Getting to the “Aha” Moment — Creating a Killer Onboarding Experience

Getting to the “Aha” Moment — Creating a Killer Onboarding Experience

Your onboarding flow is, without a doubt, the most important aspect of your product. It is the user’s first interaction with your brand, at the time when they are most skeptical. It will determine whether or not your users will churn or be retained. In order to create a great conversion funnel, you must have a killer on boarding experience.

To create a great onboarding experience, you have to map out every step your users take through their first session and get them to a moment of delight and understanding, called the “Aha” moment. You must eliminate any friction or wasted effort, minimize choice and cognitive load, teach them only the most essential features, and celebrate their accomplishment. By the end of your onboarding flow, you should have taken them from a state of “I’m listening” to “I get it!”

Defining the “Aha” Moment

The Aha moment is the point at which your user has accomplished the core and basic functionality of your application, and understands not just how it works, but how it will improve their lives. It’s the moment in which they grok what your product can do for them, and they can’t wait to use it again. Your marketing materials made the promises, and your onboarding shows the proof.

The purpose of your onboarding flow is to get them to experience the Aha moment as quickly and painlessly as possible. The onboarding flow is not a class, it is not a time for you to educate them on every single feature, it is a time for you to take their hand and lead them to that delightful moment that will keep them coming back.

Beginning the Journey

Chaos to Clarity

First, you must understand that onboarding begins at the moment they’re introduced to your brand. When their friends tell them about your app, or they see your first advertisement on social media, this is where they begin their journey towards the Aha moment. So in order to map this accurately, we start with the user journey — a common tool from the user experience discipline. When mapping the onboarding flow, you should include the process of initial awareness, and the information that is exchanged even before they touch your product.

Mapping the Onboarding Experience

Chaos to Clarity

Your onboarding flow is a user flow from the user experience discipline. A user flow is a traditional flow chart that ultimately drives the wireframes and prototypes that become the form of your application. These are boxes, diamonds, and arrows that map in fine detail every single step the user takes until they complete their first session.

Every button they press, every input they type, every choice they make, every block of text they read, every instructional video they watch is a part of the onboarding flow. If they enter in their username, that’s a step. If they have to go find their credit card in their wallet, that’s a step. If they have to leave your app and sign in with a third-party account in order to proceed, that’s a step. If they can take multiple paths, that is a decision point and a branch in the flow.Once we’ve mapped the entire flow, we must analyze each step to identify which are critical to the flow, and which are optional. We identify which steps are a burden, and which are a delight. We identify which steps are a risk to losing the user, and which bring them in closer. At every step there is a chance they will be lost, so we want to eliminate anything that is not critical to the experience. We want to make the flow as streamlined, efficient, and fun as possible.

Points of Friction

A point of friction is any step that requires the user to think, make a decision, or do work. You’re asking them to comprehend information, or navigate your unintuitive interface. You’re asking them to come up with a complex password, or read 10 pages of introductory text. You want to avoid or defer points of friction as much as possible until after achieving the Aha moment. If they don’t need to understand every feature you’re trying to convey to them in the first session, don’t force them to go through a lengthy tutorial. If they don’t need to setup a detailed profile, don’t make them do it until after they’ve finished their first session. Introduce investment into your product only after they’ve decided it’s worth their time and effort.

Points of Departure

A point of departure is when the user must leave your flow to complete a task, then return and proceed with the flow. It is a time in which you do not have their undivided attention, you do not control the experience, and you risk losing them.

If you ask them to input a credit card number, they must get up and go find their wallet. Any number of things could happen along the way that could distract them. If you ask a user to login with Facebook, they have left your flow, and now belong to Facebook. You can hope that they come back quickly, but perhaps they’ve decided to check their Facebook feed instead.

You want to avoid these points of departure in your onboarding flow wherever possible. This may mean giving them a free trial, as opposed to requiring a credit card up front. It may mean not requiring them to create an account until it’s absolutely necessary. If you must have a point of departure in your flow, you want to shine a spotlight on this step, and ensure you’re making it as easy as possible to return.

Exchange of Information

During your on boarding flow there is a set of critical information that you need to gather from the user, as well as convey to the user. This could be a set of preferences, or demographic information. It could be instructions on critical features, or how to get support. You should create a list of all information that you request, as well as everything you try to teach them. Prune this list as much as you can, while still creating a meaningful experience.

