How To Automate Software Feature Education

Here’s a problem faced by a lot of software companies — a product has a new feature that customers are either unaware of or aren’t adopting at all. A similar challenge arises when users don’t use a core feature enough to derive the full value of a product. 

The solution to the said problems lies in adopting user onboarding 2.0. Before we dive into what exactly that entails, we’d like to briefly talk about the lead up to it. 

In the last decade, user onboarding has become a critical part of a product’s success. Companies began experimenting with walkthroughs and product tours to provide feature education to prospects and to nudge them in the right direction. While this has worked well for the better part of a decade, customers today expect more.

Traditional product tours have become mundane as users tend to skip them and choose to explore a product by themselves. This has lowered the odds of a prospect getting to know about all the features, especially the ones that are not very evident; as a result, product adoption suffers. 

Modern user onboarding, appropriately dubbed User Onboarding 2.0, is based on the principle that each customer has a unique set of requirements and the product itself should be able to guide the user to fulfill those requirements; also known as getting the user to the aha moment

Automate Feature Education With User Onboarding 2.0

The big shift that is contributing to the rise of the new onboarding principle lies in the fact that today’s savvy customers like to get their hands dirty and try several tools before choosing the most suitable one. This is why a traditional product tour is seen as an obstruction rather than a guide. On the other hand, behavior-driven prompts that are triggered based on the user’s actions within the product are highly appreciated as they help the user get things done quickly by appearing at the right time.

Let’s talk about the best practices to automate feature education and product adoption. 

1. Keep Users Updated

A lot of users have a tendency to avoid new features or ignore changes to the ones that they don’t use. New features and improvements to existing ones are meant to offer a better product to your users. Hence, it’s important that existing users adopt new features, especially since it helps them derive more value from your product. 

A Changelog in the product interface is a great and subtle way to tell users about new features and updates.

This is how Slack does it.

The key lies in keeping it simple and sharing the right amount of information to get the users curious enough to try out that new feature. 

2. Show the Right Message at the Right Time

Showing the right message at the right time to the right user persona is key to product feature education. This is known as Contextual Onboarding. And the only way to implement contextual onboarding is to automate the entire process.

This can be done by implementing in-app experiences that are customized based on the user segment and the actions the user has taken within the app. This eliminates the factors impeding feature adoption and eases feature discovery.

Here’s an exmaple:

There is Feature A and Feature B and both are closely related. Feature B can only work after Feature A is activated.

HubSpot has implemented this quite well. 

Once a HubSpot’s user starts using email sequences and tries to paste text into the email body, HubSpot shows them a modal informing them about email templates. 

The timing couldn’t be better and it is almost certain that the user tries out the feature. 

Protip: Use exit intent popups if the user exits within 5 minutes in the first run with a feedback form. 

3. Automate feature discovery with new product design

New product design is another great way to subtly introduce your new feature to your customers.

For example, you’re developing a customer feedback product. Your new feature is creating NPS surveys.

Now, you can let your users know about the newest feature in the changelog, or with contextual onboarding. Both are good options, and you should try to mix those things. But the new product design is another way to inform your users about it.

For example, you can add your NPS survey inside your product and ask your users for feedback while subtle mentioning “Wonder how we created this? You can do this with our new feature!”, or, you can add a new tab “Try our new feature” inside your navigation menu.

In any case, your users will be intrigued and ready to find out what it’s all about.

Another example, use your signup form to show socialproof & show new features like drift.

4. Market your new feature

In the last few years, product marketing (or now known as a product-led growth) took a big role in every SaaS company. Product marketing is a subsection of marketing in which you’re advertising your product, features, use cases and case studies.

Product Marketing can be executed in a lot of different ways. One of them we already mentioned – changelogs.

But, there are other ways to market your new features outside your product.

For example, you can write blog posts with different use cases about some particular features.

Find out the suitable keyword that is easy to target for (but still has some searches per month), write an in-depth guide on using your feature (such as writing an in-depth guide on how to take the most out of NPS surveys), build a few high-quality backlinks, and you’re ready to go!

Your article will probably get traction, and you will be able to educate both existing and new users about your features.

The other great ways for marketing your features is through communities and content distribution.

Try to distribute your content across various channels and relevant communities. The best way to automate this is to build a content distribution checklist. This way, you can distribute your content on the scale.

But, there is another way to improve your feature education. It’s by using webinars in your user journey.

5. Use webinars as a tool for feature education

Webinars are another type of product marketing content that can help you to automate your software feature adoption.

You can either create webinars for your old users explaining new product changes and features or, you can create webinars for your new users and talk about some particular use cases.

Intercom is a great example of using webinars for feature education:

The team behind Intercom hosts this kind of webinars all the time in order to educate their new users and talk with them about the features and use cases.

6. Boost your feature education with transactional emails

Transactional emails are one of the best ways to automate software feature education.

One of the biggest reasons for this is mainly because transactional emails are (just like contextual onboarding), triggered by some particular user action or behavior.

