The Only User Re-Engagement Strategy You Will Ever Need
How should I bring the disengaged users back to my product?
If this question is keeping you up at night – it well should.
Declining user engagement is a slippery slope to churn – every Product Manager’s greatest nightmare.
You can have thousands of sign-ups in a month but if the users don’t actually activate or use the app after the 30-day trial mark…you know what happens.
The good news is, there are some pretty effective ways of bringing back disengaged users.
The bad news is: there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’, cookie-cutter method. If you’ve googled it and run into one of those ’47 ways how to…’ listicles written by people who most likely don’t have a clue what they are talking about – they’re just like those ‘magic weight-loss pills’.
Applying generic tactics to user disengagement is like taking painkillers for recurrent headaches – if you don’t eventually go to a doctor to investigate the cause, you may be well putting your health at risk.
So – in this post, we are going to show you how to ‘diagnose’ the reasons for user disengagement, how you can properly identify your disengaged users in Userpilot, and what tactics to apply to each segment of disengaged users to bring them back to your product – both in-app and outside of it.
All based on our own (or – well – our users’) experience.
And if you feel you’d rather talk to someone about it than read a blog post and try to figure it out yourself – jump on a free call with our product expert!
Before we start: here’s a handy menu so you can jump straight to a relevant section.
No time to read? Here’s a summary:
- Disengaged users are people who are still using your app but their activity has significantly dropped or they could be more engaged compared to other users.
- Retaining disengaged users is much more cost-effective than acquiring new ones
- Spot the disengaged users in your product with your analytics tool, create a hypothesis for why they are leaving, diagnose the symptoms for their disengagement, segment by cause, and choose the right tactics for each segment.
- The quickest way to bring them back is a combination of email outreach and in-app experiences, depending on their reasons for disengagement and level of disengagement (are they still logging in at all?)
Who are disengaged users?
A disengaged user – as the name itself suggests – is someone who is still using your product, but is not as engaged as they could be (or used to be!). Why? Well, that’s a great question (that I will try to answer in this post!)
There are several possible reasons: the disengaged user may have missed your product’s core value (aka never hit the ‘activation point’). Or maybe they got the initial value, but have not progressed beyond the ‘basics’.
They may be open to switching over to a competitor or are considering canceling their subscription.
Why is it important to bring disengaged users back?
There are times when users don’t always get your product on the first try.
Maybe they became overwhelmed when they signed up.
It doesn’t mean that you should give up on them.
Here are a few good reasons to re-engage users that are slipping away:
- Increasing your retention rates by just 5% can increase profit rates by 25% to 95% (see this study by the inventor of the net promoter score if you don’t believe me!).
- It’s cheaper than acquiring new customers-Anywhere from 5% to 25% according to Harvard Business Review
- Disengaged users are the first sign that there may be roadblocks in your user journey. There may not be as clear a path to your key activation points as you thought and these bad experiences will continue to affect any new users (accumulating churn over time).
You should now know who disengaged users are, and why you should work on bringing them back – let’s see how you should bring them back effectively!
How to identify disengaged users?
So, after understanding that disengaged users have not completely jumped ship yet and it is much more cost-effective to retain them then trying to get new users, you may be wondering:
How can you tell which users are disengaged without having to call each one up?
You will know when you see them (in your user analytics tool, e.g. Heap, or in Userpilot’s Users section):
– the gaps between their logins may be getting longer and longer…
– …and they may be logging in less and less frequently;
– or their web sessions may be getting shorter…
– or they are doing fewer things (using a limited number of features) compared to the ‘power users’: the people who couldn’t live without your app.
You should know what the ideal behavior is for your users. Any discrepancies in a portion of your user base are red flags for users becoming disengaged.
This is the moment when you should develop a hypothesis for the reason why your users are becoming disengaged.
Next, we will explore exactly to define the symptoms of disengagement. How to segment your users based on meeting these criteria. Why you should avoid automatic segmentation, and the most common reasons for disengagement.
