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6 proven strategies to reduce churn (with real examples)

I spent over a week speaking with different SaaS founders and marketers about how they successfully reduced churn for their business.

One founder told me the key to how he was able to achieve 0.1% churn by doing something every SaaS business should be doing, but most don’t.

Another walked me through the onboarding emails he sends to retain 94.7% of his customers.

And one showed me a simple tactic their company used that helped reduce churn from 9% to 7.5% in just a few months.

Those are just a few of the people I talked to. There are plenty of others who were gracious enough to share their “secrets” with me.

Want to know one thing they all had in common?

None of them relied on one-off gimmicks like cutting their pricing by 50%, or hiding their cancellation button. They all used sustainable strategies to reduce churn while also growing their business.

Now, I'm passing along everything I learned from them over to you!

In this guide, we're going to go over six strategies to reduce churn, with real-life examples from SaaS companies that have successfully done it.

First, lets define churn, at the very least so we're all talking about the same thing.

Churn can basically be defined as resources lost in a given period of time. Typically it's referring to users or lost revenue and is usually represented with either a percentage or dollar amount.

For example, if you had a 5% monthly user churn rate, that means each month 5% of your customer base is canceling.

Or if you said you had $ 2,000 in monthly revenue churn, that means you lost $ 2,000 in monthly recurring revenue from either customer cancellations or downgrades.

The plain-english formula for calculating churn is:

[Lost Resource / # of resources at the beginning of a given interval]

More plainly put, say you're calculating user churn for the month of May. You had 100 customers at the start of May and 5 canceled during the month. You'd say:

[(5 customers / 100 customers) * 100 = 5% user churn]

It's important to note that you ignore any new customers added during that time frame.

User churn vs. revenue churn

Most people talking about churn are referring to "user churn" ... but there’s another type as well.

User churn is the number of customers you're losing in a given timeframe (typically per month or year).

But there’s also revenue churn, which is arguably even more important. Revenue churn is the amount of revenue you're losing in a given timeframe due to downgrades or cancellations.

The reason why it's such a vital metric is that it has a greater affect on your business. If you look at just user churn, you're ignoring how much revenue you're losing with those churned users.

For example, a churned user on a $ 50 / mo plan isn't nearly as bad as a churned user on a $ 500 / mo plan.

Just looking at user churn would gloss over the fact that you lost a major customer. Revenue churn effectively weights your user churn to be a more accurate representation of how your business is doing.

Signs that you have a churn problem

If you run a SaaS or subscription business, you're in a constant battle to reduce churn as much as possible because it improves your monthly recurring revenue (MRR) and creates more sustainable growth.

But you should also keep in mind that it's ok to have a little churn — emphasis on little.

It's generally accepted that anywhere between 5-7% is a “healthy” monthly churn rate.

Within that range, your business is at a point where you're losing some customers, but not enough that you can't balance things out by acquiring new more or expanding your current customers through offering upgrades, add-ons, etc.

So, when should you start worrying?

Should you run around with your arms flailing in terror if your churn rate hits 9%?

Not necessarily. Every business is different, and what’s considered “high” for one might be ok for another.

There are some red flags you should look out for though. Here are a few signs that you might have a churn problem:

  • Your churn is outpacing new customers: This one is pretty obvious, but if you're regularly losing more customers than you're acquiring, it's a potential red flag. Particularly if you’re not upselling your current customers.
  • LTV is shrinking: In most cases, the longer your customers stay with you, the higher the lifetime value (LTV) of your average customer should be. So, if customers are constantly churning, you’ll likely see a downward trend in your LTV.
  • Your churn rate is above 10%: Like I mentioned earlier, 5-7% is considered an average churn rate. But when you start getting into double digits, it's usually a sign that something in your process isn't working. It could be the way you're acquiring customers, your onboarding, or another part of your business. But if over 10% of your customers are canceling, it makes it difficult to grow long term.
  • More downgrades than upgrades: If you offer different plans or add-ons for your product, you want to have more customers upgrading than downgrading. Otherwise, you're likely to deal with a revenue churn problem.

Those are just a few signs of a churn problem. But chances are, if your churn is getting into uncomfortable levels, you’ll feel it all across your business.

Even if you don't have a high churn rate, there's no reason why you shouldn't aim to get it lower if possible. And if you're not sure where to start, we've got you covered!

6 Churn reduction strategies that can save your business

Now that you have some background info, let's talk about how to reduce your churn.

