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Navigating the Goodbyes: Tactical steps for handling post churn | Webinar

March 18, 2024 30 minutes read

Summary points:

In this webinar episode, Irina Cismas, CMO of Custify sat down with Danielle Martin, Head of CS at TryHackMe and Samantha Kramer, Global Director of Customer Success at data.ai. The customer success specialists shared their insights regarding post-churn announcements.

Read on to discover:

  • How to spot signals of churn
  • How to handle post-churn announcements
  • How to handle non-ICP accounts
  • Who should take on offboarding calls
  • How to advocate for customers
  • How to ask for feedback and referrals

Summary Points

In this session, we dove deep into spotting when customers might be thinking of saying goodbye and how to bring them back into the fold. Here’s the lowdown:

  • First Impressions Matter: If the welcome mat (a.k.a. onboarding) felt a bit rough, that’s a red flag. It’s like, “Hey, things started bumpy, so we might be in for a rocky ride.” And if that happens, it’s all hands on deck to smooth things out.
  • Engagement is Key: It’s not just about them using your product but how they interact with your team. Are they ghosting your calls, or are they all in? This tells you heaps about whether they see value in sticking around.
  • Show Me the Money: The big question is, are they getting bang for their buck? If they (or even we) can’t see the clear value they’re getting, alarms should be going off.
  • Talk About ROI Early On: The sooner you start chatting about what success looks like and how your product fits into their world, the better. It’s about aligning goals right from the get-go.
  • Feedback is Gold: Collecting thoughts at 30, 60, and 90 days post-onboarding gives you the intel to tweak and improve the journey. It’s like a health check for customer happiness.
  • When the Alarm Sounds: If the onboarding was a miss, call it out, understand why, and don’t be shy to start over if needed. Transparency and tackling issues head-on can turn the tide.
  • Keeping the Flame Alive: For customers who’ve moved on, keep dropping them friendly notes or invites to webinars. It’s about keeping that bridge open for a return journey.

Transcript: Intro

Irina 00:02
Hello everyone! Welcome and thanks for joining us today! I’m Irina Cismas, Head of Marketing at Custify and your host for this webinar. Even with all the planning and prevention churn can still take us by surprise. It’s like preparing your kids to play in the rain, you equip them with the right clothes and with the right boots and everything, but sometimes they still end up soaked.

Believe me, I speak from experience. I live in Bucharest and the last four days were rainy and my four-year-old daughter wanted to play a Magic party in the rain. But leaving aside the topic and the kid’s story today, we’re gonna discuss how we handle post-churn announcements and I invited Samantha Kramer, Customer Success Director data.ai, and Danielle Martin, Head of Customer Success from TryHackMe.

They will both share with us their playbook and how they deal with churn announcements. Danielle and Samantha, thank you very much for joining me today! I know that the agenda of CSM can be very busy so I do appreciate the fact that you took the time to speak with us.

Samantha 01:40
Thank you. Thanks for having me!

Irina 01:43
Before we dive into the topic, I want to address a few housekeeping items. This is a recorded event, and everyone who registered will receive the recording via email. We value your participation, so please feel free to address all your questions. I’m going to be the one monitoring the questions in the chat tab, and I’m going to make sure both Daniel and Samantha answer your questions. If they make sense in the context of a conversation, if not, we’ll allocate 5-10 minutes at the very end for a proper Q&A session.

And this discussion doesn’t need to end when the event ends. I know that Custify’s team is always eager to listen and learn about your unique challenges and discuss how we can tailor our churn prevention methods to better fit your needs. Without further ado, I’m going to start this conversation with a poll. And I want to ask our audience, who is watching us live, how do you typically respond to churn announcements from a client? I’m going to go and publish the poll; bear with me. Hopefully, technology does not fail. Okay, is it set? And let’s give it a few minutes for people to basically vote.

Do you see the poll? Okay, perfect. And now let’s wait for a few minutes for people to start voting, and then we’ll continue with the topic. So, while we have a distribution or immediate action to address their concerns, for the person who mentioned other, if you can please go into more details in the chat. I’m curious, how do you handle this? How do you handle this part? So it seems like everybody is reacting; we’re focused on maintaining a positive relationship for potential return. Okay, that’s a good one as well. I’m curious, and that’s a question for both Samantha and Danielle, how do you handle this, and how do you keep the door open for people to come back? I’ll say a few more seconds, and then we can start.

Okay, we have a fair distribution between immediate action and focusing on maintaining a positive relationship. Samantha, I want to start the conversation with you: What early signs of churn do you have on your radar? And what’s that aha moment when you realize things might not be heading in the right direction?

Early signs of churn

Samantha 05:07
Yeah, I mean, the way I think about churn is that the signs of it can happen at all different points in the customer lifecycle, right? A really early sign of churn is that the onboarding wasn’t successful. So every company should really have their main KPIs that are internal that you’re looking at: Was this a successful onboarding for a new customer? Or was it a little rocky? Or was it unsuccessful? Right? And really evaluating yourself, evaluating with the customer’s feedback, how did it go?