1. Use common sense to define ‘symptoms’ & segment
The same way you identify your Key Activation Points – Think about what behavior patterns or “symptoms of disengagement” are in your product.
Make a list of the most important behavior patterns for your users. These can be in-app events (or lack thereof), login frequency or time between events. Any ‘anomaly’ from your ‘normal’ user behavior pattern may indicate your users are becoming disengaged.
You can detect these aberrations in your user analytics tool (e.g. Heap):
E.g. If your product is designed to be used daily (for instance – a language learning app like Duolingo), less frequent logins may be a sign of disengagement.
Or if your product serves a specific core purpose – e.g. scheduling social media posts – then if you see that a certain group of users have not been performing this action lately – they may be slipping away.
After listing all the ‘symptoms’, choose the relevant filters in your analytics or user engagement tool to see how many of your users fall into this category:
Then – save the users that meet these criteria into a new segment.
Give it a relevant name that best describes the ‘type’ of disengaged users in this segment.
As you may have noticed by this point: it is possible to discern several ‘levels’ of disengagement. As well as several ‘types’ of disengaged users based on different reasons.
The easiest way to deal with these variations is to assign names based on how severe the symptoms are – or in other words, how close they are to churn.
“Highly Disengaged Subscribed Users” or “Moderately Disengaged New Users” all work to set a spectrum for each new segment you create.
Once you have your segments set up, you can go a step further by tracking specific key features within your app. Watch how often each segment interacts with them (you can find this option in both Heap and Userpilot.)
2. Avoid Automatic User Segmentation for disengaged users
If your analytics/engagement tool offers automatic user segmentation – you may be even able to see which users are slipping away without setting up segments first.
Intercom offers a done-for-you ‘slipping away’ segment, defining of “Slipping Away users” as:
“Users that were last seen more than 10 days ago AND less than 60 days ago”
Obviously, this one-size-fits-all method of identifying disengaged users can be misleading…and doesn’t really help in most cases:
– e.g. what if you’re looking at users of accounting software that are using the tool only once per month to issue invoices and reconcile accounts?
Same with the pre-defined segments offered by Profitwell:
In this case, it is not even possible to unpack the ‘activity’ segments and see what they really stand for.
If you choose this route – you will then need to identify common patterns among these pre-defined segments to understand the reasons behind disengagement.
So – it can only be helpful if you have a very complex product, and don’t know where to start.
3. Use the symptoms and the segmented behavior to identify the reasons and degree of disengagement
By now, you should be right on your way to confirming your hypothesis of why a segment of users are disengaged.
Hint: It is not because they forgot their user id.
For your reference, we have included the three most common reasons why users become disengaged.
Lack of activation (users stuck at the New User Onboarding stage)
Users, who have not become fully activated,
a) They have not reached the ‘AHA moment’ (They don’t see the value in your product).
b) They have not reached all activation points.
c) Example: A social media scheduler has two activation points, linking accounts and scheduling their first post. Users may have added an account, but they have not scheduled any posts.
Getting Stuck in the user journey at ‘basic user’ (They are only using your core features)
The ‘stuck’ users have become activated, but only just – unlike advanced and pro users, have not progressed beyond the basic, ‘core’ functionality.
Which also means they are not getting as much value out of your product as your power users. And if you’re not getting value, why would you keep coming back?
‘Stuck users’ are usually characterized by two things:
a) may have not received any Secondary Onboarding and have no information about new features.
b) don’t know how secondary features can also solve their business needs.
For example: A content management platform keeps getting requests from their users to add features that already existed within the app.
Invited users in a company account who did not get New User Onboarding
These users need to be onboarded separately and will quickly churn if they can’t figure out your product.
Example: Imagine you work as a Product Marketing Manager in a company and you are using Userpilot. When you leave, and a new PMM replaces you, will they get new user onboarding? (Most companies don’t account for such a use case).