Unlike some other articles you might’ve read about how to reduce churn, we’re going to stray away from tactics like “sell annual plans” or “make it harder to cancel”.

Sure, those things might reduce your churn, but they won’t solve the root issue of why customers are churning.

It's like using duct tape to seal a leaky pipe. It'll stop the leak temporarily, but eventually you're going to need to change out that part of the pipe or it'll start leaking again.

We're going for the permanent fix.

Here are six strategies to reduce churn for the long term. And as promised, I was able to convince other SaaS companies to share their “secrets” for how they’ve reduced churn too.

Your goal shouldn't be to get your churn to zero percent. That's unrealistic. Your goal should be to at least get your churn rate to a level that makes it possible for you to grow your business long term. The number will depend on your business.

1. Find out why customers are canceling

The very first thing you need to do to reduce churn is find out why customers are canceling. And the easiest way to do that is to just ask!

Your cancellation flow should include a short survey where you ask customers why they're canceling.

You can use our Cancellation Insights to create a form just like this, and track the responses. The best part is we'll even show you how much money you're losing due to each cancellation reason.

Once you start getting responses, the next step is to look at the data and make changes to prevent it from happening again. Prioritize them by which cancellation reasons are costing you the most money.

That’s exactly what usersnap did in order to figure out why so many customers were canceling after only a month or two.

They added a cancellation reason field to their unsubscribe page and started to monitor the responses. A common issue started popping up.

Based on the feedback, they launched a new product line that gave customers a reason to keep their accounts for more than just one-time projects.

Asking customers why they're canceling is one of the easiest ways to get valuable insights that can save your business.

Make sure you customize the cancellation reasons in your survey based on your product. For instance, at Baremetrics we allow people to choose from these options:

  • Too expensive
  • Switching to another product
  • Shutting down the company
  • Technical issues
  • Not sure how to use the data & tools
  • Missing features I need
  • Other

As you can see, there are a couple options that are very specific to our product / industry. Since our customers are largely startups, the "Shutting down the company" option makes sense because if they no longer have a company, there’s no need for our product.

You should also always include an "Other" field for people who don’t fall into any of the listed reasons. The more info you can get on why customers churn, the better.

Unfortunately, not everyone will give you a cancellation reason. But Pat Walls, founder of Starter Story and Pigeon, has a solution to increase your chances.

I asked him for some insights into how he's reducing churn for Pigeon, and here’s his strategy:

Pat Walls

Founder @ Pigeon

You would be crazy to not do everything you can to find out why customers are canceling. That kind of knowledge is power. This is the kind of feedback you need to build a great product.

But how to find out why customers cancel? The hardest thing is getting an answer at all. Then, the next hardest thing is getting a good answer. Sure, you can email them, call them, tweet them, whatever.

But here’s the secret to finding out why they are canceling: build a relationship with them before they cancel.

If you can develop even the smallest personal relationship (even just a simple personalized email after signup, a friendly support conversation, etc) then the customer will be more inclined to share with you why they're canceling when they cancel, because they see you as a human.

One thing I do to build that personal relationship is send every new trial a one minute personalized video to introduce myself and welcome them to the trial.

I learned this from Davis Baer, ​​the founder of OneUp.

Of course, you still have to ask why they canceled though — I just send a simple email asking why:

The punchline here is that you need to find out why customers are canceling. And if the first time you interact with a customer is when they're canceling, that's probably part of the problem.

Like Pat points out, the best time to establish a strong relationship with your customers is during the onboarding / free trial process. Which leads me to our next strategy ...

Get deep insights into MRR, churn, LTV and more to grow your business

2. Create a magnetic onboarding process

When customers sign up for your product, do you just leave them to set everything up on their own? Or do you proactively guide them to make sure they're getting the most from their subscription?

According to data from Wyzowl, most customers aren’t satisfied with the way businesses onboard them.

You need to avoid having customers sign up, trying your product once or twice, then never logging back in again because they aren't sure what to do next.

With a magnetic onboarding process, you're actively pulling customers back into your product, so they don't forget about you.

So where do you start?

First, make sure you have the right tools in place.

Pulkit Agarawal, the CEO of Chameleon, shared their onboarding stack with me. They divide their toolset into five categories, and recommend other companies do the same:

Tool category

What they use

How to use it

User data

Clearbit

Find out who your customers are so you can tailor the onboarding experience to them individually.

