The customer engagement master plan to convert free users into happy, paying customers

What the great year 2018 has been! In one corner of the world, while people were busy being obsessed with “Black Panther”, “Election Results”, “Megan Markle”, “Mac Miller”, and “Altered Carbon”—the most trending online searches of 2018, marketers and business hustlers were quite indulged in searching for queries related to ‘customer engagement’.

Some of us were actually more interested in searching for queries related to our customers as compared to Megan Markle, the past one month. That’s a good sign!  

2018, in terms of business and marketing, was all about “how to get good at ‘interacting’ with your customers”, “how to build good ‘relationships’ with your customers”, and also the plain, old, “how do I convert my free users to paying customers”. I myself have been guilty of searching for ways to truly crack customer engagement and tie it with revenue.

With multiple touchpoints of awareness, branding, content building, mapping customer intent, and finally acquiring a customer, there goes in a lot of effort in bringing a paying customer onboard.

Though it’s a great deal when a user signs up for a free trial, the most demanding task at hand is to convert those users into paying customers.

The first time you acquire a paying customer is a beautiful feeling, like tasting a drop of water after a four hour trek. What more can you ask for when you know that someone is willing to pay for your product or service as it’s solving their most vital problem? A feeling that all of us should experience.

We all know that customer engagement is the answer to the multiple challenges that we face in our business. But did you know that it is also the one secret recipe your business needs to convert your free users into paying customers?

Here is a customer engagement master plan that helps in converting your free users into paying customers. This post is mainly dedicated to businesses that employ a freemium model of revenue in the subscription segment. Let’s get the currency rolling!

Prologue: Generous amount of empathy

In a subscription-based business, revenue is a direct representation of good relationships with your customers. A good relationship is built purely on empathy. Empathetic customer engagement is a process that starts with listening to your customers, addressing their queries at the right time, giving them what they want, and following up with their feedback.

Empathetic customer engagement requires a marketing team that focuses more on building relationships than generating leads; a sales team that sells values more than features; a support team that focuses more on conversations than tickets; and finally, a brand that prioritizes empathy and on customer-brand relationships more than numbers.

One of the main reasons why I’ve listed ‘empathy’ as a core of this master plan is to help you realize the potential of keeping your messaging meaningful and value-based—keeping it real, and personal.

Your free users sign up for your product because they find value in what you have to offer. This means that you have aced your first step—identifying the right audience with the right set of problems to be solved. The next step is to build a journey map and an empathy map for your free users.

A journey map is a visualization of the path your users might take as they discover and use your product or service. Your maps should identify all the moments or touchpoints in which your users would interact with your brand.

For example, when you consider a product like Freshchat, which is a live chat tool, our user’s journey map would be signing up for the free plan, checking the in-app messages, creating the admin and agent profile, setting up the Freshchat widget on the webpage, setting up relevant features, and finally engaging in conversations with their users. Journey mapping helps you in deciding the right time and place to interact with your users—sending out in-app messages at relevant touchpoints, setting out email campaigns after a particular action, sending out incentives after a particular period of engagement, and so on.

The next step is to create an empathy map. Empathy maps help you better understand the challenges your users might face while interacting with your products or services. This, in turn, helps you create better support solutions and proactive customer support at all times.

For example, if you’re a food delivery app, write down how your user might feel during a particular situation and what they would say, think, and do. Also, write down what their needs are during the situation and the reasons for those needs. Let’s look at an example: “John needs to quickly and easily order five roasts and several side dishes for the holiday season.” On working backward, you can come up with an option for users like John—“Holiday Stressbuster Special”—a bulk package of roasts and sides that your users can order in one click.

Empathetic customer engagement is definitely your first step in achieving a mindset of truly helping your users get what they want and in the course, enabling them to also pay for the features that add value to their journey.

The why: Communicating value

The process of converting a free user to a paid customer is as mysterious as the case of the Bermuda Triangle. Every user has a different reason to churn and a different reason to convert. Designing a one-size-fits-all freemium product is a task of its kind. If users are already getting what they want from a free product, they might never choose to pay in the long run. And if the users don’t see any value from the freemium version of the product, there is no strong reason for them to buy it. Achieving a middle ground is only possible through meaningful and relevant communication. Always communicate value, not product updates and features.

A well-designed upgrade prompt or message can be the key to engaging, and ultimately converting free users. Upgrade messages can serve different purposes, from simply talking about the value that a particular upgrade can offer, to what the users are missing out on by not choosing to upgrade. These messages need to be sent at the right intervals and after the right actions to truly convey the target value.

For example, the best way to help the users know the value of a premium feature is to restrict a “premium” action right when the user clicks on the feature. At this point, the in-product messaging prompt should be a subtle one that talks about the value of having this feature and what it takes for the users to access this feature. You can also talk about the benefits of that particular feature in a separate email after the user triggers that particular action.

