9 minute read · Published December 6, 2023

User adoption: features and flows people actually want

Latest Update June 7, 2024

Let's admit it: You've probably bought a bunch of stuff because it was cheap (or seemed cool)—and then let it gather dust before it went straight to Craigslist.

My cotton candy machine, ice cream maker and a bunch of quirky fitness gadgets could tell you a story about that.

This also happens with B2B Software: It's valuable on paper, but users only realize value if they actually use it. 

One of the most critical challenges SaaS and self-hosted software companies face is user adoption.

If this is your case, it might sound like the following:

  • Your users see your current DAP as complicated, clunky, and annoying
  • Too many popups are colliding and causing a tangled, confusing experience
  • There is an overall poor user activation during product onboarding
  • Users don’t embrace new features or updates (low user adoption rates)
  • Customer retention is low

It’s like throwing a party with no food or music! Everyone’s awkwardly standing around, looking at the door. They’re headed to Chipotle afterwards, leaving you with an empty house and a dash of FOMO.

Companies need to understand the changing dynamics of user behaviors and needs if they want to overcome these obstacles. They also need the tools to personalize user adoption experiences to increase adoption and improve customer lifetime value.

But here’s the good news: you can leverage a plan that wins at digital adoption and helps scale your company. So get ready, because your party’s coming back with style. That is, if you’ve got a crystal clear understanding of user expectations and key features that drive adoption, and design your user flows accordingly.

Decoding user adoption desires with feedback loops

If you’re trusting assumptions, you might as well ask Mrs. Jones for the neighborhood gossip. It’s unreliable. And the same goes for understanding users.

The best way to improve adoption is by talking to the end-user—your customers. You can get the latest and most relevant information with a tighter feedback loop.

There are many ways to get started:

  • Your sales team can document common frustrations during the sales process
  • The customer service team can take note of tickets and recurring themes
  • Your platform can include areas for customers to voice frustrations
  • You can study behavior on the app

Many adoption desires are universal when it comes to SaaS companies and can be addressed right away:

  • Make complicated features simple. Eliminate user friction by creating flows that allow users to access features through nudges and guiding questions.
  • Decrease the need for support tickets. Cut down on tickets by providing users with self-serve help. 
  • Highlight the most essential features. Guide users to experience your most valuable features to get from trial to paid—and increase retention.
  • Create a holistic experience. Proactively and reactively surface features users care about so they experience the entire product.

Once you’ve strategically designed your adoption experience based on user needs, it’s critical to understand the types of challenges they face as you design the flow.

Designing intuitive user flows

There’s a reason no one uses paper maps anymore. You have directions right in front of you—but it’s confusing, limited, and you get more lost than a college student at the supermarket buying the family turkey on Thanksgiving day. 

Anything that causes friction will lose users.

Customers face two kinds of friction that can stump your product adoption strategy. 

UX friction is when customers find your product difficult to use, understand and navigate. It’s a fast way to lose users—like how a bad first impression can quickly close opportunities (Remember that time you had lettuce wedged in your teeth? Yeah, those kinds of moments.).

The second type is perceived friction (or a perceived learning curve). Users take one look and feel they need to train themselves to use the product correctly and efficiently. They see it as a significant time and energy investment. It often involves doubt and hesitation (even to start the onboarding process). 

How can you overcome those underlying hesitations?

It won’t work with traditional onboarding flows because users are fatigued. It’s why 63% of customers want to know about the onboarding process before they purchase, and 90% feel companies can do better. These trends call for new ways to connect with users and help them along the adoption journey.

By designing intuitive user flows, we can create a personalized adoption experience. 

What does an intuitive flow look like?

Intuitive flows are designed to work the way a user expects them to. It’s natural and familiar. 

In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, he points to the importance of personalized experiences that tap into habits. His example was the classic release of the song “Hey Ya” by Outkast. 

The problem was that it didn’t start as a hit.

The record company and its partners had run algorithms and statistical tests to predict the song's success. It had all the green flags, and they poured money into the marketing. When it hit the radio, listeners didn’t like it.

So a radio station manager, Rich Meyer, and his wife, Nancy, looked deeper. Why did some songs have the stickiness that others didn’t? 

They soon discovered that the current hit songs had longer listening rates on the radio, but so did songs that listeners hated. For example, at the time, male listeners tended not to like Celine Dion, but listened through the whole thing without switching to the next station.

It turns out the answer was familiarity. Whether someone liked the song wasn’t the most critical factor. It was how much a pop song sounded like a pop song; how much a rap song sounded like the others—the happy median. 

Meyer said, “...your subconscious says, ‘I know this song! I’ve heard it a million times! I can sing along!’ Sticky songs are what you expect to hear on your radio. Your brain secretly wants that song because it’s so familiar to everything else you’ve already heard…”.

Duhigg stated, “The problem wasn’t that ‘Hey Ya!’ was bad. The problem was that ‘Hey Ya!’ wasn’t familiar.” Listeners wanted to follow their habits.

As companies develop adoption flows, they need to tap into the already-existing habits of users—not invent new ones. Businesses can create flows built around these predictable actions.

For example, what do you want to do when you log into an app for the first time? Take a long virtual tour and read a manual? Probably not. You want to explore. 

