Customer retention is the bedrock of any successful SaaS business, no matter the size. If your customers are churning out left and right, your acquisition rate has to outpace the churn just to break even.
So more often than not, tackling customer retention can feel a lot like damage control. And there are hundreds of retention tactics out there that can make product managers feel overwhelmed and lost on where to start.
So let’s take a step back. How can you approach retention tactics with a more proactive focus?
Instead of looking at retention as damage control, look at it as an opportunity to dig deeper into your customer relationships. When we boil it down, customers really only do one of two things: they dig in or they churn out.
Your goal should be to get as many customers to dig in as possible. “Digging in” ultimately means creating sticky customers who have integrated your product into their daily workflow.
Like I said before, retention tactics can quickly become overwhelming, but in the end there is really only one that will truly keep customers from churning out. And that is engagement.
Customers who have invested in your product and engage regularly with your platform and brand are often the most sticky customers. These are the users who simply wouldn’t leave, even if a cheaper option showed up on the market. Through engagement and relationship building, you can create an entire user base of sticky customers (think, Slack).
Here are 8 ways to improve engagement and keep your customers from churning out.
1. Stop Reacting
Customer retention is all about proactivity. If keeping customers from churning out is feeling more like damage control, you’re simply being too reactive.
Oftentimes, companies look for their most “at risk” customers (i.e. the ones who are already complaining and have considered leaving) and start there.
I simply disagree with this reactive view of retention.
You must be proactive at every stage of your user’s journey. Start by mapping out the typical experience a user has with your product. Then, pinpoint crossroads where your users have to pause and consider the value of your service.
Once you do this, you will likely spot a few places you’re failing to truly engage with your customers. Where could customers get lost or feel alone within the journey? Hone in on these moments and create engagement at each to stay ahead of any potential churn.
Proactivity is your ticket to true customer success.
2. Improve your onboarding
This is easily the most important engagement tactic out there. Your onboarding should educate new users and provide them with a roadmap to success with your product. In order to truly create sticky customers who likely won’t churn out, you need to get them to their aha moment as quickly as possible.
Simply put, this is the moment when a user has their first success with your product. Let’s use Buffer as an example. Likely, a user’s first aha moment with Buffer would be scheduling their first round of social posts.
“Wow, that was so easy and seamless. Now my tweets will go out without any stress.” Hook, line, and sink.
Greylock’s Casey Winters explains the importance of onboarding:
“When we really dig into growth problems, we often see that enough people are actually coming to the products. The real growth problems start when people land…and leave. They don’t stick. This is an onboarding problem, and it’s often the biggest weakness for startups. It can also take the longest to make meaningful improvements when compared to other parts of the growth funnel.”
If you see large amounts of users churning out early in their lifespan, you are likely failing to show the value of your product quickly enough to keep them around.
It’s absolutely necessary to take a step back and really dig into your current onboarding. Where could you improve engagement and education? How could you better lead new users to their aha moment?
3. Leverage Content Marketing for Existing Users
Content marketing is one of the most effective tactics for increasing user acquisition. But don’t forget to leverage your content for your current customers as well.
Content is a great way to keep your users engaged, educated, and excited by your brand. Customers who only have a shallow understanding of your product and its features are likely to start churning out quicker than any other cohort.
Whether it’s product updates, feature announcements, or something new happening in your industry, create processes to document new learnings and share them consistently with your user base.
Constant education and success training is key to preventing customers from churning out. Simply put, this type of dedication to your users will create a sense of loyalty that is hard to beat.
4. Utilize Live Chat
Onboarding and content are great for increasing user engagement, but both of these typically happen outside of your platform. Another great way to create sticky customers is to engage within your product. And live chat is the best way to do this.
Your live chat should be used for more than just support issues. Support, unlike customer success, is a reactive process. Customer success looks a lot more like proactive engagement.
You can automate live chat messages when users hit certain pages within your app. Let’s think of it as applied to an ecommerce platform. If a new user starts to design their online store, a great engagement tactic would be to automate a message on this page with helpful resources for designing a store.
Check out this example from ChartMogul:
Some other ways you can utilize your live chat is to deliver any helpful content you create for your users. If they miss your email newsletters or social posts but see a new feature announcement when they’re in your product, they’re likely going to check it out right then and there.
