Most people (and articles, and courses) focus on getting customers. But what do you do to keep them, after you got them?

Today’s article is about retaining customers, keeping them engaged, and reducing refund requests.

Examples in the article are based on the training/online courses business, but they can just as easily be applied to any other business which deals with recurring payments and relies on keeping the customers engaged and paying.

The Problem

Approximately 15% of students in massive open online courses cross the finish line. So, they end up asking for a refund because they didn’t get value from your course.

That’s why online course owners need to optimize for high completion rates.

And we can learn from what they’re doing to increase completion rates and decrease refunds.

You can easily grab at least two ideas from this list and use them in your strategy, if you deal with recurring payment refunds.

Gamification Hack #1: Use the Login Optin Strategy as a “gateway” course

People who buy courses are more likely to sign up for a free course first.

Offer a light version of what you sell as a free course. Then, when a participant logs into the membership site to access the free course, they see all of the paid courses available for purchase, too. This view acts as a cross-selling dashboard. Think of it as a non-smarmy way of selling paid courses to people who enjoy courses.

Check out this course dashboard, where both purchased courses and the ones a student hasn’t purchased yet (like in the bottom right-hand corner) are available:


Results: After adding a free course as a gateway, percentage of people who signed up for the paid one increased by 25% (from 4.5% to 5.6%).

Gamification Hack #2: An assessment quiz can increase your probability of selling from 5% to 60%

When you have many options to choose from and your potential customers have a hard time deciding, create a quick assessment quiz that guides them towards a specific course or module based on their business’s needs.


Gamification Hack #3: Highlight your evergreen course student’s “footprints” to engage them more

Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured gets managed.”

For courses, measuring improves at least these two things: 1) the course itself, and 2) the ability of your student to complete the course. Show your student how far they’ve come and lead them to the next step to continue their journey.


There are obvious trends as the first few modules tend to get the most views and completions. Certain metrics lead to cancellations and refunds, like:

  • How recently a member last logged in
  • How active they are once they login (i.e. pages visited or videos watched)
  • If they completed lessons or modules
  • Whether they participate in forums or click on links in an email

Using this data, you’ll spot super active members (and identify trends in what pages are getting the most views!). Plus, you’ll also pinpoint students who never logged in.

When you feel like you’ve already made strides, you’re more likely to keep going. This motivational technique taps into completion bias: we like to finish what we start. When we feel like we’re making progress, we get motivated.

Gamification Hack #4: “Fully engaged students represent an extra 23% in revenue.” So keep ’em coming back…

When you automatically follow-up with participants who aren’t as engaged, you reduce refunds and help your students accomplish your course’s promised outcome.

Engagement is an important business metric.

Students who don’t take your course are less likely to buy more courses or refer you to their friends. According to Gallup’s research, customers who are fully engaged represent a 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue and relationship growth over the average customer.

One way to engage is by reminding students via email.

Put together an “automation loop” to check if a student has logged in within the last week or two. If the answer is no, then an email is sent to remind them about the course.

Give ’em a few days to log back in and continue the course. And if they don’t, follow up again.

Software companies do a great job of this, like this example from Typeform:


Technically speaking, your follow-up email can get as granular as you want to:

  • Mention the last module they completed
  • Use the assessment information to remind them why this particular course or module is going to help them succeed

Gamification Hack #5: Use the “Points-Based Reward System” (or how our 65% cancellation rate dropped to 38%)

Point systems! This reward is often what people think of when they see the word gamification. Frequent flyer miles, hotel points and even Expedia have used points in their loyalty programs for decades.

Biggest lesson on setting up and running a credit system is this:

You need to have a very clearly laid-out and transparent process for how points are earned and what they can be used for.

You might even need to come up with a monetary value for your points. For example, make each point worth an actual dollar, so students could purchase points and also see them as more than just a vanity gamification “trick.”

Also, give points early and often. If you feel like you’re gaining momentum, you’re more likely to want to keep going. The single most important principle for onboarding success: get early wins to build momentum fast.

An example of a reward system:


You can also offer points for sharing on social media and award random prizes during a specific contest period.


Result: Points increased user retention.

If you’re not interested in tying points to a redemption system, you could rank members based on points in a leaderboard which can also be motivating.

Gamification Hack #6: The #1 most effective way to increase student achievement

A detailed synthesis of over 7,000 studies found that the #1 most effective means of enhancing student achievement was through giving feedback via audio or video as related to goals. When course students achieve their goals – thanks to your feedback – then you’ve achieved your goal as a course creator.

You can tie points to a more valuable, personalized service, like a personal copy critique. Then you wouldn’t be flooded with a ton of requests and you could easily handle them every few weeks.

People stockpile points to turn them into private, high-value service.

Gamification Hack #7: Tap into the Observer Effect for increased implementation of your evergreen course materials

If you can give members the ability to find each other based on interests, expertise levels, location or any other criteria, it makes your course way more valuable.

Accountability is traced back to the “observer effect“. When you know you’re being observed, you alter your behavior to match the expectations. In this case, you do the work assigned in the course.

Having a good member directory, with an added “Needs a partner” filter, so students could reach out to others who were actively looking, can go a long way.


The results? More engagement, happier students, and the ripple effect.


Whatever kind of product you have, if you deal with recurring payments and you need to keep your customers interested and engaged, you can take the ideas above and make them work for you.

7 gamification hacks to reduce refund requests

PS. This article motivated me to send an email to people who are not engaged and who don’t open my emails. For those who do open, I have nothing but ❤. Those who don’t, knock knock! 📪