Every customer success professional will be acutely aware of how important it is to get customers to use their product. It might seem like stating the obvious, but if a customer isn’t using your product or service to its full potential, they might not feel it's worth investing their hard-earned dosh.

A low-adoption rate is one thing, but unengaged customers left to their own devices may decide to cancel their subscription. Success in adoption is determined by how often and how effectively your customer uses your product.

In fact, the fate of product adoption is entwined with product value. Without understanding the value of a product, adoption won’t be uptaken – and vice versa.

Without adoption, you’re not driving value for the customer, which really is the point behind customer success. But don’t just take our word for it, global CS experts champion this key observation too.

Rahul Gokhale, Senior Customer Success Manager at Microsoft in the APAC region, made this acute observation in this presentation at our first APAC Customer Success Festival in October 2021:

“Customers are successful if they are realizing value from your product or solution. The value that's realized depends on adoption and usage. If you're not using the system, if it's sitting idle, you're not really realizing value from it.”

But how can you drive product adoption and realize product value?

In this article, we’ll address what product adoption exactly is, and provide you with our five top ways to get your customers to use your product. We will specifically examine:

  1. Establish goals and milestones
  2. Engage with your customers with in-app messaging
  3. Create a community of users
  4. Conduct NPS and collect feedback
  5. Segment your customer base

But let’s kick things off by outlining what adoption actually is.

Why is product adoption important?

Imagine buying a new, high-end cell phone. You’ve blitzed through the introductory tour but something’s not clicking. You might’ve set it up just fine, but after the first day or so your usage is pretty minimal.

Sure, you’re using it to take the odd photo, chat to your family over WhatsApp, or send your buddies cash over Venmo, but let’s face it, you’re just not getting the most out of it.

There could be a tonne of cool features completely unknown to you. The reason being? You aren’t aware of them because you haven’t been shown the best ways to use the phone.

The scenario we described above crops up all the time in the world of SaaS. In fact, you could make the argument that the stakes are even higher with a subscription-model business.

With a subscription, the customer is able to cancel at any point, putting them firmly in the driver’s seat. If your customer isn’t adequately using your product and/or service, then you open them up to leaving your customer base and defeating any chance of upsells or renewals.

This power shift is articulated perfectly by Jason Noble, VP of Global Customer Success at Vinli, Inc.:

“Over the last decade or so we’ve seen a real big shift back to the ‘age of the customer’. We’re really seeing the power go back into the hands of customers. Customers are no longer tied to us with long-term contracts or heavy upfront investments.
Instead, they're often on subscription-type models when they have the option to upgrade or simplify their package as they see fit. This risk of no engagement has moved from the customer to the supplier.
To minimize this risk, we've got to really focus on value and make sure that we're delivering what the customers want. More importantly, what do the customers need? I think across all industries, we’re seeing organizations have to embrace business models where customer retention suffers because it's easy for a customer to churn.”

We’re firm believers that product adoption isn’t the responsibility of customer success. Instead, it should be a company-wide initiative to increase customer lifetime value (CLV).

Product adoption is a concern throughout the customer base and isn’t specific to new users. You might have customers who’ve been with you for years, but due to a product update, their adoption rate has dwindled.

Ultimately, if a customer isn’t getting on with your product, the actual product itself might have to be re-designed. But the only way to know how is through customer interaction and analysis. This is when customer success comes into play.

How do you measure product adoption?

Before you get into strategies, you want to identify the number of customers who’ve adopted your product. To do this, you can calculate the product adoption rate with two crucial bits of information.

  1. New engaged users - The number of users who have signed up and completed various key actions in a set period
  2. New signups - The number of people who have recently subscribed to a product in a set period.

With these two figures, you can divide the new engaged users by the total new signups.  Hey presto, you have your product adoption rate and can be integrated into your KPIs.  

Other ways you can track the success of adoption is by looking at the frequency of use, what aspects of your product are being used, and how many sessions are being spent.

Once you’re able to measure how many people have adopted your product, you can now look for ways to improve your adoption rate.

Here goes.

1. Establish milestones for your customers

If your customers aren’t properly engaging with your product, you might find there has been something lost in translation. For the sake of clarity and cohesion, the customer should know how they’ll benefit from your product during the onboarding process.

