The two pillars of a customer development life-cycle is customer acquisition and the ability to retain those users.
User retention is as important a factor in your product’s success because it tells you what aspect of your product is your customer engaged with and what makes them leave your product for another.
Knowing what works and what doesn’t can help you decide what your next steps in product iteration are, or whether you need to pivot.
We interviewed founders and experts and asked them about the key strategy they use for user retention in their apps.
#1 Make the experience for the users count
Build SMS or Push Notifications into the fabric of the experience. Design the product such that the service you offer REQUIRES high touch and the customer will willingly accept a steady and thoughtful notification stream. Apps and services that use well designed notification systems as a CRM tool are generally a sticker than a similar service that does not use mobile CRM through SMS or Push. If you’re designing a game – make a game that has a daily ( or whatever ) cadence of “check-in” at the core of it’s design. If you’re making a service, imagine an ongoing ( and respectful! ) dialog with the customer from the beginning.
Of course there’s another way to think about retention. This, I learned as a young game designer at Activision: Make it valuable experience and they’ll stay around. Unfortunately there’s no blog post that can make you a great designer. 😉
#2 Give your users a reason to return
I have come to believe that content is king and all the tricks in the world (that improve retention x%) can’t save an app that is just plain uninteresting. The best way to keep retention is to create something people use almost everyday, and when they do return, provide them with fresh and pertinent information they’ll want to come back to.
To get there, you must track and test variations of that “fresh information” you provide so you can determine which pieces of data are most pertinent to your users. Only then will the growth hacking and retention tricks have an impact. Otherwise, you are working against your users, and the retention tricks you employ will feel like a slog.
This isn’t just a tip for news apps or social apps. Even a game, or fitness tracker requires some level of freshness and pertinence to be sticky. Be creative and focus first on providing your users with information they will want to return to daily.
#3 Provide immediate value to your users
In terms of increasing app retention, I’d definitely have to say make sure your app has a strong internal trigger, is simple to use, and provides immediate value.
Users will usually use an app once they have a problem they need to solve, or an internal trigger — are they sad? bored? And when they have this internal trigger, they will look for a solution that will bring them immediate value. So you’ve got to understand why your users to using your app and how you’re going to provide a solution that is simple to use.
For Aura, one of the internal triggers we’re going after is a user’s desire to escape stress in the morning and enjoy a positive day, and we make it as easy as possible by providing a 3 minute meditation everyday based on their demographics, stress and positivity levels, and user ratings. Once your users realize that your product provides immediate value to their problem within seconds of using the app, they will come back the very next time their internal trigger goes off. If you want to make your app even more habit-forming, have your users invest in the app (put in a bit of work) to increase the chances of them returning. I highly recommend everyone looking to increase app retention read Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal.
#4 Use humor to re-engage inactive users
Use humor to re-engage inactive users.
Every customer retained is equivalent to acquiring a new customer. After all a high churn rate can completely mess up your business model. There are a lot of ways to increase retention – better onboarding, asking churned customers for feedback, more stable app etc. The one I’ll talk about is a low effort and high impact tool – Email.
There are plenty of tools like Intercom that track user activity and allow you to send triggered messages. However its effectiveness entirely depends on the kind of messages you send.
Let me give you an example.
We at Taskworld send an email to users if they have been inactive for a week. This is what we used to send a few months ago.
Looks like every other standard slipping away email, doesn’t it?
Now think about it — the person who is getting this email hasn’t used your application in weeks, probably hasn’t even opened most of your emails. Is this the kind of email that will get him back? Short answer — no.
So we changed to a new one.
The second email (Are you in the Maldives?) got us 3X more engagement than the previous one (We miss you at Taskworld). It shouldn’t be that surprising. After all to get someone’s interest back, you need to sound interesting not needy. Humor is a sure shot way to impress people. So don’t be afraid to break the norms and get creative with your content.
#5 Provide relevant content to engage and retain the users
Andrew Haller, founder at Nagbot (by AirDev)
Content is king: feed your users new and relevant content to engage and retain them
A beautiful and intuitive interface can delight your users when they first open your app. But what happens next? People may come for the design, but they stay for the content. In order to hold onto your precious users, you need to keep them engaged by feeding them new and relevant content.
A few tricks can ensure users get the right content:
- News feed: Within your app, create a ‘feed’ for users that features new content created by other users or by the app editors
- Email digest: Send a daily/weekly digest featuring new content teasers with links back to the app
- Reminders: When a user interacts with content but doesn’t quite follow through, remind them a day or two later just in case they forgot
#6 Surprise and delight your users
“Find that perfect moment to surprise and delight your users.”
If you want to design an amazing app, you need to get UX design right. If you want to get UX design right, you need to understand user behavior. If you want to understand user behavior, dig into user psychology and examine where behavior really comes from in the brain. While every user is unique, we all share evolutionarily-ancient brain structures and reflexes in common. And understanding these will help you build insanely better apps. One of the most consistently successful ways to hook users is to design variable reinforcement and reward into your app in response to user behavior. If you can create a UX that surprises and delights your users at the perfect moment, they’ll come back more often and stay in your app longer. That little 💥 doesn’t just make them feel great – it actively rewires parts of their brain to turn your app into a habit. This approach requires care and insight, but the returns on creating a habit-forming app can be huge!