Now that you know the most common reasons for disengagement you can cross-reference them with your initial hypothesis and what your data is telling you.
Each reason will have specific metrics that indicate something has gone awry in their user journey. You are ready to start bringing them back.
How to bring back disengaged users?
If this question is also keeping you up at night (and it should – because if they’ve stopped using your product, it’s the first sign they are going to churn), I’ve got some news for you: good and bad.
Let’s start with the good: there are ways of bringing your ‘slipping-away’ users back to the user journey and preventing them from churning. It’s also easier than ‘resurrecting’ the ones that have already churned.
The bad news though?
There is no one-size-fits-all for re-engaging slipping away users as much as there is no way of curing a medical condition unless it has been diagnosed. You will never never know if that constant headache is because of the bad weather or a brain tumor, if you don’t go to the doctor.
You should adopt a different approach based on a) reason for disengagement b) degree of disengagement (lower login frequency vs. disappeared from sight completely).
Without the proper remedies – you may just end up implementing solutions that are like paracetamol for a serious medical issue.
Let’s see the tactics by each common reason to make your re-engagement campaigns really effective!
Lack of activation (Postfity Case Study)
In this example we will be talking about the specific tactics that Anna Fudali-Rohr, the Product Marketing Manager at Postfity, used to re-engage her users.
It was another dreary day, but Anna was excited. Last month they got several hundred new users (a monthly record for the social media scheduling company).
Unfortunately when she was going through the metrics she saw something that nearly made her spit out her coffee.
There were a significant number of active users with only one session. They hadn’t completed any of the activation points in that session (linking their accounts and scheduling their first post) and never returned after that.
No activation points completed, user doesn’t log in
Although, at first glance this type of user behavior may make you want to just say “These people are never going to get it.”
But don’t throw in the towel just yet. Some people may sign-up for a product and just leave the tab open on their browser – among the twenty-something others if they are like most knowledge workers.
You can bring them back in with a well-timed email that points to the key activation points and an URL that will send them straight to your onboarding process.
Since Postfity was a self-service app, there wasn’t a customer service team to personalize each message or do a personal call like a more sales-led organization.
So, Anna segmented her disengaged users in Userpilot based off the number of web sessions and labeled them “Highly disengaged new users”
This is never a good sign
She then went about setting up an automatic email for all the users in the segment that looked like this:
We are so happy to have you onboard Postfity and we can’t wait to start helping you automate your social media posting.
We noticed that you still haven’t linked your account or scheduled your first post (No worries if you forgot!)
You can link your account here and then when you are ready you can schedule your first post here.
We look forward to seeing your first post!
Product Marketing Manager
When the users clicked either link they got thrown right back into the new onboarding process she had created using Userpilot – more on that shortly.
She immediately started seeing an increase in sessions for that segment when checking on the results a week after the email was sent.
Some activation points completed, user logs in, but has not reached full activation
The worst time you can show up to a presentation is 5 minutes late. By that time you already miss the point and start day-dreaming.
The same goes for your onboarding process. If your users miss or skip the onboarding process because it is unengaging, then there is a good chance they will miss your activation point.
Anna found that another segment of the new signups didn’t use the app in the last 7 days. They did not complete the current onboarding process .They didn’t even schedule a post (their activation point). Strange that no one found value in this:
She named the segment “Moderately disengaged new users” and created a new onboarding process that was tailored to help them reach both activation points.
First they created a modal that would segment the users into their specific use case.
This modal made the onboarding process feel more personal and also added more information in Postfity’s database for future campaigns/in-app experiences.
Regardless of the option they chose, each onboarding led to both activation points of Postfity and showed their current progress towards their goal.
Depending on if they had already completed a step in the onboarding, they would get a green check mark and show their progress towards knowing how to use the app (becoming activated).