So that’s what I would say is like sign number one, if it’s a new customer, not necessarily your renewal. But a new customer, that you could tell an onboarding was rocky, you know your internal statistics, the likelihood that this customer is going to churn is probably pretty high. And at that point, it’s alright, let’s get the team together to figure out how can we turn this around? I think another sign, maybe more at the midpoint of the relationship, is how deeply are they engaged with you or your product? Right?

Of course, every product is different. If it’s a really high-touch relationship, are they engaging with you? Is it easy to get a call booked with them? Have you met them before? How aligned are you with their goals? are we tracking towards their goals? And the reason that they purchased the product? Or is it the opposite? Is it also that, you know, maybe they’re really highly engaged with the product but they’re not speaking to you? So those different types of adoption and engagement signals is another way that I would put it. And then I think the last one, that’s a big one that maybe the biggest signal to me, is do we, as the CSM team, and does the customer know where we stand in terms of the return on the investment that they spent with our product? So with whatever they spent with us, are they getting that output? And then some? Or is it lower? Very often, the churn signal is that they just don’t know. So working with the customer to back into how we can identify yes, in fact, this was worth the X amount of dollars that you spent, or maybe not, then you can really get an understanding of how to forecast the renewal is what I would say in terms of churn signals.

Irina 07:07
Speaking about the third signal that you mentioned, when do you start the discussion about what’s the ROI that your solution is providing? When do you start this discussion? At the beginning? In the middle of the journey? Where, and how do you handle this?

Samantha 07:27
Ideally, we start at the beginning. So the second a customer signs, hopefully, sales know it, right? Here’s the reason why they signed, what the overall impact on the business will be because they purchased this product, and what business outcomes they hope to drive by having this product in place. That’s the ideal state. But that is not always the case, right. But I would say, as early as we can, we should be asking about those things. And at least if the customer doesn’t totally have the path, that’s what the CSM’s job is, is maybe we know what the output should be. But we have to hold their hand and coach them on how to actually get there by leveraging our products and services.

Because obviously, we’re the experts in the products, the customers aren’t, they should hopefully have the right idea. And then we’re those guides and storytellers to get there. But I also think that let’s say you do get it at the very beginning, continuing to recap it on almost every touchpoint. Maybe if it’s not a super high-touch customer, you’re having a business review halfway through the subscription, certainly recapping it there, getting a health check, and a pulse check on, are we driving that on that phone call? But if it is a really high-touch customer, then yeah, monthly touchpoints, let’s actually track towards those goals and make sure that there’s a mutually agreed upon at all levels of the customer, of what those goals are and how we’re driving towards them, and then tracking to the specific dollar amount of the investment.

Irina 08:54
Do you always manage to put a dollar amount to the value that the solution provides?

Samantha 09:05
No. And sometimes customers don’t know, right? It really depends on who you’re speaking to. And I think that also ties into being able to understand how to forecast if a customer is going to churn or not. Because if you’re speaking to someone that really may not know, and that’s okay sometimes, right? You don’t always need to 100% have all of that information. But of course, that’s the best-case scenario. But no, we don’t always get that. I wish we did; we try our very hardest, but we don’t always get that.

Irina 09:34
And when you have multiple stakeholders involved, and some of them can have different objectives, how do you deal with that? How do you prove the value when you have multiple stakeholders?

Samantha 09:46
The ideal state is really digging into each one of those objectives. Sometimes we’ll do an ROI analysis for three different buying centers and make sure that those buying centers have a really solid understanding. The hope is that, I think in certain scenarios, you have different budget centers and, you know, the amount of dollars that have been allocated, that then would be how you would back into the ROI, maybe for that specific group.

Ideal state, you could use the overall contract value to, you know, use it for all different stakeholders because it’s going so well, that hopefully, it covers the cost and then some, right? But usually, if you can tell one or two really strong stories that back into it, you’re pretty, you’re going to be pretty good.

And I think also, what I’ve seen is that even just going above and beyond to really explain the story on how to get that return on investment proven to the customers, they’re so appreciative of you going through that effort and that work to show them that because then they can take it, bring it to their CFO and say, it was worth it, right, it makes their lives so much easier.

And what I found is when we present this information to our customers, they’re so thankful and really appreciative and impressed. It just makes you look really good. Like you’re thinking like their executives and want them to look good, obviously too.

Irina 11:04
Danielle, what’s the situation in your case? I want to remain on the signals and the journey, and then we’re gonna discuss what’s the game plan when things are not going as expected. So Danielle, over to you. What are the signs? What do you notice? What’s the story in your case?

Danielle 11:24
Yeah, I think Samantha covered it quite comprehensively. The red flags can appear at any stage of the journey. They are generally quite unique to the individual client, which is where client relationships come into play. Your CSM should understand what a red flag is for your client. We have clients that, when we’re doing the client success plans, their idea of ROI is just getting people to use it in the first three months or having an 80% seat allocation on our platform.

