The great Peter Drucker once said that marketing has two purposes: to create and keep customers.
For digital products, such as SaaS platforms and apps, the latter is key. Yet many marketers are so focused on user acquisition they forget about retention.
According to a Harvard research, just a 5% increase in customer retention can boost profits by 25% to 95%.
In this article, I’m going to share seven user retention techniques to keep your customers loyal and sticky.
1. Use customer intelligence from your user data
Your current user base and their behaviors is a treasure trove of data. And this data can be turned into insight for better retention.
According to an MIT Technology Review study, businesses only use 0.5% of the data they collect. While this statistic can seem troubling on the surface, it presents a huge opportunity.
Customer analytics can act as a compass for your retention strategy. For example, you may find that a large percentage of users get stuck at a certain stage during the onboarding process.
With this insight, you can create content that teaches users how to overcome this hurdle at the moment they’re most likely to get stuck. Not only will this educate, but open up a conversation you can get involved with.
Analyze user behavior to assist users and discover your biggest “aha!” moments. Create content that help your users get there. The rest of this guide will show you how.
Use a customer analytics tool to begin collecting data on your users. Take this behavioral data and create user segments. Use these segments to drive your retention efforts and focus on the behaviors that present most opportunity.
Customer intelligence can optimize all areas of the business. But the lowest hanging fruit sits in your user retention strategy. Use it to assist users and educate them on key areas of your product.
2. Dig deep with customer development
Data can provide huge amounts of quantitative insight. While invaluable, this only gives you a top-level view of customer issues.
Customer development is the process of having regular interviews with your customers. It requires asking them the right questions, digging deep to discover their true pains, problems and desires.
From a marketing perspective, it can be a huge eye-opener in terms of content marketing and user retention.
Start by reaching out to your best customers. These are your top 10% of users that have a high net promoter score (NPS). They can give you the insight to understand what hooked them into your product in the first place.
Dig as deep as possible. If they tell you they signed up because of your customer service, ask them what they love most about it.
Perhaps they get most value from a particular feature. What problem does it solve for them? What did they do before they signed up?
Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove, used this methodology to talk to 500 of his customers. He learned that customers were asking for features they already had, learned more about his personas and listened to the language that helped optimize his marketing copy.
You can customize your content and onboarding processes based on this feedback. Match the challenges of certain personas to your product features. Direct them to those features as quickly as possible after sign up.
Mike Fishbein has a list of customer development questions he segments into the following areas:
- Segmentation – Understand more about the user segment, their demographic and their role within the organization (e.g. How much time do you spend on [process you’re improving]?)
- Problem discovery – Learn more about their challenges and unmet needs they may have (e.g. What could be done to improve your experience with [process/role]?)
- Problem validation – To be used if they don’t talk about the challenges you’d like to address (e.g. Tell me about the last time you [process you’re improving])
- Product siscovery – Open-ended questions to uncover ideas or validate assumptions (e.g. What would your ideal solution to this problem look like?)
- Product validation – Specific questions to help you validate an idea (e.g. What might prevent you from using this product?)
- Product optimization – These will help you improve your product or processes within it (e.g. What’s most appealing to you about this product?)
- Ending Interviews – Wrap up the conversation and get permission (e.g. Is there anything else you think I should know about that I didn’t ask?)
Surveys can also be effective if you have a large, well-established user base. Use them to validate your learnings from customer development interviews. Keep it simple, only asking necessary questions to optimize your marketing and retention.
3. Build a help center
According to a survey by Zendesk, 67% of respondents would prefer a self-service resource than speaking with a customer service rep.
Therefore, a well-stocked help center can increase customer satisfaction and improve efficiency by removing tasks that can be automated. So, how can you get started if you don’t have one?
Begin with your goals. Are you trying to remove the number of support tickets? Perhaps you want your product to become a regular part of your customers’ life?
From a retention perspective, a solid help center can empower your users to get the most from your software or app. The more value you provide, the less likely they are to churn.
You must keep it regularly updated. Documentation and detailed how-to guides should be part of your product development roadmap.
Employees must get involved too. Customer service teams are a huge source of insight here. They can provide you with the most commonly asked questions. These questions can then be answered in your help center.
Wistia’s help center provides an intuitive experience. A simple menu and a search box is all that sits above the fold. This makes it clear on what the user must do to find answers:
The rest of their help center includes categorized pages, service status and videos. It’s incredibly easy for customers to find what they’re looking for.
When building your own help center, make the experience as delightful as your product’s. This means providing your customers with the information they need as quickly as possible.
4. Send clever new feature announcements
Marketing and product teams should be working together as often as possible. This is especially true with new feature releases.
