Course creators can increase their student completion rates by learning to onboard like a SaaS company. (Software-as-a-Service companies who license their cloud-based products and services on a subscription-basis – for example Slack, Shopify or Mailchimp).
If you’re a course creator, you’ve probably poured blood sweat and tears into developing your product, only for the course to end up gathering digital dust on many students’ hard-drives.
Less than 40% of learners actually complete their online courses according to Teachable.
And a key reason for this is poor onboarding.
On-boarding is essentially what customers should know or receive before and after buying your product. This goes way beyond the order confirmation email, thank you page and log-in details.
You may have shown students how to use the course platform, but do they know where to go if they get stuck?
Is there something they should do before beginning the training? And have you explained how they can get the best out of your course?
Take a leaf out of successful SaaS companies who invest a lot of attention in developing a great on-boarding process.
Why SaaS On-boarding Rocks
SaaS companies treat onboarding as a mission-critical task, and they invest big bucks to make new subscribers comfortable with their technology.
Since they are trying to convert subscribers from a free trial to a paid service, they do everything possible to avoid any disappointments or disconnect between what was promised and what is delivered.
You can learn a lot from a SaaS about how to make your course participants feel welcome, excited to start the course and be confident in their ability to achieve the desired results.
1. Plan Your On-boarding Process from the Start
On-boarding should never be an after-thought. SaaS companies recognize that onboarding is really about building customer relationships. It’s about how the customer experiences your brand.
So, they plan and develop their on-boarding process from the very beginning of product development.
If you do the same and develop your on-boarding from the start, it will force you to examine all your customer touch-points – from the first web visit, to course sign-up, to course walk-through, to your onboarding emails.
The smoother and more cohesive this experience, the more you will gain the learner’s trust and reduce drop-out.
2. Keep the User Top of Mind
When a SaaS developer adds a new feature to the product, they plan how to help people to use it. This is the mindset of the on-boarding ninja.
As you develop your course, when you create a new module or feature, ask yourself “How will I teach learners to use this?” Remember, it is your responsibility to help people use your material effectively.
So, keep looking for ways to add value. Perhaps you need to build out more answers in your FAQs. Or produce a stronger intro video. Maybe you need to create blog posts that reinforce the training.
And you definitely need a series of emails that walks learners through each module, checks in on their progress and encourages them along the way.
3. Make them Say “Ah-Ha”
In the SaaS world, developers talk about getting users to the “ah-ha moment”. That moment when users “click” with the product and understand the value that it can bring to their lives.
Savvy SaaS companies help new customers achieve early success by encouraging them to complete a small task.
This is usually something easy and fun to do that gives the user some sense of accomplishment, for example generating an invoice from an accounting software provider or creating a quick design using a graphics tool.
When onboarding students onto your course, go beyond the welcomes and the next steps, to look for something tangible that they can easily learn.
Help your students score quick wins so that they experience that sweet feeling of making progress. This builds confidence in the learner and makes them more likely to continue with the course.
4. Get Users Going Quickly
SaaS companies know that the key to successful onboarding is to get a new customer using the product as soon as possible.
If you’ve ever signed up for any SaaS free trial, then you know they’re on you like white on rice to start using the service immediately.
Why? To avoid buyer’s remorse. The more time they give the buyer to think about their purchase, without trying the product, the more likely they are to get hit with cancellations.
Similarly, the first week of your course is critical. You run the risk of refunds if you don’t get new learners taking action ASAP.
The longer you leave it, life happens and next thing, your course ends up in the Valley of Unfinished Courses or customers start asking for refunds.
From the moment of the sale, you have to stay in close communication with your new students. But don’t bombard them with too much information.
What they need at this stage is an overview of the course, how long it will take, expected milestones, potential problems, and information about the support you have in place.
5. Test and Measure Your On-boarding
SaaS companies don’t play when it comes to metrics. They constantly test and measure to monitor their onboarding and figure out where to make improvements.
Don’t pat yourself on the back and consider yourself done after you set up an onboarding process.
Evaluate every aspect critically from your learner’s perspective, analyze the data, refine, rinse, repeat.
6. On-board to the Customer’s Reality… Not Your Imagination
I get it. Your course is your baby, and in your mind, people will love it and use it exactly the way you imagined.
Unfortunately, in the real world, this might not be the case.
So, quit trying to force students to go through the course according to your precious rules (follow this sequence …do not skip assignments…etc.).
Act like a successful SaaS developer and get into your customers’ heads to understand their motivation.
SaaS companies speak to their customers to figure out their business goals for using the service. Then they build the onboarding journey to support those goals.
Ask your learners what they want from your course. What does success look like in their eyes?
You can then develop your onboarding process (email campaigns, in-product experiences, customer outreach and more) to align better with student expectations.
Onboarding is your chance to make a great first impression post-purchase and to give your new students confidence that they made the right decision in buying your course.
If you want continued success as a course creator, think like a SaaS and focus on growing the lifetime value of your customers.
You don’t want to be peddling one-hit wonders. Returning customers spend nearly three times more than first-time buyers according to a study by Yotpo.
Work to exceed expectations at the onboarding stage and your students are more likely to become lifetime customers.