There are definitely quite a lot of triggers for churn that are unique to the product or to that client specifically. But it comes down to knowing your customers well and knowing what’s normal for them. Also, as Amanda mentioned, the importance of tracking that ROI and understanding if your client is getting it, and if not, being able to jump in and make it easy for them to sell your product when it comes to requesting a budget to renew.

How to address the situation once we notice early signs of churn

Irina 12:32
Let’s remain on this topic: we identify the signals. But when we notice that things aren’t going the way we expected, what do we do? Samantha, you mentioned at the beginning, maybe it happens in the onboarding. How do we address that if we botched the onboarding? What’s the strategy? How do we turn things around?

Samantha 13:03
Personally, I think confronting it head-on is essential, being transparent about why the onboarding could have been problematic. It could have been our fault, or perhaps it was partly on the customer. Maybe they weren’t as reachable or accessible as they claimed, or they didn’t understand the time required to complete onboarding. Or there could be some other factor contributing to it. But I think it’s critical to just call it out and understand what we need to do to improve this. You’ve all invested, often a significant amount of budget in a product, and we want to ensure that it works really well for you and that it’s not a waste of money.

Outside of our own incentives to ensure it’s a good experience, getting feedback is paramount. I firmly believe that feedback should be collected at 30, 60, and 90 days after a customer has been onboarded. This way, you should know pretty early on if it’s been going well, beyond just product adoption, if that’s a key metric for the product you’re selling, and the customer should be adopting. So, if there’s a need to start over or adjust our approach, I find there’s usually a correlation between a rocky onboarding and a change in the customer’s goals and focus areas. Typically, an onboarding doesn’t go poorly for no reason. It’s usually due to something like a lack of responsiveness or because someone was really busy, a change happened, and they had to focus on more important or pressing items.

This could impact the journey they’re going to have with you and your product. So, uncovering that and reframing the story if necessary, engaging with other teams if we need to, and starting over if that’s the best course of action, especially when it’s really early on.

Irina 14:50
Danielle, in your case, what’s the game plan when you notice the signals and things aren’t going as expected?

Danielle 14:58

From our side, we just want to get the client on a call and understand. It’s essential information gathering from our side; we want to understand exactly what their problems were and gather that feedback so we can make improvements in the future. Then, we also want to mitigate any fallout from the problems they faced during the onboarding to try and turn them around. Claims that don’t make a good first impression count, and if they don’t have a good first impression, it’s quite hard to change that opinion without some real hard work.

And yes, we’re trying very hard to change the perception by doing a good job for them and making them feel that the solution certainly meets their needs.

Irina 15:40
What do you do when the implementation fails? Usually, it varies from company to company; for some, the onboarding starts after the implementation. But if things are stuck in the implementation phase due to several reasons, how do you ensure the client’s success in that case?

Danielle 16:06
I think it depends on exactly what the blocker is. There are definitely times during implementation when it’s very clear they’re a bad fit customer, potentially sold a dream by the sales team or misunderstanding what the product did. Now, you’re in a situation where you’re blocked.

Understanding what that blocker is, is the first thing to do. You have to understand exactly what is causing the problem and stopping this implementation from moving forward. Then, be realistic about whether you can actually unblock this. Is this something we can overcome? If so, how? Then, put in a game plan.

You also need to have the buy-in of the customer with that game plan going forward. You don’t want to be forcing next steps on them but rather suggesting, “These are my suggestions. Are these viable? If we started down this road, do you commit to also putting the effort in so we can overcome this and move forward?” But yeah, those are the key actions I would take to try and resolve the situation and turn it around.

How to handle post-churn announcements

Irina 17:14
Now, let’s shift gears from identifying signs to actually addressing clear intentions. This is crucial because there are moments when churn happens. So, when a client says that they are churning, what are your next steps, Danielle? How do you handle this announcement?

Danielle 17:32
I don’t necessarily see it as a definite sign that they are going to churn. I think it’s the start of a negotiation. Customers can express a desire to churn for any number of reasons; it can be a cry for help, they may be seeking a discount, or they might be very angry about a recent situation and have decided they’re just going to leave. However, these are all issues that can be overcome by truly understanding the core reasons behind why they’ve told you they’re looking to churn.

The first thing we try to do at Troy hack me is get them on a call. Regardless of what they’ve said, let’s put it aside for now, but let’s meet them face-to-face, so to speak, and seek to understand. Be curious—if they really want to leave us, we’re not going to force them to stay, right? It might be that the product is no longer suitable for them, or they genuinely don’t have the budget. But, getting the client on a call and understanding the real reason why they’re considering churn is key.