Product tour

Chameleon

Give your customers the best first experience of the product possible, by guiding them through it.

Communications

Intercom

Keep customers informed throughout the process with a clear line of communication.

Support

ReadMe

Help your customers learn more about how to use your product.

Analytics

Mix panel

Find out what works and doesn't for your customers.

You don’t have to use all of the exact same tools as Chameleon, but this is a great list to get you started.

You also need to realize that having all the tools in the world won't do much if your actual onboarding process is garbage.

So next, I'm going to share a few examples of SaaS companies that’ve optimized their onboarding process to be magnetic and reduce churn.

First, is MobileAction. It's an app store optimization tool. When people sign up and log into the dashboard for the first time, Mobile Action provides a guided tour (with UserGuiding) to walk people through the product.

This seemingly small step made a big impact. They were able to:

  • Decrease their time to adapt by 32%
  • Increase their breadth of adoption by 38%
  • Increase their net promoter score by 26%
  • Improve their new feature adoption

All of these metrics directly tie back to churn. When users adapt your product quicker, try new features and are more engaged, they're less likely to churn. Focus on getting your customers to actively use your product, and you could see a drop in churn like MobileAction.

Another company that created a magnetic onboarding process to reduce churn is Encharge. Their co-founder, Kalo Yankulov, was kind enough to break down their strategy for me.

Kalo Yankulov

Co-founder @ Encharge

At Encharge, we have a very low churn rate because of our high-touch onboarding process. If a user churns, it usually happens within the first month of their subscription. A churned customer means we haven’t managed to onboard them effectively, or the account is simply not a fit for Encharge.

This pattern in churn together with the complexity of our tool, is the reason why we focus heavily on our onboarding process.

We put trial users into two parallel buckets, or swim lanes:

  1. Automated email onboarding sequence
  2. A sales-driven cadence

We use our product to orchestrate these onboarding activities / emails and get a full picture of the onboarding process of the person.

Every trial user gets in the first bucket and receives a series of time-based and trigger-based emails. We want to get our trial users to follow the shortest path to their desired outcome. An active user in our platform is someone who has imported email contacts, created at least one email and activated an email flow.

In our onboarding emails, we strictly follow what we call the “simple email formula” that each email should have one goal, one desired outcome for the user, and just one call to action.

In the email example below, we nudge people to create their first automation flow by providing the quickest shortcut — using templates in our platform.

On top of this, we use a CRM to execute and track sales activities that we follow for the hot leads. The sales process is broken into three calls and supported by multiple email / social media follow-ups.

The first call is a quick, 15-minute qualification call that we use to figure out if the lead fits our customer persona and if our software is going to help them.

The next call is an extended 45-minute marketing automation strategy / email review call, where we try to provide as much business value as possible. This is more of an advisory call than a product demo call.

The last call is an onboarding call where we discuss technical details, demonstrate specific product features, and answer specific questions.

There are no growth hacks here but this personal, consultative-driven onboarding approach helps eliminate our churn with high-value customers.

The upfront resources Encharge invests in their onboarding process might seem like a lot. But it helps them avoid unnecessary churn since they're heavily qualifying each lead before they become a customer.

One of the things I like most about Encharge’s onboarding process is that it’s an attempt to find out not only if the customer is a good fit for their product, but whether or not their product is a good fit for the customer.

Even if you're able to convince someone to sign up for your product initially, unless they're able to get long term value from it, they're going to churn — quickly.

If you're acquiring tons of customers, but they're only sticking around for one or two months, an approach like Encharge’s could be your answer for reducing churn.

Another company that takes a similar approach is Promoly. Their co-founder, Pete Callaghan, gave me a deep dive into how they use automated emails to improve retention for people in trial.

Here’s a look into their strategy!

Pete Callaghan

Co-founder @ Promoly

I'm explicitly measuring people logging into the app and reaching certain milestones within their trial stage. That's my main focus right now.

When someone starts a trial, I have an onboarding sequence that nudges them in the right direction of completing various goals.

I send a series of emails (using Autopilot) that are triggered by customer behavior as well as nicely timed emails on a sequence. The trick is to get the user to take action from that email.

Within the body of the email, I tell them how to do something within the app and provide a link to take them to the appropriate app section.

I believe delivering an email in the right moment of their trial helps build trust, guidance and increases conversion. Ultimately, it creates a conversation between the user and me, which is crucial if you want them to stick around for a long time.

