Retention Rules: How Product Managers Drive User Engagement

Written by 
Maxwell Smith-Gee

Draw a shared picture of the full customer journey and shine light on the best inflection points to gain traction.

Understand the full customer journey

As a product manager, you obsess about delivering value to your users. You’re always focused on making roadmap decisions that will keep them around. Of course, winning against the competition is a big driver, but you’re zeroed in on your DAU and MAU. 

Sometimes, being laser focused on what comes next makes it difficult to keep the end-to-end customer journey front and center in all your decisions. It’s not that you don’t consider the user's world, but keeping tuned in to your customer’s evolving needs can be hard. 

You need to rely on colleagues in customer success, sales, and marketing to be your eyes and ears. And that can leave you a step removed from understanding when in their journey a feature benefits users the most. 

However, “Customer success is not just product usage.” As Lincoln Murphy writes, “It’s when your customers achieve their Desired Outcome (what they need to achieve, the way they want to achieve it).” 

That’s why customer feedback - both anecdotal and data-driven - is critical to making sound product decisions. 

Your next sprint is going to get mixed up with business goals, demands from partners or specific customers, and quickly feel like a heavy bag of diverse requests. We’ve all been there. 

And while a clear product vision and a prioritization framework are your best friends to get all stakeholders agreeing on a plan, these alone will fall short of addressing friction in your customers day-to-day experience. The voice of the customer has to be integrated into that framework to keep customers engaged and coming back to your product. 

As Neil James, COO of ReviewPro said in a recent Gainsight article: 

“Feedback from customers must travel from the success team to product to ensure the application continues to evolve. It’s the only way it remains cutting-edge".

Read on to learn how you can seamlessly integrate the customer journey into your workflow to increase user engagement and lift retention.

Bring an outside-in perspective

If you rely too heavily on data to guide decisions, you can end up glossing over what’s causing friction for your users. To get the full picture, you need to tap into your actual user base. After all, there’s many humans interacting with the product, solving problems every day. 

As a product manager, it’s important to be aware of these user experiences with your product.

On paper your PRDs may be well aligned with customer demands and business goals. However by taking a step-back and looking at the big picture that encompasses the entire user journey, it’s possible that you uncover opportunities to address what’s missing in your product. 

After all, if you want users to stick around for the long haul, you need to consider the long-term view as well. That’s why we call it customer Life-time Value (LTV).

Map tasks to features & problems

With a deeper knowledge of actual user tasks, aka “jobs to be done”, you begin to spot feature gaps, or places where you need an entirely new approach, or perhaps a need for more fine-tuning and UX improvements. Imagine looking over a user’s shoulder in their daily life and witnessing how they operate inside your app. 

For complex products with different modules, or a range of use-cases involving multiple user types, it takes time to become an expert. Mapping tasks to actual features and ultimate outcomes is the journey map you need to build, over time.

Striking the balance between avoiding feature bloat and delivering features with impact is critical to success in SaaS. Without a clear understanding of a user’s end-to-end journey or ‘day in the life’, you run the risk of delivering a mixed-bag of miscellaneous features that may result in poor retention.

Paint the end-to-end user journey map

Most GTM teams go through the exercise of drawing out the full journey by customer segment. It is generally done post product-market fit, when you’re figuring out the best GTM approach or as you begin to experience scale. 

A clear, well documented picture of your customers can help you better execute story-mapping. Steve Blank’s “Get outside the building” rally-cry is a good reminder that sometimes we need to step away from all the data and roadmaps to truly feel the user’s perspective. 

We need to put ourselves in a position where we can listen carefully to the voice of the customer and build products for real-world use-cases. 

Why aren’t your features getting traction?

When certain features don’t get the expected level of adoption, it’s common to ask customer facing teams for insights. Was it communicated poorly to users? Or maybe the message isn’t resonating?

All are valid considerations, but not always the best place to begin investigation. To best address how and why features have low adoption rates, start by analyzing the feature's usage in the context of the actual journey path.

What is the ultimate goal of the feature and how easily or quickly can it deliver an outcome for your users. Is it obvious? Do users tend to abandon before completion?

Timing feature roll-outs is also super important, including how it fits with the existing UX or workflow. Distinguish between ‘is this the right feature for this user type now’ or ‘is this feature for an advanced user that should be available to only some’.

Knowing the right time to educate users about a specific feature is critical to awareness and adoption. The first step in addressing an underutilized feature is knowing the right time to educate. Ask, ‘when is this feature solving customers' problems or removing friction in their workflow’

Extend feature management concepts to in-app communication 

Consider how the practice of feature management decouples the release of a feature to its delivery to a segment of the user base. This helps you rollout features in a controlled manner, without relying on additional engineering resources. 

With tighter control, you get early feedback, which reduces risk and wasted resources. Most teams shoot for alpha, beta and general roll-outs, but more often plans don’t follow the desired timelines. As Janna Bastow shared on The Product Experience, timelines are the problem

“No-one ever delivers on time. I’ve seen a million roadmaps and talked to a million product people. I’ve never seen anyone make up arbitrary deadlines and deliver on-time. It gets someone off our back but creates false deadlines.”  

In-app communication enables you to rapidly deploy tests to drive engagement across the customer journey. This is because, like feature management, it allows you to do so outside of the ever expanding product roadmap timeline.

Make users aware - at the right time - with in-app communication

To experiment with the customer journey and the milestone inflection points, start by looking at both qualitative and quantitative data. Ask CSMs what they are hearing and of course their own gut feelings. Then develop in-app communications to see if the timing of your communication makes an impact.

By leaning on this data, you will make better decisions on when and how to introduce particular features to distinct segments. If it’s an early journey feature for new users, then it requires a certain communication approach. A later stage feature for say expert users may require a series of onboarding steps including a dedicated webcast with a CSM. 

With the customer journey map as your north star, you start to think about features in much broader terms. You begin to ask not just will this provide customer value, but when

In-app announcements and guides help product managers to inform users at the right points in their journey. Integrating this practice into your frameworks puts human-ness back in your roadmap, gets you outside the building and much closer to your user’s day-to-day.

Stay tuned for the 3rd in our Retention Rules series where we’ll dive into how Customer Success and Product Management work much closer to deliver quality interactions at every touch.