Once they finished the onboarding and scheduled their first post, they would receive a modal congratulating them on their success. This would give the user a sense of satisfaction and inspire them to keep using the app. She even added a discount code to convert some users into paying customers!
Getting stuck in the user journey at ‘basic user’ (Kommunicate case study)
We all have that one tool in our chrome bar that we use for one specific task. The minute that tool stops providing any value, we are already on the next demo tour of the next hottest app on Product Hunt.
Parth, the Product Marketing Manager of Kommunicate, a company that makes AI chatbots, noticed a portion of paying customers in his segmentation who had reached their activation point but were using the app very sparingly.
Maybe a couple sessions every few months and they hadn’t signed in for more than a week.
They had installed the app and built their first bot (their key activation points) but were not using any of the secondary features of the app.
In fact, customer support was getting constant requests for features that already existed in the product.
Users didn’t know what else they could do with the app. They most likely would cancel their subscription once they found another chatbot they felt had more capabilities.
It was obvious the users weren’t using the features because they had no way they could learn about them.
Parth devised a way to motivate them to invest time and make sure the disengaged users had a reason to check out the other features.
Kommunikate’s User Re-Engagement Strategy
They started with this follow up email to re-engage the segment:
If they clicked any of the links, they were met with a micro survey to understand their user persona. It was focused on their role and specific use case for the product just like in Postfity.
Based on the option they chose, Parth was able to create a hypothesis for which features could be suggested for the user. To help them get more value out of the product and get them closer to the ideal behavior pattern.
He then set about experimenting with in-app experiences that would push each user to adopting the secondary features and increasing their in-app time.
With each new feature they started using, they would go through a tool-tip walkthrough that would guide them through every aspect of the feature. Once they completed the walkthrough they would become “pros” and receive success messages that congratulated them for their feature adoption.
Speaking of feature adoption – why don’t you sing up to our Product Adoption School to see how you can improve it? This self-paces email course is free:
They would even receive challenges for testing out different aspects of the product and reflect their progress through checklists. (This is what we call gamification, by the way!)
This is known as the Zeigarnik effect which is the fact that people can remember incomplete tasks far better than ones they had finished.
Your user will remember that they still haven’t gone through a checklist and will be far more likely to complete it if they can see their progress in real-time.
Invited users in a company account who did not get New User Onboarding (Userpilot Case Study)
In this example we will use our own product as a reference – yes even though we like to tout our own horns, we too have experienced some disengaged users.
We noticed that several companies had multiple team members that were using our product. There was an interesting phenomenon where we couldn’t figure out why a user would use all of our features and really impressed us with the experiences they built in their apps.
Then all of a sudden, a new team member would join the account and their activity became close to non-existent. We realized that these new team members were taking over for the previous user but had no new user onboarding.
It was like being the backup for a star-footballer when you were just learning how to kick a football.
So we set up an option to see how many people were using our product from a company.
We then set up an event trigger for any user that joined because they had signed up through the “invited by a member of the team” option. This user would get the standard onboarding process of any new user so that they could continue the success of their previous teammate.
If you do not have a multiple seats model in your app you could trigger a micro survey. It can ask the person if this is their first rodeo anytime you have multiple users with the same generic email domain.
Wrapping things up
Bringing back disengaged users isn’t easy. In fact, it takes careful analysis, accurate diagnosis and appropriate action. The tools you use and your product experience will decide if users continue to be active or ultimately subscribe to another solution.
In this post we covered these important aspects to re-engage those users slipping away.
- What is a disengaged user
- Why it is important to retain disengaged users
- How to create a disengagement hypothesis
- How to identify the disengaged users
- How to diagnose the reasons for user disengagement
- What tactics to apply to each segment of disengaged users to bring them back to your product – both in-app and outside of it.
We hope this post proves as useful for you as what we’ve learned over the years for our customers. If you want to benefit from our experience too – without any strings attached – get a free demo to get started!
About the author: Mark Gregory is a content marketing manager at Userpilot.
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