Jun 14, 2022

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The 3-step guide to creating a proactive at-risk customer strategy


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This is a guest blog contributed by Stephanie Neale, CEO of Blind Zebra, a sales and client success training company for B2B pros.

It’s a Tuesday morning. You’ve grabbed your coffee and opened your inbox. The first subject line you see is “Cancellation.” It’s from one of your top accounts.

[Cue the shoulder slump and exasperated “ugh.”]

Once the initial frustration wears off, your mind begins to play back all your interactions with the customer.

Are you surprised they churned?

Oftentimes, you’re not. There are patterns and universal reasons for cancellations. If you don’t have a process to identify at-risk customers before they send the dreaded cancellation email, then this is the place to start. Follow these three steps to take a more proactive, systematic approach to engaging and saving customers before it’s too late.

Step 1: Do your homework

If you haven’t already, pull as much historical churn data as possible. Go to school on why customers left in the past. Don’t stop at just one reason per account. Attempt to find all factors that contributed to their cancellation.

Make a master list and boil it down to the top seven to nine reasons customers leave. Common cross-industry examples include:

  • Primary point of contact, champion, or contract signer leaves
  • Client doesn’t see value in the product
  • Client is not an ideal fit
  • Client’s company is acquired or gains a new primary investor or partner
  • Economic downturn occurs at the national, industry, or individual level

Step 2: Identify at-risk indicators

We have a phrase at Blind Zebra: “you know before you know.” That’s especially true in the world of Customer Success.

Now that you have a list of cancellation causes, it’s time to take it a step further. Look for the red flags that signify churn is on the horizon. These at-risk indicators can include:

  • Less timely payments (delayed pay or overdue accounts)
  • Declining or sudden drops in usage
  • LinkedIn notification that your primary contact has a new job
  • Industry news predicting detrimental market changes or funding news
  • Slow or no onboarding progression

Step 3: Develop an at-risk process

Now that you’ve identified your at-risk indicators, how do you put them into action to help prevent churn?

If you have a Customer Success platform, these lists will begin to inform your customer health scores. If you don’t have a Customer Success platform, you can create your own mechanism for tracking churn signs.

A quick play-by-play on an at-risk mechanism could look like this:

  1. Define churn reasons and signs. Get specific but don’t overthink it. You should have no more than seven to nine at-risk indicators.
  2. Train the CS team on all at-risk indicators. They should now diligently and proactively look for these warning signs.
  3. Create a repository to capture at-risk indicators as they pop up. Each CSM tracks the date an account is added, the account name, and MRR. When they see a warning sign, they select an at-risk indicator from a drop-down of defined reasons. This can be done using your Customer Success platform. If your company doesn’t have a platform, a simple spreadsheet will do the trick.
  4. The final part is an ACTION step. The CSM defines their plan of proactive action to address the potential churn risk.
  5. Set a standing team meeting (some teams have called this the “least exciting meeting of the week”) to go over the list of at-risk customers on a regular basis. The spirit of the meeting is shared accountability and brainstorming around the best ways to help clients through challenges that may otherwise lead to churn. Accounts stay on the list until the red flag is resolved or they churn.
  6. Track the results. Update the process. Rinse and repeat.

This is not a foolproof guide to eliminating all churn. Some accounts will still churn. Some should churn (a topic for another day). But we’re positive that employing a proactive at-risk strategy will prevent losing some accounts that would have churned.


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