For example, the first-ever email sent has a 63% open rate and a 19.6% CTR. In this email, I welcome and tell them how to create a campaign within our app. I keep it very simple and don't confuse the message.

Here's the copy:

"Let's get you up and running: You'll need music, artwork and a press blurb to start sending promo campaigns. Click the button below to head to your campaign dash. From there, create a new promo. When you've done that I'll be in touch. " 

Under the copy, I have a blue button that links directly to their dashboard (our app). As you can see, I give them action and then say I'll be in touch when they complete the task.

When they've completed their task, I deliver another email triggered by our API. The API feeds our email marketing platform, which I can then trigger user-specific emails when needed.

When I was talking about delivering an email at the right moment, this is a great example. The first email gives them a goal; our API tells us when they complete it, and then I deliver another email with the next target. This email, in particular, gets a 66.7% open rate.

Another email I want to talk about is one that asks the trial user a simple question. This email gets a 67% open rate and a 12% reply rate. It's delivered 5 hours after signup.

Here's the copy:

"One quick question, if you don't mind me asking ... Why did you sign up? I would love to learn more about your business and how you're planning to use Promoly. Reply here and let me know."

As you can see, I keep it simple, but the important part is the last line.

I tell the reader to reply. From this single email, I get to build a relationship with the lead, find out about their business and talk about resolving their problems with our app.

As you can see, I track the entire signup and customer app usage. Doing this is the absolute key for gauging customer retention.

Last month's customer retention was 94.7%, and our overall average is 93.66%. Delivering the right message at the right time will help your overall retention, get people to take action and ultimately help them convert.

You're probably starting to see a common theme here. If you want to retain customers and reduce churn, you need to engage your users.

Both Promoly and Encharge are proactive about reaching out to leads and customers once they’ve signed up. They even gamify the onboarding experience by giving users “tasks” to complete, so they aren’t just left to fend for themselves.

If people don’t understand how to use your product, they aren’t going to use it. The end result is churn. Use your onboarding process to show customers the value of your product, and keep them engaged.

3. Build customer loyalty

We all know that one person who is loyal to a specific brand. The one who wouldn't dare wear a pair of Reeboks out of their loyalty to Nike. Or the person who refuses to go to any grocery store except Whole Foods.

The reason they're dead set on only buying from specific brands is because the companies have built customer loyalty, or brand loyalty.

Customer loyalty isn't just limited to huge international brands that sell physical products. There are plenty of smaller brands (including SaaS companies) that have die-hard customers that are loyal to them.

For instance, one of my personal favorite tools, Ahrefs has a very loyal customer base — as noted by all the love they get on social media.

The popular e-commerce software Shopify is another SaaS company that's built a really loyal customer base judging by this Tweet.

One of the biggest differences between a brand loyalist and someone that just likes your product, customer loyalty is tied to your brand, not just your products.

Someone who just enjoys your product might leave if another company releases a similar product at a lower price. Their main concern is the utility of the product.

A brand loyalist, on the other hand, likes your product AND your company. They consume your content, attend your events, brag about you on social media and send referrals.

Most importantly, they're less likely to churn.

The million dollar question is, how do you build customer loyalty?

Here’s a hint, it's more than just building a good product. Here are a few tips and examples from SaaS brands that use customer loyalty to reduce churn.

Be honest and transparent

As an open startup, transparency is something that's built in the fabric of our company at Baremetrics. We openly share our business metrics including revenue, churn and a laundry list of others. This level of transparency builds trust in a world where 55% of customers now trust companies less than they used to.

All the data your startup needs

Get deep insights into your company's MRR, churn and other vital metrics for your SaaS business.

While that's one way we're transparent, it's not the only way to do it. For instance, Airfocus openly shares their product roadmap so customers can see what new features are on the horizon.

Customers can vote for the features they're most excited about, which helps Airfocus prioritize what to work on next.

Making their product roadmap public helped drop their churn three percentage points, according to their co-founder, Malte Scholz. Here’s his insights into why having a public product roadmap has helped reduce their churn:

Malte Scholz

Co-founder @ Airfocus

A lot of times, people will sign up for your product not only because of your current offer, but because of what you have planned for the future.

If they commit to a product, they want to do it long term, and they want to ensure that you will give them everything they need in the future.

A product roadmap is one of the best ways to convince people to stay with you.

If you're considering doing something similar, Scholz recommends to keep your roadmap to 2-3 months out, and to share as much detail as you're comfortable with.

