What makes a user stick with a new feature?
One of the biggest insights that we’ve had at Bucket over the years is that there is a big difference between “feature adoption” and users (or customers) actually making a new feature a key part of their workflow. Plenty of product teams use adoption as a key metric for their new releases but subsequent information is either forgotten or ignored.
As companies strive to enhance their offerings with new features, the real challenge lies in getting users to not just try these features, but to continually engage with them. Every feature introduced should ideally delight the end user, or even become indispensable to their work. However, achieving this 'stickiness' is easier said than done.
We should clarify that there are two parts to this issue. First, is the user still using a feature in the long term: does it stand the test of time? Second, how often is the feature used? If you deployed a major update that you expect your customers to incorporate immediately, you would hope that new features are used every week or even more often. On the other hand, not every feature is designed to be used constantly; some only need to be activated once a quarter, so rare usage is fine.
This article looks at the complexities of feature retention and explores strategies that product developers and managers can employ to ensure users embrace new features over the long term. From the relevance and usability of a feature, to its performance and workflow integration, and the importance of user feedback, we'll examine the factors that influence user retention and how to effectively navigate these to keep your users engaged and loyal. So, let's unravel the mystery of user retention and discover how to make your product features not just captivating, but persistently indispensable.
Let’s be clear on what we mean by retention. For Bucket, this is simple to work out: first, users adopt software by trying it out several times, but a user is only retained if they continue to use a feature, i.e. used in the last 4 weeks. We should also mention “on/off” features, like software integrations, where traditional usage metrics fall down. Most integrations, once setup, will run without any further input from users, so you can’t really measure retention for these types of features.
As mentioned above, recent usage will not apply to every single feature either, as some simply aren’t designed to be used constantly. In fact, we can even imagine situations in which regular usage is actually a symptom of a problem and not a good sign. Data exports, for example, might only be needed once a year. If a user is constantly exporting data, then you might wonder if they’re having problems with your software’s analysis or transformation features.
What drives retention?
Assuming that we’re not talking about one of those exceptions, how do you go about getting users to stick with your features? Bucket uses the STARS funnel to analyze the success or failure of a feature. Retention is the 4th step, after Segment, Tried, and Adopted. It almost goes without saying, but perfect retention of a feature means nothing if no one tries it in the first place. This article isn’t about targeting or onboarding features, but we’ll leave a quick list of factors below:
- Communication: You must effectively communicate the benefits and the "how-tos" of the feature. Users might not use a feature simply because they're not aware of its existence or don't understand its potential benefits.
- Onboarding: If a feature is new or complex, it's important to guide users through it. This might include tutorials, tooltips, or other forms of user education.
- User Experience (UX): The feature needs to be easy to use and understand. If a feature is complex or cumbersome, users might abandon it.
- Relevance: The feature must align with the user's needs. For example, if a user rarely shares posts on social media, they aren’t likely to use a feature that makes sharing easier.
But let’s say you’ve got users to try your new feature and they’ve onboarded smoothly. What are the factors that stop users from churning? Of course, there is one very obvious factor:
Your feature needs to be well designed and solve a clear pain point for customers.
Designing a great feature is an entire topic in and of itself, so we won’t go into that here. If you can deal with that (major) challenge, there are a few other areas we have seen come up time and again:
Performance: Let’s be upfront: SaaS products are bloated. They kind of have to be, with their evergreen roadmaps and high price points. But all that bloat comes with an inevitable cost to performance. Just think about how many products you might have started using for their low maintenance and responsiveness that became bloated nightmares later on *cough* Chrome *cough*.
First, do no harm (to CPUs). Ensure that every feature maintains great performance and your product is a joy to use. You can track this with metrics like actions per minute (APM), as well as by looking at qualitative feedback for each feature.
If a feature is cumbersome to use, or slows down other processes, or worst of all is buggy, then you’ll swiftly find that users churn - and not just from the feature.
Feedback Mechanism: Maybe you’ve got a great feature that performs really well, yet users are churning or just not retaining long-term. But how do you know it’s a great feature? Is this from dogfooding or internal perception? Without direct feedback from users, it can be impossible to know how your features are really being received.
By providing users with an easy way to give feedback, you can solve two problems at once. If users encounter a problem or have suggestions for improvement, they're more likely to continue using the feature if they feel their input is valued and acted upon. And, your own product team will have a better idea of how users really feel.
Integration & Consistency: How does a feature fit into the existing application? We’re not just talking about workflows here - design is important as well. An out-of-place feature could confuse users and disrupt their overall experience.
If the feature is a natural extension of existing capabilites, fits into the existing UI & UX, and works well with third-party applications, you’re much more likely to see strong retention figures..
Customizability: There is a fine line to be tread with letting users adjust features to their liking. Too much and making use of a feature becomes work in and of itself. Apple have perfectly demonstrated that you can give users much less control than competitors and be wildly successful. At the same time, Apple’s restrictions wouldn’t fly in a business context, and any B2B option has to be customizable enough for specific industries and use cases.
Finding this balance will help your retention rates. Bucket enables you to track any event you like, meaning you can even track the use of customization options across your application portfolio to help determine the level you need.
Keeping track of Retention
We now know what can drive retention of features, but to make use of all of this you still need to know how well your individual features are being retained. There’s no point investing time and effort into “fixing” an already well-liked feature. That’s where Bucket comes in. Bucket enables you to track every feature you create and observe how individual users and companies interact with them over time. With the STARS funnel, you can see exactly how many of your target users have tried a feature, adopted it, and have then either retained it in the long term or churned.