As a strategist at a content marketing agency, I focused on executing client deliverables. As a CSM at a SaaS company, I focus on delivering a cohesive client experience.
The biggest discrepancy between these two roles is that agencies create one-time, ad-hoc contracts which result in “fires” — i.e., something unexpectedly needs to get done immediately.
Subscriptions, on the other hand, lead to red flags — behaviors that suggest a customer is at risk of canceling. In developing strategies for these unhealthy customers, I realized I really had changed careers, from fireman to doctor.
The tricky thing about red flags is that they’re unique to each business. But, there are general guidelines to help identify them. Here are six symptoms of unhealthy customers and what to prescribe each.
1. Lack of Usage
Symptoms: The epitome of a red flag. If customers are not using your product, they won’t see value in it. They could be confused about how to use the product or are using other tools to get things done. Of course, looking at the big picture of usage breeds better decisions. What is the customer’s average length of web session? Are they utilizing all or most of your product features?
If we have a customer who explained during onboarding that our content intelligence tool would be beneficial, I’m concerned if I don’t see them using that feature later.
Remedy: I often fight inactive or “zombie” users with an email campaign. Keep in mind these important characteristics of an email campaign:
- Target the right customers. Who gets the email? Power users, executive stakeholders, or both?
- Be personal. Stay away from a generic blast. The emails need to individually target customers and offer solutions based on past discussions about goals.
- Be creative. We’ve all canceled a service before. It’s not that hard. And usually the “please don’t go” CTA is basically invisible. You’ll need to think of innovative ways to demonstrate your worth to a churning customer. Groupon provides a winning example.
- Be useful. Most importantly, make sure you’re providing a reason for the customer to use the product. Do some of the work for them or help solve a problem.
2. Support/Assistance Requests
Symptoms: As with dieting, moderation is key for support requests. Too many, and your customer is likely getting frustrated; too few, and your customer might be running into bugs without reporting them and using workarounds that diminish the product value.
Remedy: An informed support team must be able to quell customer concerns but also gauge their attitude. Any tickets where customers are flustered need to be documented and acted on appropriately. Forrester has reported that more than 70 percent of online consumers prefer to use a company’s website to get answers as opposed to phone or email. Yet, 58 percent of consumers are unable to resolve their issues via the web. Create a dynamic self-service database, so your support team can focus on legitimate concerns instead of routine processes.
3. Time to perform actions
Symptoms: Users who are abandoning actions or taking an unusually long or short time to perform an action can tell you a lot.
Remedy: Groove, a support software startup, attached durations to important actions within their app. For instance, they knew it took 20 seconds to integrate a Twitter account. This allowed them to automate an email whenever customers were spending far longer than average on that action. Determine how long important actions in your app should take and automate accordingly. Emails or in-app alerts should be initiated whenever customers are stuck on a process (or perceived to be).
4. Invoice overdue, credit card expiration
Symptoms: Another obvious but noteworthy red flag — unhappy customers don’t pay fees. A late invoice, expired or expiring credit card might be an easy fix, but it could mean the customer knows they’ll be discontinuing their subscription.
Remedy: Do everything possible to not let credit cards expire. Use multiple channels to alert customers about an upcoming credit card expiration. This way, by the time a credit card does expire, your success team is more confident that it is indeed a red flag and not a simple mistake. Stripe has multiple extensions and API opportunities that enable you to manage credit card expirations.
5. ‘Hacking’ & Gaming the System
Symptoms: “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’” — customers who use workarounds and hack your product to achieve their desired outcome are not bad people. They’re likely great candidates for upsells, as they go out of their way to use the product instead of cancelling. Similarly, “gaming the system” refers to free trial abusers who change up emails and share logins so the trial is extended.
Remedy: Why does this happen? Customer success expert Lincoln Murphy blames you: “You’re failing to create an experience that engages prospects and converts them into customers.”
A trial and paid account need to have fundamental differences, and customers must be able to easily identify the giant leap in value they’ll get when they pay their first subscription fee.
Once a prospect becomes a customer, the mission to eliminate hacking begins again. Identify why customers are not using things the way you intended and reach out with a solution or a future update alert.
6. Change of Stakeholder(s)
Symptoms: Customer contacts leaving their company or changing positions keeps CSMs up at night. There’s no way to see it coming, and it immediately affects your customer relationship. This includes turnover with your point of contact but also any directors or managers involved with the initial buying decision.
Remedy: New customer contacts could mean your value has to be re-established. The good news is, you’ll have previous work and accomplished goals as leverage. Don’t assume the new guy is on board with your product. They’ve been hired to audit all expenses and make decisions on what to do going forward.
Taking a sales-like perspective and executing an in-depth business review will show you’re not taking anything for granted.
About the Author
As a former journalist, Milton Herman loves a good story. As customer success manager at ClearVoice, he develops compelling customer narratives. He's also a former content strategist, a current Slack evangelist and wannabe data geek. He's passionate about sports, travel and learning.More Content by Milton Herman