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What is customer activation and why does it matter?

Businesses often find themselves with customers who pay the subscription fee, yet never (or rarely) use their product, users who are technically active but only use the basic features, or shoppers who add items to their cart but don’t become paying customers. 

If your customers aren’t getting the full value of your product, you risk high churn, low conversions, and dissatisfied users.

The good news? Customer activation helps you re-engage existing customers and makes sure new ones are engaging with your product from the get-go.

Last updated

5 Aug 2022

Reading time

10 min


This article explains everything you need to know to help customers reap the full benefits of your product long after they make a purchase. Read more to find out what customer activation is, the reasons why it matters, and a step-by-step roadmap on how to get started.

Help customers make use of your product's full potential

Hotjar’s product experience insights show you where customers struggle, and how to improve their journey.

What is customer activation?

Marta Pardo, Hotjar’s associate product manager, defines customer activation as “the first time a user receives value from your product."

Customer activation is the process of guiding your customers through every stage of their journey, by introducing them to all the benefits of your product or service so they actively engage. Then, you motivate them to use your product regularly so they achieve positive results and become loyal customers. 

Customer activation will look different for every company:

  • For a productivity app, customer activation might be a user creating their first to-do list

  • For a marketing tool, it could be the customer launching an email or SMS campaign

  • An SEO tool might consider a customer generating their first keyword research report as customer activation

  • In the case of an ecommerce site, customer activation could be a customer finally completing checkout after adding items to their cart (maybe after a cart reminder nudge) or making a repeat purchase

Customer activation doesn’t just apply to new customers, either. It’s important to find opportunities to reactivate existing customers who:

  • Don’t use your product at all

  • Log in rarely or sporadically

  • Haven’t explored anything beyond your product's basic features

  • Have seen some modest benefits, but not realized the full potential

  • Purchased something from your site once, but haven’t returned

  • Browse your ecommerce store and add items to their cart, but don’t complete checkout 

6 reasons why customer activation is important

Prioritizing customer activation allows you to help users seamlessly experience the whole buyer’s journeyfrom interest, through to purchase, satisfaction and advocacy.

But if you still need convincing that investing time and energy into customer activation is worth it, here are a few more reasons:

  1. Lower cost of acquisition: it’s cheaper to retain your existing customers than attract new ones

  2. Better ROI: you’ll get a higher return on the resources you invested in acquiring those customers

  3. Increase customer lifetime value (LTV): active customers are more likely to become loyal, and continue paying for your product or service

  4. More upsells: a customer who’s receiving high value from your basic package is more likely to upgrade to a premium plan, for example

  5. Improve your product faster: more customers adopting your product—along with all its features—lets you collect more detailed insights about how those customers use your product to quickly understand what features customers use most, what they find easiest, and what they struggle with.

  6. Get recommendations: loyal, happy customers will recommend your product to others, and you’ll grow through word of mouth

So how do you actually get started with customer activation?

A 5-step customer activation roadmap

Build a strong customer activation process to make sure you don’t miss an opportunity to deliver value to your customers.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Verify your customer persona

Successful customer activation starts with knowing your customers. Chances are you already have a customer persona, but now’s the time to revisit it to make sure it’s up to date and as accurate as possible. 

Make sure you don’t just focus on demographics and characteristics. Instead, delve into your customers’ wants, needs, and motivations. How does your product solve customer pain points, and satisfy their desires?

Run customer interviews or use Hotjar (👋) to send out Surveys and ask your users open- and closed-ended questions that will give you valuable information about what they need from your product experience (PX).

2. Understand your users’ behavior

You have to find out how customers are using your product to improve customer activation.

What are they doing on your site? Where are they getting stuck or frustrated, and why? 

There may be some features that customers use a lot, and others they barely touch. Is this because the features themselves aren’t useful—or are there barriers causing your users to get frustrated and give up? In some cases, customers may not even be aware of a feature that could help them.

To really boost customer activation, you need to understand your customers. The more data and feedback you collect, the faster you improve your product and give customers even more value.

💡Pro tip: use Hotjar Session Recordings to understand your customers and improve the customer experience (CX). Watch a replay of a customer’s screen as they explore your site: by putting yourself in your users' shoes, you’ll be able to empathize and see how they navigate.

Maybe you discover your customers are not noticing a button for a new feature that would give them more value and keep them active—and making it more prominent will help your feature activation.

#Use Hotjar Session Recordings to determine where your users are getting stuck

Hotjar Recordings show you how users really experience the customer journey on different devices

3. Create customer journey maps

Once you’ve collected insights on who your users are and how they behave, start customer journey mapping. One useful approach is to map out your typical user journey, and then compare it to the journey taken by your most loyal customers.

As Marc Linneweber, a product manager at Hotjar, explains:

Analyze how your current, most loyal users use your product. You might be able to identify common usage patterns and features these users adopt. With that information, you can define a ‘golden path’ —a perfect user journey that leads users to get the most value from your product. This is a user journey that you can then optimize for.

4. Set clear metrics and KPIs

To effectively measure the success of your customer activation roadmap, make sure you identify clear customer activation metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs).

Track both quantitative and qualitative data, including metrics like: 

  • Activation rate: what percentage of signups go on to complete an 'activation event', like using your product for the first time? 

  • Time to activate: how long does it take to activate your users after they first sign up or engage with your content?

