App Engagement Tips for the Four Stages of the Customer Journey

Written by 
Deirdre Mahon

How to optimize app engagement? Here is one key method: offer targeted types of in-app guidance at the right moment, in the right way.

With SaaS applications, app engagement on the part of users is everything. More engaged users means higher conversion, adoption and retention. Companies that fail to engage their users will experience damagingly high churn rates, and be outdone by a competitor with a stickier product. 

How to optimize app engagement? Here is one key method: Offer targeted types of in-app guidance at the right moment, in the right way.

It’s useful to break the customer journey into four stages: Activation, Adoption, Uplevel, and Feedback. At each of these stages, user engagement levels generate  different forms of value and opportunity to the business. In turn, each of these stages possess different requirements in terms of how encouragement is nurtured, inside the product. 

To create an effective app engagement strategy, enterprises need to understand how engagement differs from stage to stage. They need to understand what users want, and how they can offer in-app guidance in a way that is useful and never annoying. 

Read on to understand these four stages and get some tips on how to increase app engagement.

Stage 1: Activation

Your customers have started their free trial: great! Now it’s time to activate. 

Activation is the point where the user sees value in the product. It is the moment when they realize how the product solves their problems and pain. This epiphany or realization is called the “aha!” moment

We’ve all signed up for products and services that come well-recommended and look great. But as we click around, we don’t get hooked. We don’t immediately perceive how this will make our lives easier, and so we drift away. Attention spans are short, and we only stick with a product if we quickly recognize its value  in concrete ways.

To encourage activation, you must enable your users to quickly find value and experience their “aha!” moment. That’s the only way they will commit to your product, and be willing to pay for it.

Here are two app engagement best practices to trigger that all-important “aha!” moment:

1. Welcome users to your product with targeted announcements, to help them get started easily. The most effective driver of user activation is ensuring that the messages your users see is highly relevant to what they’re currently trying to get done. This is why announcements are one of the most valuable app engagement ideas.

Take Neat, a SaaS platform that offers receipt capture and accounting reconciliation software for businesses. Neat was struggling to trigger that “aha!” moment. “Users would come in, look around, and leave confused,” said Jeff Gove, Neat’s VP. 

However, when Neat started deploying targeted announcements that guide new users through their introduction to the product, they saw their user churn fall by 20%. 

2. Walk users through the features that drive the most value first. Some product features only show their appeal when a user is embedded in the product. Others, a new user can spend a few minutes with and immediately appreciate.

Focus on this latter category. Improve app engagement by showcasing the quickly appreciable features for new users. (However, bear in mind that this often varies by persona. Target the correct asset to the correct user segments).

Stage 2: Adoption

Adoption is the currency of SaaS success. Adoption is “the point when your product becomes a regular part of your customer’s workflow.” (These two processes – activation and adoption – constitute the overall user onboarding experience.)

Once a user has adopted a product, they are in. They are utilizing your SaaS, and becoming increasingly comfy with it. The user starts to explore more features and integrations, and expands how the tool slots into their daily operations. To improve app engagement during the Adoption phase means nurturing and deepening this engagement.

Typically, at the Adoption stage, the goal of improved app engagement is conversion: From free to paid. 

Here are three powerful app engagement ideas for the Adoption phase:

1. Utilize targeted announcements. Just like during the Activation stage, announcements enable you to provide users with signposts and directions at the right moment, with the right information. 

Perhaps a user has been engaging at length with core parts of the software. It’s obvious that their involvement is deepening. However, they’ve yet to explore Analytics. At a certain point, perhaps when they next login, it might be the moment to say “Hey, did you know that our analytics can tell you x, y and z?” 

2. Let your users “choose their own adventure.” All too often, SaaS users are bombarded by prompts and nudges. Companies think they are being useful and proactive, but in fact, they are overwhelming users. People hate being overwhelmed. If a product throws pop-ups at them like a nineties browser, they will leave and never come back. 

One of the crucial app engagement best practices? Let users help themselves. Don’t overwhelm them, but do offer search functionality where they can easily and effectively find answers to their questions. implemented this functionality, and now, 83% of their users make use of their native knowledge base

3. Keep walkthroughs short and sweet. According to research, the average human attention span has shrivelled to around eight seconds; just a little below that of a goldfish. Keep your users engaged by making sure your walkthroughs are short and easy to get through. 
Based on research data we receive from Simpo users, walkthroughs not exceeding five steps result in maximum app engagement.

