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25 reasons users STOP using your product: An analysis of customer lifecycle

Churn from a customer lifecycle perspective
As much as I blog about viral marketing, it can’t be avoided that having healthy product retention is an equally (and incredibly) important part about having a successful product. Thus, in addition to talking about the issues around user acquisition, a similar discussion must be had around user churn.

In the customer lifecycle perspective, you look at the product from the perspective of a user that has a series of experiences starting from newbie and going into an advanced role. In addition to looking at the success cases, looking at the failure cases is informative too – you want to analyze your product for potential exit points and relate them to both quantitative and qualitative measures. More on the customer lifecycle concept here, by Josh Kopelman at First Round Capital.

Anyway, here’s a good example of this from the games industry: At the Austin Game Developers conference last year, there was a great presentation on why players leave their MMOGs from Damion Schubert (who also writes a mean blog here). There’s a very convenient writeup of his talk at Massively, which includes a great list. I’d encourage reading it in full. Obviously, the challenges that face more web-like products are very different, yet the same approach can be used.

Customer lifecycle within a social product
I imagine that many in the readership are working on social products – for any product in this space, you often have a number of fuzzy stages that a user can move through during their lifecycle. This may include stages like:

  • First experience
  • Soloing and single user value
  • Encountering some friends(?)
  • Hitting critical mass for social
  • Becoming a site elder

Obviously every product is different, but the rough idea should hold for every social product out there. Early on, the initial experience is all about whether or not the user sees value in the product, and whether or not it “looks okay.” Then, oftentimes the users won’t have enough friends to make the site useful, in which case they fall back on a solo experience. Once they start hitting some other folks on the site, and making friends, then if done correctly, the site will hit critical mass and things will be sticky. And finally, in some products, some % of these users will turn into mods or admins or otherwise be elders within the product.

25 exit points
Now let’s look at all the different reasons why people might leave at any point – and obviously, the retention gets stickier and stickier in each stage, so perhaps reasons like “the site is too addictive!” become less effective :)

Anyway, there they are:

    • First experience
  • “I don’t get what this site is about”
  • “This site is not for people like me”
  • “The colors/design/icons look weird”
  • “I already use X for that”
  • “I don’t want to register”
    • Soloing and single user value
  • “I don’t have time to get involved in a site like this”
  • “I’m lonely, not enough happens”
  • “I forgot my password”
  • “I don’t know how to talk or meet people”
  • “I’ll just check on this account every couple months in case something happens”
    • Encountering some friends(?)
  • “People on this site are mean”
  • “People I don’t know keep messaging me, WTF?”
  • “I want my friends to use this, but none of them are sticking”
  • “I’m getting too much mail from this site”
  • “I only have 3 friends, this site is still boring”
    • Hitting critical mass for social
  • “This site takes up too much of my time”
  • “Too many people are friending me that I only sorta know”
  • “People are stalking me based on my pics and events!”
  • “This Top Friends thing causes too much drama”
  • “I’m getting flooded by e-mails for everything that anybody does”
    • Becoming a site elder
  • “The guys who run this site aren’t building feature X that we really need!”
  • “The guys who run this site build feature Y that’s going to destroy this site!”
  • “I’m doing a lot of work but I’m not getting anything for it”
  • “I’m bored because there’s nothing left to do”
  • “Newbies are fun to pick on :)” (wait, maybe that’s a benefit!)

Obviously, this is just a quick brainstorm of a list, but the point is, the reasons why people churn is often very different depending on their lifecycle. And some of the best things you can do for your product, in terms of retention, are things that are very positive for newbies, but might have side-effects elsewhere. You always want to balance each of these things off, depending on your product and business goals.

Am I missing anything else obvious? Comments and suggestions are always welcome!

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