You Have it Backwards: Rethink Timing to Prevent Churn


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When it comes to preventing churn, most customer success teams are late to the game. It pains me every time a customer success leader reaches out for churn advice because, by the time they’re talking to me, I know they missed numerous critical signs along the way. Over the last several years and through many lessons learned, I have identified a few simple tips that will put you ahead of the curve when it comes to customer churn.

It all starts with good data. Then, making the time to actually look at that data and taking the right action at the right time. The last part is especially important because, as we all know, the life of a customer success leader can be very hectic. Fortunately, our industry has evolved to a point where we have access to sophisticated tools that help us track and analyze customer behavior. Yet, while many companies are using these tools to capture that data, most are unsure of how to crystallize it into something that will help them create a better experience for their customers, reduce churn and ultimately, grow their business.

Tip #1: Map Success From Day One (and know what your “Day One” is!)
Please stop confusing customer success with starting after the deal has been signed. Yes, that is when the customer success rep often gets assigned and the customer success process kicks-off. However, your customer has invested a ton of time upfront to outline key success criteria and business goals during the sales process. It’s imperative that customer success teams meet with their sales counterparts (gasp!) well before the customer kick-off begins (I even recommend before contract closes just to be sure the implementation team can vet business requirements, customer timing and expectations).

During this meeting, it’s critical to map your customer’s business goals to your product adoption milestones, especially during the adoption stage (typically the first 30-90 days for most SaaS companies). At UserIQ, we call these maps “customer blueprints” and they are a powerful alignment tool between sales, product and customer success. Then, with well-aligned sales and customer success teams, the customer success team will know right away what the customer’s goals and business outcomes are, so they can continue to map those outcomes to success in the product during their first meeting with the customer. Doing this helps ensure the onboarding program delivers the precise value that the customer needs.

For example, many of our customers are unable to tell if their onboarding programs are effective at driving adoption. One of the goals we aim to hit with a new customer in the first 30 days is to enable them to create targeted engagements and discover how to track both user and account adoption behavior so they can benchmark if adoption improves within the first 30 days.

If these initial steps are done well, then the customer success manager can continue to show value throughout the customer journey and be forward-thinking about how the product can help the customer reach their goals. The CSM should be monitoring data to track progression and milestones so they can stay focused on what’s next and be proactive throughout the relationship.

Tip #2: Don’t Wait to Send NPS Surveys
You also may need to rethink timing around NPS surveys. In my experience, the two months after onboarding is a critical time that is often overlooked in preventing churn. One of the best indicators of churn is how well a customer thinks their onboarding went. Most companies send NPS surveys at renewal or just a month or two before renewal time. This is way too long to wait, especially if your business runs on one-year contracts. You don’t want to wait until month nine to get a survey out, only to realize at month ten that you have a churn problem and only 60 days to resolve before the contract renews! By then, your customer could be in evaluation with your competitors and preparing to make a change.

Deliver your first NPS survey within 60 days after the onboarding program and make it about the onboarding program. This can be an early predictor of how a customer feels about your product and can clearly identify customers who may be showing signs of churn.

If you’ve done a good job with onboarding, you should have your customer’s attention. It’s the perfect time to check a customer’s engagement level and gather insight that can help you create targeted engagements that will move that customer further down the path to expansion and advocacy. This means closely watching their adoption levels (as opposed to taking your eyes off the ball because you got a great NPS score) to determine where to go next. How about sending an in-app message asking for a G2Crowd review? Maybe they are ready to take advantage of your next paid service tier or are a perfect fit to beta test a hot new feature.

Tip #3: Be Direct and Ask. Don’t Wait and “Check-in”
Remember that the end game isn’t just your product adoption. Customers purchase your product to achieve a business outcome. Even if they are happily adopting, you still want to know if a customer is achieving what they set out to do with the help of your product. Another big mistake is waiting until the quarterly business review (QBR) to ask how the customer is doing. Again, why are you waiting? Look at the data: if adoption is progressing well, why not send out a short in-app survey and ask: “Are we helping you achieve your business goals,?” (Yes/No). If “yes”, ask them to rate the impact on a scale of 1-5. I have also found it incredibly powerful to just pick up the phone and facilitate this directly with your key decision maker.

Plant Early, Plant Often
Customer success advocate Lincoln Murphy coined the phrase, “the seeds of churn are planted early” and he is absolutely right. A proactive customer success team learns from every phase of the customer journey, creates an open conversation with customers about areas of misunderstanding and is therefore, able to spot areas of potential churn long before they occur. The bottom line is that it is an investment of time. There are no short-cuts. Take the time today to identify the signs of churn and map out a strategy for customer growth, and help both you and your customers achieve success. You won’t regret it.

Rachel Orston
Rachel Orston, CEO of UserIQ, is a customer success pioneer with deep experience launching and marketing new products for some of the world's most recognizable technology brands including Microsoft, Sony and IBM. Her experience includes driving customer success and SaaS growth across IBM's global SaaS portfolio. Today, Rachel leads UserIQ in helping companies foster growth and deepen customer engagement.


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