Great UXpectations: Lessons from Noom

What you see is what you get

Noom is one of my favorite apps at the moment. It helps people lose weight and eat better, a Weight Watchers for the millennial set. Noom’s effective techniques are backed by research and behavioral psychology. Today I’d like to focus specifically on how Noom uses expectations to shape their user journey, and in a way that feels ethical.

What to expect?
Expectation setting is a valuable technique used in a variety of domains, from education to sales, to help people reach their goals. Any UX designer will tell you that it’s core to what they do, i.e. communicate why a product exists, how it should work, and what value it provides. What I especially like about this technique it is nearly free and easy to implement with words and images, emails and websites—tools available to every nonprofit and startup.

Who can use this technique?
Any organization attempting to recruit people. I see this as especially helpful for orgs that ask big commitments of its users. Commitments like starting a newsletter (Substack), learning a new language (Duolingo), mentoring someone (Code 2040), or even counseling people (Crisis Text Line). Product people call these long conversion funnels.

At CTL, one of our most successful retention tactics involved clarifying expectations about our volunteer commitment to be “4 hours a week” to bolster average monthly shifts per user (one of our KPIs). This resulted in an increase from 3.75 average monthly shifts to 4.45, or 7200 hours and 12,000 additional conversations.

A look at Noom’s onboarding
Expectation setting is particularly effective before embarking on a journey. Noom does an exceptionally good job doing just that during its onboarding and first few lessons. Here are some lessons you can apply in your CX journeys:

  1. Lead with the commitment: Noom tells you up front that you have to commit 10 minutes a day. Easy. Tell people exactly what you need from them (set the expectation) and, crucially, ask them to be accountable (make them commit).

2. Tell a story with your user journeys: People hold on to narratives. This graphic helps users understand the educational course and see their personal journey ahead. Crucially, it breaks a large goal (weight loss) into small stages that can be accomplished incrementally. “Ten minutes a day” keeps you on way.

3. Create a sense of identity: From the very first lesson, you’re branded a Noom Novice. As you progress through the journey, you evolve from Apprentice to Advanced to Master. This reinforces the incremental journey, it helps you find peers in the community, and it reshapes how you think of yourself. It’s like how Instagram calls its influencers “Creators” or Soul Cycle its customers “athletes.” Identities stick.

4. Empower with numbers: Be creative with how you use data. Use it to help users to understand their own behaviors and imagine positive outcomes: “Noomers who graduate to a Noom Apprentice are 2.8x more likely to reach their goal weight”

5. Be transparent about your tactics: Be honest. I love how in this lesson about motivation, Noom admits that its own “Goal Specialists” use positive reinforcement to help you eat more green foods. Transparency doesn’t undermine impact.

Putting it all together
Together, the tactics reinforce each other and push the user forward in a way that is respectful and not manipulative, like so many nudges and growth tactics can be. What was initially a daunting goal of losing weight is made easier, achievable, and intelligible. Noom’s onboarding clarifies expectations, presents a journey with milestones, provides a sense of identity, affirms behaviors with data, and admits to its own tactics.

In a future post, I’ll show you how we’ve applied similar tactics at CTL to motivate our users to complete training (2–6 weeks), volunteer every week (4 hours) and eventually graduate to be “alumni” (200+ hours).

Product Director @ Crisis Text Line