How to get your users to try new features in software development

Trends point toward feature adoption becoming even more important in the future. We’ve pulled together some suggestions to help. 

Just because you put a lot of effort into developing new features doesn’t mean they’ll get used. Yikes. Nobody in software development wants to waste their time or complicate things for their user base with features that just sit there. 

Make sure your users know about them

This is such an obvious point that it might seem silly to mention. Users won’t adopt your new features if they haven’t been informed. But there are many ways to get in trouble with this basic requirement. 

How you announce your features has a direct impact on their adoption rate, so your quest for this user awareness piece needs careful reflection.

The answers to two questions will be the main guiding factors toward getting it right: How big of a change will this new feature bring? and Who should know about it? Let’s drill down into this a bit.

The bigger the change, the more you’ll need to do and the earlier you should start your planning and preparation. This might be letting your users know what will happen further in advance, sending more notifications or creating support tools.

Your target audience will vary depending on what has changed. The range can be anything from a small segment of impacted users to the wider society when a new feature has PR potential. 

Selecting the right channels is critical to getting user attention. Which of the below make sense for your new features announcement?

  • Email 
  • In-app notification
  • Blog post
  • Social media post
  • Community post
  • Website or landing page
  • Training course in a learning management system
  • Webinar
  • One-to-one contact – meeting or email
  • Public roadmap
  • Changelog 

Those are a lot of channel options. Before deciding on any of them, keep in mind that you don’t want to overwhelm your users with too much communication. Balance is key.

Put yourself in your user’s shoes – would you be irritated by the message or volume? Note that the highest engagement comes from in-app notifications.

There are also nuances within each channel. For example, an email notification can be short and sweet and the same to everyone, segmented by user type, or integrated into a newsletter.

Other points you’ll need to consider for your announcement are its format and style, which depend greatly on the brand and industry.

Also, reflect on how your users have been notified in the past. There might be trends in that data that will help you create better future announcements.

Ensure they’re hard to resist and easy to use

Research shows that we humans have a bias against change and for the status quo. Address that user resistance upfront by delivering new features that are truly worth your users’ time. 

Sometimes in software development new features are tested in isolation. Instead, take the time to look at what you’re developing from a few angles. Review how the complete application and process work with the new features integrated

. Also, think about the factors that might impact your user in the future. After taking this honest assessment, do your new features provide real value?

If the answer is yes, next up is giving them a user-friendly design. Include users in testing before designing a feature so that decisions and priorities are based on real user insights.

Or, you can include users after you’ve prototyped a feature, fixing usability issues before development. 

Even if you’ve managed all the above, you may still meet this user engagement challenge – indifference. Unless it’s clear why trying the new features – and using them regularly – will improve their future life, users might not even bother.

Doing a great job communicating benefits in your announcement will go a long way to combatting this road block.

Providing easily-accessible support and training will also spur feature adoption and reduce the volume of questions or complaints after release.

Trends in training are addressing the digital skills gap that exists across many organizations. Let’s look closer at some of these. What would be best for your new features? 

There is a move toward more asynchronous learning – when users have access to the content anytime, anywhere – coupled with real-time user support. This might look like walking a user through the change via in-app guidance, screencasts, or videos. 

Another trend is reimagining support for self-reliant software users. This means effectively creating a self-help hub in the application interface. Users would search there for their own answers when they need them without involving a support agent.

Greater understanding of the diversity of users has led to the trend for more Inclusive training. Examples include adapting to users who are visually or hearing impaired, have different learning styles, or have a specific use of the software that is different from the majority. 

Proactively engage the customer team

Don’t just have the end-user in mind. Your customer-facing team can be of immeasurable help when prepped about upcoming changes and their impact on users. Also, let them know of workarounds so that a frustrated user isn’t stranded.

If you have large customers or other users who warrant extra attention, your customer team might even want to set up one-to-one meetings for launch day. 

Use force sparely and sensitively

Deprecation plays an important role in software development as certain features may need to be removed to optimize the product. It’s brutal, but you can deprecate what you don’t want to be used, effectively forcing users over to your new features.

This method can have negative effects on the users who rely on the features you’re removing. Use it with care and support for your user base – you don’t want to alienate them.

Give as much advance notice as you can just as you would with a new feature, and build trust by being as transparent as possible about your reasoning and process.

In some cases, you might ask for acknowledgement of notification about the change, such as via a pop-up message in the app that asks users to click a button to confirm they read it.

Take notes

Be kind to your future self and document all that you do to get your users to try your new features. This will help support the success of your next feature release.

Consider tracking your feature adoption rate as part of this. Not only will that data help you in the future, it can also help you now. You can pivot if adoption is decreasing or stay the course if all is working well. Users’ needs shift and change. 

While this data and your experiences will be helpful, don’t forget that your product is the sum of every feature.

Be aware of extra benefits

Frustrating users is a possibility when introducing a new feature, but it’s also a great opportunity. By connecting this way, you highlight that you’re working for them and increasing the ways they can get value from your software.  

Think of new feature communication as a chance to increase both engagement and customer happiness as those two things often go together.

When you do this effectively, you’ve built trust and strengthened the relationship with your users. Consider making feature utilization a customer success metric. 

New features can even bring back inactive users. Plus, if you’re using external announcement channels, they might have the luck of bringing in totally new users. There may be someone on the outside who might be specifically interested in this new feature. 

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