To quote Michelle Wideman, Chief Customer Officer at Onna:

“Having the ability to track and trigger usage metrics by milestones or timelines is a huge way to be more proactive with customers and ensure user adoption.”

Establishing individual milestones is an important precaution for managing customer expectations and ensuring customers aren't being left in the lurch. Each milestone breaks down the overall product goal into bitesize portions and makes the overall goal less daunting and more comprehensive.

For Bryant McCombs, Manager of Customer Success at MongoDB, it’s important to set up actionable next steps, which will give you an opportunity to validate your customer's interest in certain features and functionalities to provide momentum for follow-up discussions.

Setting personal milestones for your customers to work towards is much like having a personal trainer in a gym, says Shari Srebnick, Client Success Manager at Searchmetrics.

A good personal trainer won’t leave you to your own devices from day dot. They ask you what your overall goals are and break them down into manageable steps, all the while supporting you and celebrating each individual success along the way.

“You’re there to remind them that it’s a long game, and they’re not going to reach their goals all at once. You’re there to praise them for each milestone cleared every step of the journey. It’s that sense of accomplishment, as the end goal becomes clearer, that's going to motivate the customer to continue on this journey with you.”

Ultimately, user confidence is salient for driving adoption.

2. Engage with your customers with in-app messages

If a user doesn’t feel all too comfortable using your product, it can be helpful to give them a little nudge in the right direction. According to Product Marketing Alliance, products that use in-app messages see a 3 times boost in engagement and a 4 times increase in conversions.

Did you know that in line with recent research, in-app messages are 8 times more effective at engaging users than push notifications and can boost retention rates by upwards of 300%? We thought that might get your attention.

Also known as in-product messaging, in-app messaging is used by companies to communicate directly with their customers via their company website or mobile app.

Companies incorporate messaging into their website and app in such a way that it’s difficult for the user to miss, therefore improving user engagement. In-app messages are fundamental for users who may be using the platform for the first time and highlight features they can use to get the most out of their experience.

Even beyond the onboarding process, in-app messages can help your customers stay up to date with any important changes and updates in the product. These can be announcements of amazing new features, important bug fixes, improvements, or even announcements of some big upcoming change.

3. Create a community of engaged users

In-app messaging is a brilliant method of reaching your customers, but it’s not the only way to make them aware of product features. One of the best things about creating a good product is witnessing its reception amongst your users.

Online, digital communities are insightful spaces that not only help your customers learn best practices from each other, but offer invaluable feedback based on their interactions. According to a study conducted by Vanilla:

  • An online community for your customers can help your organization improve engagement by up to 21%
  • 66% of branded communities say that the community has had an impact on customer retention
  • 90% of communities say that suggestions from the community have been used to improve products or services

To draw on the words of Helen Keller, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much”. An engaged community of users is a powerful thing and taps into the confidence that Shari Srebnick referred to earlier. In our opinion, sharing messages of empowerment and success stories is the ultimate organic case study you could ask for.

4. Conduct NPS and collect feedback

Net Promoter Score (NPS) are types of surveys used to gather user feedback and measure how likely your customers will recommend your products and/or services to others.

Implement various types of surveys like Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Experience Score (CES) or any other to learn about user feelings and thoughts about the product. Don’t forget to follow up based on responses – it can help you and your customer success team improve many things.

If there were some nice responses, why not try and build a relationship, or ask for a recommendation to include in your case studies? Prompting people to ask how they’re finding your product is one of the best ways to get them to reflect and use it.

5. Segment your customer base

It’s important to remember that not everyone reacts in the same way. Some customers may take to your product like a duck to water, but others may need a little more guidance.

A truly revolutionary way to get around this is through customer segmentation. segmenting your customer ensures every bit of information they receive from you is relevant. By finding out individual customer characteristics, you can tailor your company’s in-app messaging, milestones and general needs to each individual.

The whole purpose of customer segmentation is to address each customer in the appropriate way and to give them the type of experience that they need. Once your customers are being addressed properly, you will find their interactions with your product will be a lot more authentic.

Want to learn more?

Head over to Go-to-Market Academy for all the resources, tips and tricks you need to get ahead in customer success.