Gamification and User Onboarding
User onboarding is a discovery journey that should create the basis for a long-term relationship with your customers based on a positive experience.
While onboarding users, you need to be in control of what they do and in what order to make sure that frustration leads to immediate churn or that negative brand associations translates into poor retention rate.
Once users are fully onboarded they should feel confident enough to proceed on a discovery journey that allows for experimentation. Users need to know what to need to do and how they can do it.
Additionally, a great UX during onboarding should address the problem of the engagement gap and foster progression while creating a set of habits that boost activation.
The trick is finding the perfect balance so that users feel a sense of autonomy/control while they just need to concentrate on using your software, not understanding your software.
Target: let users use your product immediately and keep them working for as long as possible to see how their status improves over time!
The roadmap is clear and follows simple game design rules:
- Initial onboarding
- Mastery and Success
The process needs to be steered by you and users need to be guided through the different phases. Plus, you need to monitor progress and proactively intervene if users seem to be stuck.
You need to put in place feedback loops that allow the process to run smoothly and be improved at each iteration. The staggered revelation of new features needs to be carefully paced and users need to be guided to make meaningful choices.
- Initial choices should not have a permanent effect on the overall experience and need to be revertible
- Early choices should be restricted to avoid paralysis
- Users should focus on one single element at the time to avoid feeling overwhelmed
To avoid frustration, users must feel safe and know that it’s impossible to fail!
Scaffolding is a learning experience that quickly leads to confidence and mastery, balance and a great UX.
Emotions Make Everything more Engaging
“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!”
We know that there are certain preparatory tasks that need to be done before achieving certain results. Think of Geckoboard or Klipfolio and their KPIs boards. Sure, they look sexy and all…but there are certain integrations you need to implement to create a full picture.
But again, “In every job that must be done, there’s an element of fun.” And even if in a software solution a song seldom helps to move the job along 😀 there are several emotions we can tap into in order to make sure that users continue through their journey.
Some of the strongest positive emotions that generate delight include:
- Sense of achievement
- Unexpected element of fun (think of the nice quotes you see when you open Slack for example)
- Collecting stuff (assets of any kind)
- Improved status
- Imagination/Creativity/Freedom of Expression
- The opportunity to share
- Customization/Tailored Elements
Structural Game Elements
Following formal game design principles, the overall experience is determined by three elements:
Dynamics include big picture elements that characterize the entire experience and include constraints, emotions, storytelling, progression, and relationships. That’s the basic structure of the application.
Mechanics involve all the processes that drive the action forward. Here we need to inspect actual challenges, opportunities, competition, ability to cooperate, feedback loops, acquisition of assets and resources, rewards, transactions, sequences and order of events, outcomes. Everything that involves actual operations within the system.
Components are specific objects and tools that enable dynamics and mechanics. These include achievements, progression and completion elements, reports and analytics, assets, statuses, features, content unblocking, checklists, unexpected gifts and surprises, dashboards, activities and processes, opportunity to share results, benchmarks, teams, virtual currency, rewards…Basically everything you put in place to allow users to operate in a specific environment and enjoy their results.
Elements can be introduced in stages but presenting users with what comes next allows them to envision themselves at a higher level status.
Outcomes for Customer Success
One of the crucial aspects of customer success is agreeing on a measure of success.
From the moment users embark on their journey and invest time to understand your product, it must be clear what outcomes they are going to achieve and how you’re going to measure the impact of your solution.
Exactly as in a game you determine the win states and keep score in order to pace rewards and display progress, users need to be fully aware of the realistic goals they can achieve with your software and need to be able to measure their ROI.
Whether your solution is linked to monetary rewards or to intangible status updates such as credibility or authority, your users need to be able to access a collection of elements and stats that prove the efficacy of your solution.
Think of profile cards or lists of integrations, collection of elements, statuses, achievements…
Allow your users to benchmark their experience with others and compare their results to push them to integrate your solution even more deeply in their daily routine!
There’s no cookie-cutter solution and the most important thing is that each gamification element you introduce must make sense within the overall user experience and your product.
Gamification is a tool for motivational design that draws from behavioral elements such as loss aversion, power of defaults and confirmation biases.
Feedback loops are generated through observation (stimuli), learning, and reinforcement within the software.
Game elements can facilitate the learning process and make the whole experience a lot more engaging.
Important concepts to reinforce the loop:
- Learn by doing
- See what other do and what they’ve achieved
- Collect immediate feedback (positive or negative)
- Conditioning through outcomes and consequences
- Clear rewards
- Unexpected positive results (overdeliver on promises)
As mentioned, rewards can be expected on unexpected. Games often use unexpected rewards to generate delight and activation. Think of badges or extra tools you get just for showing up…
Novelty elements enhance activation and rewards can be tangible or intangible while being task non-contingent, engagement-contingent, completion-contingent or performance-contingent.