Helpful notifications (for example, CommandBar's Nudges) and checklists are very effective for intuitive flows. Techniques like these gently guide users through the product to try each feature. 

Source: CommandBar

With these strategic implementations, companies can thoughtfully pace adoption solutions to guide users toward feature announcements, product tours, and helpful content and lead users with multi-step onboarding checklists.

Checklists let users choose what they want to do and learn—removing friction—and offer clarity and scope through the adoption process.

Businesses can also add beacons to tour and experience new options when there is a new feature. They can also highlight important messages with a banner (or a popover to showcase help content or walkthrough videos).

Ultimately, companies can develop a welcoming, no-pressure, helpful pace that works with users, their habits, and how they like to learn.

Key features that drive adoption

Instead of software talking at a customer (like that guy who talks over you, listing his NFTs), adoption strategies guide them. The more we invest in these features, the better we can increase adoption rates.

Platforms should have an easy search solution tied to their docs, videos, courses, and other supporting assets. When someone needs to learn something, they can easily reference your material à la carte. 

As companies invest more into their resources and the ability to find them, they better serve users in real-time. If customers get answers or training right away, they are more likely to continue using your software.

Self-guided onboarding

Through nudges and checklists, along with other interactive user onboarding features, companies can increase adoption rates. As active users comfortably learn the platform, they come to utilize the entire solution through a comfortable education experience.

While self-guided, the best tools guide users throughout the entire process. 

In-app feedback

Once you have the tools to track interactions, it’s important to create user engagement opportunities to communicate questions and frustrations natively on the app.

This will be one of your best sources of user information. For example, if a customer expresses issues with understanding how to open a new project on your app, and this isn’t the first time you’ve heard it, you know there’s a bottleneck in your user adoption strategy.

You can use the in-app feedback to create a tight user feedback loop.

AI assistants

Companies can create in-product experiences that feel more native, guiding users through a nurturing, in-depth customer journey that minimizes friction. 

For example, CommandBar does this with Copilot, an AI assistant that learns from your docs, website, and other relevant product information. When a user asks questions, the AI helps them immediately. 

Depending on the AI solution, businesses can combine tools with other resources like Notion pages, Loom videos, and more to create a well-trained, well-equipped AI assistant ready to share their portfolio of resources with users.

Intelligent solutions like these create personalized user adoptions—engagement customers find preferable to distracting popups. They can get help on their terms and interactively adopt your platform. 

Companies incorporating AI assistant technologies can also better understand user intent and optimize user adoption experiences.

Smooth integrations

We’ve seen those platforms that claim robust integrations, but when it’s time to get everything working together, it’s a mess. Companies should offer the latest and greatest integrations, but they should also be easy to implement. If integration causes confusion, it creates an additional level of frustration throughout the adoption process.

Platforms can also include relevant resources to resolve hiccups when integrating with other apps.

Once you adopt these best practices and key features, the user experience changes night to day. Take, for instance, how one startup grew from zero to millions of users…

Successful adoption strategies: ClickUp case study

Source: ClickUp home page

ClickUp, the productivity and workflow app, has an excellent user adoption experience. When you sign up, it asks you some quick questions to help customize your experience. Then, you can explore the app with a checklist that teaches you each feature and how to use it. There are popup videos available as you move forward.

Source: ClickUp’s in-app onboarding experience

As you choose options and get to know each feature, the platform helps you create the exact setup you need to get started on day one. New users can continue independently if they already know how to use the software.

The easy-to-use, interactive experience contributes to the platform’s growth. With many users seamlessly adopting ClickUp, the platform has reached 10 million users

Source: ClickUp’s in-app user adoption process 

In the image above, ClickUp gently introduces users with options to get to know the SaaS business on their terms. Users can skip the video or watch it (and it quickly gives a practical use case on how to get started).

Other businesses can do the same by studying consumer habits, needs, and clear adoption user journeys.

Evolving trends continually emphasize segmented personalization, asynchronous self-help resources, and AI-optimized solutions for a better user experience.

Choosing a scalable solution that tackles today's needs is critical while implementing innovative technologies. Companies should create an experience—and choose a solution—that can evolve with new and necessary features as customer needs and preferences change. 

By creating a self-learning, personalized user adoption experience, businesses can provide an enjoyable journey that helps customers learn to use your platform to the fullest. 

The more relevant and pleasant the adoption process is, the more likely your customers will continue to use your app, which increases customer retention and decreases churn.

For example, CommandBar's AI assistant, Copilot (along with nudges and checklists), helps power this seamless (and, yes, even enjoyable) experience for users as they learn how to use your product for the first time.

Users can experience your app through intelligent features and immediately identify its value. For example, if your platform helps small businesses analyze their cash flow, checklists can walk users through it. They get a tangible, valuable output to understand their day-to-day business when they're done. And they’re likely to return to that function in the future.

Instead of frustrating users with distracting popups and confusing instructions, you can turn the narrative around. You can create a quick, easy-to-understand process that excites users and puts them in the driver’s seat immediately. And you can put onboarding on auto-pilot by leveraging effective adoption strategies based on customer intent and fun experiences. 

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