You should not request any information that you don’t absolutely need to get them to the Aha moment. They do not trust you at this point, and are unlikely to want to give you their personal information. You may need this information to optimize their experience somewhere down the line, but if it is not absolutely vital for their very first session, eliminate it. You may feel that you need to educate the user on all of the wonderful things your app can do before they even create an account, but not only are they losing patience, they won’t remember half of it anyway. Any information that is not critical to the onboarding flow should be deferred until the point at which they are bought into your product, and want to take their experience a step further.

Show, Don’t Tell

People don’t read walls of text. Wherever possible, use visual or interactive instructions to teach information. It may be more work to create an interactive tutorial or a high quality introductory video, but I guarantee the information will be better retained than if you throw up a modal with a paragraph of text for every step of the flow.

Permissions and Sensitive Information

Requesting permissions and sensitive information is risky behavior. Users are skeptical of applications spying on them, selling their personal information, or becoming vulnerable to hacking or identity theft. They don’t want to be notified via email or push notification for products they don’t plan to use. They are not committed to your product at this point, and may decide it’s not worth the risk. If permissions are required, give them a short justification, and describe to them how you will use this information to provide them with some benefits. If it’s not required until later, wait until after they’ve experienced the Aha moment to ask them.

Sell Benefits, Not Features

Users come to you because they want to solve a problem. They don’t care about what the product can do, they care about how it will make their lives better. Any time you’re describing what your product can do, try to frame it around how it will benefit them.

For example, if you’re developing a music service, don’t tell them about your sophisticated music curation algorithm, tell them about how much time they will save, or the wonderful music they will discover. If you’re developing a fitness app, don’t tell them about the detailed tracking features, tell them about how much they will improve their performance, or how much better they will feel.

The Tutorial

Chaos to Clarity

During the onboarding flow, you want to expose users to features, or teach them behavior at the very moment they will put it to use. Video games often do a great job at this. They don’t introduce every single game mechanic before you’ve killed your first rat. They lead you through an experience, and pause along the way to highlight an important game mechanic. They show you what you need to do at the exact moment in which you need to use that skill, and then immediately reward you with the satisfaction of success and the advancement of the story.

They are trying to setup a basic gameplay loop, in which you come to understand how the gameplay works and now have the necessary skills to proceed to the next step in the story. At this point they unveil the opening credits and a sprawling world for you to explore, full of promise and adventure. Do this for your product. Make your users feel accomplished, present to them a world of promise and adventure, and they will be yours.


Chaos to Clarity

When your user completes the first session and achieves the Aha moment, you want to celebrate that event. This is the very moment they will decide whether or not to come back to your product. You want to highlight this experience, reflect on the benefits, and give them a reason to come back. You’ll want to:

  • Congratulate them on solving their problem.
  • Restate the benefits they just experienced.
  • Give them support and the feeling that you’re here for them on their journey to come.
  • Follow-up with email and congratulate them again for a job well done.
  • Give them a call-to-action to take the next step.
  • Give them support lifelines in case they find trouble.

Analytics and Iterative Improvement

As with any aspect of product development, getting the onboarding flow right will take time and experimentation. You’ll want to use analytics to measure the impact a change will have to retention, conversion, and lifetime value. You can do this with basic A/B testing. Flag a user’s account with the version of the onboarding flow they experienced, and then measure their outcomes over the long term.


Users discover products because they have particular need they want to fulfill. The onboarding flow is the courtship ritual. It is a moment in which your users decide whether it is worth investing in a long-term relationship with your product. You may want to show them all of your positive traits and abilities, but they are considering how compatible you will be.

When you ask for too much information, you seem needy and overly attached. When you boast about features, you’re just going on and on about yourself. What you really want is for them to have a special and memorable experience, and to come back a second time. If they continue to come back and have good experiences, then you can show them your deeper nature, or help them with their more complex problems. This can only happen after you’ve developed a bond of trust.

By analyzing the onboarding flow in detail, framing the experience around their benefits, and leading them to a moment of joy, in which you have solved the critical need for them, you bring them to the Aha moment and create a happy customer.

If you think your onboarding experience needs some help, or if you need an expert to guide you through this exercise, I am available to perform an Onboarding Assessment. I can help you better engage and retain your users, reduce your churn, and increase your level of trust. Go to my website and contact me!