April 26, 2024
min read

Leveraging User Motivations For A More Effective Onboarding: Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence

The design of onboarding by Customer Success managers for SaaS should leverage a deeper understanding user needs and motivations to drive usage. According to the self-determination theory of motivation, humans have 3 fundamental needs. Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence. People are motivated to do what they need to meet these needs. Teams managing customer accounts in the SaaS space should understand this to design effective and efficient onboarding, training and support process that can take users from complete amateurs to power users.

Written by

Marc Chia

The design of onboarding can encompass UXUI design relating to onboarding on an application but it extends beyond that. It can also relate to off application onboarding moments such kick-off meetings, training or support. In order to effectively design these moments that collectively form the onboarding journey Customer Success managers need to understand the fundamental needs of users, namely: Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence. Based on the self-determination theory of motivation, people are motivated to do what they need to meet these needs. Accordingly a good understanding enables us to design effective and efficient methods for deliver that can take users from complete amateurs to power users. So what exactly are these in detail and what do they mean for us?


Autonomy is the freedom to make choices that aligns with your values rather than being forced to do things that are dictated by others. Building autonomy into our products means giving users options and we don’t force them to do things if we don’t need to. In real world onboarding and training terms this means we should offer modularized training that is delivered at the point of need. This can be done in a variety of ways for example through training sessions, onboarding guides, FAQs or in-application walkthroughs.

The means of delivery and the philosophy of delivery ideally in a on-demand manner are the key to enabling autonomy. This may mean a 3 hour training session that fully walks users through a product can be transformed into three 1 hour sessions that go through the same material but spaced out and applied when the project manager is satisfied user groups have reached the required level of competence to proceed to more complex use cases. At a more granular level, learning management systems which offer on-demand training or digital adoption platforms that provide just-in-time guidance can serve the same functions to individuals as opposed to groups segmented by function.


Relatedness refers to feeling supported by others and that they are understood. It is why so many people seek out therapist but this can also relate to how users learn to use systems. Users that are not supported or understood are liable to stop using systems and just give up completely.

Relatedness can be leveraged in 2 ways by Customer Success teams.

First, companies can produce content that is directly related to user needs and delivered at the point of need. This can mean leaving off the constant barrage of content that most users do not relate to. Irrelevant messaging is the surest sign that tech solutions neither care nor understand their needs. If possible, targeting content based on user segmentation can better address user wants and needs.

Second, Customer Success teams can create ways for users to connect and relate to one another. This means taking the focus off products and instead focusing on meaningful communication. Some ways this can be done is engaging with customers through social platforms and means of engagement that deliberately encourage communication between customers. For example running a podcast featuring customers can help engage other customers. Setting up forums, messaging channels or customer reward platforms etc. are all ways of generating interaction between customers and thereby create a community.


Competence means that someone can successfully succeed when engaged in a task. Helping people become competent users of our products is the ultimate end goal for teams hoping to drive usability. A good way of thinking of competence from the perspective of Customer Success is that users progressively increase in competence and the design of onboarding should include touchpoints at the appropriate times to support this. Delivering complex user onboarding material covering niche or advanced use cases to a new user is likely to make them confused and disappointed. They do not have the depth of knowledge yet in order for this to be relevant for them. Just as you would not teach a grade schooler about quantum science, similarly the learning material for a new user would be different for a power user.

Customer Success teams must recognize that users are unlikely to read manuals in-depth before using a product.  Thus, there is no substitute for usability via UXUI design. However timely delivery of training based on user needs and increasing user competence can be a great tool to convert users into champions of your product.

For example, in a e-signing platform for a new user getting to the end point of requesting a signature may be the most important. For a more mature user, complex use cases such as the order of signing or other proof of identity such as company seals/personal seals may be important. For an expert level user, they may be interested in tracking overall efficiency of signing in terms of analytics on signing and documents processed. Scaling learning material with level of competence builds user confidence through small wins. This is an important tool to enable users to scale their learning from amateur's into experts.


Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence are important factors that answer why certain teams are able to successfully drive digital adoption while others fail despite having similar products. Buying a product is only the first part of every digital transformation journey, managing the adoption to raise usability, increase the return on investment for customers and ideally to delight users while doing so is central to the concept of product stickiness and user churn. After all, we continue using the products we know and love and maximise our needs.

If you are interested in using in-application overlays to create just-in-time user walkthroughs check us out at Usertip or follow us on Linkedin for more tips to drive user adoption. Usertip is the first Southeast Asia digital adoption platform designed to help scale your onboarding, training and support for digital solutions. Operating from Singapore, Indonesia and Australia our no-code platform delivers in-application walkthroughs directly on your digital solutions. Seamless user experience and on-demand learning are all delivered to your user’s fingertips within seconds. Click here to find out more.

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