Don’t be afraid to automate success questions through live chat as well. Simply getting ahead of questions by making sure your users are doing okay as they navigate through your app will really show your dedication to providing the best experience possible.
The possibilities of live chat are endless. But it’s an indispensable tool for reaching your customers as they interact with your product.
5. Build a community
Most customer retention tactics focus on improving your users’ relationships with your brand. But, engagement doesn’t always need to be between you and your users.
Sometimes, users are hesitant to trust products and brands, as they are used to seeing very self-serving companies. Even if you truly are putting the customer first at every step, many may still be a bit wary to trust you.
A great way to combat this mistrust is to build an internal community within your product where users can engage with each other. This could look like a forum of private social groups where your customers can interact and learn from each other (and your team when appropriate).
Shopify does a great job of this with their Ecommerce University forum discussions.
Community often drives loyalty in a user base. If your customers feel connected and empowered by each other, they will be less likely to leave.
6. Embrace Email Marketing
Just like content marketing, email is great for nurturing leads and acquiring new users. But don’t stop there. The best part about this engagement tactic is the use of automation.
Engaging with customers can be a lot of work. Sometimes, even a bit overwhelming for your team. In order to reduce the workload, automate some of this outreach.
Just as you would create lead nurturing drip campaigns, create customer nurturing campaigns. You can offer email courses to current customers, schedule out a slow release of your top content, automate NPS surveys, or schedule outreach every x days or months with your customers.
Trello does an incredible job of this. Previously, I only used Trello for my work-specific to do lists. But after receiving this email and reading tons of helpful content on their blog, I migrated all of my to-do lists into Trello.
And that is the best example I can possibly think of for this exact type of outreach. They converted me from a shallow-level user to a deeply ingrained customer with one perfectly timed email.
Email marketing is a great tool for delivering all of the engaging and educating pieces you should be creating for your user base. Automating these campaigns will help prevent customers from churning out without overwhelming your marketing team.
7. Switch up the format
We’ve talked a lot about creating helpful content for your customers, and different ways you can deliver it. But switching up the format of your engagement can improve customer relationships and keep things fun for your users.
Consider offering webinars specifically tailored for existing customers for a more hands-on approach to education. Create video content for users to supplement your blog posts. Think about starting a podcast where you can bring in experts in the space to reinforce your dedication to providing the best information possible.
Ahrefs does this extremely well with their ahrefs academy video tutorials. SEO is a hard topic to cover, but their videos are extremely engaging and educational and provide tons of value to their users.
Engagement is the number one tactic for preventing customers from churning out, check. But it doesn’t have to feel stale or boring. Think of your favorite services, how do they keep you interested in their products? What types of content is most exciting?
Everyone is writing blog posts and sending newsletters. Keeping the format fresh will separate you from the pack and encourage a deeper relationship with your users.
8. Back your VIP customers
Would you ever go into a new restaurant without checking the Google reviews first? Have you bought one product over another because of the reviews on Amazon?
No matter how you slice it, social proof has one of the most powerful impacts on how people discern your worth. Often times, social proof is related most closely to acquisition, but it actually has a major impact on retention, too.
This circles back to the community-building exercise. Your customers are more than just paying users on your product, they are also your greatest lever for engagement.
Check out this feature Postmark did on us. We love Postmark, and this customer highlight only deepened our relationship with their team.
Users are inspired by success stories. Highlight your most successful users through written interviews, videos, blog posts, and social media takeovers (just to name a few).
When your customers begin to educate and connect with each other, it only creates a more rooted connection to your product.
Customer retention tactics have spread like wildfire, making it increasingly overwhelming for product managers and teams to create a focused strategy. With so many tactics out there, it can be hard to know where to start, or who should be in charge of what. But it doesn’t need to be so complex.
Take a step back and a deep breath. It’s important to remember the basics. Engaged customers are the least likely to churn. So it’s all about focusing on this one tactic first.
As you increase your engagement with your user base, you will likely start to find other holes in the customer experience. The more you connect with and understand your users, the more strategic your retention tactics will become.
If you want to keep customers from churning out, engagement is the one tactic that will truly move the needle and set you up for long-term success.