Jul 28, 2023

Read Time 6 min

Customer offboarding: How to part on great terms with Sean Brookover


Customer offboarding is an often overlooked process. However, it’s just as important as customer onboarding for an organization’s long-term success. Offboarding entails the process of ending a customer relationship, whether due to cancelation, contract expiration, or other reasons.

A well-designed offboarding creates a positive experience for customers, even during their departure. By prioritizing customer offboarding, businesses can maintain their reputation, gather valuable feedback, and potentially even win back customers in the future.

I sat down with Sean Brookover, customer success manager at ChurnZero, to discuss what an effective offboarding process looks like and the strategies CS teams can use to part with customers amicably.

What goes into conducting an effective customer offboarding?

Sean: An offboarding process revolves around understanding, learning, and most importantly, demonstrating respect. I’ve been in customer success for roughly 10 years now, and I’ve seen offboarding situations where account managers and CSMs get combative or argumentative.

I’ve learned the best thing you can do in these circumstances is genuinely listen to your customer. Make them feel heard. Recognize that their thoughts are valid and that you intend to act on them. Admittedly, not all customers are going to leave for logical reasons, but it’s still important to maintain your composure. Set that standard.

To show your commitment to keeping their business, try using a simple statement like “We want to do everything in our power to maintain our partnership, and while I respect your company’s decision, I truly believe if we take X-steps, we can find a resolution and path forward.” Come prepared with an action plan to whatever degree you can to salvage the relationship.

What information should CSMs gather during the offboarding process?

Sean: I like to prepare a list of questions before I head into an offboarding conversation. They vary based on the customer’s situation, their level of frustration, the reasons why they intend to leave, and whether I believe there’s still an opportunity to maintain their business.

From that conversation, I generally try to find out:

  • What we could have done differently and how our product or service could improve to meet their needs.
  • How the customer would sum up their overall experience with our product or service.
  • The reason for their churn.
    • Are they switching vendors or pivoting their strategy in a different direction?
    • Was their departure caused by an internal struggle? For example, a change in leadership, a lack of resources, or a decline in business performance.
    • Did a negative customer experience—such as missing product functionality or service challenges—cause them to leave?

Determining whether a customer is switching to a competitor is especially important intel to capture. Try to find out which competitor they’re leaving for, the reason for the change, and how they found them. Did the competitor claim to have better service or features? Was the customer conducting their own research, or did the vendor proactively reach out to them?

That last answer can be hard to capture in some cases. But when you can, it’s tremendously valuable because then you can figure out if companies are actively poaching your clients or buying digital real estate where your company needs to be. Your sales and marketing teams can then use that information to better position your company and value proposition, as well as save future clients and get more in the door.

If a customer is pursuing a different strategy entirely, try to understand the tactics they’re considering as a replacement for your tool or service. You can use this information to inform your defense. Avoid positioning your product as the center of the universe. Show customers that you fully understand they have other options. Then explain why your solution is the best fit for their specific scenario and use case.

How should CSMs track the information they capture during offboarding?

Sean: At ChurnZero, we use our own platform to track these details, which makes that information extremely actionable, not only from a reporting perspective, but also from an automation standpoint.

Using ChurnZero also gives our marketing and sales teams easy access to the data. You want the data available in your CRM at the very least. Otherwise, your company is missing huge opportunities for win-back revenue, churn prevention, and sales and marketing tactics that are informed by the best source of information possible: your customers and prospects.

When a customer says they don’t have the budget for a product, is that really a proxy for not seeing the product’s value?

Sean: Getting to the root cause of a customer’s churn reason depends on how bold you’re willing to be with your probing. Sometimes, it really is about budget. Your product wasn’t positioned as a priority in their tech stack.

With ChurnZero, I have access to customer data and metrics that help me make the case for continued investment. For example, I can share with a customer that we’ve managed to increase their NRR by 15%, and that their average ACV is $50k. From there, I can say that this increase in revenue more than offsets the cost of the platform. Tie your product to an actual tangible number whenever possible.

