User engagement – Strengthening the bond between users and the app

How human behavior patterns affect the success of digital products

What phases does a user go through when using an app, and how can you influence this in such a positive way as to create customer loyalty and user retention in the long term?

Every day, new digital products and services are created at breakneck speed that can influence our habits, our behavior, and thus our lives. The direct interaction between people and digital products is a decisive factor in determining which app we pay attention to and enjoy using and which is forgotten shortly after installation. One of the most fundamental aspects is meeting the individual needs of users. In our digitalized world, there is an unmanageable abundance of apps and services. Competitive pressure is growing – attention spans are short. Only those who manage to best meet the needs of users will be successful.

What at first glance seems self-evident in product development nevertheless harbors pitfalls and challenges: The distinction between customer and user is fundamental to the success of a digital product. The reason for this is that when we think of user focus, we think of the basic psychological behavior patterns of a human being. So if you only develop with the customer in mind and not the user, you run the risk of thinking exclusively about features and functions instead of focusing on experiences, habit patterns, and needs for rewards or guidance.

Difference between customer experience and user experience

Important differentiation criteria between customer and user:

  • Customers pay for services in order to use interesting features and enjoy high usability – they think transactionally.
  • Users want a positive experience, personal value and benefit, and the satisfaction of habitual loops. This happens far more unconsciously than we think.

The probability of success can therefore be increased if the service interacts with the human behavior of the users. Our analog behavior consists of a basic “trigger-action-reward mechanism“.

Humans go through this mechanism countless times every day. A simple example illustrates this mechanism:

When we are hungry (our trigger), we order a pizza from an online delivery service (action), which is delivered fresh and hot to our door (reward). If we were then also satisfied, there is a high probability that the next time we are hungry for pizza, we will perform the same action.

The same mechanism is at work with digital products and services. Interaction between users and digital services also follows the behavioral pattern Trigger -> Action -> Reward and has a direct influence on long-term customer loyalty and satisfaction. After all, who doesn’t like ordering from their favorite pizzeria?

In the case of digital products and services, in addition to trigger, action, and reward, two other dimensions are responsible for interaction and retention: onboarding and investment. The interaction between the user and the digital product takes place in these 5 dimensions. The so-called “user engagement” is created. User engagement can be understood as the invisible layer between code and user experience. It is about the concrete mechanisms and elements of how the product interacts with the user.

5 phases to user engagement

  • Onboarding: The onboarding phase begins immediately after the download. Here, the app should explain to users why and how they should use the service. If the implementation is good, the user feels “ready to go” and wants to get started right away.
  • Trigger: What drives a user to use the product again? Triggers such as push notifications or notifications remind users to use the app or perform actions.
  • Action: The actual action in the app must be easy for the user to perform. This action must have a predefined goal, so that users know what to do in the app without thinking much.
  • Reward: Users should be rewarded in different ways for the action taken. This is where it is decided what types of rewards are used and in what frequency they receive the reward.
  • Investment: The most important element in creating high personal value is the last dimension, investment. A close connection to the digital product is created when users build something in the app, something they are proud of or something they don’t want to lose anymore.

If all phases of user engagement are developed based on user needs, the likelihood of success for long-term engagement increases. Why? The digital product serves habit-forming behavior patterns through the mechanisms of user engagement. The use of the digital product thus becomes a pleasant routine, which is reflected in increasing key figures such as the average session duration, the daily number of sessions or the daily active users.

3 important key learnings for better user experience

  1. The distinction between customer and user is elementary. Too often, the behavioral level of the user is neglected in addition to the purely functional level.
  2. The human behavior pattern of users follows the mechanism trigger-> action-> reward. If this is also taken into account in digital products, success is favored.
  3. User engagement generates a strong positive and measurable impact on the overall user experience and KPIs of a digital product.

If you have any further questions or suggestions, we look forward to sharing them with you. We also recommend the book “Hooked” by Nir Eyal and the book “Actionable Gamification” by Yu-Kai Chou to anyone who wants to make digital products better.

Author: Karsten Winkler (XING | LINKEDIN) | KADACON

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