Gabe Zicherann summarizes rewards with the acronym SAPS (Status, Access, Power, Stuff). For companies this translates into monetary incentives, status and authority, additional benefits and features.
Continuous rewards become less effective over time. After a while they become less enticing and don’t seem special anymore.
There was a home improvement store in Germany that kept advertising 20% off on every item to create urgency but people soon realized that the “campaign” actually lasted 365 days a year and the brand lost their credibility.
Reward your customers for their loyalty and engagement at fixed intervals or following specific ratios and rules. The idea is finding the sweet spot between continuously motivating customers through their journey and making them actually feel special.
Caveat: rewards can be counter-productive as they become substitutes for intrinsic motivation. Make sure that your users are primarily motivated by actual excitement for your product and feel compelled to engage with it because of the results they achieve! Then you can use gamification techniques to accelerate the process and create champions who feel proud to endorse your product.
Intrinsic motivation derives from awareness and delight and is the most powerful element you can activate in order to boost engagement and activation.
Self-determination theory shows us that there are different kinds of motivation linked to positive emotions in three stages of the motivational spectrum: competence, autonomy, relatedness.
These three innate needs lead us to being motivated when we feel in control and master the environment and the outcomes of our action, have a sense of free willwhen doing something or acting out of our own interests and values, feel a sense of belonging that involve fitting in something bigger than ourselves.
That’s why a winning company with a great customer success program can create a community around their brand, a tribe of supporters who can truly use an application to its full potential, can become creative and determine how to steer operations while endorsing the product and championing it voluntarily.
How to Design the Experience
The whole journey needs to be purposive and customer-centered. It must include a balance of control and freedom, include analytics, be iterative and optimizable.
The UX must depend on the primary objectives (which you need to separate from the means) and target behaviors must be in line with the user personas and be flexible so that you can customize the journey for different user segments who have different needs and present a different level of proficiency or set of requirements.
You need to devise activity loops and deploy the appropriate components to manage dynamics and mechanics of the environment you created.
Be sure to implement success metrics! Say you want to implement elements that boost engagement. You need to put in place a system to measure number of daily or monthly active users (DAU/MAU) to monitor and optimize the process.
Design elements need to be created around a specific persona. Hence, the starting point, as always, is collecting as much data as we can about our users and define their needs and expectations.
Introducing Activity Loops
Engagement loops involve three stages:
Everything that occurs in your software must be linked to a reason that motivates the action and leads to outcomes which are presented with instant feedback.
Progression loops involve different stages within the software.
It’s vital that different activities be subdivided into categories. Say that you offer a CRM solution. Some activities will be grouped under “setup” others under “create and manage accounts” others under “mange your team”….and so on and staggered when presented.
Users need to be onboarded in stages. After a steep climb they need to close a chapter before moving on to the next one. This sense of accomplishment is the basis for progression loops.
These chapters represent the plateaus where your “climbers” (users) can rest before moving on to the next portion of the ascent.
In games, this is represented by levels that become more and more complicated and prepare players for the final “boss fight” . After each level there can be a lightning round or something similar and users can be rewarded for their achievements, can rest, and experience a balance between perceived skills and perceived challenge for the next level.
Incentives help reinforce the activity loops and create activation providing meaning (status/results) and emotional rewards.
Again, watch out! Think of communities such as Quora or StackOverflow. Incentives are put in place to foster positive behavior but these community don’t just work on the basis of extrinsic motivation. Members like their statuses, rewards, badges points and so on…all these elements reinforce the behavior of being active members of the community. But the utility and dynamics created by the community itself provide a strong form of intrinsic motivation that leads to engagement. The return on investment is clear from the very beginning.
Habit Formation and Customer Success
SaaS companies create their own software environment around specific UX rules they design. Hence, incorporating gamification elements is just a matter of setting the proper objectives and finding the right balance.
The Fogg behavior model shows that in order for a behavioral change to occur three elements need to converge:
If one element is missing activation fails.
If for example your users don’t rate your product online, this means that one of the three factors is missing.
What incentives did you offer? Did you make it easy for them to immediately access the platform where you collect ratings? did they receive a specific CTA at the right time?
The same analysis can be done within your software. You can try to define why users are not engaging with all your features or why they aren’t as active as you’d like in your software by ruling out these elements one by one.
The model also investigates these elements at a deeper level and introduces three core motivating factors (pleasure/pain, hope/fear, social acceptance/rejection), six simplicity factors for ability (time, money, physical effort/labor, brand cycles, social deviance, non-routine) and three types of triggers (facilitator, spark, signal).
Gamification elements can help overcome the motivation and ability trade off, and find the right timing for creating triggers through engagement, and progression loops.