Stage 3: Uplevel

The next stage in the journey is Upleveling. This is the point at which an end user goes beyond simply adoption. A user is at the Uplevel stage when he or she becomes highly proficient within the product, and wants to deepen their usage in new ways. From the SaaS provider perspective, it is the stage where new forms of value become possible, in the form of additional features or more seats to share with colleagues:

At this time, the user has the potential to take further steps, becoming more committed through:

  • Upgrades – Moving to a different user tier to access greater functionality.
  • Add-ons – Accessing an adjacent module or feature-set that allows them to do more and accomplish more. 
  • Advanced app engagement – Higher forms of SaaS engagement are actions such as review-sharing and referrals.

At the Uplevel stage, users are ready to take actions that will be of great benefit to the company. Encourage and improve app engagement effectively here, and you can nudge behaviors that will provide further user value and also drive retention. But they are still in a place where one bad experience could cool their enthusiasm. 

For this reason, at the Uplevel stage, it is doubly important to be helpful without being interruptive. As users progress in the app, you need to communicate new information at the right moment, in a way that is insightful but never pushy. 

At the Uplevel stage, the important thing is information. Here’s how to know when you should (and shouldn’t) upsell or cross-sell:

1. Make sure to capture account and contact details. Relevant customer data can reveal the user’s milestones and where they are in their customer journey. These insights can be captured and gathered from your own product or from third-party apps. The more info you have, the more empowered you are to know whether it is the right moment to suggest the next step.

2. Track your customers’ usage data. A very effective app engagement strategy is to get a handle on important measures such as:

  • login frequency;
  • length of time in-app, and;
  • daily, weekly, and monthly usage rates (whether individually or across the entire team).

This will provide you with a clear picture of product usage per feature. Consequently, this allows you to determine account health score, and determine the right moment for a reachout. 

3. Document product communications, whether they’re inside or outside. Here’s one of the underrated app engagement best practices. Secure complete visibility into customer communications: the tickets submitted, responses and resolutions to those tickets, and even basic queries. This will help you determine customer behavior and allow you to extend communications seamlessly between them and your teams. The more data you have, the more effectively any attempt at cross-selling or upselling will be. 

And remember: The same data should be shared across all your various teams. Maintaining a single, unified view is critical to success.

Stage 4: Feedback

The Feedback phase is the coda to a successful user experience. Here, a well-engaged user enters the final stage of the customer engagement journey: At this point, the user is willing to take time out of their day to communicate their feelings about your product, offering powerful insights that are valuable to the entire company. 

The insights you gather from NPS and customer feedback will help you iterate and refine your offering. This is a proven revenue booster. According to Gartner, building a feedback mechanism can increase your upsell and cross-sell success rates by 15-20%.

As with encouraging the earlier forms of app engagement, acquiring high-quality and actionable feedback requires asking users to engage at the right moment, in the right way. Here are three app engagement ideas for the Feedback stage, drawn from Simpo’s own experience:

1. Send out NPS surveys when users are most likely to respond – with time- and action-triggered NPS. Research clearly shows that users are most responsive and willing to give representative answers when asked questions in context. Hence, an NPS based on both user action and frequency will be most effective in drawing insights.

2. Go beyond the quantitative; send out qualitative questions. Set up polls that utilize open-ended questions and multiple choices. Highly engaged users will often have nuanced, personal information to share. Don’t let these insights escape.

3. Make sure to use well-constructed questions. Unwanted bias can stem from poorly-constructed survey questions. For higher quality responses, strategically choose your words. Based on our research, using words like “how”, “what”, and “describe” promotes high-quality, open-ended responses.

Making Sure Your App is Customer-Centric

Users can be fickle. Sometimes, attempting to boost engagement can feel like you’re trying to read minds. But with the correct mindset and the right app engagement tools, companies can reliably inspire, activate, and increase app engagement throughout the entire process.

Just remember that for every stage – whether it be Activation, Adoption, Uplevel, or Feedback – the most important lesson is to be customer-centric. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes, and reverse-engineer from there. And always be helpful, without being annoying.

Simpo is built to help companies offer the right in-app guidance at the right time. Simpo is built to help enterprises boost SaaS app engagement throughout the user journey. Neat,, and Walmart have all leveraged Simpo’s capabilities to reduce their churn rates, improve retention, and scale their onboarding process.

Check out more of Simpo’s resources below, and start helping your users use your product.