Depending on the message you want to send, transactional emails can be:

  • triggered by coming certain due (5 days upon trial, 1 day before the trial ends, etc.)
  • triggered by having/missing some particular user’s action (activating feature/not activation feature)

The great example of this comes from Competitors App – online tool for competition monitoring: 

Adding a domain is considered as the main condition for monitoring competition. Without the domain, the competitors can’t be monitored at all.

By the words of Razvan Girmacea, this particular email had more than 50% open rates, while more than 30% of those who opened the email, actually added the domain – which is considered as the main activation factor.

7. Build enjoyable user onboarding flows

Instead of building general product tours and walkthroughs, try to build enjoyable in-app experiences and user onboarding flows.

There are numerous ways and user onboarding tools to take your user onboarding and feature education on the next level:

Personalize in-app experiences and build different user segments:

There is nothing more beautiful than seeing that someone used your name or your behavior to assist you.

In the last couple of years, personalization took place in almost every department of the sales/marketing cycles. It’s the same for user onboarding too.

One of the first steps towards personalizing your user onboarding flows is building different user segments based on your persona or behavior.

The segments can be created by the following criteria (depending on your product):

  • Demographic data – Title, Country, Previous Experience, Age
  • Company data – Segments for each company you have as customers (if the entire teams are using your product), Company type, Company age, Number of users your customer has, etc.
  • In-app behaviours – Segment your users by the different types of features they are usually using, or by the goals your users want to achieve.
  • One product can have different use cases.

For example, CRM can be used for:

  • Sales
  • Backlink building
  • PR
  • Or any other type of cold outreach

Make sure to build different user onboarding flows for each of these groups – because certainly, people who are looking for backlink building outreach will not have the same demands and requirements as people who are looking to boost and organize their sales.

There are three main ways to collect additional data about your users:

  • In the Sign-up flow
  • In-app (at the beginning of their user onboarding flow)
  • In 1 on 1 conversation and demos

Depending on the type of your product, all three of these options can be a good fit for you. If you’re a high-touch company and your sales process require personalized and live demos, this can be a perfect opportunity for you to ask your customers additional questions and learn more about them.

If you have a way simpler product that is used by individuals or small teams, perhaps collecting data at the sign-up flow or in-app is a better option.

Either way, be sure to personalize your user onboarding processes for different user segments. This way, they will feel more special, and certainly, you will easier answer to their needs and questions.

Give your users a quick win

In user onboarding, everything is about unleashing consecutive “Aha” moments and activating your users from feature to feature.

Quick wins are something that you will need to pay attention to. They will not just provide quick value to your users, but they will also motivate them to go further through your user onboarding journey.

Airbnb is a great example of how to offer a quick win (Even if it’s a B2C business, not B2B).

Airbnb could do two things:

  • Ask you to create an account before you can search for the places and apartments
  • Show you some limited number of places before you create an account.

But, Airbnb didn’t do any of these things. After all, it allowed you to browse through all of its listings. And at the end, if you find a suitable listing for you, you will need to create an account and become a user.

Use checklists to drive complete feature adoption

Checklists are a great and easy way to teach and educate your users about some particular in-app functions.

They are easily understandable, and even more – they are a great way to use psychology in your user onboarding.

Checklists are based on the Zeigarnik effect, the psychological bias that tells how people have a tendency to better remember uncompleted tasks than completed ones.

Checklists are usually not big UI elements. They are located in the down-left corner.

Here is an example of a great checklist created by GrowthMentor:

Celebrate successes to boost customer’s addiction to your product

Success celebration is a great way to make your customer’s addicted to your product. Even more, it will make them happier and motivated to create bigger accomplishments with your product.

Even more, great customer’s feelings about your product will certainly boost your shares and social media presence.

So you have 2 in 1 – you both boost your feature education and product marketing – that will eventually lead to the new customers who will be more than ready to use your features.

One of the best times to celebrate successes is right after your users gain results with some of your features.

For example, the Mailchimp’s high five is in the “Hall of Fame” of the best in-app experiences.

As you can see from Mailchimp’s example, it both made its customer addictive and boosted the social presence.

The Bottom Line

When we sum it up altogether, now it’s more important than ever before to use subtle user onboarding for your feature education.

Great behaviour-driven, personalized and triggered in-app experiences will not just help you to educate your users better, but it will also make them more addicted to your product.

Without a doubt, a new era of user onboarding is going to be subtle. Instead of general product tours and walkthroughs, now we have different sets of triggered and personalized in-app experiences that will certainly take your onboarding and adoption on the next level.

They will help you to both adopt your users and educate them about your new or existing features.

To make the process easier, there are various user onboarding tools to help you with creating subtle user onboarding flows.

Now, what’s the first process you will implement inside your product? Let us know in the comments!

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Aazar Shad
Head of Growth at Userpilot - Improving User Onboarding, Product Adoption & Retention for SaaS.
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