don’t scale

A few examples of things we’ve done in the past:

  • Talk with every new signup to learn about them, their business and the problems they are hoping to solve.
  • Hand-write the code for each triggered email a customer wanted to send.
  • Have an always on chat-room using Campfire where people could come by and ask questions.

At some point, if you have a small team (we were 2 or 3 people at this stage), you’ll be overwhelmed. That’s when you can start scaling or killing these activities.

Step 3: Scale (or kill) the things that don’t scale

This was a critical decision for our company. Did we want to scale high-touch activities by hiring for sales and account management roles? We decided no and took a different path.

From chatting with customers, we learned what common questions about our product are. This gave us the knowledge to build out comprehensive documentation. Now many people get their own answers to questions. Any time we see recurring questions over email, we try to add answers to the docs.

We also learned what people evaluating our product needed to see. Rather than continuing high touch conversations, we added videos attempting to answer the common questions people were asking. We also discovered an important fact: prospects who still wanted a phone call even with all the information on our site often aren’t good customers for us.

We doubled down on the things that worked for us:

  • great email support
  • comprehensive docs
  • informative videos

And got rid of the things that didn’t work.

Now when people are stuck in the product, there’s a big help link and they have ways to get answers and can see a lot of content to give them the confidence to move forward.

Step 4: This whole time we were tuning our emails.

You know we haven’t changed our product on-boarding, so how did scale to over 300 paying customers and over $50,000 a month in revenue?

In large part, it was because we used our own product to send emails to people during their first week or so in Customer.io.

Here’s an idea of what our post-signup emails look like:

When someone signs up:

  • Welcome email (link to docs, how to get in touch)

If someone doesn’t send us any data:

  • 30 minutes later - offer of help email
  • 3 days later - educational selling email
  • 5 days later - education selling email

If someone sends us data:

  • Immediately - congratulations email

If someone sends us data, but doesn’t really do anything else:

  • 15 days later - request for feedback email

Rather than spending a lot of developer effort building out wizards, we shifted the responsibility for on-boarding to email. It’s a lot faster for us to try new things in email. It’s a lot faster to change things when we find a better way of getting people up to speed.

If you want to see the content of our emails, you can always sign up for the Customer.io, but I’ll also give you an overview of a couple of email types that have been really effective.

An offer to help

Giving people an email focused on getting helped has worked wonders. It makes people feel much more comfortable asking questions than just sending a welcome email.

In some forms this email is a little overused. We’ve been talking about it for a while but it still works well to let people know it’s ok to email us.

Educational selling emails

There’s a pretty simple idea here. 1. Teach people something interesting that benefits them. 2. Then, relate it to how your product makes it easy.

Most people evaluating your product or company aren’t familiar with your industry or competitors. They’re not experts. Often they don’t know what they should consider as important.

Teach them how to make an informed decision.

We have two emails which focus on how triggered emails should work and talk about how they usually work in other email products.

Here’s the gist of those two emails:

  • Using data from your app with your triggered emails lets you send timely, targeted emails.
  • Everything works better when your email system works with data in real-time (not batch processing once a night).

To summarize, throught these types of emails, the conversations they engender, and our documentation, tons of people are overcoming the crappy “non-boarding” and finding success with our product. And because the process is lightweight, we can scale our services to an ever-growing list of customers without adding a call center!

We’d love to hear about your on-boarding flows and how you’ve optimized them for your product. Tweet us at @customerio or email!

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