In this day and age, no-one needs convincing that the onboarding process can make or break the customer retention rate. As the software services market gets more and more crowded, the ease of getting new users on board becomes the holy grail, perhaps expressed best by two words: simplicity sells.

But, while worth pursuing, the ‘ultimate’ simplicity is not always achievable. Not everything can be designed as completely frictionless, just like not all software products are about filtering photos or ordering taxis. In fact, many of them require complex interaction between the machine and the user – an interaction that is, by design, not for everyone.

But even when simplicity becomes a distant ideal, something else remains achievable at all times: transparency. And this is what a good onboarding process should be like: it should be transparent. It’s true for services, it’s true for hardware and it’s true for software, which is inherently intangible, making transparency paramount.

There are multiple factors involved in achieving this, and one of them is… technical documentation.

Who’s “onboarded”?

A picture showing two people shaking hands

First, let’s agree on who the “onboarded” customer is. There are quite a few approaches to onboarding. Some define it as a successful incorporation of a product into the customer’s routine. Others compare it to users achieving “initial success” with a product. But “successful” or “success” could really mean anything. To keep things simple then, let’s agree that an “onboarded” user is one of the two:

  • A user who has acquired the skills and knowledge necessary to derive perceptible (if not measurable) value from a product
  • A user who sees and understands a clear, detailed path to deriving such value

Yes, these are actually two different definitions and we could perhaps divide them into “initially onboarded” and “fully onboarded” users, but that’s not necessary here. What’s important is that the above can apply to both software and hardware users, which means that the concept of onboarding is helpful with delivering basically any type of modern product or service.

Enter technical documentation.

Onboarding technical users

One of the prevalent examples of technical documentation capable of making or breaking a customer onboarding process are API devportals. Why? Because without any sort of documentation, many APIs would be impossible to use.

60% of API developers say they have learnt most of their knowledge from technical documentation. Another survey (run annually by Postman, one of the most popular tools for API integration testing) concludes that “developers may say they hate documenting, but they want documentation, and they want it to be good.” Developers can also be demanding: more than 50% of them complain about the lack of quality documentation. Some of the 3di customers recognise this problem and try to deal with it, like Auth0, who asked us to improve the quality of their API guides.

With an API, the developer becomes the user. This means that the Developer Experience (DX) needs the same approach and the same level of care as the User Experience (UX). If you don’t have a monopoly, boasting a completely unique technical or business advantage over similar APIs, the quality of your technical documentation may become the turning point for developers considering using your API. It could either lead to a copybook example of successful customer onboarding, or sending them on their way as they exit your website.

Customer onboarding through technical documentation

A glimpse of Vodafone’s onboarding content created by 3di

Devportals may be the most obvious example, but the importance of technical documentation to customer onboarding is by no means limited to APIs.

For example, among many projects done for Vodafone, 3di was asked to prepare a few different sets of onboarding tutorials. The whole thing is hosted on a public website, available to anyone who’s interested. This means the onboarding content serves two purposes:

  • It limits the time needed to get new users up and running, minimising the burden on customer service
  • It helps bring new customers in, by making the onboarding process completely transparent

You could say it’s user onboarding and customer onboarding merged together. What’s even more important, the content is hosted on the same website as detailed help content, user manuals and technical product details of the product. This makes it very easy to dig deeper into the whole service, whether you’re a new user learning about new features or a future customer looking for potential value.

Customer onboarding: complexity made clear

In many cases, well-written technical documentation can make or break the customer onboarding process. What’s more, the more complex a product is, the more transparent the onboarding process needs to be, and the more important the technical documentation gets. Not to mention that good documentation supports customer retention and can turn casual followers into buyers.

Customer onboarding content is where technical communication delivers its biggest value, because it builds confidence in a complicated product.

The more complex a product is, the more transparent and well-documented the onboarding process needs to be.

If you want to make sure that both your existing and potential customers know your product well, and clearly understand the value it brings, invest in the quality of your documentation first. Once you get this right, you may find out that keeping your customer onboarding process transparent stopped being that much of a hassle.

And if you want to discuss your customer onboarding content with 3di, feel free to contact us!