How the Aha Moment Unlocks Successful User Onboarding

The aha moment, the secret and goal of any great user onboarding flow!

Pulkit Agrawal
18 min read

Churn is often overlooked as an issue for startups because they are focused on growth rather than retention. Brian Balfour, a former Growth Lead at HubSpot, even repeatedly suggested that companies should prioritize retention overgrowth.

However, an estimated 30% plus of SaaS providers have an unacceptable 10%+ churn. This can kill a business, so it’s important to urgently search for ways to improve retention.

There is a key secret 🔮 that can help - one that connects churn and a strong user onboarding to deliver higher retention: the “Aha!” Moment. This moment, or the lack of it, is one of the major factors of a leaky user funnel.

What is the aha moment? #

The Aha Moment 💡 is the first time the user recognizes and internalizes the value of a product or feature. A moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension that, in Saas, applies to a specific software tool and its usefulness. Other names include: the Wow Moment; Time to Wow; Time to First Value; and these all give a clue to how a user feels when they meet this moment.

Why is the Aha Moment 💡 so Important? #

Users will only continue to invest in a product if they find it useful. We all have a limited attention span and within this period, your product must deliver value to the user. People want quick results and refuse to waste time looking for what should be obvious in a product.

Since there are several options (i.e. your competitors) available to solve most needs, the product needs to prove its value quickly after sign-up, before new users move on to the next option.

On top of this, users lost early in the relationship are very unlikely to return. Actually, KickOffLabs found that:

Improvements in a user's first 5 mins can drive a 50% increase in lifetime value.

You must give the user a reason to come back, show them how successful they can be with your product, and continue to provide increased value to prevent churn.

In this post, we'll address the first key Aha Moment, the first main one after sign-up, but it’s important to note there are several Aha Moments over a user’s lifecycle. Successfully submitting a form and seeing your product interface is a small Aha Moment, and so is getting a response to a support ticket. As a user deepens their engagement with your product it’s important to constantly drive them to find new value in your product.

Great examples of aha moments #

An aha moment example from #, a marketer’s community, previously used a sign-up process that simply ended with the user back on the homepage, left to explore. However, after finding that the Aha Moment for a user was participating in a conversation, a new call-to-action on the homepage to "get started by sharing their favorite article or asking a question” was introduced. This simple act increased new user retention by 15%!

An aha moment example from Trello #

Trello is a project management platform whose value proposition is to enable users to quickly organize and prioritize everyday projects. Upon landing on their app, Trello helps users quickly grasp their core value with a templated example Welcome Board.

Trello uses the Welcome Board to quickly showcase how the product works by encouraging the user to interact with it. They recognized that the Aha Moment is when a user is able to add tasks and move them across lists, and so the first item on the “Stuff to try” list is to drag a card to the “Tried It” list. In doing so, the user quickly understands how easy it is to organize their projects - part of Trello’s core value.

Trello is a great example of how you can use your own product to onboard new users, and guide your users quickly to discover your product's value.

An aha moment example from Buffer #

Buffer is a social media management tool, that lets you easily schedule social posts into the future. Buffer makes this value quick to internalize by prompting users with the "Add to queue" button by default (over instantly publishing a post) to help them reach "Aha!".

An aha moment example from # is a CRM solution (to help manage sales prospects and opportunities), which claims that it reduces data entry to help you be more productive. It keeps track of all your activities automatically, and so after signing-up, the user is immediately led to a contact screen. Here they would see all the information about their historical interaction with that contact, but because they are new, sample data (such as a conversation) has been used. In this way, is helping users find the Aha Moment even if all the necessary data isn't yet available.

Empty states can be a sad cause of an underwhelmed user because they cannot (or don't want to) visualize the product in its full glory. However, you can convert this risk into an opportunity with these strategies to leverage empty states for better user onboarding.

Identify Your Product’s Aha Moment #

So the next question is: "What is my product’s Aha Moment?". It depends on the product UX, value proposition, user persona, and other factors, but it can be identified by following a hypothesis-driven approach: identify the most likely Aha Moment and then test it. If it's not the right one then identify a different one and test again.

The first hypothesis should be based on your product’s stated value proposition. This will be a benefits statement on your website or the mission you're working towards. You can try to validate this in the following ways:

Ask Current Customers #

Your current customers most likely found the Aha Moment, which helped them stick around, so they are a great source of ideas.

Focus on relatively new customers (e.g. 1-3 months old) to either send a survey (using a tool like Typeform, a quiz with pre-made answers they can just tick, an in-product poll (using a tool like Hotjar), or simply an email (using a tool like Intercom).

Here are some example questions you could use:

  • When did they decide to stick with / pay for your product?

