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It's 2024, Hacking Your Way to Truly Useful Products

Listen:

Last weekend I got again fed up by SaaS companies and their permanent "digital engagement" noise, so I canceled. You guess what really fed me up then? The extortion when I cancel my subscription, leading to mandatory, useless interrogation practice - surveys: "We want to understand why you want to cancel" with dozens of questions!

Folks, when you DON'T understand why and when customers cancel and why your awesome product has more churn than all wholesale companies combined, then your complete product metrics (if any) are wrong and your product team needs to reevaluate how they build products.

Yes, the tech startup bubble obsesses over user and customer engagement. Your investors tell you that, the "marketing" gurus, "influencers," and I don't know who else. They tell you to push notifications, implement annoying gamification,and endless "sticky" features, desperately trying to keep eyeballs locked on our products and services. Let's make it short, it's BS. You know what happens? Block notifications is the first action a user takes (40% of app users block over-information on mobiles - Toptal), useless over-engagement increases churn, a study from businessofapps found recently.

Metric Driven Bombardments

We've all been there: the food delivery app that bombards you with late-night "treat yourself!" alerts, or the ride-hailing app that begs "Wanna go somewhere...now?" with random, creepy notifications. Sure, these tactics might be backed by fancy data and A/B tests, but are they truly maximizing utility for the user? It feels more like a blind obsession with conversion numbers at any cost. 

One question always pops into my head: do the people making these decisions even use their own apps? Do they enjoy the constant barrage of notifications, privacy invasions disguised as "personalization," and endless hoops to jump through when canceling a subscription? Somehow, I doubt it. 

It's easy to get lost in the "engagement" game, chasing metrics without considering the human on the other side of the screen. Here's the scary part: I recently heard a student from a top business school mention these "engagement dark patterns" as standard product management strategies. Yikes. 

As a product owner, forget and fight manipulative ideas and massive data crunching. Simply design products that genuinely respect our time, privacy, and sanity. Isn't that what good tech is all about? 

How To Build True Customer Loyalty

The best path to real customer loyalty and business success, in my humble opinion and expertise, lies in user disengagement. I'm not talking about forcing users out of your platform or app. Disengagement here is a philosophy, a mindset shift in your product design and product marketing: putting the user's true needs ahead of fleeting attention metrics. This means creating experiences that deliver real value, respect user time, and even help them disconnect when necessary. 

Disengagement in Action

Let's get real: user disengagement isn't about kicking folks out of your app/business/SaaS. It's about ending the toxic obsession with "engagement" metrics that often lead straight to user-hostile practices. You know, those dark patterns designed to trap people with endless clicks and notifications, meant to be "engaging" and building "moat", lead actually to user hostility. Ironic, isn't it? 

When we product folks talk about disengagement, we mean ditching the whole idea that success equals gluing eyeballs to screens. Instead, active user disengagement focuses on whether our products are genuinely useful and meaningful for the actual human beings at the other end. When the service "just works", that's the best user disengagement and product moat you can achieve. And then it's highly rare that a user churns - the service or app is just so well integrated into their daily routine that removing it would break this routine. Short, here's why disengagement matters and is a unfair advantage for your products or services:

  • Focus & Productivity: Digital overwhelm is very real. Products that cut through the noise and let users achieve their goals quickly earn respect and loyalty. 
  • Data Privacy & Ethics: The endless harvesting of user data has fueled a backlash. Designing for thoughtful disengagement builds trust in a privacy-focused future. 
  • Mental Health Awareness: Tech addiction is increasingly in the spotlight. Creating options for mindful disconnection aligns with shifting customer values. 
The whole concept and the philosophy behind is about making business decisions with a direct focus on whether you're truly solving problems for your users. You can't just slap on a "user-centric" label while ignoring this core principle. In fact, this way of thinking should drive pretty much everything you do.

Here's how to practice customer-focused disengagement:

  • Meaningful Metrics: Move beyond screen time and daily active users. Measure success by goals achieved and problems solved for your customers. 
  • Frictionless Off-Ramps: If a task is complete, let the user exit gracefully. Don't trap them with unnecessary upsells or addictive design patterns. They come back and upsell when they see fit and need. 
  • A "Do Not Disturb" Mindset: Offer options to snooze notifications, pause recommendations, or activate "focus mode" within your product. 
  • Transparency & Choice: Let users control the flow of data and personal information. Give clear, non-manipulative options.

Forget the Signup Gimmicks

We're not about flash-in-the-pan discounts or freebies to lure users into an app or platform. This is serious stuff. Picking a place to trust with your money (you pay) is a big decision, not an impulse buy triggered by a wholesale sale with artificial 80% discount for something you don't need; but hey, it was cheap.

A signup is a step in a real relationship, not a box to tick. So, yeah, charge for onboarding. Users who join do it because they value what we offer, long-term.

Same goes for feature bloat. We're not chasing what's trendy or building "cool" stuff for the sake of it. Seeing giants with massive teams burn through design trends just reminds us what not to do. Check out dont.build for a great decision matrix on that. 

Unpopular: Remove Freemium = Decreasing Churn

Too many products fall for the freemium trap – then wonder why those users never stick around. We don't play that game. Our philosophy about upfront onboarding and avoiding gimmicks is how we build a loyal customer base, not a revolving door of casual tire-kickers.

Here's the thing about freemium: it often attracts users who aren't fully invested in your product. They're drawn in by the "free" aspect but may not truly value what you offer. This leads to high churn rates when they realize the limitations of the free tier or simply lose interest. By charging upfront, you filter for customers who are genuinely serious about using your product or service.

Of course, that's not a blueprint for product success – it depends on your niche, market penetration, and the type of service or product you offer. While this strategy might work for specialized software, it could backfire for consumer apps at a certain point. A much better way is "forever free" with strong, limited features that still deliver practical use for the free version. You bet, the conversion rate into a paying customer is much higher, and customer loyalty is much more sticky. 

TL;DR: Disengagement = Better Products, Better Business

Done with passion and a business growth mindset, user disengagement as a philosophy is a win-win. Customers enjoy products that respect their time and values, but being highly important to them. Businesses stand out in a flooded market by showing they genuinely care about user well-being, ultimately leading to a more loyal, engaged customer base over time.

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