May 5, 2020

Read Time 4 min

Your Game Plan for Customer Retention During Uncertain Times


As businesses are thrust into uncharted territory, figuring out how to navigate customer retention strategies to minimize churn will determine their survival. Fortunately, Customer Success teams are uniquely positioned to step up and provide business continuity—serving as a company’s compass to guide them through this treacherous terrain.

At Sendoso’s virtual event “The Show Must Go On: Integrated Ways to Power the Customer Lifecyle,” Allison Tiscornia, chief customer officer at Sendoso, and Abby Hammer, chief customer officer at ChurnZero, held a session on crating your retention game plan.

Here are the top three takeaways.

1. Optionality: Uncover your customer’s needs

While we all wish to be overly generous with every customer during this time, the fact remains that we’re a for-profit business. The negotiations and deals you make now may have an inadvertent impact on your long-term account health. So, how do you balance what your customer needs with what your business needs?

To start, use your data to determine what your customers need without asking them.

Revisit your customer segmentation strategy and create three to five new categories to drive your engagement right now. Build your segment criteria based on account risk attributes such as:

  • Industry type
  • Renewal date (Historically, renewal date may not have been a health indicator, but in the height of uncertainty, every decision is heavily weighed—making it a riskier milestone.)
  • Relationship length and the correlated time-to-value realization
  • Product usage decreases

For a proactive and less intrusive outreach approach, add a call-to-action in your email signature inviting customers to take a short survey about how they’ve been impacted by COVID-19. This allows customers to passively give direct feedback and you to collect real-time insights for customer segmentation.

Also, be sure to isolate customers who have been largely unaffected by the crisis and are operating under a “business as usual” approach.

After your targeted analysis and outreach, if you’re still not sure what a customer needs, ask them. Are their concerns derived from short-term cashflow problems? Or is it commitment issues from long-term contracts? Surfacing their deep-rooted fears allows you to construct a favorable negotiation that meets their needs without granting unnecessary concessions and acquiescing to impulsive or misdirected demands.

If you put forth a timely and sincere effort as well as prove your ongoing value, you’ll find that customers are often willing to engage with you to work towards a mutual resolution. To increase your likelihood for a positive outcome:

  • Prepare to be creative in how you financially help customers. Talk to your Finance and Leadership team about what allowances your company can handle and for how long.
  • Avoid subscription pauses (if possible) and aim to keep customers using your solutions.
  • Give your CSMs pre-approved options to offer customers based on their risk assessment. This empowers them to provide immediate solutions and relief to the customer by having a direct answer as opposed to prolonging the discussion due to internal back-and-forth problem solving.

2. Connection: Talk to your customer

A cardinal rule of Customer Success is that all customer communication should be value-based. Never call a customer “just to check in.” If you’re taking time out of a customer’s day, what are you adding back into it? Your answer better be tied to specific customer benefits—not a self-serving goal.

Customers may have forgiven trivial outreach prior to this crisis, but nearing peak email and soliciting fatigue, our B.S. tolerance threshold has significantly weakened. Although it’s likely done with good intentions, don’t send your customer an exhaustive write-up of everything they should be doing right now. You’re only adding to their bloat. Condense your communications into digestible parts (action items they can complete in 20 minutes or less) and focus on what is most useful to the customer in their immediate future. Bite-sized tasks feel achievable and evoke the positive feelings associated with having a game plan—a stabilizing sentiment that we all crave in this volatile environment.

Better yet, if you have the option, pick up the phone and call your customer if you have an established, consistent relationship. For highly at-risk customers, consider proactive engagement centered around “how can I help?” If you wait for a customer to come to you, you run the risk of a cancelation decision already being cemented. Time is of the essence.

To alleviate congested inboxes, another way to effectively reach customers is using in-app messages. For instance, on an upgrade/downgrade product page, you can add a message urging customers to reach out if they’re struggling with COVID.

Lastly, audit your automated communications to make sure your messages don’t come across as insensitive to an impacted customer.

3. Appreciation: Thank your customer (and your Customer Success team)

Show customers you’re grateful for their continued commitment, especially in times of doubt. To strengthen their loyalty, you need to give more than you take. Create moments of customer experience differentiation, not just delight. A gesture doesn’t need to be grand to be thoughtful. Often, it’s quite the opposite.

It’s also wise to prioritize your biggest promoters. Your previously at-risk customers are even more at risk now as they have a substantial, weighty reason not to renew. So, your business needs to invest in your customer champions—the customers that will stay with you and be most likely to “re-pay” you in the future. As the heart of your business, double down on those partnerships to keep them alive and active. Find creative ways to highlight their success stories and sing their praise. Case studies are a supportive way to help them gain positive publicity in front of a new audience while showcasing your product.

Last but not least, show your own Customer Success team ample appreciation for their tenacious and amplified effort to retain customers during this trying time. Staying true to their mission, Sendoso sent their Customer Success team a sweet gift to indulge in at home: a doughnut kit! This hands-on activity served as a fun, lighthearted project for employees and their families to enjoy as well as a team morale energizer.

At ChurnZero, the Customer Success team converted our “Feel Good Friday” message (a weekly recognition roundup) into its very own Slack channel. So, instead of waiting to share positive news once a week, there’s now a steady stream of employee kudos to keep the positivity flowing. The channel highlights individual successes across the team, such as hitting customer milestones, overcoming obstacles, and receiving customer praise (our favorite).

Watch the full on-demand virtual event for more inspirational sessions and strategic conversations around integrated ways to power the customer lifecycle.

You can also view the session recording of the Game Plan for Customer Retention During Uncertain Times.


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