  • What feature did they get most excited about?

  • Did they immediately see the value?

  • Did they feel lost or not know what to do?

  • Were they able to quickly be successful with your product?

Once you’ve collected responses, read through each response and look for themes - either where they faced problems (e.g. points of confusion or where they sought help) and where they found success and delight quickly.

As noted above, Aha Moments will vary by user type, especially for products with larger markets and multiple personas. When analyzing customer survey data, it’s important to group the data by persona to see if certain user types struggle or get excited about similar parts of the product. That way we can use the information to tailor their user onboarding differently if needed.

User Testing #

If you aren't able to find a clear Aha Moment from asking current customers, you can review how prospects behave when they sign-up for your product and go through the onboarding flow. You can either review this live (using a product like FullStory) or proxy this with test users (using a product like UserTesting).

You can also set up some tests independently, and simply use Google Hangouts or Zoom to watch both what users are doing AND how they are reacting. It's important to note where they ask questions, and where they progress quickly. You'll be able to ascertain times where they are pleased and delighted by their facial reactions, and you can ask further questions about these points in a follow-up conversation.

Watch Competitors #

Finally, you can also gain some ideas by watching what your competitors are doing. They're likely also trying to identify their key Aha Moments and clearly explain their value on their website, so you could utilize a similar theme if it's relevant to your product.

You can find competitors on Product Hunt, Siftery, or Capterra and sign up for free trials to experience it yourself too!

You’ll want to check in once or twice a year with competitors to see if they’ve made changes. Ideally, though you should have a good handle on the Aha Moment long before needing to check on them again.

Put the Aha Moment to the Test #

Once you've found a likely Aha Moment, you should test it to determine whether it really does correlate (and cause) long-term user engagement. Sometimes what users express in an interview may differ from how they actually behave, so testing with data is an important component to truly understanding what your UX goal should be.

Firstly, you'll want to establish correlation: does users reaching this Aha Moment link to them being more engaged. Then you'll want to establish causation — does reaching this Aha Moment make them more engaged. If you do this then you have the secret sauce to reduce churn! 🍾

Establish Correlation #

To do this, review your RETENTION data on whether users return after meeting the Aha Moment, and how this compares to your overall retention figures. However, for this, you'll need to already be tracking the Aha Moment as a product event within your analytics tool.

You'll then be able to set up a retention chart such as the one below from Amplitude. Our friends there have also written some great content on analyzing retention - check it out for more ideas.

This chart shows retention of new users by all users, those who joined a "Community", and those that didn't. You can create a similar chart with groups of users that completed your Aha Moment and those that didn't. If you notice a clear difference, as above, then it's clear that the Aha Moment product event is linked to better retention! 🎉

If You Aren’t Already Tracking The Aha Moment #

If you aren't already collecting data on this Aha Moment product event, then you won't be able to conduct this analysis. You have two option: (A) instrument your product to collect this data and wait to assess this or (B) skip this step and go straight to the causation analysis.

Establish Causation #

Correlation doesn't mean that users who complete that event will NECESSARILY be more engaged. The driver of both the Aha Moment and retention may be some other action or event, so trying to lead more users to Aha will not help app retention. Therefore we have to test for causation.

To do this, you need to run a live A/B test where you change something in the product and assess it against a control group.

(Note: if you are unfamiliar with A/B testing or don't have enough traffic, then you can do a serial test, where you change one thing and then measure the results and compare them against the previous period. This is not as reliable as comparing two sets of results within the same period, as with an A/B test, but is an acceptable second-place option.)

Try to drive a group of users towards the Aha Moment with an experiment and review how that impacts their retention. The best way to do this is with some in-product user guidance.

If you'd like to do this without waiting for available engineering resources, then you can use Chameleon: you can decide what content (tooltips, product tours, and other experiences) to show to which users at what points in their journey, all without writing any code.

Alternatively, you can send an email campaign to a select group of users to help drive action. After this, you should evaluate how the control group and the test group fared in retention.

If retention increased with the test group, this proves that your hypothesized Aha Moment does indeed drive user retention! If not, you can try with another idea.

Once you have proved your hypothesis, you know what your goal is and you can try much harder to drive all your users towards this key Aha Moment. 🚀

The final conclusion of the aha moment #

Knowing your Aha Moment is the secret to having successful user onboarding and better new user retention. It provides the framework for the goals you set your product team and is a systematic methodology to drive product adoption. It can and should be applied not just for new users, but for each stage in your user lifecycle and for all your product and feature adoption goals.

If you'd like to adopt this methodology then please share this post with your team and contact us if you'd like to know how Chameleon could help.

Effective engagement, made easy.