Churn, baby, churn. That’s what we’re talking about today.
The internet is littered with advice to help B2B Customer Success Managers (CSMs) and Customer Success leaders keep their customers. Yet not all of this advice is relevant and effective in 2024. Enter this article.
Here you’ll find a consolidated list of eight tactics that are actually reducing churn for CS folks in the field right now. Huge thanks to these specific frontline experts and leaders who’ve offered us their retention secrets and expertise over the past year:
- Jared McCoskey, the Director of Customer Success at CompanyCam
- Avi Delman, a Customer Success Operations Manager at Spiff
- Sarah Steingraber, a CS Team Lead here at Vitally
- Parker Moore, the Head of Customer Success at Vitally
- Jamie Davidson, the Co-founder and CEO at Vitally
A Friendly Reminder First: Not All Churn Is Bad Churn
Before we get into the weeds, it’s important to note that not all churn should be avoided. There are four types of churn: voluntary, involuntary, downgrade, and good. (That last type refers to shedding customers who weren’t an ideal fit for your product or service in the first place. Good churn alleviates unnecessary strain on customer support and prevents negative word-of-mouth and reviews.)
Today, we’ll focus on reducing voluntary churn, as this is the kind of churn that’s most tied to CX, and therefore most controllable by CS teams.
8 Tried-and-True Churn Prevention Tactics
In no particular order, here are the eight tactics that boots-on-the-ground CS leaders are finding best prevent voluntary churn in 2023.
Tactic #1: Multi-Thread Your Champions
Steal this play from Account Executives (AEs), CS leaders. Often people responsible for net-new sales will develop multiple relationships within an account and turn them all into champions. You need to do the same thing on the post-sales side with decision-makers to give your product staying power at an organization in the face of change.
Sarah Steingraber says it well: “Let’s say we have one person that we're working with at the organization. That person could leave. They could go on maternity leave. They could quit. They could shift their focus onto another initiative or move into another role.” As a CSM or CS leader, it’s up to you to develop healthy relationships with multiple people within each of your accounts, preferably across multiple departments and levels of seniority.
Tactic #2: Conduct a Premortem
It’s an unrealistic, slippery slope to assume that a new and happy customer will never voluntarily churn. In difficult financial times, even “healthy” customers are at risk of churning due to unexpected setbacks or changes in company direction.
To stop fires before they start and put overconfidence bias in its place, consider leading a premortem where you literally anticipate what could go wrong with all of your accounts, or at a minimum, with new accounts.
Vitally CEO Jamie Davidson thinks of premortems as “a group exercise that asks you and your internal team to (1) assume a customer relationship has failed, and (2) imagine all the reasons why it might have happened.” The goal in doing this is not to be glass-half-empty people, but rather to lean into the theory of “predictive hindsight.” Case in point: Premortems have helped the Vitally team predict why future events (like churn) happen with far more consistency.
Tactic #3: Build a Customer Community
We’ll keep this tactic short and sweet because, in many ways, this one speaks for itself. When you have customers — new ones, seasoned ones, somewhere in between ones — who genuinely know each other and share on their own accord about how your product makes them better at their jobs, you’ve won.
Customer advocacy is an effective churn prevention tactic, so ask yourself this: Do your customers know each other? Why or why not? Forrester studied one company that saved $2.6 million, thanks to prevented churn. All they did was give their customers a digital place to connect and share their best practices.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. Start with LinkedIn polls, a scrappy Discord community, shared Slack groups, and causal introductions of your different customers — and then consider partnering with your marketing team to launch a formal community.
Tactic #4: Make Your Health Scores a Source of Truth
Having one place to see accurate, thoughtfully-generated customer health scores is key for CS teams who want to spend their time wisely and prevent losing winnable customers.
Health scores — if they’re generated using the right indicators with a smart CSP — sound the alarm well before a customer schedules a dreaded “quick chat about the future.” Plus, once health scores dip below a certain point, your Customer Success Platform (CSP) can trigger an automated safe plan for your tech-touch customers or flag a need for quick prioritization of high-touch customers.
With a CSP, CS teams can generate health scores based entirely on metrics that are important for their specific business. For example, Avi Delman at Spiff uses Vitally to combine these four metrics into a highly understandable, actionable 0-10 health score for each customer:
- Product usage
- CSAT score
- NPS score
- CSM Sentiment score
He talks more about how he did this in a recent Vitally “Scale or Fail” webinar:
Tactic #5: Make Sure Your CSMs Have the Visibility They Need to Operate
Too often organizations add headcount or shuffle accounts around in a way that leaves customers and internal teammates feeling frazzled. Understandably, this leads to churn.
