Feb 12, 2021

Read Time 4 min

When customers give notice: handling the cancelation conversation


This is a guest blog post by Stephanie Neale, CEO of Blind Zebra.

As customer success professionals, days are filled with conversations, meetings and tasks that revolve around helping our clients get maximum value from our product or solution. We train users, uncover the business problems we can impact and help clients achieve the outcomes most important to them. Occasionally, though (and more often than we’d like), our day is interrupted by an email, or, less frequently, a phone call, from a customer who asks to cancel their contract.

How do you feel when that notice hits your inbox? What do you do next? Many companies have playbooks for virtually every CS scenario. But, oftentimes, the actual cancelation call gets missed, leaving CSMs to fend for themselves every time this situation presents itself.

If you’re about to pick up the phone to address a cancelation request, read this first. Then read it again, make it your own and feel a little more confident when you call your client.

Get your head right

Before all else, develop an awareness of how you’re thinking. Oftentimes, we go directly to tactics – what do I do/what should I say to save this customer? But when you check in first with your head, heart, and soul, you’ll be better able to execute what comes next.

Check your intent. Our intent should be solely to help the client come to the best conclusion for them and their organization. If you show up with the intent to “save the deal,” the client will know. Likewise, if you show up with the intent to get off the phone as quickly as possible, your client will know that, too.

Do this one thing

This probably won’t strike you as magical or new, but so many CSMs don’t take this very important step. When you receive notice, communicate back immediately and schedule a cancelation call. Not a chat. Not an email exchange. Set up a live video or phone call, preferably with the person who originally signed the contract. Start doing this today and do this every time you receive a request to cancel. Your “saves” will increase.

Lose the awkward

Who likes cancelation calls? No one. Most people don’t enjoy the breakup. That’s why the majority of cancelations come via email instead of a phone call. And as a busy CS professional, it’s easier to just let an email drift away than to have that awkward conversation.

It doesn’t have to be awkward, though. The conversation can be structured, professional and fruitful for both parties. Here’s a quick framework to follow next time you’re in this situation.

Start the call by setting context. Tell them how the call is going to go.

 “Thanks so much for the time today to process your cancelation. Like I said in my email, this should only take 10 – 15 minutes. We just have 3 things to go over quickly…

  1. I’d like to get an understanding of what brought you to the decision to cancel
  2. I’ll share what I’ve experienced with other customers in similar situations
  3. We’ll review your contract terms, finalize the cancelation, and determine if there are any next steps needed.”

That’s what you say at the beginning of the call. Now, let’s break down what happens in each of those steps:

“I’d like to get an understanding of what brought you to this decision”

Use open-ended questions to try to get the full story of why they’re canceling. It’s important at this point to let the client “get it all out.” In other words, keep your trap shut! According to Gong research, top performers pause 1.6 seconds before responding to an objection. That’s 5 times longer than average performers who pounce after 0.3 seconds. The initial reason a canceling client gives you is typically not the whole story. Keep digging and you’ll have the best chance at ending this thing as well as it started.

“I’ll share what I’ve experienced with other customers”

If you’ve been in your role for a minute, you can probably list the top 3 – 5 reasons customers cancel. This is your opportunity to objectively share what you’ve seen in similar cases. Do the clients who cancel tend to come back? Do they have the same frustrations with their new vendor? Do they suffer from FOMO after leaving when they realize they had it pretty good to begin with?

Data and customer stories are your best tools here. Most importantly, though, keep it free of judgement. Just share what your experience has been. This is also your chance to bring up areas in which you might be able to help – like offering additional training, rightsizing their number of licenses or adjusting a price to better correspond with usage. In some cases, your client should cancel. If that’s the case, you can say that, too (and have your VP of CS make another client call if they disagree).

At this point, if there’s an opportunity to continue the relationship, be sure to set the next call while you have your customer on the phone. Agree on the appointment time and send the calendar invite while you have them on the phone (this is your best chance at not being ghosted!).

“We’ll review your contract terms, finalize the cancelation, and determine if there are any next steps needed”

Make sure you’ve done your homework and are ready for this part. If the breakup is imminent, then the only goal is to make the departure experience as smooth as the onboarding process. Share the last date of service, any final invoice information and determine if a follow-up call should be set.

Is all hope lost now? Not necessarily. A good practice is to reconnect with you customer roughly 90 days after the last date of service. You never know – if they’re working with a competitor, that competitor’s demo may be far more attractive than their customer experience. Some companies will even offer an opportunity for canceled clients to come back within a specific time frame without incurring implementation fees again.

Not every customer can be saved. Not every customer should be saved. But if you’re head, heart and soul are in the right place, if you set up a cancelation call every time and if you set context for that call and work your process, you’ll be setting yourself up to be successful more often than you’re not.


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