How An Automated Email Improved Our Retention

“May I say your e-mail made me laugh in the back of my Dad’s Jeep? Thank you!”


Since the beginning of Addapp, we have always had an issue with quickly providing value to users since it takes 24 hours to provide added value to them. And that always had a negative impact on our retention rate.*

Imagine you are doing a lot of hard work to have someone download your app, then actually use your app and failing to provide value quickly enough. That sucks. It really sucks.  I strongly believe we are not the only ones with this problem. So if you have this problem, keep on reading. If you don’t have this problem, keep on reading too, as you might learn something new.

Automated email: I am not a number

When you sign up for a service or a product, you normally get a classic automated welcome email.

Customer Service e-mails

If you’re lucky, it will come from the CEO of the company (click to enlarge):

These automated emails basically say: “You are a number. We do not care about you or the time you put into our product. We just pretend to care.”

Customer service is key

As a CEO of an early-stage startup, I put a lot of value into customer service, which evolved from having extremely bad and extremely good experiences with customer service. The products I buy and the services I use normally have great customer service: the cafe where I get my coffee from, the restaurant I’ll take my girlfriend to, the gym where I’ll exercise, the bank where I’ll open an account. I return again and again to these places because they truly care about their customers and treat them like human beings.

Customer service is everywhere.

This is why in Addapp everybody does support, and everybody will be doing support no matter how big we become. And it starts with me, the CEO of Addapp. I do it every day. I love talking to users, getting in touch with them and helping them through their issues with our product. This is how I see it: Somebody is using the product I built. Somebody is taking time of their day to actually write to us about their issue, their feedback, their idea. They are spending their most expensive resource in the world on my product: time. You can always get a dollar back and make more money, but you can never get back a minute you spent!

No value, no automated email

Now thinking about how to welcome a user who has just signed up for our product, we originally sent one of those classic automated emails. I hated it, but I agreed to do it.

After some time, we even forgot it was there.

Through the course of building a product that has to be as personalized as possible, we thought that we had to start with a welcome email, but we wanted to make it more creative and personalized. We had no idea how we could do it, so we decided to kill the automated email. Why send it since it really adds no value for us or the user?

We needed an automated email. Now what?

About 2.5 months ago, we were planning our biggest launch to date, when suddenly a problem came up that we couldn’t solve in our app directly. We sometimes need 24 hours to actually give an added value to our users. How do we keep users interested until that moment? How do we have them coming back after 24 hours if they hadn’t seen anything from our product? How do we explain the issue so that the user smiles and stays? Hell, how do we keep them around?

“We need an automated email right after sign-up,” I said to myself. I started worrying. We had been through the  process of an automated welcome email before, and it didn’t work. “What if we inject some humor into it and make the user smile?” If you manage to get a user to smile with a simple hello, that is huge user experience win for a mobile application. It allows you to create an instant relationship with the user so you can increase your chances of retaining the user.

I like to think I have a sense of humor, and I occasionally can tell a good joke, especially after a couple of drinks, but I am aware that there are funnier people out there, and some of them happen to be my colleagues. So I asked my colleague Judith to write a funny, engaging automated welcome email. And she did a fantastic job. Here’s why:

1. We acknowledged it was an automated email

Getting automated emails is a pain in the ass. Users are not stupid, and they know it’s not really the CEO writing an email to every user five minutes after they signed up. So why not be upfront about that fact and acknowledge it, but do it in a funny way?

2. Bring the message loud and clear

When it comes to what you really want to say (in our case: we can’t deliver value to you until the next 24 hours), don’t joke about that. Craft the message in clear and easy-to-understand language and explain why. If you want them to trust you and come back to you after a certain amount of time, treat them like you want to be treated: without bullshit and with the promise that it will be worth it.

3. Give the opportunity to get in touch & stick to it

I added another personalized touch to the email. I promised every user that I would reply within 12 hours if they reply to the welcome automated email. And I do. No matter how many users choose to challenge me, I reserve 1-2 hours of my time in my day to reply. It has become a daily habit for me, and on days where I don’t get a lot of replies, I really miss it and compensate by talking to other users! I actually got addicted to talking to users.

I am not going to disclose the full content of the email. You can find out simply by downloading our product here if you have an iPhone. If you don’t have an iPhone, get a friend of yours who has an iPhone to download it :-).

The results of our automated email?

Mara Monaghan wrote Best welcome email ever! and she continued to add, I work for an ecommerce shoe company, think I’ll suggest we come up with a cheeky welcome email too. It’s definitely caught my eye!

Chris Brown wrote Best automated email I’ve ever received :). Other users wrote the following:

  • This is super cool! I love your app! And I love the connection between CEO/staff and customer. Fantastic work! Looking forward to using Addapp.
  • Thanks for this personal attention, now I am really curious.
  • Wait seriously? Or are you sending automated messages?
  • Hope you’re not doing this today! The weather is gorgeous.
  • The automated email was honest, funny and if I get a response to this email from a human (even better from the CEO!!). That will be an awesome touch.

And this is just a fraction of the replies I’ve got! The best part of all? While our retention is roughly 50%, defined as users opening the app two weeks later after signing up, the retention of users who have replied to the automated welcome email is 90%.

And I assume that a lot of the 50% has to do with the automated email as well, even though they didn’t reply to me.

Don’t treat you customers as a number: be authentic

So the key here for anyone building a product or service that they want to stand out: Do not treat your users as numbers; they will know and they will punish you for that. Tell the truth, add a funny tone on it, and challenge them to challenge you. It will do wonders, no matter how big or small you are, and it will create a lasting experience if you build on it. In our case it was the welcome automated email, which also affected the way I think about other parts of the product and the company at large. The experience hasn’t made me wise yet, but it has made me wiser.



* Customer retention is the activity that a selling organization undertakes in order to reduce customer defections. Successful customer retention starts with the first contact an organization has with a customer and continues throughout the entire lifetime of a relationship. A company’s ability to attract and retain new customers, is not only related to its product or services, but strongly related to the way it services its existing customers and the reputation it creates within and across the marketplace. (from Wikipedia)

CEO & Co-founder of Addapp. I love tracking, coffee, anything cooked
by my mom, startups, and quantified self.

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