Take a look at Slack’s message when the user clicks on one of the premium features, ‘Search’.

Notice how Slack doesn’t mention payments or the word “upgrade” in their message. Instead, it hints that users could be getting more value from the service. As convincing as it sounds, the “learn more” link leads users to the pricing page.

This sort of an understated message is a great way to target free users who have more urgent needs for a particular feature. Users who really want to search for messages will learn more, while users who don’t really need the feature can abandon the task without more thought. A clear jackpot in user experience.

I’m also a huge fan of personalized messages that communicate the brand’s understanding of my persona to help me get a view of what I’m missing out on by not opting for a paid version. For example, look at this in-product message from Medium.

Their bold header of “You read a lot. We like that” is a validation of my persona, and I wouldn’t mind upgrading the subscription as I actually read a lot and I want access to these premium articles.

The how: Conversational hand-holding

Once the user signs up for your product, it is imperative for you to engage in conversations with them at multiple touchpoints using different channels. The most effective communication channel of all is a live chat tool for your business which serves a holistic solution for your conversational needs.

Conversations enable your users to stay in touch with you at all times while they explore your product. It’s equivalent to having a salesperson standing next to you in a showroom while you are looking at purchasing your next car, answering questions whenever needed. Your users might have multiple questions to be answered, like which plan is suitable for them, what combination of features would they need to pay for, how to access a particular option, and so on.

My favorite part about deploying a chat solution is to be able to hand-hold your customers using conversations. Conversational customer support, as we would like to call it at Freshchat, is truly the most empathetic solution in terms of respecting your so-called ‘leads’ as ‘people’ with voice. This allows you to listen to their queries, observe their journey within your product, trigger proactive conversation heads whenever you feel they need help, and ask for feedback at any point. Most importantly, it allows you to be present for your users at all times—always ON.

These days, live chat solutions come with chatbot integrations that help in solving basic queries that the users pose. Chatbots are trained to be highly context-sensitive to provide useful and meaningful responses. Some chatbots come with the in-built capability to solve basic queries that users face during onboarding.

Another predominant advantage of having a conversational customer support solution is the use of in-built FAQs that can pop-up based on the context. Chatbots can be programmed to feed relevant solution articles whenever a user is observed to spend too much time stuck in a particular part of the product. Giving your users the privilege to opt for a conversational platform to solve their queries or be self-sufficient and help themselves by exploring in-product FAQs empowers your users to be in control.

The what: Messaging that wins the deal

In this section, let’s talk about the real deal—the different types of messaging you can incorporate while engaging your free users with an intention to convert them into paid customers. We already explored aspects of conversational support and communicating value which are ways to deal with the process. Here are different types of content you can include in your messaging to reach your goal.  

Creating urgency

A great way to persuade your users to take immediate action is to use a scarcity tactic; providing a limitation to make a decision kindles the user’s urge to act with urgency. The limitation can be with respect to time, features, or pricing deals. This type of messaging works well once you have a deep understanding of your user persona. Certain users prefer exploring all the features within a given span of time, whereas other users might prefer testing out basic features for a longer period of time before making a decision.

Grammarly does a wonderful job of providing a pricing offer coupled with an urgency of time.

The short time span of the offer forces you to act fast. The provision of a clear list of benefits gives the audience an understanding of the value-add they receive by opting for the premium plan which is available at a much cheaper price than usual. Note, the succinct listing of the benefits in place of the features, following the rule of communicating value.

Fear of missing out

FOMO as a messaging technique is a way to get into the minds of your users and show them that a large number of people are enjoying something that they are missing out on. This can be implemented just by displaying how many customers are currently using the paid version of the software if you have a fair share of users onboarded successfully.

Good to have

This type of messaging is great for saying “hey! did you know we can also do this?” without interrupting the fluidity of the user journey.

Instead of limiting certain premium actions, some products have subtle, but persistent reminders placed throughout the product experience. When users complete an action that is accessible in the free product, they are informed of the added benefits of going premium.

For example, Evernote provides reminders that are not necessarily tied to the feature being explored by the user, but closely related to the feature.

Sharing your delight

Happiness is contagious. Brands such as Headspace have successfully decoded the trick to lure their customers by sending out messages that are joyful and pleasant. By sending a series of ‘happy’ emails and conveying what the user can experience once they opt for the paid version, you can ensure a successful and happy conversion.

There you go! Just take a minute to deliberate the what, why, and how aspects of this customer engagement master plan. I’m sure it gives you a clear picture of making revenue using customer engagement as a tool.

I hope this master plan serves you well and helps you hit some major money goals. The mystery is solved afterall—customer engagement does help you with revenue generation—the one metric that truly quantifies the growth of your company!

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