Also, it’s essential to leverage the relationship you have with them to get to the real reason. Many clients will say it’s the budget, but if they had the budget last year, it’s worth digging a bit deeper. Ask them, “Why is there no budget this year?” Quite frankly, if a client sees the return on investment and values your product because it meets their needs, they will likely renew. So, if they’re not renewing, it might be perceived as a budget issue, but it could also be that they don’t feel they’re getting the return on investment they expected, and they’re hesitant to express it directly.

Irina 19:18
Samantha, I’d love to hear from you as well. How do you respond to those churn announcements?

Samantha 19:25
Yeah, I mean, I think Danielle covered a lot. My immediate response, and what I ask my team to do, is to set up a phone call. That’s the first thing. If you have a good enough relationship, they’ll agree. I’m not saying that our customers always want to hop on and talk about breaking up with us live, but when we can get that opportunity, I try to, and to Danielle’s point, really just dig into the ‘why’: Is it product-related? Is it success-related? Is it about the budget they’re mentioning? What’s the real reason?

In scenarios that I mentioned before, if you’re tracking towards business goals with an ROI and understand the outcome the relationship has been able to provide, then this conversation should be straightforward—either we did not meet the goals, or the budget has changed. If it has changed, how can we negotiate? We’ve significantly impacted the way you operate; what are your plans without our services for the next term? Can we figure out a way to work together? Then, understand what direction we can take from there.

Of course, collecting feedback is essential, especially if it relates to the partnership’s success, product, or overall customer experience. Taking that feedback, logging it, and ensuring it’s thoroughly reviewed by the management and leadership teams is critical.

But first and foremost, leveraging the relationship you have with your customer, which should be strong, comfortable, and built on trust, to really understand, who made the decision to cancel? Why? Is it valid or not? Often, someone gets told their budget is being adjusted, and they start canceling vendors without considering the impact this vendor had on their year and results.

If it is critical, and the CSM team knows this because we’ve been tracking towards goals with data to back it up, sometimes you can turn these churn situations around by simply sharing the narrative and that information with the customer. They may have that aha moment of, ‘You’re right, we might actually need this.’ Even if they say, ‘I only have 50% of the budget I previously had,’ I’d rather take 50% than 0%. So generally, my knee-jerk reaction is a phone call, if possible, and then discussing the different avenues and scenarios we could explore.

Customers are not engaging – what to do

Irina 22:01
I wonder, what do you do when customers are actually ghosting you? And I think we are unsure. If we have a question for Landre? Not sure if I got that right. I’m going to push it forward for you to review. So it’s within your book, often, clients that are not willing to engage can be mentally draining. Is there ever a time when it’s best to shift focus away from certain clients? And if you have a client not willing to engage, what are your next steps?

So I’ll start with, okay, if they do not manage to engage because in scenarios, usually they announce their intentions, or they simply disappear, and you don’t have the chance to perform that offboarding. What do you do then? How many times do you attempt to re-engage?

Danielle 22:54
Yeah, and I think it’s important not to flog a dead horse, as the saying goes. If somebody does not want to engage with you, I believe one follow-up from me and my team is sufficient. If they’re not going to engage with you, and I’ve experienced this before when I’ve canceled subscriptions and they’ve requested feedback, sometimes I just don’t have the time, or it’s not a high priority for me.

If somebody wants to engage and provide feedback, they will. So, when we’re sending emails, there’s always that thought, “Oh, well, maybe we didn’t get the email.” But we track our emails, so we can see that it’s been opened and read. I think one follow-up is sufficient for us, and then we will just move on. There are better ways to spend our time than trying to chase customers who simply don’t want to speak to us.

Irina 23:48
Danielle, you mentioned that there are customers who announce they are churning as a method to renegotiate the price, or perhaps they are not actually planning to churn. How often does it happen that this turns out to be a tactic to renegotiate, and you manage to convince the customer to stay? How many times has this happened? And is one conversation usually enough to resolve the situation, or does it typically require more?

Danielle 24:24
Yeah, I think from our perspective, it’s quite rare that a customer stays if they genuinely want to churn with us. This is usually because when customers churn, it indicates a reason we cannot solve. Most customers stay with us because they have a great experience, which we manage carefully. But if they are leaving, it’s generally because of budget issues we cannot overcome, or the product itself is no longer suitable for them. We always use this as an opportunity to gather feedback and learn from it.

However, if a genuine churn occurs, it’s often challenging for us to reverse, as it’s usually due to factors beyond our control. If it’s something within our control, we try to address it. Sometimes customers indicate they might not renew due to budget constraints, which typically leads to a discussion about discounts. I’ve experienced this before, like with telecoms or phone bills; when you threaten to leave, they immediately offer a discount. But when clients explicitly state they are leaving, it generally indicates it’s not something we can amend at that point.

Collecting feedback from customers

Irina 26:01
Both of you mentioned collecting feedback and trying to understand what happened. I want to understand what process you have in place. How do you collect feedback? And how do you make the most out of it? Do you involve other teams in the feedback loop sessions, Samantha?

