What does it take to retain your customers month after month? Is it as simple as offering a cutting-edge, market-leading product?
Some people still seem to believe that “if you build it, they will come” (or, in this case, stay). But that’s not enough. Often, the market-leading products aren’t the “best” products – they’re just the products that have more money, greater distribution, and, almost always, better marketing behind them.
Remember Betamax? It’s widely believed that the eventual market leader, VHS, was inferior to Sony’s videotape format. However, a lack of support from hardware companies, limited distribution, high costs, and limitations with the technology itself (primarily, the initial 60-minute recording limit) meant that Sony quickly lost that round – despite producing the superior product.
These lessons are even more pertinent today – especially for the majority of SaaS companies, where competition tends to be especially fierce.
Stick with me, and we’ll take a look at 25 growth hacking strategies that’ll help you to stop churn in its tracks and keep your customers right where you want them – with you.
1. Develop your brand
I’m going to start with a point that sounds obvious. Everyone knows that developing a brand is a good thing. Fewer people fully understand how important it is, and what, specifically, they should be striving to achieve.
The aim here is to become synonymous with your industry.
Think for a minute, about a company that offer a range of easy-to-use SEO tools combined with a fantastic support network.
Who’d you think of?
I’m going to hazard a guess that most of you will think of Moz. Along with this guy:
Why? Moz isn’t the only SEO tool out there, by any means, but you can almost guarantee that everyone who has ever had anything to do with building or optimizing a website knows it.
Moz is, arguably, completely synonymous with SEO. So much so, that in 2013, they changed their name from “SEOmoz” to simply “Moz”. They became so recognizable as an SEO brand, that they superseded any need to confirm the association in their name.
If you can follow in their footsteps and build a brand that people can’t help but think about when someone mentions your industry, you’ll naturally find that it’s not only easier to acquire customers, but that they stick around longer too – simply because your product becomes the product for your industry.
2. Attract the right customers
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: churn often begins long before a customer actually leaves. In fact, it often begins before they’re even a customer. Why? Because they’re the wrong customer.
I know what you might be thinking – how can a customer be “wrong”? So long as they pay their bills and don’t cause you any trouble, then that’s money in your back pocket; why does it matter if they go as quickly as they come?
- Customer acquisition costs money, so, if a customer costs more to acquire than they generate in revenue over their lifetime (as a customer, not literally), that customer has actuallylost you money.
- A business model based on high customer turnover is rarely sustainable. Losing customers as quickly as you gain them leaves you in really vulnerable position. Maybe you can scrape by as long as you’re acquiring customers at a similar rate at which you lose them, but what happens if your acquisition rate drops suddenly?
Successful companies aren’t the ones with the infrastructure and campaigns to quickly attract lots of new customers (even though, on the surface, they might seem enviable). Instead, it’s the companies that are able to keep those customers, long-term, that eventually win.
Begin by identifying exactly what type of customer you want to attract and focus your marketing efforts on securing their business – not just any business. Stick with this strategy, and I can almost guarantee that you’ll see a drop in your churn rate.
3. Educate your customers
Rarely will a customer stick around for long if they don’t actually know how to use your product. Sure, some people are pretty self-reliant when it comes to wrapping their heads around a new system, but most need a little more guidance.
Content is a great way to get the basics covered – think illustrated how-tos and video demonstrations. Just make sure to point a new customer in the right direction once they join.
That said, live webinars can also be crazy valuable, as they give you a chance to demonstrate how your product works while your customers are able to ask questions about anything they’re unsure of.
Alternatively, you can take this one step further and offer each new customer a one-on-one conference call to talk them through the product and answer their questions. In any case, an educated customer is one that’s less likely to churn.
4. Underpromise and overdeliver
Or, at the very least… manage your customers’ expectations. One of the worst things you can do for your SaaS business (or any business, for that matter) is to overpromise and underdeliver – in other words, to let your customers down.
Of course, it’s not uncommon for companies to make tenuous claims about their products. It’s called advertising.
Some brands can get away overpromising and under-delivering – many more cannot. McDonalds manages it because, although the delivered product bares little resemblance to the advertisement, it still, by all accounts, tastes pretty good.
If, however, you claim your product will save your customers X amount of money, or X hours of time, and that promise doesn’t pan out, they’re going to feel let down. Lied to, even. And they’re probably going to act on that feeling by taking their business elsewhere.
Thankfully, there’s a simple solution. Establish what your product can reasonably achieve, and promise your customers a little less than that. This gives you a bit more wiggle room to ensure you, at the very least, meet your customers’ expectations. All being well, you’ll exceed them and earn your customers’ continued business.
5. Make it hard for your customers not to use you
Find out what other products your customers use and establish a way to hook your product into them. This isn’t the easiest hack to pull off, but if you can integrate your product with other key tools that your customer base rely on, you’ll make it all-the-more difficult for them to leave. Sneaky? Maybe. But very, very effective.
