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The messaging starter kit for customer engagement

Senior Editor, Intercom

Geoffrey Keating


Main illustration: Kelsey Wroten

“What is customer engagement?” Fair question.

Unless you’re selling something as painfully obvious as garbage bags, you’re going to need to cajole/convince/nudge your customers to keep using your product. At many different points of their lifecycle, you’ll want them to feel something, know something, do something or say something.

For modern software companies, messaging is the single most effective way to engage your customers. The more time and effort you spend sending the right message, to the right people, at the right time, the greater the chances they’ll understand, retain and be able to recall that message.

Over the past few years, we’ve helped thousands of businesses create messages that help grow their business, and we’re often asked what types of messages you should send to help engage your customers. That’s why we put together a messaging starter kit to help get your customer engagement strategy off the ground. First you can read this post, which explains our thinking behind the message types, including successful examples from some of our customers, and then you can download a set of templates to help you create your own successful strategy.

In the downloadable guide, you’ll get examples of messages which will help you:

  • Set new users up for success
  • Activate new users that might have dropped off
  • Avoid sending impersonal, poorly timed messages
  • Retain existing customers and turn them into long term, loyal users

We’ve used messages like these to help grow and scale Intercom – we hope that by following this advice you can do the same.

The Messaging Starter Kit for Customer Engagement

1. Check up messages

Many business pour thousands of hours into optimizing sign up buttons, while promptly ignoring the customers they’ve already got. That’s where check up messages come in – they let you proactively identify any issues customers might be having, so you can solve problems before they become deal-breakers.

Here are three basic messages you can start with:

  1. New user check up message – Ideal for gauging initial reactions to your product’s features and finding out how your onboarding experience can be improved. Make sure you only send this message to customers who have completed onboarding and have actually started to engage with the product. (In Intercom this means using message rules like “Signed up more than 30 days ago” and “Sessions is more than 10”.)
  2. Medium term check up message – As customers mature with your product and become more experienced, you can ask for deeper insights into whether specific features are helping with the job they’re trying to do. Again, make sure your message is targeted to the right people. You won’t learn much from checking in with people who haven’t used your product in 6 months. (Use message rules like “Signed more than 180 days ago” and “Last seen less than 7 days ago”.)
  3. Engaged user check up message – Long term, loyal customers are the cornerstone of your business. Their feedback is critical for understanding what’s going right, and what’s going wrong. (Use message rules such as “Sessions is greater than 250”)

For check-in messages, we always recommend you send them inside your app, in context. You’re asking in the moment when their attention is on your product, not hours later when they are trying to clear out their inbox. You’ll get more replies, and they will be much better quality.

But however you decide to check in with your users, make sure you’re asking the right users. It never makes sense to message your entire user list to ask how they’re doing, or look for feedback on a feature.

For example, one of our customers, New Relic wanted to get useful feedback about a new feature. Rather than spam their entire database with this request, they only targeted power users of the feature. 21% replied with feedback, representing 2.5x more than their previous, non-targeted survey.

New Relic messaging

2. Retention messages

It’s a simple truth that not every customer is going to stay active. Some will churn because your competitor is cheaper, some because they no longer have a need for your product; that can’t be helped. But some will stop using your product because they never understood it in the first place, or they felt that you never cared about them.

Here’s a few retention messages you can send to re-engage customers:

Re-engagement message – If customers are slipping away, don’t just write “We miss you ? Please log back in.” Motivate people to come back to your product. Showcasing features they might not have heard of is a great way to do this.

Re-engagement message Intercom

Education message – Of course, sometimes people have dipped their toes into a particular feature, but dropped off when they didn’t know how to use it. (Sidebar: if large numbers of users aren’t engaging with a particular feature, you might have a deeper problem that requires more than a once-off message)

If someone isn’t engaged with a particular feature that’s important to your product, sending messages with best practice guides, tips and tricks, and ebooks, are great for bringing people back into your product to continue their march toward victory.

Retention messages have big impact. For example, Later, a popular mobile app for Instagram scheduling, wanted to reach out to new signups before they slipped away, so they sent an email to new users who hadn’t been active for two days. The result? 17% more users were retained from messages like this one:

Later education message

Unless you’re giving customers these timely road signs, they’re going to get lost along the way.

3. Milestone messages

Without a finish line (or multiple finish lines) for customers to cross, they will lose interest. You could try gamifying your product and adding things like completeness meters. Or your could use messaging to mark customer milestones as they continue to use your product.

Sending customers a well-timed message when they’ve created their 10th project, or added 20 teammates, is a great way of rewarding progress and reminding customers of the value your product provides.

These messages should make extensive use of custom attributes so they are personalized for each user. For example, one year after a user signs up you might send a mail congratulating them on the number of projects they completed or how many teammates and clients they have collaborated with.

Of course, you shouldn’t be waiting a year for your customer to hit their first milestone, while the user’s interest is waning all the time. This tactic is just as effective when congratulating new signups on their first steps towards success, e.g. inviting 5 teammates or creating 15 tasks.

4. Upsell messages

The point of keeping customers around is so they become valuable in the long run. But it’s important to make sure it’s a profitable situation for you and your customers. Try upselling to customers who don’t need it, and you’ll only alienate customers who are paying double what they were but who aren’t seeing more than twice the business value.

Take this message from Baremetrics, a SaaS analytics and insights product.

Baremetrics engagement message

Baremetrics sent an email targeting users who had logged in more than 10 times in the first 30 days after signing up. With a a segment of their most active individual users, they could now try nudging them towards annual pricing.

If your product has multiple pricing tiers, or if your product has a freemium model, well-crafted, well-targeted messages can help maximize those opportunities. The trick is to discover when a customer is displaying signs they are getting value out of their first purchase, and clearly articulate the value the customer will get from it.

Remember, most customers who sign up to your product will use it only once. Unless you’re giving customers these timely road signs, it’s almost certain they’re going to get lost along the way. Sure, it can be daunting at first – What if a customer replies? How do I strike the balance between being helpful and being annoying? – but each message takes no more than an hour and will pay back your business many times over. Or, of course, you could download our starter kit and give yourself a headstart.

Thanks to New Relic, Baremetrics and Later for pulling together some of these examples.

The Messaging Starter Kit for Customer Engagement