Samantha 26:30
Yes, we do collect feedback. We have multiple teams involved in the collection process, such as customer marketing, customer experience, and product marketing. We share with our executive team once we’ve collated a significant amount of feedback, typically something we do at the end of every quarter to assess if there are any trends, themes, and things that are within our control that we can adjust. So, in short, yes, we absolutely do that.

For me personally, I’m looking out for anything that I can actually control, which includes how my team is operating, what the customer experience looks like, and how we’re framing the value story and delivery. At a more individual level with the CSM and my management team, we conduct what I’ve termed a ‘churn autopsy’. This involves reviewing at the end of every month or quarter why a particular customer churned. We consider what we could have done differently, whether we did everything we possibly could to save this account, or if the churn was inevitable due to it not being the right customer fit or other reasons.

In these churn autopsy conversations, usually involving myself, the manager, and the CSM, we discuss our key learnings. We explore what could have been done better and whether there was a point in the relationship where we missed an opportunity to turn things around. We also consider whether we are closing the door and if there’s a chance they might come back one day, ensuring we’ve done everything we possibly could.

Irina 28:11
Danielle, how do you guys deal with this? With that process of collecting feedback? And how do you make sure that you make the most out of it?

Danielle 28:23
Yeah, our feedback is generally sent back to our product teams. Any sort of feature requests or ideas that our clients have are fed directly into our products. It’s almost like a pre-roadmap where our product managers will review the feedback, upvote, and decide which ones are viable and which ones aren’t. We typically have a catch-up with our product team once a month, where we go through all the feedback processed that month, and the product managers give us an update on which changes are being implemented and which aren’t, allowing us to provide updates to our clients.

Clients who are particularly happy or those we feel could be featured in a case study are directed to our marketing team. We consistently request feedback at all points of the customer journey and every time we have a call with a client. I believe it’s crucial to foster an environment of curiosity where your CSMs are encouraged to delve deeper, to understand the ‘why behind the why’, and never to settle for the first answer. That is our approach.

Irina 29:27
Have you ever had that piece of exit feedback that was a real game-changer for how you do things?

Danielle 29:36
From my perspective, the business I work for is in a scale-up situation. When we started our CRS team, I assumed we had product-market fit, believing all our clients found our product perfectly suited to their needs and completely solving their use case. However, when I first received feedback, I realized we actually had a bad fit customer, which was a significant realization for us, giving us a clearer understanding of what makes a client successful and what use cases lead them to renewal.

It was a revelation for me when I noticed we had a large group of customers for whom a specific use case was likely leading to churn. This insight led to broader discussions within the business, especially with sales, on the challenges of managing customer expectations. It’s tough to tell a salesperson to turn down business, but this situation initiated important conversations. We noticed customers preferring a more free-roam approach without clear milestones or goals presented a higher risk of churn due to the lack of defined objectives, affecting their journey and satisfaction.

Product sold to a non-ICP

Irina 31:06
Speaking about product-market fit, how do you handle situations when the product is sold to a non-ICP? How do you manage, knowing from the beginning that the client may not likely be successful? Do you label it as a churn warning, or do you consider it an isolated case? How do you reconcile non-product market fit with churn?

Danielle 31:41
For us, we would always try to do our best to address the issue. If we know that a particular use case isn’t a good fit and will likely lead to churn, we’ll try to turn things around by guiding them towards use cases or ways of utilizing the system that could lead to success. However, if we genuinely feel that they’ve purchased the product and it’s not a great fit for them, we’ll likely move them to tech touch or place them in a tier that we expect might churn. It’s important, especially when dealing with a large volume of clients, to spend time wisely and identify these types of clients early on. Do what you can and then transition them to a low-touch approach.

Irina 32:30
Samantha, what’s your take, when it comes to product-market fit and churn and selling the product to non-ICPs?

Samantha 32:40
Um, I would say, obviously, it happens, right? And it’s always tricky, for sure. Usually, we take an approach where we try to find other individuals at the company who are the ICP and then switch into sales mode. The CSM will put on their sales hats, and we’ll say, “Alright, guys, we are now SDRs and AEs; let’s go find other people in the company who can really leverage this,” and really work on creating a new business use case.

That said, we are also very conscious of the time spent. If it’s not worth the effort and it’s really not going to work out after a couple of attempts, we won’t spend months on it. We manage our time and customer expectations and try to align with them on other potential use cases that could benefit them or one of their colleagues, since the budget has already been spent on it, and really try to lean into that motion and make the most of what they’ve purchased.

But we won’t reach out to them incessantly and force our product on them if it just isn’t going to work. However, there are other things we can offer outside of just the product itself, such as being thought leaders in the industry we work in. There’s always some benefit and value to that. Building up strong professional relationships is always beneficial when you have customers, regardless of ICP.

