Jun 15, 2023

Read Time 7 min

Product usage data: what it is and how to get started with Ethan Riley


Product usage data is one of the best tools customer success managers can use to anticipate customer needs, drive adoption, and increase expansion.

With product usage data, you no longer have to:

  • Pretend to know what customers have been up to in business reviews
  • Rely on customers to make you aware of adoption issues
  • Initiate awkward upsell conversations on account of poor timing and judgment

Usage data helps you read between the lines and tells you what your customer isn’t. That’s not to say your customers are intentionally withholding information. But they’re busy people with other priorities. Sometimes, they may not be aware that a problem or solution even exists.

With usage data, you can stay one step ahead and get an inside look into your customers’ preferences and potential areas of improvement. You can use this insight to make decisions grounded in data rather than anecdotes and best guesses.

I sat down with Ethan Riley, senior customer success manager at ChurnZero to talk about how customer success teams can use product usage data to their advantage as well as common obstacles to getting started and how to overcome them.

Ethan Riley, customer success manager, headshot

What is product usage data?

Ethan: Product usage data refers to information collected about how people use a product. This can include things like how often they use it, how long they use it, and which features they use the most or least.

Usage data gives companies insight into customer behavior, preferences, and needs. Companies can use this insight to improve product offerings and make more informed decisions about product development, sales, and marketing strategies. Data can be collected through various methods including user analytics, surveys, and customer feedback.

What advantages do Customer Success teams gain from using product usage data?

Ethan: The biggest benefit, speaking from a CSM’s perspective, is being aware of your customers’ activity prior to meetings. CSMs should not be going into meetings completely blind about what their customers have been doing in the product. I’ve worked as a CSM at a company where we didn’t have a customer success platform or usage data, and it trapped the CS team in a reactive state.

It was extremely awkward and difficult to prepare for customer meetings when you haven’t talked to customers for three months and you come to these quarterly business reviews and say, “So, what have you been up to? How have things been going?” It’s an impersonal approach and puts the onus on the customer to kick things off and recall specific details from the last few months. It’s also unreasonable to ask a CSM to review a customer’s entire account every single time they have an upcoming interaction to figure out what’s changed since the last time they talked. It’s like I’m managing your account, but I’m not able to truly manage it at the same time because I don’t have that visibility into product usage. Because of this, it was unimaginable to move from being reactive to proactive.

Instead, CSMs can use product usage data to show up for their customers by coming prepared to meetings with a personalized agenda and recommendations to achieve their objectives. Only with usage data in their arsenal can a CS team confidently achieve a proactive posture.

CS teams can also use this data to:

  • Sharpen outreach by sending perfectly timed messages via automated playbooks based on what a user does—or doesn’t do—in the product.
  • Refine ideal customer profiles based on the attributes and behavior of their most successful customers. This can apply to all role types, e.g., champion, exec sponsor, power user, or admin.
  • Find power users and nurture them into advocates—which are one of your best sources for gathering reliable and meaningful product feedback.
  • Keep executives informed of successes, risks, and trends within the customer base.

What hurdles do Customer Success teams encounter with product usage data?

Ethan: Broadly speaking, CS teams can struggle with getting help from their product team to set up usage tracking in the product itself due to competing priorities. It can be difficult to justify why implementing a JavaScript snippet, for example, should take precedence over the product roadmap.

I would contend, however, that it’s extremely important because nearly every department at an organization works with customers in some way, shape, or form. CS is just the most obvious example since CSMs meet with customers regularly.

Product teams can use this data to get better insights into how customers actually use the product. Sales teams can see who the power users are at your healthiest customers to identify referenceable contacts. Marketing teams can determine if a new feature is being underutilized so they can provide more resources to customers in the next newsletter. Support and engineering teams can understand the behavior behind an influx of support tickets or inbound requests for product enhancements. Usage data doesn’t only benefit CS teams; it benefits every team.

Tactically speaking, the most common mistake I see is organizations lacking the appropriate unique identifiers on usage events. This can result in field mis-mapping and the creation of duplicate accounts or contacts. Be diligent about getting your account and contact external IDs on the event data itself. It will save you so much time in the long run and help you prepare for implementing a customer success platform.