B2B customers want to work with vendors that have their act together — ones that “don’t fix, but rather collaborate” and “connect intelligently,” according to this recent study published by the Harvard Business Review. This can’t happen when CSMs don’t even know what’s going on.
Good news: You can equip new and seasoned CSMs alike to show up well for customers with a Customer Success Platform. If you implement CS tech that integrates seamlessly with your customer relationship management (CRM) platform, CSMs have one place to go to become fully up to speed on their customers.
When CSMs always have the ability to see past and real-time data, alerts, and reporting on all customer interactions from across your tech stack, they have a holistic picture of what’s happening (and what has happened) in an account. This leads to more insightful conversations with customers, a stronger partnership, and subsequently, less churn.
Tactic #6: Get in the Weeds With Your Data
One of the best ways to avoid churn is to evaluate the reasons that past customers left — and address them so they’re not sticking points in the future.
With segmented churn analysis, you can evaluate churn rates at different points across the customer journey. This is challenging manually, but easy with a CSP that has great historical data reporting capabilities.
Often, assumptions about churn are incorrect and vary company to company. For instance, if someone frequently reaches out to one organization’s support team, that could be considered a negative thing because it means a customer’s having lots of issues. But for another organization, it could be a positive thing and a sign of lower churn risk because that customer is super engaged.
You need CS tech that can take the legwork out of this analysis and automatically surface insights for the entire CS team in Dashboards. With a CSP, everyone can quickly answer questions about each customer like:
- Is this customer reaching out to support so often with positive or negative sentiments?
- Is this customer using new features?
- Is this customer meeting with their CSM regularly?
- Did this customer expand last year?
- Is this customer connected to other successful users and adopters?
- What’s this customer’s health score? What was it six months ago?
- Overall, how does this customer compare to the rest of our book of business?
Tactic #7: Automate, Automate, Automate
If you’re navigating one-to-many customer relationships, automation will be a lifesaver for you in terms of staying connected and winning those renewals. And scaling your current model of relationship management doesn't mean your customers will be underserved.
Jared McCoskey knows this firsthand. He leads CS at CompanyCam and sums up his experience with automation like this: “With Vitally, we can actually take care of all of our customers better. Before, we had to pick and choose based on not enough data.”
Now, Jared’s team deploys the personal touch of a CSM when needed and the power of automation from triggered emails and alerts to deliver the best overall customer experience to everyone. (In case you’re curious, his automated workflows are all created using Playbooks. This is huge because his CSMs don’t have to do all of the heavy lifting and they have full visibility into every piece of comms and support that each customer has received.)
None of this would be possible without a CSP.
Tactic #8: Learn From Churn
Churn hurts, period. The previous tactics should reduce churn, but not eliminate it. This tactic is more of a “what to do when it happens” tactic.
When a customer does churn, treat it like an opportunity to learn. During customer offboarding, give your CSMs a checklist. Ask them (in your CSP, of course) to identify the reason the customer churned from a list of reasons, and ask them to provide more context as to why the customer churned (in the form of a text field where CSMs can add more description).
Parker Moore recommends sorting your churned customers by one (or maybe two) of the labels below to get some baseline data and see why renewals and expansions aren’t coming through for you:
- High Impact: The lost revenue or logo will cause ripples within the organization.
- Unexpected: The account had a high health score and positive CSM sentiment, but still did not renew.
- Salvageable: The customer churned — but could’ve been saved. This flags the chance to dig deeper and understand why the organization couldn’t deliver.
- Thematic: The customer left for a common reason. For example, it could be because of a certain product, a certain competitor, recessionary pressure, or something else you frequently hear about.
Try These Tactics Plus Tech
Churn is inevitable. No matter how great your CS team is or how high-quality the product or service you’re offering is, customers will leave.
But now you have some tactics to try and levers to pull to stop churn before it starts. To lean on technology to do the heavy data lifting. To automate certain communications and processes in your CS strategy. To build stronger, longer-lasting relationships within each account. We’d love to help you do this.
Think now’s a good time to look into automation and better customer health monitoring? Book your personalized demo of Vitally today.
One last thing: If you have any ideas for Customer Success resources that would make you and your team more productive and efficient, email us at email@example.com. We’d love to make something helpful for you.