Developing habits that drive user adoption

user adoption habit creation model

Nir Eyal’s Hooked habit loop













I recently read Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit”, and it encouraged me to consider how Customer Success and product teams can create and shape habits to drive user adoption of their product.

“The strength of a web company’s user habits will increasingly equate to its economic value”- Nir Eyal

What is a habit?

There are varying models for how habits are created and triggered. Duhigg defines habits as being a loop of a cue, routine, and reward- all of which is kicked off by a craving. According to Eyal habits are comprised of a trigger, an action, a reward, and an investment (see graphic above). I think both of these models focus on the same key elements of habit creation, namely that people need to be driven to take an action over and over again and to move into a state where performing the action takes very little mental energy because it is so routine.

Does your product have an opportunity to create a habit?

Not every company is in a position to successfully create a habit loop. Yes, there are plenty of “sleepy startups” poised to change the face of an industry, but for companies struggling to create a habit around entering expense reports, they’re going to be swimming upstream. It’s unlikely that users will have the motivation to build a habit around this type of software (more on motivation later). If you have a more functional service that users don’t log into regularly, then your Product team should focus on building user adoption across a solid user base that regularly “hires” your product for that job.

If you are not looking to develop habits that revolve around your product, then your customer success team should consider focusing on 1) onboarding users to be successful; 2) nurturing them to find additional value from your product; and 3) addressing activity churn to drive retention.

No, you’re probably not going to be on Facebook’s level of habit formation (some might call it addiction), but you do have an opportunity to drive continued usage and user adoption by establishing a habit loop.

Strategies for shaping habits towards user adoption

Recalling Eyal’s definition of habit you need a trigger, an action, a reward, and an investment to create a habit. Some practical strategies you can use to create habits are triggers, rewards, and social proof. Consider what motivates your users to use a product. Do they want to stay in touch with their customers, easily accept mobile payments, rent a bike on the go, etc? Now what kind of trigger could motivate them to use your product, or stick with your product instead of using a competitor? According to BJ Fogg successful triggers have three characteristics: “First, we notice the trigger. Second, we associate the trigger with a target behavior. Third, the trigger happens when we are both motivated and able to perform the behavior.” As a quick aside, I think Fogg’s entire paper is definitely worth a read.

Fogg identifies 3 motivations triggers are trying to tap into: Pleasure / Pain; Hope / Fear; Social Acceptance / Rejection. I think the majority of B2B marketing falls into the “hope” category of motivation. We want to tap into users’ dreams of a better, brighter future by using our products to solve a problem they have. Of course, this is SaaS so we need to solve the problem for them not just once, but on a continuing basis.

Triggers allow Customer Success teams to move users towards an increase in either motivation or ability to perform the desired action while tapping into users’ hope. Example: you meet an internal champion within the marketing org that would love to integrate with your product, but they lack the technical skills required for an implementation (high motivation, low ability). At Intercom we try to make the process of trialing our products easier by allowing users to skip a technical integration (even though that’s the best setup for long-term success) and instead being able to upload a spreadsheet of user data to see value in the short term. We offer this as a way to move from simple unsubstantiated hope (maybe this product will help me better communicate with people interested in my product) to increasing their confidence that our products will solve their problems. The expectation is that with increased motivation they will be more likely to effectively lobby for technical resources and find the ability to fully integrate our products. Alternatively, you could speak with a developer who is able to easily integrate your product with their existing systems, but doesn’t fully see the value of doing so and the project remains a low priority as a result (low motivation, high ability). To move the needle with this type of user you need to better sell them on the vision of how your product can solve their problems and why these pain points are important enough to move up on their to-do list.

Finally, to complete the habit loop, consider what “work” you can ask the user to do that will make it more likely that they will return. Example: Facebook asks you to invite friends not just because it’s a key prerequisite for you to find value in their product, but also because it requires you to do a little work and become invested in the success of Facebook. I think this investment stage can be tied in with your goal of making your product “sticky” and increasing the cost of switching products.