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Design: Understanding your customer lifecycle

This is part 2 of a 5 part series on Design.

The products you provide at your company change over time as you improve them, add features and adapt to changing markets. Your customers are changing at the same time, often faster than your product! Customers are humans and they learn quickly, which means that the longer they use your product the more expertise they gain.

While a first-time user might only signup for your product and use it briefly, after a few days (or weeks), they might be an expert using all of the power features available in your product. I break down the lifecycle of customer expertise into three stages:

  • Newbie. These are people who just started using your product for the first time.
  • Student. These are people who are learning your product but haven’t yet mastered it.
  • Expert. These people know your product inside and out.

All customers start as Newbies and eventually become Experts (if you retain them), expanding their use of the product.

Understanding how many customers are at each level of expertise is a critical factor in your product design. If most of your customers are experts, then they might expect you to add more advanced features and tools. If the number of students is growing rapidly it might be too hard to learn some advanced features and you need to make them easier to use.

So, how do you know how many customers are at each stage of the lifecycle?

One easy way is to identify actions that a customer can take that indicate strongly that they are at a given stage. All products have features or use cases that a new user would never use but become common with more expertise. If you think about the actions your users take, you can flag and segment them into lifecycle stages whenever those critical actions take place.

There may, of course, be more than one action that indicates a customer has moved from one stage to another so your tracking will depend on your product. Once you implement it, you will have a powerful tool that lets you understand the level of sophistication of your customers and help inform your design process.

Quote of the Day: “One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche