Let’s face it: retention just makes sense. Maximizing your user base over time is cheaper than constantly trying to bring in new customers and allows you to plan more comfortably around your MRR.

Long-term customers are the bread and butter of your business

The thing is, retention isn’t easy. The metrics are difficult to track. Retention efforts often fall between departments, so no one fully owns churn, even though it impacts the entire organization.

Retention is already an afterthought for many subscription businesses, and things get tougher because development teams are often overstretched and unable to give much focus or time to retention issues.

So how do you build a stellar retention plan that doesn’t require a lot of investment from your dev team?

Let’s dig into some strategies for fighting churn that your growth and customer service teams can handle independently.  

1. Start with a mission.

 
It might sound trivial, but the mission matters. It’s the guiding line for your retention efforts, and knowing your goals from the beginning will help you to channel the best aspects of your business into the customer experience. So start by building a customer focus into every nook and cranny of your business.

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Brainstorm the ideal experience that you want your customers to have. Think about the areas where they are likely to run into the most frustrations and figure out concrete steps you can take to help them get through these zones.

You’ll take similar steps at different points in this process, but the key here is to simplify them down into a brief, memorable statement.

2. Highlight your best customers.

Customers love the spotlight from time-to-time. On your end, it’s an opportunity to thank them for faithfully using your service, and, more broadly, a chance to let them know that you see and value them.

At heart, this is about building relationships and establishing connections that feel personal and real.

So how do you go about highlighting your best users?

First, check out examples from similar companies to get a feel for what works. Here’s a great one from ReCharge:

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Social media is a great tool here, and not just because it’s a chance to create fantastic shareable content. Social platforms allow you to create a conversation in a highly visible place.

From here, consider including successful users in your newsletter. A short interview or a quick bio can go a long way, especially if free marketing has a high perceived value for your customer base- i.e. if your service supports other businesses.

3. Use social proof.

It’s important to remind your users from time to time that there are a whole range of ways that they benefit from your service, and that there’s even more that they can explore. So how do you reignite the spark with your existing users?

One answer is social proof.

Consumers naturally look to the crowd when they form opinions, even when it’s related to the services they already use. With that in mind, you might be surprised by the impact that showing off your positive reviews can have on your existing users.

Highlighting successful users doesn’t just impact them- it also shows the rest of your base what their relationship to the platform could be.

4. Engage your users at risk points.

There are moments in any subscription where customers need to make an active decision to stick with you.

While they will look somewhat different depending on the kind of business that you run, these risk points hit at some standard points for most subscription businesses.

The good news: with some planning and proactive communication, they can be opportunities to reinvest your users in your product.

The key moments here follow really tightly with the steps that most users will take over the course of their subscription.

After the first month of their subscription, your users are also making a value judgement. They’re asking themselves whether the money they’ve put in is equal to the service they got out.

The same is true after a customer service complaint or feature request, as well as when a customer up-or-downgrades their subscription.

It’s vital to communicate clearly at these junctions, to work with customers to help them understand the value that they are getting and the reasons they should stick with you.

Map out these moments in your customer journey, as well as points specific to your service where you know that users tend to experience friction. From here, you can get proactive and build up a range of communications and materials to help them through these moments.

5. Create killer exit surveys.

Saying goodbye can be a valuable learning experience. When a customer leaves, you have an opportunity to understand why and apply that information back to your retention efforts.

Start by deciding the exact information that you need to know when a user churns. You have an extremely limited space to ask questions here- after all, a user that leaves your service doesn’t get anything in return for going through a lengthy questionnaire.

Ask only a few questions, and work hard on the phrasings. Keep the reading and response time as minimal as possible.

Exit Survey Example

Don’t worry- even this process can be taken care of with only your growth team. There are tons of free tools out there for putting surveys together, and your email marketing service may even have options to embed them directly into your messaging.

6. Use churn cohorts.

Luckily, surveys aren’t the only way to learn from your churned users. Churn cohorts are a great way to visualize your churn and see where exactly in the customer journey your users drop off.

Essentially, by mapping out when users start with your service and where they stop, you learn a lot about their use patterns and the issues at the root of your churn.

How you use this data will be specific to your company, but it will likely be most valuable if you map it onto the risk points we talked about before.

Other helpful metrics can be the mean and maximum subscription lengths, and the average LTV of a customer post-onboarding.

7. Plug involuntary churn.

This one’s easy. Involuntary churn is a subtle leak in your business that gradually saps your bottom line, but with some simple automations (and the right toolset) it’s not hard to take care of.

Here’s the trick: outsource your solution to passive churn. You’ll save more than you spend, both in time and in revenue.

Look for a dunning service that offers flexible retry schedules uncoupled from email. This gives you more opportunities to attempt payment without harassing your customers, and also ensures that you get paid faster once a card is updated or reactivated. Make sure that your system is built to deal with ghost customers.

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One last note- you can’t accurately respond to involuntary churn if you don’t have visibility into the issue. Choose a solution that offers advanced analytics so you can see the ways that your campaigns are and aren’t working.

8. Live chat is the way of the future. Embrace it.

53% of customers would rather use live chat than a phone call as their initial point of contact with a company.

That’s a whopping number, when you think about it.

Over half of your customers would be better served by a tool that also happens to be more efficient for you, allowing team members to keep up multiple conversations at once without getting overloaded.

Live chat also makes it incredibly simple to send links and screenshots back and forth, making it the perfect tool for subscription companies.

9. Communicate consistently.

Content is king in digital marketing, but it’s easy to forget that a solid retention plan relies heavily on your ability to regularly connect with your users. The underlying concept here is this: an educated user is far easier to retain over the long term, and onboarding can only get them so far.

Onboarding helps your users to understand the platform to begin with. Blogs and newsletters are what help them to get comfortable.

As you build out your content calendar, remember to support your existing base as well as driving new traffic. Think in terms of mastery, and your users ability to quickly and efficiently take care of their needs.

There’s another upside to these communications, besides building up a level of comfort and satisfaction with your service. Connecting consistently allows you to market your product long after the initial sale.

Remember that you need to win your customers again and again to retain them over time, and work this mindset into your communications

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10. Position your marketing carefully.

You can use all the retention strategies in the world, but if you’re bringing in customers poorly suited to your product, you’ll struggle to lower your churn rate. It’s all about finding and nurturing the right leads and building a funnel that focuses on the customers that are most likely to stick with you over time.

Customer profiles are vital here. You need to know what makes a customer a good fit for your business and focus your efforts around those characteristics.

The good news is that all of the work you’ve done up to this point has also been building your understanding of your customer base.

Your churn cohorts are helpful tools for visualizing which customers stick with you over time and your exit surveys will tell you the concerns that drive different kinds of users away. Live chat gives you a sense of the issues that are coming up consistently.

The users you’ve highlighted and celebrated are great examples of what to look for in your acquisitions.

11. Surprise and delight your customers.

Okay, so this step is a little less tangible. The real question here is how you can go above and beyond in support of your users. It’s thinking about more than satisfaction.

Most of us have had a moment of being genuinely shocked by a company working for us far beyond what’s necessary or standard.

Often it’s in response to some sort of issue- going above and beyond to repair the relationship after a CS complaint, for example. Other times, it’s adding more of a personal touch than we’re used to seeing.

It’s hard to say what this will look like in terms of your particular business. Spend some time brainstorming areas where you know that your team can really hit it out of the park, and build a space for them to shine.


There’s a recurring theme to all of these methods: showing your human side in the ways that you interact with your customers.

Retention doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and it doesn’t have to be another irritating metric to track. Instead, it’s a way of looking at the overall performance of your company and product from the perspective of your customers.

Get creative, have fun, and build relationships. You’ll be glad you did.

Kristen DeCosta

Author Kristen DeCosta

Kristen is dedicated to educating companies and founders on the importance of customer retention and the dangers of ignoring churn. When she's not busting churn and crafting content, you can find her hiking a mountain or playing with her three rescue pups, Cooper, Tobi, and Finn.

More posts by Kristen DeCosta

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