This strategy was an essential ingredient in PayPal’s early success. They integrated their payment processor so succinctly into eBay that they actually squeezed out eBay’s own, in-house payment option.
By the time eBay acquired PayPal in 2002, more than 70 percent of eBay listings were accepting payment via the platform, and around 25% of closed listings (purchases) were being settled using it.
PayPal had succeeded in making themselves almost indispensable to eBay sellers, who were essentially forced to offer PayPal as a payment option, for fear of losing sales. If possible, you should do the same.
6. Make your product as accessible as possible
Does your product only run smoothly on desktop computers? Design a mobile site, and an app, too. And don’t forget to ensure your UX is consistent across all browsers – not everyone uses Chrome.
The easier it is for your customers to access and use your product, the more likely they are to stick around for the long-haul.
7. Create a community around your product
People love to feel like they’re part of a community. This is simple human nature at play – we want to feel supported, and we want to feel like we belong.
Moz is one example of a company that’s done an awesome job of developing an active and engaged community around their brand. They manage a buzzing Q&A forum which is frequently the first port of call for site owners and SEOs looking to get quick, informed answers to their queries.
Of course, you have to be a “pro” user of Moz in order to ask or answer questions in the forum (anyone is able to view and search it, however), ensuring that members have to stick around if they want to retain access to the resource – whether or not they utilize any of the other tools available to Moz Pro members.
8. Get non-users hooked
Can non-customers access your product?
If you answered no, you could be letting some highly-qualified, potentially long-term customers pass you by.
An excellent way to get a customer hooked on a product is to offer a free trial. Another is to offer the customer free, unlimited use ofpart of your product.
Moz does just this with their Q&A forum (mentioned above). Anyone can search the forum and read posts, but to actually ask questions, they have to sign up.
Buzzsumo does the same. Non-customers can perform a few basic searches with the tool, but the results they can access and the features they can use are limited unless they sign up for a Pro plan.
If anything, offering limited access is even more effective than offering a free trial. It means users aren’t restricted to a day or a week of use. They can use the tool as much as they want. The consequence is that the tool becomes ingrained into their life and workflow.
If they ultimately become a paid customer, you can rest assured they’re going to stick around, simply because they already understand and are actively utilizing the benefits of the product.
9. Prove your product’s value as quickly as possible
Most new customers will join on the promise of the value your product can offer them, meaning that you won’t get them hooked until you’ve delivered on your word.
If you take too long to demonstrate that, yes, your product does live up to the claims, very few new customers will stick around, and your churn rate (and your pride) will suffer.
The trick here is to establish two key things:
- What do you need to prove to your customers in order to convince them to stay?
- How can you accelerate the speed at which that point is proven?
Twitter did an awesome job at this. They discovered that new users who followed lots of other users from the get-go were more likely to stick around than those that didn’t. Consequently, Twitter made following people part of the sign-up process.
10. Encourage your customers to follow and interact with you on social media
This is all about getting in front of your customers as much as possible, and to do that, you need to go where they are.
Establish which social networks your audience are most active on and, if you’re not already using them, set up a new account and begin building your following.
You will, of course, need to encourage your customers to follow you. Following them is a start, however you can also offer incentives such as access to exclusive tips, discounts, or competitions. if you’re successful, you’ll benefit from the fact that engaged customers spend an average of 30% more with the brands they follow:
11. Utilize trigger-based email marketing
Trigger-based emails occur when an email is automatically fired off after a customer performs a particular action.
They’re most often used to encourage customers that have placed items in a basket but not checked out to come back and complete their purchase, but they can be a useful customer retention tool too.
For instance, you could use them to:
- Encourage customers to test out a feature they’ve not yet tried.
- Remind a customer that’s not used the product in a while what they’re missing out on.
- Point a customer who may be having trouble using parts of the product towards a resources section or to somewhere they can get assistance.
12. Remind your customers how much value you provide them
Customers rarely understand how a product or service is benefiting them unless you tell them explicitly.
Design a campaign that’s distributed regularly (and automatically, if possible) and includes statistics on how your product has saved (or made) your customers money, helped their business, or improved their lives in some way.
It may scream self-promotional to you, but remember that nobody else is going to communicate your product’s best features for you.
13. Eliminate dead ends
A “dead end” occurs when you provide your customers with an update or key metric (as above), but fail to include detail of what they can to do to improve on this or exploit the information offered.
Whether you’re providing your customer with good news or bad news, the one thing you shouldn’t do is simply say “this happened” and leave it at that. Tell them what to do next; explain how they can use this information to improve a bad situation or make a good situation even better.
This works because you’re going above and beyond simply providing what your customers have paid for – you’re offering incredible value by helping them to make positive changes that contribute to the growth of their business as well.
14. Offer dedicated account managers
What happens once a new customer comes on board? Do you send them a welcome email and then leave them to it?
Quick tip: don’t do that!
Customers stick around if they feel wanted and valued. They also stick around if they have fast and easy access to friendly and helpful support.