Sharing feedback across the organization

Irina 34:12
I want to address two questions that were on the question tab. After gathering all the feedback from the customers that are about to churn, how do you communicate that internally with other departments? How do you coordinate with other stakeholders in your company to ensure they hear the feedback and act on it? Danielle, would you like to take this?

Danielle 34:37
Yeah, absolutely. I think it depends on how much the customer is worth to us. Honestly, if we have a customer and they’re spending very little and they tell us they’re going to churn, I wouldn’t rush to get my executive involved or make a big issue within the company. We’re always trying to affect a positive outcome for all of our customers, so the CSMs would do what they can to turn this around.

But involving other teams, we definitely feed back data on churn consistently to our exec teams and to everyone in the business. However, from my perspective, unless it’s a high-revenue situation and would be a major loss, I wouldn’t push for immediate changes in the product or anything like that. So, it really depends on the customer’s standing with us and how important they are to us.

Handling offboarding calls

Irina 35:37
Ah, okay, we have one more question. Also, who is the best person to conduct those offboarding calls? We discussed offboarding calls; is it the CSM or the team managers, considering they might want to share feedback about the CSM too? So, who is the best stakeholder when it comes to the onboarding calls? Samantha, do you want to take this?

Samantha 36:03
Yeah, that’s a really good question. Honestly, I do think it depends. However, I believe it’s important for managers to hear feedback directly from the customers. I also think another avenue is the customer experience team, if that role exists in your company. These teams are generally responsible for understanding the voice of the customer and ensuring that the experience aligns with the product offering. We do this from time to time as well.

But I would say it depends on the ACV, the personnel on the customer side, and the type of client. This might involve the CSM, the manager, the director, or the VP within the success organization, or perhaps going the customer experience route. Occasionally, product managers in my company reach out to me, asking if they can contact a specific customer who has churned or is about to churn, as they’d love to get product-specific feedback.

Generally, my approach is that the customer success organization is required to initiate these phone calls. Of course, we’re strategic about who is included on that actual phone call.

Irina 37:15
And how do we advocate when, for instance, the client announces that he’s going to churn, maybe he had several feature requests, let’s say? How do you advocate for him in front of the product team? Because usually, this is a scenario where the product team doesn’t necessarily prioritize or want to alter the product roadmap just because some customers request it, even if a strategic customer requests it. How do you, with the CSM caught in the middle, advocate and support the cause for the client?

Advocating for the customer

Samantha 37:59
Look, I think there are proper avenues for feedback, and I believe that feedback should not be shared ad hoc but at a specific time that is set for sharing reasons for churn, overall customer feedback, and feature requests. These should be tied to revenue, meaning we should communicate how customers are going to churn, and this dollar amount is at risk because we lack a certain product feature. Or, if we get ahead of it and develop this feature, we can retain X amount of dollars. Similar to how we work with our customers, we need to tie a revenue amount to everything we request; it needs to make sense. It can’t just be a ‘nice to have’.

And I don’t know if this is an unpopular opinion, but if you want to scale as a business, you can’t alter your product just because of one customer’s feedback. There needs to be a significant amount of feedback tied to dollars for us to reasonably advocate for that change. Usually, there isn’t a myriad of different one-off asks; there’s always a theme or they’re connected. So, how we do it is by coming prepared with all the information that we know the PMs will inevitably ask for. How many customers? What’s the total ACV? When are they up for renewal? How much runway would we have if we were to put this on the roadmap? Would it be acceptable if it’s planned six months from now?

Understanding all these nuances when going into a meeting with your product organization or executive leadership to advocate means you need to be very prepared. So, hopefully, that answers the question.

Irina 39:37
For sure, it does, and it’s in context. So, I want to ask, what’s your preferred method of gathering churn feedback? Is it calls or written feedback? I’m asking this because sometimes direct feedback in calls can make the feedback more objective, especially with the CSM. However, in calls, customers can be subjective. What do you think works best? Samantha, do you want to take it? And I’m curious, what’s your what’s your take Danielle?

Samantha 40:13
Personally, I would say both methods are valuable. Like I mentioned earlier, we ask for feedback live on a phone call whenever possible. But we also send out surveys at the end to collect written feedback. Additionally, if customers are willing to type out feedback, of course, we’ll accept that too, especially if they won’t join us on a phone call. So really, my answer is both.

And if the customer is okay with it, we also consider recording those phone calls after asking for their permission, emphasizing that their feedback is crucial for our product development and the overall customer experience we provide. We ask, “Do you mind if we record this phone call?” Usually, they’re fine with it.

Irina 40:52
Danielle, how do you do it?

Danielle 40:54
Yeah, I completely agree with Samantha; we’ll take anything we can get, but our preference is a phone call. I think at that point, you can really dig much deeper and try to uncover the ‘why behind the why’. However, some customers just prefer providing written feedback. And any feedback is good feedback, so we will take as much as we can.

