How to Get Users to Come Back Again (and Again) | Product Habits (4/4)
Examples from Craigslist, Excel and Instacart
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This article is Part IV of a 4-part series on Building Product Habits. Each article explores one of the four steps laid out in James Clear's best-selling book, Atomic Habits: cue, craving, response, and reward.
We're wrapping up our 4-part series on Building Product Habits by exploring arguably the most important step: the reward.
The first three steps - Cue, Craving, and Response - were all helping increase the odds that a user uses your product THIS time.
This final step - Reward - increases the odds that a user will use your product NEXT time, thus completing the habit loop.
Put simply, what gets rewarded gets repeated.
"The vital thing in getting a habit to stick is to feel successful - even if it's in a small way. The feeling of success is a signal that your habit paid off and that the work was worth the effort.”
Great! Now what? Do we pass out candy to anyone who uses our product?
While that might actually work 🤔, the answer is actually much simpler: deliver on the promise.
The popular "Jobs to Be Done" framework posits that people use products because there's a promise - spoken or unspoken - that the product will help them do a particular job.
Hinge will help you get a date.
Figma will help you design an interface.
Substack will help you deliver your content to your readers (hellooo 👋).
Though it sounds simple, it's not easy. Consider the graveyard of well-funded, well-staffed products that have made big promises and failed to deliver.
Be careful what you promise
Delivering on a promise doesn't mean you have to deliver the greatest experience of all time. It simply means you have to deliver the experience you said you would.
We all know Craigslist...
Need I say more? lol
There's a reason why they pull down half a billion dollars every year with a team of less than 50 people.
They never promised a slick interface or a perfectly optimized mobile app. They promised to make selling and buying stuff second-hand super easy.
And they delivered.
It's so tempting to overpromise or talk a big game. But done carelessly, it can be a nail in the coffin. As soon as you under-deliver, you begin to erode whatever trust you’ve managed to build. As soon as you lose trust, there's a laundry list of other products waiting in the wings to take your place.
If I download an app to solve a problem and the registration process is clunky, I'm out. If they ask too much of me right out of the gate, I'm out. If it takes too long to load, I'm out. I know first-hand the crazy amount of effort it takes to build a great product and I'm still impatient. Because I’m human.
Be careful what you promise.
🏦 The Willpower Bank
Every day, we wake up with a certain amount of will power in our Willpower Bank. Let’s call these Units of Will (UoW).
Habits help put repetitive tasks on autopilot so that we don’t have to expend UoW to do the everyday tasks like brushing our teeth or driving to work. Instead, our limited supply of UoW can be expended throughout the day helping us power through non-repetitive tasks that we need to do.
Say no to the snacks at Walmart
Go to the DMV
Fix the leaky faucet
We can take the concept of Units of Will and use them to help us visualize how our product interacts with our users’ willpower.
A World With vs. Without Your Product
Imagine a world where your product and others like yours don’t exist. In that world, the "job to be done" can probably still get done but it takes a large number of UoW.
Let’s take Excel for example. Before Excel came along, accountants did spreadsheets (← yes, “doing spreadsheets” is a technical term) by hand. It sucked, but they did it.
Then along came Excel which made spreadsheeting (← another technical term) much easier.
The Units of Will required to purchase and install Excel, learn the way it worked, and set up the sheets, equations, and references was an immense expenditure. It probably took weeks, if not months of their time to transfer their hand-written accounts to the computer.
But in the end, they were able to update, extend and share their spreadsheets with ease, saving them thousands of hours and many Units of Will over time.
The most habit-forming products are the ones that reduce the friction in your every-day life, thus conserving your Units of Will.
Instacart makes it frictionless to get groceries.
DuoLingo makes it frictionless to learn a language.
Grammarly makes it frictionless to write well.
But of course, these products aren’t entirely frictionless themselves. We must expend some number of UoWs to engage with them. Now we can begin to visualize a formula.
saved UoW - spent UoW = net UoW
Value held equal, we can start to imagine how competing products stack up against each other by comparing their net UoW. And as we know from the Response article, us humans like to take the path of least resistance (eg. spend fewer Units of Will).
Spending 2 months to configure a piece of software that saves you 20 hours of time isn't a success, it's a waste. But if it saves you 20 hours of time each week into infinity, as in the case of Excel, I think we would all call it a success.
A 10x success.
🔥 The 10x Rule
No, not the one by Grant Cardone.
The idea that a product must be 10x better than the status quo for a user to switch.
It sounds absurd, doesn't it? After all, if there was a new way of solving a problem that was incrementally better, wouldn't we gladly switch? Unfortunately, it's not so simple and it's all thanks to... you'll never guess... HABITS!
Remember, habits are our brain's way of putting a repetitive task on autopilot so we expend fewer Units of Will. So if we've built a habit around a certain process - no matter how inefficient - it requires fewer UoW to go through the motions than it does to begin building a new habit.
If Excel wasn't a 10x better experience, why would the accountants who already have a system that works and they're familiar with spend weeks of their time to switch? It just wouldn’t be worth the effort.
The new way must be so radically superior than the status quo that the status quo looks foolish by comparison. Incremental improvements can be chalked up to personal preference and dismissed with a wave of a hand and a "hrumph."
🧮 The Willpower Formula
Now we get to the meat and potatoes. It’s time to put the pieces together into an imaginary-but-somehow-still-useful formula for product success.
success = net UoW w/ product ≥ (net UoW w/o product * 10)
Success is when the net Units of Will of using the product is 10x the net Units of Will of not using the product. I realize that’s still very theoretical so let’s bring back Instacart as an example.
❌ WITHOUT Instacart
(-100 UoW) Going to the store, picking out your groceries, standing in line to check out, and then going home.
(+50 UoW) Using a vehicle to drive there instead of walking.
(+5 UoW) Swiping a card instead of counting out cash.
Net Units of Will: -45
✅ WITH Instacart
(-20 UoW) Logging in, searching for groceries, adding them to your cart, and checking out.
(+5 UoW) Using Apple Pay instead of tracking down your wallet.
Net Units of Will: -15
The difference between grocery shopping with Instacart vs. without Instacart is 30 Units of Will. THAT is what you’re paying for when you pay a premium for groceries getting delivered to your door.
Let's bring this thing across the finish line, shall we?
The Willpower Formula is more of a mental exercise than a practical one since we can’t actually measure Units of Will (duh), but it does help us identify two important levers we can play with to move the needle toward success.
Reduce the Units of Will required to use your product (Response).
Increase the Units of Will your product helps them save (Reward).
Understanding the habit loop and how habits work has dramatically improved the way I think about user onboarding, designing The Product Rep and delivering value and I hope it helps you as well.
If you haven’t already, make sure you go through the first 3 steps in the Building Product Habits series.
Cue: How are you making your product obvious to your users?
Craving: How are you making your product attractive to your users?
Response: How are you making your product easy for your users?
Every incremental change in one of the four buckets is helping your users build a habit around your product, bringing them value and (hopefully) bringing you money.
Thanks for reading!
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