Five Steps To Understanding Customer Retention

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I recently responded to a question from a network that I participate in.

What is achievable customer retention and is there a level of customer retention that is not profitable to reach?

I’ve talked with a lot of marketers about this question and, frankly, there is no easy bake answer. It’s easy to look for a quick published statistic or benchmark and call it a day. But, how much does knowing that your retention rate is better than your competitor’s really help your business? It may help CYA, but it doesn’t help your bottom line.

IMO: marketers rely way too much on benchmarks (open rates, click rates, retention, etc.). Rather than rely on industry benchmarks (I don’t even know of a comprehensive source for retention by industry), I encourage marketers to:

  1. Establish a baseline for current average retention. Examine your customer base to understand average retention. Better yet, do it by customer segment if you can.
  2. Understand the timeline to customer profitability. Every business has different acquisition and services costs so if you don’t already know how long it takes for a new customer to become profitable, then you need to figure it out. Subtract your costs to acquire and serve the customer from average customer revenue over time. Companies that are really good at this use individual customer revenue and get into cost minutia to attribute costs at an individual level and even include costs like physical plant and electricity. But, if you’re just getting started, keep it simple and stick with averages.
  3. Set a target retention rate. The longer it takes to become profitable, the higher the retention rate needs to be. Establishing and monitoring a retention KPI will tie retention directly to business performance.
  4. Define marketing tactics to improve retention. If current retention is not at the target level, then set improving retention as a key business objective and drill down into a series of tactics aimed at moving the needle. Don’t shoot in the dark though. Engage a statistician to do some data analysis to better understand what key factors that correlate to longtime customers or customers that attrite. Then, establish marketing and customer service practices and campaigns that are specifically focus on encouraging the factors that are correlated with long-term customers.
  5. Measure results consistently. Periodically, reevaluate the retention rate to see how what you are doing is impacting customer retention. Make sure you are also considering metrics that help you tweak your programs at a tactical level too. Specifically, are the tactics you have implementing really encouraging those factors that correlate with long-term customers?

2 COMMENTS

  1. While every firm should CARE (cultivate, acquire, retain, and expand) for its customers, it is more important to be SCARED (select, cultivate, acquire, retain, expand, and defect) of its inability to CARE.

    Retaining for the sake of retaining is not effective. Only valuable customers should be kept within the clientele.

    Defection is also a retention strategy.

    Daryl Choy, the founder of Touchpoint eXperience Management, helps firms make a difference at every touchpoint. Choy can be reached at wisdomboom.blogspot.com.

  2. Elena,

    I like the thrust of your argument. Coming up with an context-specific measure of customer retention can be very, no make that veeeery, difficult. The traditional active last year/active this year ratio just doesn’t cut it. I’ll write a blog on it, and invite you to come back at me. Cheers,

    Francis Buttle

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