Regarding recording calls, again, I am a total advocate for that if possible. We use Gong, which records all of our calls, and it’s been invaluable, especially in identifying themes, as Samantha mentioned. You’ll know which themes or product features your customers are most interested in. Having a recorded conversation, especially when a customer is churning and they’re explaining why they needed that feature and that’s the reason for their departure, can be incredibly impactful. Tagging your product manager or whoever’s responsible and having them hear it directly from the customer’s mouth can go a long way, compared to just repeating the same feedback over and over again.

Saving a customer from churning

Irina 41:55
I’m going to address one more question from the audience: The customers that you managed to save, were they successful? And did they renew at their next renewal? How was their relationship with you after the churn announcement? Samantha, do you want to pick it?

Samantha 42:13
Sure, yes, they were successful. It isn’t good business to renew a customer who is fighting to churn; it definitely shouldn’t be a fight. It needs to make business sense for them to renew with us, and for us to also put in the effort to save them because saving a churned customer is a lot of work. Usually, in my experience, once the save has taken place and you’ve addressed all underlying issues—getting all the skeletons out of the closet, so to speak—those customers can become some of your best.

Because by then, you’ve reached the darkest part of the relationship, experienced the breakup, and realized that actually, you are beneficial to each other and want to continue the relationship. As long as the champion remains engaged and the economic buyer is committed, and the account team does a good job, it usually turns into a really fantastic relationship moving forward.

I’ve found that these customers become our closest allies, great advocates for our team and product, and serve as fantastic product partners. They are the ones we can always turn to for feedback because we’ve already faced the worst and reconciled; there’s nothing left to fight over.

Irina 43:27
Danielle, do you have something to add on what Samantha was saying?

Danielle 43:31
I think she covered it beautifully. Generally, for us, if you’ve managed to save a customer, it’s because you’ve overcome their objections. You’ve understood exactly what their problems are, what’s blocking them, why they’re looking to leave, and you’ve managed to address those issues. By overcoming these challenges, there’s a level of trust established where they know you have their best interests at heart. This allows you to start from scratch and really engage with them, using open lines of communication to understand their goals going forward and help them achieve those goals.

So, I actually think that if you manage to save a customer, it can significantly bolster the relationship and make it stronger than before.

How to nurture churned accounts

Irina 44:10
How do you nurture customers that have churned but you would like them to come back at some point? How do you keep in touch with them? So, for customers that have churned but you still want to maintain contact, how do you nurture them moving forward? Samantha?

Samantha 44:36
Um, I think it depends, right? A really easy way of nurturing a relationship is simply sharing information that comes to mind, like a news article that you saw that could be relevant, with a message like, “Hey, this article made me think of you.” Or maybe you have a product launch that you know they’d be really interested in. Depending on your company, if you host events or webinars, inviting them personally to these activities can be effective.

And of course, if your organization has a sales team and resources available, ensure those relationships are facilitated. Make sure the AE assigned to the account gets a full handover of what the relationship looked like and why they want to maintain it. Maybe they just really connected with CSM Daniel, and she was special because she engaged with them regularly with content that was relevant beyond just the product. Share that insight with the AE and make sure they understand what positively impacted the customer.

I would say, continue to invite them to events, webinars, and share blog content if your company produces it. I am a big advocate for the idea that you never know when your paths will reconnect with someone. Maintaining a positive relationship with churned customers, or even former employees who could become customers, is valuable. You never know, so always end on a positive note and maintain as much of the relationship as you can through LinkedIn, email, text message, or other means, as it’s really important for your own professional development as well.

Irina 46:24
Danielle, do you have anything to add? Do you follow a different playbook? How do you nurture customers that have churned, but you still want to keep in touch with them?

Danielle 46:34
Yes, actually, we don’t, as a department, engage in extensive individual follow-ups, especially when dealing with a high volume of clients, which is our case. From our perspective, unless it was a really large account, we wouldn’t have the resources to maintain personalized contact. Generally, when we lose a customer, we implement a cooling-off period for about a month, during which the CSM has the opportunity to attempt a win-back with that customer. At the end of that period, if we have not managed to re-engage the customer—who might indicate a potential return in a year or six months—we would pass that information to the sales team. We’d say, “Hey team, there’s a lead here; this customer mentioned they might come back in six months.” The salesperson would then set a reminder to follow up in six months.

In addition, our marketing team keeps the churned customers engaged indirectly. They remain on our marketing lists, receiving continuous, valuable content and updates from us. This approach naturally keeps them informed and connected to our brand.

However, it depends on the business’s nature. If you’re a company with a small number of high-value clients, losing one can significantly impact deeper relationships, and personal contact might be more feasible and beneficial. I’ve experienced situations in companies with a few high-value customers where a departure truly felt personal, and keeping in contact on a personal level made sense. But for businesses dealing with mass and volume, maintaining personal contact with all churned customers can be quite challenging.

