Don’t Depend on Engineering to Boost App User Retention

Written by 
Deirdre Mahon

If you wait for engineers to improve this part of the user onboarding experience, it could be too late.

For SaaS companies, app user retention is everything. Keep users, and you’ll grow. Experience churn, and you’ll struggle. 

Here at Simpo, we are constantly thinking about the strategies and frameworks that will drive retention. For example, we’ve written on how mere acquisition is not enough. We’ve also discussed the importance of customer effort. From the top-level, here’s what we know for certain: high-quality in-app guidance translates directly to user retention. However, here’s the challenge:

Too many companies rely on engineering to provide in-app guidance to users. 

Why is this an issue? Because engineering teams are often too busy working on high-priority tasks and feature rollouts to consider in-app guidance. 

However, customer success (CS) teams no longer need to rely on engineering and resources to boost app user retention. With the right platform, CS teams can be empowered to implement in-app information and helpful content themselves, and give users what they truly need. They have the power and capability to affect their users’ journeys in a positive way, whilst working in collaboration with the product management to stay in lockstep, providing the right feedback on what’s working versus what’s not. 

The Importance of In-App Guidance to App User Retention

Customer success and support teams working to onboard users very much rely on how intuitive the product is. If these teams want to conduct low-touch or tech-touch methods to engage users, they need a product that has built-in walkthroughs, announcements and (ideally) access to help and online support. 

In straightforward terms, in-app guidance is important throughout the SaaS customer journey, because:

  1. It is key to good onboarding
  2. From an optimized onboarding experience, adoption follows. And adoption feeds directly into retention. 

Here is an example of how to retain app users with effective in-app guidance and walkthroughs, drawn from real Simpo users:

The Burden of Depending on Engineering

Until recently, the UI and UX work required for in-app walkthroughs and guidance needed coding and engineering resources. CS teams don’t typically have these types of  skills, so they have no choice but to ask for engineering help. The reality is that most product and engineering teams would not invite any other teams to code in the product because it’s outside the bounds of the role but more importantly it could negatively impact other code and as a result cause an outage or performance degradation.

Net-net, leaning on engineers to spend cycles creating better onboarding and adoption is not the best approach. Why?

Engineers are too busy rolling out actual product features that are requested by users or to stay competitive in the market. 

An engineering team would typically spend less time perfecting in-app walkthroughs. Sometimes, engineers incorporate onboarding guides, but unless it's part of their regular release cycle, this can be spotty or inconsistent over time. 

It's costly for engineers to spend cycles on this part of the product. It also delays release timing, which doesn't help the company's market competitiveness, or even the satisfaction of existing users that need a particular feature yesterday. 

Moreover, engineers are rarely on the front lines with customers who struggle to learn and adopt. This makes it difficult to pass on the true voice or experience of the user. 

Even if engineers had the time to help CS teams achieve all their in-app onboarding and retention goals – this isn’t their core competence. 

Relying on engineers tends to make the guidance features more piecemeal – perhaps relating to one particular release or feature being deployed, and not taking a holistic view across the entire user journey. This approach may not take into account the different user segments or the push/pull value of both helping users and letting them help themselves.

Walmart, for example, was spending thousands of engineering hours on guidance features and change management, which should have gone to developing core features for their site. Neat, a financial accounting services company, was seeing a poor app user retention rate, but developers were overtaxed to help with creating in-app guidance.

The solution? Let CS teams solve their app user retention challenges themselves. 

Providing In-App Guidance Without Engineering Resources

If you wait for engineers to improve this part of the user onboarding experience, it could be too late. Typically, it takes low conversions and churn to really get the attention of engineers and other broader teams. Waiting for this bad situation to take action is never a good idea. It hurts your brand and can be very damaging, especially for young startups with limited resources and time

The answer is a no-code platform that allows CS teams to fully customize and optimize in-app guidance. An effective platform should:

  1. Allow CS, product and other teams to create and customize their own in-app guidance systems based on the true voice of the customer.
  2. Offer targeted announcements, short and easy-to-follow walkthroughs, and context-driven NPS surveys.
  3. Enable GTM teams to integrate their external knowledge base, allowing users to help themselves, when they most need it, inside the app.
  4. Empower teams to fully embrace segmentation, and offer maximum personalization.

Adopting this platform allowed Walmart and Neat to improve their app user retention rates by creating smart walkthroughs, delivering targeted announcements, enabling quick searches, and more. 

Neat welcoming users with a Simpo Announcement.
Simpo Quick Search providing an option for the user to take a Walkthrough.
Playing a Simpo Walkthrough.

For Walmart, this resulted in a 23% decrease in support tickets, and about 7,800 engineering hours saved annually. They are also a lot faster now in terms of making changes to the in-app guidance process, as they are no longer constrained by core-feature sprints. 

Neat, on the other hand, saw a whopping 55% decrease in support tickets, with user satisfaction at an all-time high. New users now adopt the product easily (up to two times faster than usual), and the company has saved about 2,000 hours of dev work.

Leverage the Right App User Retention Strategies Now

When you rely on engineering to deliver in-app guidance, it's slower, more costly, inconsistent, and hurts the business. Moreover, you want engineers focusing on the actual product. In-app guidance isn’t their core expertise, so it’s wise to not force it on them.

Empower GTM teams including product managers, customer success and growth to own this aspect, and everyone wins. Users get a better experience throughout the onboarding journey, so that when renewal time comes, it’s a no-brainer. Give teams the right solutions and tools to make a real impact on the business. When customer facing teams are  ‘on the hook’ to drive adoption, upsells, and renewals, they need all the tools they can get to help achieve that.

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