Customers will continue to engage the more education you can provide around new releases. Keep your users updated with email announcements.
InVision provide a great example. The following email gets straight to the point, using microcopy to clearly shows what the new feature does:
Furthermore, the animated featured image provides a great demonstration of how it works. This couples the announcement with what is being released and backs it up with how it works. This is visual storytelling at its simplest.
Of course, the email doesn’t tell the full story. Which is why there’s a clear and compelling call-to-action. Once clicked, you’re taken to the following blog post:
The post goes into depth on each part of the new feature. This educates customers on exactly what problem it solves, as well as how to get started.
Here’s another great example from Asana. Again, they rely on a large featured image to do most of the talking. In this case, however, they use bullet points to dive a little deeper in the email itself:
Both emails (and most great announcement emails) have the following elements in common:
- They use beautiful illustrations to do most of the storytelling
- They keep the initial email short and sweet to pique attention and generate the click
- Use detailed copy to tell the rest of the story and educate their customers on the new feature
Add another channel to your release outreach with web push notifications. These allow you reach out to send simple messages to your users via their mobile and desktop devices:
Integrate this as part of your entire product design process. Couple this effort with a well-stocked help center to ensure all bases are covered.
5. Send educational onboarding emails
When is the best time to educate new customers on your product’s features?
The answer: as soon as they sign up.
Onboarding emails are mandatory for all SaaS and app products. Educating them quickly helps them understand the value your product offers, which makes users stick faster.
According to a survey by Preact, 23% of users churn due to a poor onboarding process. This means it’s key to send the majority of your educational content early on.
The first email to send new users is the welcome email. It sets the tone for your business, introduces them to a contact and provides them with a single call-to-action.
Outbrain uses this opportunity to send their users the first in a series of training emails. It provides them with training on how to get started on various areas of their advertising platform:
This initial email provides users with a top-down guide on their dashboard. This sets the stage for future videos, which will run users through more specific features.
Onboarding emails can also be triggered by events. For example, if after a certain amount of time a user hasn’t used a certain feature (or even logged in), an email can be sent to direct them to the right place.
You can also send emails when a user begins a task but doesn’t finish it. This is an indicator that they’re unclear on how to finish a task. Trigger an email that shows them the right resource, or offers to give a helping hand.
Here’s another example from Groove on how they do this:
Once again, use customer intelligence to uncover the most common hurdles. Then create email triggers that lead users over them. Education and timing create great onboarding emails that reduce churn.
6. Run customer success webinars
As an acquisition channel, webinars can be a game changer. They have been proven to consistently provide a steady stream of conversions.
As a retention channel, however, they often go overlooked.
Educate your customers on how to get the most from your product with live webinars. Complex offerings can benefit by guiding users through each area of the product and how to use them to overcome their challenges.
BuzzSumo run regular webinars for their customers, showing them how to get the most from their platform:
Outbrain use customer success webinars to increase average spend inside their platform by 50%. Because they showed their customers how to use content discovery ads properly they were more willing to invest in them.
If you’ve done your customer research, you’ll know where to start. Provide webinars on the areas of your product users get stuck with the most.
Upload a recording to your help center. This will give you a source of evergreen content that will continue to delight your customers.
7. Create an ambassador program
Customer loyalty isn’t just about retention. Your biggest fans are an acquisition channel waiting to be tapped into.
Referrals are great. An ambassador program that empowers and rewards your top advocates is even better.
Lululemon have one of the best retail ambassador programs around. They celebrate their biggest advocates on their home page, and give them all the tools they need to spread the word. They even bring them together at annual events, which becomes a source of user generated content:
Another relevant example comes from SendGrid. Using the Ambassador platform, they created a system that educates and empowers their advocates. They provide materials to encourage word-of-mouth while improving their own organizations at the same time.
Here are some best practices to consider when setting up your own ambassador program:
- Tell people about it – Mention it to your customers, clients and users. No matter what industry you’re in, make sure your audience knows it exists. Display it on your home page, create landing pages and include links in your marketing collateral.
- Incentivize – Be clear on what’s in it for them. Bring them to your annual events or give them free product. Use gamification mechanisms that upgrade rewards based on how many people they refer or actions they perform.
- Keep an open channel – Ambassador programs thrive on giving value. Treating your ambassadors as stakeholders is key, which means keeping a two-way conversation open. Be open to feedback and take suggestions on board. Make your advocates feel part of your brand.
Successful retention is built upon providing constant value and regular communication. Deliver the right message at the right time and you’ll foster more loyal customers.
What does your retention strategy look like? Do you have any customer loyalty systems or programs in place? Share with us in the comments below.