  • Daily, weekly, and monthly active users  (DAU, WAU, and MAU): how many active users do you have every day, week, and month? Use these metrics to understand the percentage of customers who use your product on a regular basis.

  • Activation frequency: how often do customers use your service, and how does that compare to your product goals? A customer that only logs in once a month is technically active but probably isn’t getting enough value.

  • Churn rate: what percentage of customers cancel their subscriptions? How many of those were inactive?

  • Customer feedback: what are customers telling you? This is the best way to understand customer pain points and frustrations that are preventing them from being active.

5. Highlight opportunities for improvement

As you map the customer journey, you’ll start to see patterns.  

You might notice that your users:

  • Get frustrated as they don’t know where to click

  • Scroll back and forth looking for the next step

  • Receive unsatisfactory support suggestions from a chatbot

  • Have to wait too long to receive help from your support team

  • Miss your calls to action (CTAs)

  • Leave before completing your walkthrough/tutorial

All of these blockers present opportunities to improve the user journey and make sure customers don’t give up on your product.

8 ways to increase customer activation (with examples)

Now that you’ve identified frustrations and problems with your product, take action to improve your product experience and keep users on that ‘golden path’ toward becoming a regular user or repeat customer.

Here are some tips for customer activation:

1. Redesign confusing page elements 

Your product may seem straightforward to you, but if your customers find it confusing, you might need to redesign your user experience (UX). Maybe you have too many competing CTAs on your page, your menus aren’t easy to navigate, or the most important features don’t stand out.

To determine what’s causing user frustration, you need to know how customers currently use your site.

Hotjar’s Heatmaps give you visual representations of what users do on your site—where they scroll and click, what they spend time looking at, and what they ignore. You can also view Session Recordings of user activity to find out if customers are rage clicking, helping you spot bugs you need to quickly fix.

These customer activation tools help you empathize with customers to find out what works and what doesn't. You might notice users clicking something that’s not actually a button, hovering back and forth on your page before finding where they want, or completely missing your call to action. Then, use these insights to simplify the customer journey and help users do what they need to do in as few clicks as possible.

2. Use surveys

Asking customers to complete a short survey can be a great way to understand how they’re experiencing your website or product, and how you can better meet their needs.

Provide both ‘closed-ended’ questions (multiple choice or ranking buttons) and optional free-form questions, so users get the chance to express their opinion as fully as they want, in their own words.

Pro tip: use Hotjar’s Feedback widget to ask customers what they’re struggling with ‘in the wild’ as they use your site, and let them highlight specific site elements they like or dislike. Collect real-time feedback and learn which changes customers actually want. If you receive negative feedback, you can watch a Recording of the user’s full session to understand exactly what went wrong.

Hotjar’s feedback widget lets your customers share their opinions 

3. Improve customer onboarding 

The user's onboarding experience is a crucial opportunity to show your customers how valuable your product is and get them to incorporate it into their day-to-day lives. 

Make sure your onboarding process is detailed enough to cover everything without being so long that your customers lose interest. 

Show your customers your product's unique selling proposition up front and don’t make it too complicated to convince users that your product provides value and is easy to use. Try an in-product learning solution that guides them as they’re navigating your product, or an easily-searchable knowledge base they can refer back to.

4. Use in-product support

Strategically place in-product tooltips and hotspots as key moments in the customer journey to give users information on extra features and usage tips while they’re already using your product. 

Occasional pop-ups can also be a great way to nudge users toward a desired outcome: ensure they appear at exactly the right time with a message that your users will be interested in so they’re not an annoying interruption.

For example, you might set up a support chat bot to appear if you notice signs of frustration such as rage clicking or scrolling back and forth. You can also use pop-ups to explain features as users hover over them. 

5. Run welcome email campaigns

A campaign of welcome emails is one of the simplest ways to get new users to interact with your product.

Set up a sequence of emails to go out shortly after a user signs up for your product, walking them through how to get started and showing them how to find support if they need it.

Then, set up certain triggers. For example, if a customer doesn’t complete the onboarding process, or doesn’t use the product within two weeks of signing up, you can send an email offering assistance, and give them a chance to reach out to you with their doubts.

6. Provide feature updates

If customers don’t know about your latest features and updates, they could be missing out on key opportunities to experience more value from your product or service. 

Let them know by sending out emails, creating a 'What’s New' pop-up that they can click through when they log in, or adding subtle tooltips that guide them through new features as they navigate.

7. Give your users special offers

As well as incentivizing new users to sign up, you can persuade inactive users to return to your product with a special offer.

You could offer something like a bundle of free credits, or a discount on the cost of upgrading. 

8. Communicate with inactive customers

Not sure why your customer is paying the fee but never uses the product? If in doubt, ask.

You might be surprised by the answer, and you’ll have an opportunity to save that customer, and show them how your solution can help make their lives easier.

Activate customers to maximize their product value

It’s not enough for customers to buy your product, you also want them to experience its full benefits.

Satisfied customers who use your product on a regular basis will be worth more in the long run, and are more likely to recommend you to others.

To achieve customer activation, you need to collect data about how customers use your product, and use their feedback to continuously improve their experience. By understanding what customers want from your site, how they behave, and where they struggle, you can guide users through the customer journey and rescue them before they become inactive.

Help customers get more value from your product

Hotjar’s product experience insights show you where customers struggle, and how to improve their journey.

FAQs about customer activation