It’s easier to keep clients than to get new ones – so keep the ones you have. Most people prefer to put effort, energy and money into getting new clients. There are lots of reasons for this practice but one major one is that people don’t treat the lifecycle of a client/user with seriousness. The lifecycle of user can and should be known. Attrition and renewal rates are knowable. Once you’ve got those two nailed down you can unearth ways to nurture both.
What is the Lifecycle?
The lifecycle technically extends from when someone fills out a form and commits to a free trial or a subscription or a contract. Informally though you’d be wise to understand it as starting from when the user was doing research for services like yours.
Step One – Pre-Sales Research and Discovery
Excepting the people that just stumbled upon you, not even aware of a need they had – most people were looking. This pre-sales process is the first step to understanding the lifecycle of your user.
Step Two – Direct Inquiry, Action, and Commitment
Once the user clicks the button, fills out the form, registers, or otherwise gives you their commitment they are yours to keep or lose. Not everyone that signs up stays, of course, the user may have no intention of using your service, app, content beyond a glance. This is ok – it figures into the attrition rates and is a critical factor in understanding your reach. Don’t discount these people, try your best to understand their motivations.
Step Three – Implementation
Once the user has committed the process of getting them up and running with an account, instance, iteration or package is implementation. This needs to be smooth, risk-free and entirely hidden to the user. Automation should be considered in every aspect of the service. If there is something the user is “supposed to do” consider doing it for them.
Step Four – On-Boarding
Once the user has an account and is good to go, you need to spend some time and energy getting them going. This is a messaging and outreach effort. Free consulting, integration and data conversion might be offered for complex products. For a simpler product, it may mean a gentle nudge a few days later. Or a call to schedule a casual conversation about the planned use.
Step Five – In-Product Monitoring and Support
Once the user is actually logging in and using your system don’t decide it’s time to sit back and relax. There is still critical information to gather and no end to the amount of support you can be giving. Start by monitoring use rates and levels of commitment. Keep an eye on your on-screen support mechanisms and feed frequent support desk issues back to that self-service avenue. Above all keep your finger on the attrition and reach out to people who dump your service. If they were just shopping around, find out where they ended up or what you were missing. If they lost interest find out where they are in their buying decision. All of this is useful for you to predict the bottom line and basic survivability.
Step Six – Renewal support
From the moment the buyer becomes a user you need to be thinking about renewals. Selling an annual subscription? What steps are you taking over the next year to keep this line item in your user’s budget? Built on a monthly subscription model? What can you continually deliver to maximize the perception that you are valuable enough to keep coming back to? Focused on making the leap from Free Trial to auto-payment? Do whatever you can to understand who goes over and who lets their account expire. Spend a lot of time and energy in these numbers. There is nothing wrong with a 90% attrition rate if it makes sense and you can live on the remainder. You need to understand what it means to you, your service, and how you move forward.
Step Seven – Long Term Customer Engagement.
There’s a reason it’s called a lifecycle. There are some things we use forever but there are a lot of things we don’t – we cycle out of them periodically. Some services are so deeply embedded in our business needs and process that cycling is hard to do. This also means longevity and longer sales cycles. How long do users tend to stay with your service? What is the typical pattern of use? What do people use, for what and how often? This might be a very good place to use data visualization to surface some insights that you might otherwise miss.
Step Eight – Re-capture.
If you don’t know why someone leaves you can’t possibly know how to get them back. Take the time to understand how they got to you. How they used your service. Why they left. Then and only then, can you make a bid for getting them back. Knowing why they left is valuable feedback. It pays to be open to why they left and anything that might influence them to come back again.
If you are mindful of each of these steps, take the time and energy to implement systems, processes, and structures to support monitoring and analysis you’ll have great insight into the lifecycle of your user and everything you need to influence it.