How can Customer Success teams use product usage data in their work?

There are endless use cases. Some top ones that come to mind include:

  • Forging closer collaboration with other departments (e.g., product or marketing) by using usage data to build a shared understanding of customer needs, issues, and behavior.
  • Spotting usage trends within accounts. If a customer starts using a feature more often, it might be a sign that their goals have changed. Present this data to the customer and use it as an opportunity to realign with what is top of mind for them right now.
  • Uncovering expansion potential. Create an upsell campaign for customers who log in daily, have consistent feature usage, and have seen positive results from their use of sticky feature A (e.g., high open rates for their sent emails).
  • Finding hidden pain points. Asking a customer if they’re comfortable with a certain feature because you noticed a lack of usage will help you address an issue before it becomes a problem, especially during onboarding and new product launches.

What are a few ways CS teams can use product usage data in ChurnZero?

Ethan: CS teams can use product usage data with virtually every feature ChurnZero offers. A few popular use cases include:

  • Account and contact level data – Analyze contacts at a single account who use A and B sticky features. Check if your primary point of contact is using your product’s latest feature.
  • Segments – View usage by key contact, a specific role, or persona.
  • ChurnScores – Factor in recent updates or use of stickiest features to get a more qualitative measure of customer health.
  • Alerts – Get notified the first time a disengaged contact logs in over the last X days.
  • Journey achievements – Build a milestone step that automatically completes when an account sets up certain key features.
  • Playbooks – Create a workflow for when an account does X, automatically do Y, then Z.
  • WalkThroughs – Launch a series of in-app messages when a customer interacts with a specific feature or button.

You can use all of these features and use cases to generate agenda items for customer meetings.

How many usage events should Customer Success teams track in their product?

Ethan: It’s hard to say because every customer is so different. To give a ballpark figure, I’d recommend tracking anywhere between 10 to 20 events. But it doesn’t have to meet that threshold by any means.

Tracking too many events can overwhelm your team to the point where they don’t know how to analyze the data. When it comes to usage data, more isn’t always better. The goal is to make the data as clear and concise as possible. Because getting too granular can actually be a hindrance.

One way to combat feature overload is to group similar functionality together under one event. If you have four different usage events that live in different parts of the app but essentially do the same thing, ChurnZero can port them into a single event to help reduce the noise. For example, a product might have events for “add user,” “added a user,” and “user added” which are all the same function.

In certain scenarios, it may be helpful to capture the specifics of where exactly a user is performing an action. But again, making sure your data is as succinct as possible will make all the difference in its utility.

What are a few important product usage metrics to track, and why?

Ethan: This will differ by company and product. However, logins are universal and easy to track. You need to know if users—especially new and disengaged customers—are accessing the platform, which can often get overlooked.

You can do a lot with login data such as set up an alert for the first time a new user logs in or make it an achievement in an onboarding journey to ensure an account stays consistent. You can also make it a factor in your health score, e.g., customer logged in X number of times over the last 30 days.

With ChurnZero’s JavaScript, you can also track time-in-app and the number of active days. I’d recommend the latter as it can be a better measure of engagement. For example, you could create a segment of customers who have X number of active days over the last 30 days. You can get more specific and filter the segment by key contact roles, such as champion or power user.

To give you another example, I have a customer who breaks out event data by product edition as well as web and mobile. They use these segments to zero in on customers who primarily access their software via mobile, and then offer them an upsell to a higher-tier mobile solution.

What advice would you offer to someone wanting to get started with product usage data?

Ethan: I highly recommend creating aggregate fields based on product usage data. For example, in ChurnZero, you could create an account field for the average or exact number of times a contact role (e.g., champion) uses X feature over the last 30 days. This gives you a snapshot of usage at the account level without having to go into the usage tab and dissect everything. You can also turn that data point into a merge field in your communications, account insight reports, and custom dashboards.

Additionally, for ChurnZero customers who are weighing whether to use our Javascript or a product analytics tool to track usage, I always recommend installing the JavaScript because it gives you access to our in-app features like WalkThroughs and in-app communication.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like: How to use ideal customer behaviors to accelerate product adoption


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