You also need to understand their business processes. For instance, let’s say your software automates workflows and you have a customer who tells you they want to return to using a manual approach. Revisit the notes you took at the onset of the relationship about the customer’s pain points and reasons for purchasing your software. In this example, the customer had been paying multiple people to manage their team’s reporting and dashboards.

Remind them that while they’re spending dollars on your product, they’re going to be spending a lot more without it. Position the discussion around their need to reduce resource expenses. Always set the right context for the conversation.

What prevents customer success teams from tracking offboarding data?

Sean: Most companies are aware of the need to capture offboarding details. However, they often don’t have data collection built in as a specific process. The CS teams that track this information are in a much better position to act than those that don’t. It’s easy to implement this process.

The types of customers you service also play a role. For instance, you could have thousands of hundred-dollar customers. Gathering churn reasons and similar qualitative feedback can become more difficult to do at scale. But you can reach a large customer base by sending a simple survey that asks churning customers the reason for their departure and other key data points.

What steps can CSMs take to reengage a customer who has churned?

Sean: Your organization may bring on some bad-fit customers, especially when it’s in the earlier stages of finding product-market fit. These are going to be harder clients to win back unless you make substantial changes to your product or service. I wouldn’t invest a lot of time in these customers.

For customers who align with your ICP, it should be easy to stay in touch with them if you have a good relationship. I’m a big fan of LinkedIn. Keep things short and sweet. If you come across an article that they’d be interested in, share it with an “I saw this and thought of you” message. You can actively engage with their social content without it absorbing tons of time in your day because your priority as a CSM is still taking care of your current clients.

It comes down to staying top of mind—without being pushy. You’re not sales, and you shouldn’t try to be sales in this situation. That’s why you have a sales and marketing team.

Instead, look for opportune moments to reach out. Set Google Alerts to monitor business activity, such as funding rounds and new executive hires. Celebrate their wins. Send them quick messages when your product team releases a feature that was relevant to their prior goals or challenges.

From a business standpoint, as the customer, I’d want to know if a previous vendor has a new offering or promotion. Remember, it’s purely business, so keeping things in that context will make a huge difference to your mindset. Because the prospect of proactively engaging with churned customers can sometimes be uncomfortable.

However, I’d encourage you to reframe your outlook. CSMs tend to get emotionally invested in clients, especially those they have a good rapport with. When these clients churn, it can be challenging to not take the loss personally. But you have to put the situation back into the context of business: they hired your company, and you built the relationship as a result of that decision. They ended the relationship, but not necessarily because of anything you did or didn’t do. It could be because the product or service wasn’t doing what the company needed it to do, or similar reasons.

What tactics would you caution against using to win back customers?

Sean: Aggressive incentives—avoid setting that precedent. It’s the obvious one, but you have to think about it from a long-term perspective.

For instance, let’s say you’re dealing with a smaller customer that has tons of room to grow and ultimately retaining them doesn’t cost a lot outside of the CSM investing extra time into the account.

You could say something like “I’ll offer you this incentive because I believe in the partnership, and I know what we can accomplish, but I need some commitment from your end as well. If we reach these goals, then we can look at exploring this specific product or upgrading to an enterprise plan.”

You want to ensure your company gains something out of the partnership too, and that you’re not just spinning your wheels and dedicating time when it could be better spent elsewhere. Make sure those business relationships go both ways.

Put a process in place

Having a consistent and structured way to interact with customers—especially during delicate situations such as offboarding—helps you work better under pressure, combat decision fatigue, and present a united front to your customer base.

We’ve partnered with HubSpot to bring you seven of our top CS playbooks. From churn mitigation plans and survey follow-ups to CSM introductions and renewal notices, you’ll get step-by-step guidance to bring greater predictability and dependability to your work.

Get the guide: 7 smart playbooks to retain customers in a challenging market


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