If resources allow, assign each customer a dedicated account manager that has the authority to deal with issues as quickly, efficiently, and effectively as possible, and (most importantly of all) in a personalized, one-to-one manner
If that sort of service is too big a stretch for your business, all’s not lost. Offering a responsive, helpful, and personalized support network should be enough to encourage most customers to stick around.
15. Show your customers some love
This hack ties into the one above – it’s all about making your customers feel valued. Offering a timely and personalized customer support network that actually gets things done is a big, big part of this.
But you can always do more.
Random acts of kindness are a surefire way to not only keep your customers, but potentially turn them into brand advocates, too.
Send personalized, handwritten thank you letters. Or a surprise gift. Pay special attention to birthdays or holidays. These are small and simple gestures that might seem insignificant to you, but that make a huge difference in the way customers perceive you and your brand.
16. Be smart with your customer notifications
Have you ever noticed how, when Facebook notifies you about something happening on your account, they provide you with minimal detail in the notification email?
This certainly isn’t accidental. Facebook knows that if you receive an email saying “[X] tagged you in a photo” and you can’t see that photo, you’re going to click through to the site to check it out.
This strategy can really help to boost customer retention, because each time a customer is “forced” to visit your site, they become that bit more acquainted with it and that bit less likely to leave.
17. Market to your existing customers
Most of the time, when we think about marketing, we think about marketing to new customers. But what about your existing customer base? Is there a way for you to up the profitability of your current customers and increase the length of time they stick around?
Short answer: yes.
HubSpot does this all the time. They’ve “got more products that might strike your fancy, additional services that would make you squeal, and who knows what we’ll roll out in the future.”
You don’t even have to market to your existing customers with the aim of extracting more money from them. If all you really want to do is reduce your churn rate, you can use content to market to your customers by educating and informing them.
The more adept they become at using your technology, and the more exposure they have to your brand through mediums such as content, the longer they’re likely to remain customers.
18. Implement an entrance survey
Ask each new customer what made them decide to sign up, and what they hope to get out of your product. This will help you to tailor the service you offer them, ensure that you’ll know what questions to ask in future conversations, and be better positioned to pre-empt their queries.
Best of all, this knowledge could help you to retain their business, should they try to cancel.
19. Implement an exit survey
At the same time, if a customer leaves, you want to know why, right? This strategy might not help you keep a customer that’s already set on leaving, but it will provide you with priceless knowledge and information that can help you to retain other customers, reducing your churn rate overall.
20. Don’t let payment details expire
This one should be obvious, but it’s so often overlooked. And that’s worrying, because it plays a huge role in increasing SaaS churn rates.
Begin communicating with your customers about their upcoming expirations at least 60 days before their card’s actually due to expire. Don’t be afraid to be a little bit aggressive here; email them, call them, send them a letter… whatever it takes (within reason). Once those details expire, it’s far more difficult to get that customer back than it would have been to retain them – they now have to repeat the decision to become a customer.
21. Offer exclusive perks
Offer your paying customers additional extras that are completely exclusive to them. This might mean extra content, access to a community (see point six), specialist webinars, or a bonus tool.
The general idea is to expand your offering as much as possible. The more cool stuff you provide your paying customers with, the more reasons they have to stick around.
22. Include existing customers in your offers
Have you ever noticed how some brands make their best offers available to new customers only? It sucks, doesn’t it? I’ll hazard a guess that it also makes you feel completely devalued as a customer, too.
Preventing existing customers from taking advantage of your best prices and offers is a sure-fire way to drive those customers to the competition. If you don’t act loyal towards your customers, why should they act loyal towards you?
Instead, allow your existing customers to enjoy the same benefits as new customers (with a condition if necessary, like a short term contract).
23. Learn what your customers do before cancelling
Customers tend to perform the same sort of actions shortly before they hit “cancel”. They might start downloading data, deleting users, or, needless to say, visiting the cancellation page.
If you can establish what actions your customers usually perform before they cancel, then you can track your customers movements and intervene once they start showing signs that they’re intending to cancel. And once you can do that, you may be able to step in and prevent them from leaving.
24. Offer alternatives to cancelling
Not every customer who cancels will truly, 100%, want to cancel. Some customers might cancel because they weren’t using the product as much as they thought they would. Some might cancel because the product was too expensive. Others might just be looking for ways to temporarily curb their costs.
A percentage of these customers could be “saved” if you offer them an alternative to cancelling. This might mean offering the opportunity to downgrade their account, offering them a discounted price, or allowing them to place their account on a temporary hold.
Sixteen Ventures tried this and almost overnight, saw a 15% drop in cancellations.
25. Never stop adding value
Your product might be the best on the market today, but what about tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Or next year? Markets change. Products evolve. If you sit back and let the competition overtake you, you can be damn sure your customers will leave.
If you want to remain as competitive in a year as you are today, never stop improving your product and adding value.
What other methods have you used to slow down or stop churn in its tracks?