In addition to being transparent, honesty can also improve customer loyalty.

Honesty doesn't just mean apologizing to upset customers. It means being able to admit when your company falls short, and working to fix the problem.

That's exactly what groove did.

I won't dive into the whole story, because their founder already did here. But essentially, the company faced some real growth challenges with infrastructure, design, team structure and even customers being vocal about not loving the product anymore.

Now, they could’ve ignored the feedback they were getting and wrote it off as customers just not being a great fit. After all, they reached $ 100K in MRR like that something had to be working.

Instead, their founder, Alex Turnbull, was honest with himself, the company and their customers, and decided to start from scratch.

They spent over a year (and more than $ 1,000,000) rebuilding all the work they did in the previous five years.

After the relaunch, things seem to be trending in the right direction, and they’ve gotten some positive feedback from customers.

Turns out our parents were right all those years when we were kids — honesty really is the best policy.

Celebrate your customers

Raise your hand if you like feeling ignored and neglected!

Anybody?

Well, ignored, is exactly how your customers start to feel if your relationship with them is purely transactional — especially if they’ve been with you for a long time.

Like I mentioned when we talked about brand loyalty, customers are constantly showing their appreciation for the companies they love. But a lot of times it doesn't get reciprocated. And that could be part of the reason you're experiencing churn problems.

The good news is that celebrating customer wins is easy to do. Here’s how.

First, you need to identify the customers you're going to celebrate. If you have hundreds or thousands of customers, it might seem overwhelming to dig through them all and decide where to start. Here are a couple of ways to make it easy.

Option 1: Send Out a Survey

One way we've started to celebrate our customers is featuring them in our content.

I recently sent out a survey to our email list (I used Typeform) to see if anyone would be interested in being featured on our website. One of the questions I asked was "Are you a Baremetrics customer?"

This allowed me to get a list of our customers who are interested in appearing in our content. We even had some people who were specifically interested in talking about how they use our product!

This is a win-win situation. We get to give our customers exposure to our audience and send some referral traffic their way. In return, we get content to publish on our site.

The survey we sent out was specifically for customers interested in being featured on our website, but you can use this tactic in other ways. It all depends on the questions you ask.

For instance, you might ask:

"Would you be interested in being highlighted as a" customer of the month "on our Instagram page?"

Option 2: Look For Your Highest Value Customers

If you'd rather get more selective about what customers you choose to highlight, another option is to just start with your highest value customers.

These might be customers who have been with you for a long time, the ones that are paying you the most, or even the ones that have sent you the most referrals (if you're tracking that).

For SaaS companies, you can do this easily in Baremetrics. Just head over to the Customers section. Make sure you're only showing your active customers.

Then just sort your list by MRR, LTV or Signed Up date to prioritize who to reach out to first.

Once you've identified the customers you want to highlight, the next step is deciding how to celebrate them.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

I mentioned that we're going to start celebrating customers by allowing them to contribute content to our website. But another way we do it is by highlighting our customers ’successes on social media.

Sprout Social also uses content to celebrate their customers. In their Always On series, they highlight how their customers solve the challenges of running social media marketing at various companies.

Figma celebrates their users by featuring their work on their Instagram page. In order to promote their Config conference, they asked attendees to contribute a square to a community quilt that visualized what community means to them.

While it's not a SaaS company, freelance marketplace Fiverr does a great job highlighting their customers through success stories on their blog, as well as featuring both buyers and sellers throughout the website.

As you can see, celebrating your customers can be as simple as sending out a Tweet, or as big as featuring them in a video.

I'd suggest you start by looking for as many smaller opportunities as possible:

  • Tweeting customer successes
  • Highlighting a customer of the week or month in an email newsletter
  • Sending “thank you” emails after customers have been with you six months or a year
  • Allowing customers to tell their stories on your blog

Whatever route you choose, celebrating your customers makes them feel appreciated and more loyal to your brand. And those customers are less likely to churn.

4. Analyze churn by customer segments

One of the biggest challenges with reducing your churn is just figuring out where to start.

Let's say your churn rate is at 11%. Trying to reduce that entire number might seem overwhelming. Instead, as a first step, figure out where that 11% is coming from.

Is it spread across customers from each plan you offer?

Do you have a lot of cancellations for your lowest price tier, while your enterprise customers stick with you long term?

Or maybe customers who signed up with a coupon are churning at a higher rate than ones that paid full price.

In order to make sense of it all, look at your churn by customer segments