Obviously, you don’t want customers to ever get to the brink of cancellation. I’ll dive into the ways to avoid that in another article. This is what you need to do when you are faced with a customer who is about to cancel, or—even worse—has already canceled.
My mantra when it comes to customer cancellations is: Do whatever it takes to keep their business (assuming they are a “good fit” customer). That means trying to win them back, even if they have already put in their cancellation request. It’s never too late to save a customer.
So, if you’re staring down the face of a cancellation. What do you do?
1. Analyze what you know.
Start with what you know. Did the customer explain why they are canceling? Is this a surprise, or was it a known issue? Can it be overcome (almost everything can be overcome—but see the last bullet below)? If they are canceling due to a known issue, resist the urge to unpack and post-mortem this to death. Instead, look deeper—why weren’t you able to get in front of the issue earlier, what attempts to solve have you already made (because there is no use trying those again), and consider what you haven’t already tried.
2. Consider what you don’t know.
To bring a customer back from cancellation you really, really, really need to understand the root of the issue(s). Sometimes the real root issue isn’t what the customer is saying. I have seen this hundreds of times. The customer says they are canceling because of X, but then you dig deep, it’s really Y. For example, the customer says, “I am canceling because it didn’t do what we wanted it to do”. You can take that at face value. Or you can really connect with your customer’s stakeholders, hear them out and find out it was actually that the primary person tasked with implementing your product was never onboard with the purchase decision and didn’t put in any effort to learn or use your product. The “didn’t do what we wanted it to do” is true, but it’s the symptom, not the disease.
If you really want to win a customer back, you must go deeper than what they are presenting to you. Often, customers don’t even know how to articulate what the real reason is, or how to do the internal sleuthing to get to the bottom of it. And they shouldn’t need to—that’s your job. They already gave you a chance. If you want another chance at their business assume you are going to have to put in most of the work to get there, even if their lack of adoption was on their own inertia.
3. Do whatever it takes to save them from cancellation.
Piecing together what you know and don’t know, determine what the root issue really is, and then solve for it, by any means necessary. If the customer has gone dark—just put in their cancellation and has been unresponsive since—be dogged, and unexpected (fly to their doorstep if needed), in your attempt to get them to re-engage with you.
- A root problem might be that they never gained business value from your product. Why is that? Did they implement it poorly? If so, implement it for them correctly, teach them good strategy, coach and guide them until they can succeed on their own (the best tool is useless in the hands of a bad craftsman).
- Did one team buy your product to solve a problem, but then hand it off to be used by people who never bought in and weren’t part of the evaluation team? Fly to their office and camp out until you can create an “ah-ha” moment for everyone. Understand what people want, what their objectives and goals are. Help them see your product through that light. “Re-sell” to them. Extend to them a new “free trial” period if you must so you can prove your value and win them over.
- Did they have a rocky onboarding period for whatever reason and never really learned to use your tool (oh, there are so many reasons this can happen)? Offer to re-train everyone on their team. Offer free support services to get everyone over the hump.
- Is an executive just slashing budgets or mandating change and the people who use your product are helpless to counteract that? Do whatever it takes to get in front of that executive. If your users can’t connect you to the executive(s), reach out and make the connection yourself. Be relentless in your pursuit of them until they give you their attention. And make it worth their while when you do. Don’t pitch them, listen to them. Understand what their KPIs are, what their goals and challenges are, what their needs are, what their priorities are. Help them see the business value you can bring to their organization through the lens of what they care about.
The bottom line is that if you want to bring a customer back from the brink of cancellation you are going to have to solve a problem they aren’t able to solve for themselves.
4. Move on if you know you can’t solve it, or if the customer isn’t worth saving.
Are all customers worth the all-out effort it may take to save them? Absolutely not. Can you solve every cancellation reason? Nope. If they wanted a parakeet but bought a parrot, you can try to persuade them into wanting the parrot by telling them all the benefits, but if they aren’t swayed, you are going to need to move on. If the company is going through a bankruptcy, you are going to need to probably move on. If the customer isn’t your ideal customer profile (and in fact is the opposite of your ideal customer), you need to move on. Before you throw all your resources, time, energy and love at trying to bring them back from the brink of cancellation, determine if you actually should.
Customer churn is SaaS’s dirty little secret. Sometimes it’s not enough to just have a great product that solves a real problem. Customers have inertia or low adoption on their side for a variety of reasons, and if you want to save their business you are doing to need to put in the work to do so.