Irina 48:09
You mentioned win-back strategies; I think some of them were already shared, but I feel the need to summarize. In your case, Danielle, what are the win-back strategies in terms of tactics and initiatives? How do you try to convince customers to stay? You mentioned offers; what else?

Danielle 48:32
I agree with what Samantha said earlier: you shouldn’t be fighting your customer to renew. If your product has met their needs, they will renew; it’s as simple as that. If it hasn’t or it’s just not working for them, they will not want to renew. So, I think the first win-back strategy is objection handling, but also information gathering, right? Getting to the crux of what the objection really is to renewing and seeing if it is something that can be overcome. If it can, work with them to overcome it; if it can’t, acknowledge that and not try to force it.

Other win-back strategies, you know, I think discounts are great, offers are great, but I don’t think that solves the problem. Just offering a discount is not really ever the solution for me. I think if they could pay full price last time, they can pay full price this time; it’s not going to make them any happier. If the budget’s an issue, I think it’s better to understand that in more detail rather than just blanket going to a discount.

We often find that when you deal with the right people, such as procurement teams, they’re actually already planning for all of their vendors to have increases in their prices. Instead of discounting, you can negotiate multi-year deals with incremental increases. I think sometimes people jump straight to offering discounts when, in reality, it often doesn’t make a difference unless it’s significant, like 50% or something.

Asking for referrals

Irina 50:04
I want to tackle two more points. We have one more question from the audience, but before I address that, I want to ask you: How do you ask for referrals? Or do you ask for referrals from customers that are churning? Were you ever successful in obtaining maybe new business or maybe customer inquiries from customers that are churning? Samantha, I’ll start with you, then I’ll pass it to Danielle.

Samantha 50:34
Yeah, we’ll only ask for a referral if it’s churn for a reason that we’re still ending the relationship very much on a positive note with that point of contact. It’s very point of contact specific to ask for a referral as well. The only times that I’ve seen successful referrals from a churned customer is because that individual just adored their experience and working with us. A lot of referrals come from customers that have left a company and moved to a different company and made their own referrals. Or customers that, you know, the churn reason was out of their hands, or it just legitimately didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. Then, one of their friends or colleagues or someone is asking them, you know, who is the best XYZ vendor that you’ve used, and then we’ll get referrals that way.

If it’s ending on a very positive note, we’ll say something like, “Please send people our way. We’d love to work within your network, and hopefully, our paths will cross again soon.” It’s been successful in that way. But I wouldn’t say that we have necessarily a really formalized process in place to track it. I actually think that’s part of a broader discussion in sales and customer success: tracking referrals. I know there are some startups that are trying to tackle that problem because it’s definitely a highly valued way of getting new logos. But that’s what I would answer for that.

Irina 52:02
Danielle, what’s your experience with asking for referrals?

Danielle 52:08
Samantha pretty much covered everything there. If the customer had a positive experience, you ask them for a referral. If they haven’t, then don’t bother, because it’s unlikely you’ll get one. That’s pretty much it for me. Samantha covered it in great detail.

Measuring structural churn

Irina 52:26
I know someone has a hard stop, and I’m watching closely by the clock. Before we wrap it up, we still have one question. Does the team measure structural churn, that which is not influenced by CSM, versus controllable churn, and any best practices? I’m not sure if I understood it correctly. So, Nirav, if you are still online and you feel like we didn’t answer, please complete on the chat. If you are not, we’ll make sure that we come back to you.

Samantha 53:12
I would say we measure and track it more for our own knowledge and to support CSMs who are working hard to save their customers. Sometimes, it really has nothing to do with them. I like to try my hardest to recognize these situations and still cheer my team along, saying, “You’ve done everything you possibly can this turn, I’ve seen you do everything you possibly can. This is not related necessarily to you or your work or something you could control.” I wouldn’t necessarily say we have best practices associated with it because it’s still churn. It’s lost revenue. So, there’s not much more I can add to that specifically.

Yes, I do keep tabs on it, and I think it’s an important dataset to be aware of, also for our own numbers and targets. How far off are we with what we’re referring to as structural churn compared to controllable churn? Being conscious of what you’re assigning to structural churn is important too, ensuring there’s no bias and that it truly is structural churn. That’s generally how I think about it.

Irina 54:32
Okay, thank you. I want to wrap things up, because I know that you Samantha have another appointment. And I promised that I’m gonna give you at least a five-minute break before we jump into the other events that you have to attend. I really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you for taking the time. I know that both of you are pretty busy, and I really appreciate it. Thank you. I want to thank the audience who was online with us and posted all the questions to connect with all three of us and for further questions I know that both Samantha and Danielle will be available.

Thank you very much! Have an awesome day ahead!

Nicoleta Niculescu

Written by Nicoleta Niculescu

Nicoleta Niculescu is the Content Marketing Specialist at Custify. With over 6 years of experience, she likes to write about innovative tech products and B2B marketing. Besides writing, Nicoleta enjoys painting and reading thrillers.

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