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How To Conduct Quick, Low-Stress Churn Post-Mortems That Are Actually Helpful

Make your churn post-mortems more impactful, less dramatic, and less time consuming. It’s all possible, we promise
Diana De Jesus
September 13, 2022

When was the last time you did a churn post-mortem?

We’re betting it was the last big disaster. You remember, right? Angry emails, maybe a bit of name-calling, and ending with the customer being thoroughly disappointed (or sometimes worse).

We’re also betting it was frantic and largely unhelpful. Sure, you fixed that one feature bug that the client complained about, but let’s be real: that’s not why they churned. It was just the final straw.

And since we’re already here, we might as well put a third bet down: the customer success team probably doesn't do churn post-mortems for every single churn. They just focus on reducing the overall churn rate (and getting it to the sweet spot of 5% or lower). Right?

If we’re right on any of these bets, you need to keep reading—churn post-mortems do not have to be dramatic emergency meetings and they should happen after every single churn no matter how big or small. You just need a process that’s both low-stress and quick. This, coincidentally, is exactly what this article is about. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

What customer churn post-mortems are supposed to provide

A good churn post-mortem is supposed to deliver four key pieces of information:

1. Identify root causes of churn: When customers churn, there’s usually a single part of the overall customer experience that causes them to make the decision to cancel. You need to figure out what the real reason is, not just the reason someone might give you.

For instance, let’s say the customer churned over a bug in your software. Was it really about that small bug? Chances are it wasn’t. Or, if it truly was, you need to know why that bug was so disastrous or why that feature working as it should is so important for this customer. 

Even if you ultimately say the reason someone churned is not something you’re willing or able to solve, good churn analysis will uncover the reason so it’s documented.

2. Spot additional trends and opportunities for team improvement: In every contract cancellation, there’s the reason they quit and then all the other reasons—the little things that don’t matter by themselves but add up over time.

You want to know these little things asap. If the reason for quitting is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, you need to know what else made the bag so heavy that the camel’s back was nearly going to break to begin with. These little things might be planting seeds of discontent in other customers or, had you fixed these other little problems, that ‘final straw’ may not have been so bad.

3. Scale up team operations efforts: Churn analysis won’t just point out why a customer quit. It will also show you places where your work could have been smoother. This informs future operations development including templates, playbooks, or documented life cycles for customers.

If you already have a customer success platform with customer dashboards, these opportunities will be even easier to spot.

4. A quick and low-stress experience for customer success managers and CS leaders: Seriously, this needs to be quick and low-stress. If it’s time-consuming or high-stress, you’ll avoid doing it. And if you avoid doing it, you won’t get trend data across all churns—it will become a stressful emergency meeting that leads to spot fixes at best and little else.

Step-by-step guide: conducting a churn post-mortem

Ready to get churn post-mortem-ing? Here’s what you need to document and analyze.

1. Document the customer overview

A customer overview is all the critical financial and administrative information about the customer.

  • Date of churn notice.
  • End of service date.
  • Current account status / level of service / product.
  • Total contract size and annual contract value.
  • Any previous upsells, expansions, or downsells.

This information level sets who you are talking about. It becomes incredibly valuable for comparison and cohort analysis later.

2. Document internal customer information

Internal customer information is all the notes about how you supported that customer and measured their progress from an upsell and expansion perspective.

  • How many CSMs the account has assigned to it (or “ACV dollars per CSM”).
  • Account segment (SMB, Mid-Market, Enterprise, etc.).
  • Lifecycle stage.
  • Health score at time of churn.
  • Use case and what the sales team sold them on (feature, benefit, price, etc.).
  • Stated business priorities of the customer.

This information is operational in nature and will help you spot unique trends across multiple churns.

3. Conduct an exit customer success call to collect qualitative information

This customer success check-in brings your customer’s voice into the churn post-mortem process. Ideally, this will be on a call so you can have a more natural conversation based on the prompting questions. But if that isn’t going to happen, a survey with open-ended answer boxes will suffice, provided you ask the same questions.

  • What were the key factors that played a role in your decision to end the contract?
  • What were the highlights you experienced in the partnership with [your company]?
  • Where do you think [your company] can continue to improve (both in terms of product and service provided)?
  • If we were able to address the pain points you have highlighted, do you see a path back to [your company] in the future?
  • What tool or platform are you moving to (if you’re comfortable sharing)?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to share about this cancellation?
  • Would you be open to staying in touch or participating in future partnership activities with us as part of the larger [your industry] community?

These questions are structured to be both open ended but also highly specific. You’ll also notice there are no “why” questions—we’ve found asking people “why” leads to theoretical answers while asking people “what” leads to concrete examples. You definitely want examples because that’s how you can pinpoint improvement opportunities.

4. Look for trends across the data

Once you’ve collected data on a few churns, look for directional trends. This isn’t about collecting 50+ data points to be statistically significant. Instead, it’s about spotting possible issues quickly so you can investigate further.

Example churn trends to watch out for:

  • Cohort trends: The same marketing campaign or customers who signed up in the same timeframe.
  • Industry trends: Companies in the same industry or competition space.
  • Messaging trends: Companies who bought based on the same messaging or use-case from sales.
  • ACV trends: Companies of a certain contract size.
  • Feature trends: Multiple companies citing the same feature, bug, or feature set as a reason for churn.
  • Service trends: Multiple companies citing how the company did (or did not) provide certain service or customer support.
  • Health score trends: Churns happening more frequently once a customer hits a certain low health score (note: in this case, dig into the factors that cause a customer to hit that score—that’s likely where the insight is).

There may be other specific trends that apply to your industry as well. Anything that looks like it’s happening across multiple churn conversations is something to dig into because it might uncover not just a reason for churn, but something you might be inadvertently doing that’s pushing more customers toward the edge of quitting.

5. Identify solutions to problems that won’t cause more problems

It’s easy to make a spot fix for a single customer but that throws things into chaos—what you really need is to address commonalities.

For example, if a significant chunk of last quarter’s churn came from a single marketing campaign, then you know that campaign is targeting the wrong customers. To find a solution, talk to the Marketing team about what the messaging was and then talk to sales about how they sold the customers. From there, you have one of three decisions: stop the campaign entirely, adjust the campaign messaging to something more accurate to what the product can deliver, or address product gaps to fill what the campaign promises.

The actual solution will vary not just per company but also per problem—and you have a choice of which to do in every case. The real work is done in identifying the problem so you can make the right solution with data to back it up.

Pro tip: Make a template

Take all of the information from steps one through three and make a template form you can re-use with every single churn (yes, all of them). While we hope you don’t have many to document, you’ll begin to notice some trends after three to five churns.

A good template, particularly if you can store it in a customer success platform that keeps everything in one place and easy to analyze, will save a lot of time. But even if you do this manually using Google Forms or similar, it will still add value by keeping data centralized (if a bit disconnected from other customer success data).

The real template we use internally at Catalyst

The trend is your friend

Sometimes customers lie, don’t tell the whole truth, or truly don’t know the reason why they churn. That’s why it’s so critical to look for commonalities and trends rather than a definitive, “this is 100% the reason” data—realistically, you won’t find the latter.

The good news though is this approach works at every scale. You can begin to notice trends even with a small handful of enterprise clients or across dozens or more SMB customers. And in all cases, a good churn post-mortem process avoids the chaos and drama of an emergency meeting. Losing a great customer sucks, but you can leverage their exit to strengthen your team, operations, and ultimately increase retention.

Easily make templates that save you time and automatically share customer stories in Catalyst. Book a demo HERE

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