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Customer retention is more important than ever. Since 1918, never have so many businesses been forced to shut down due to an outbreak. The advantage of this shut down over the one in 1918 is that we can stay connected to those at a distance through our phones and online channels.
The key to getting through this crisis is connection.
People are craving connection, support, understanding, and compassion whether it’s in their personal relationships or in business interactions. When times are tough, people turn to each other to help get through, whether it’s asking for a deferral in payments or a paused subscription.
Businesses that put high priority on connecting with their customers in a genuine way during this pandemic will retain more of their customers once the crisis ends than companies that adopt a ‘business-as-usual’ approach. But to retain as many customers as possible, it’s necessary to make changes that focus on retention.
Companies that focus on understanding the transitions people are facing, both economically and in their daily routines, are better poised to retain their customers right now than those companies focused on selling.
Short Term Retention Strategies
(next 30 days)
#1. Train for empathy.
As your customer’s lives are turned upside down, they’re struggling to adjust, manage, plan and execute tasks. Right now, people want to know their struggles are being heard. Train customer support, customer success and sales teams to acknowledge the struggles (personal and business) that your customers are experiencing. Now is not the time to sell or talk renewals. Instead, focus on listening to what your customers are experiencing and offer solutions that work for them right now. This will lead to greater customer retention now and in the future.
For example, 123FormBuilder, has trained its Customer Support team to be on the lookout for customers that are frontline in the fight against Coronavirus–NGOs, health care organizations and government institutions–that need assistance in tracking and measuring pandemic related information. 123FormBuilder is upgrading their accounts at no charge to better help their customers in this crisis.
#2. Offer to pause accounts.
Tying into point #1, many customers are concerned about their financial situation. Rather than having customers churn, offer to pause their accounts for 3 months. Three months may seem like a long time but with the epidemic spreading as quickly as it is, it is unlikely social distancing restrictions will be lifted in the next 30 days. Also, it gives your customers a bit of mental ‘breathing space’ so they can focus instead on other things and not feel pressured or embarrassed by having to call back in 30 days and ask for an extension.
Companies like Encharge, an email automation software, have found this 3 month account pause to be a good solution for both the company and its customers. Offering to pause accounts means fewer customers churn. It also means their customers walk away feeling valued.
#3. Offer to downgrade plans.
Much like offering to pause accounts, offering to downgrade the plan might be in the customer’s best interest, depending on their situation. Listening to their concerns will help support and sales discover which offers (downgrading or pausing) will help the customer the most right now. In most cases, if the product or service is currently in use but at reduced volumes, downgrading might be the best option. If the service isn’t currently being used, then pausing might be the best suggestion.
Remember that it’s better to lose revenue by downgrading and retain the customer than it is to have them churn.
#4. Create shorter-term offers for annual or multi-year accounts.
Given that no one knows how long this pandemic and subsequent isolation will last, create new shorter-term offers for your annual or multi-year accounts that are approaching renewal. Consider offering these new plans to all customers renewing in the next 3 months. Give them the power to choose whether they want to accept the offer or not rather than putting them in a position to have to ask for special pricing (which, as you know, is hard to do). Offering special pricing leaves your customers feeling dignified and respected.
User.com, a marketing automation platform, is offering customers who are close to renewal a special 3 month offer of 35-50% off their annual plan, depending on the customer’s specific situation. Customers have been very appreciative of the offer. Co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer, Michal Korba, noted this offer has shifted the perception of the relationship from being ‘customer-provider’ to one that is more ‘person to person’.
#5. Pause or tweak selected marketing campaigns.
As mentioned earlier, people are looking for understanding and compassion during this time as they try to make sense of their lives in this crisis. Pause marketing campaigns that seem may be viewed as insensitive or inappropriate during this pandemic. Potential customers are still able to see your ads. Leave them feeling good about interacting with your marketing during this period. Given the heightened emotions during this time, people will remember those companies that were sensitive and those that weren’t.
With so many gyms closing, Boxscore Fitness, a software for managing CrossFit gyms and online fitness programs, has changed its marketing to reflect that most gyms are closed and are switching to online programming instead of in person classes. This change to reflect the changed needs of their customers have increased leads by nearly 300% since starting this new ad campaign last week.
#6. Reduce transactional surveys.
People are overwhelmed by the changes in their lives and their mental capacity is at the limit. To help your customers save some mental energy and not get upset, consider slowing down the volume of –or better yet, stopping–surveys like NPS, CSAT and CES. Data gathered in this pandemic period is skewed and wildly inaccurate rendering it essentially useless for making sound business decisions.
Medium Term Retention Strategies
The strategies for this period dovetail nicely into the longer term (6 months+) and focus on providing better customer experiences as a way to increase retention.
#1. Identify potential changes.
Start to consider how customers might buy differently in the post-pandemic period. While a crystal ball would be ideal, use what you have–your repository of customer feedback. Dive into the survey, focus group and interview data, looking for evidence of how your customers would like to buy.
Previously, these suggestions of customer preference may have been glossed over or disregarded all together. Allocate time and team members to comb through this data to find evidence of how your customers would prefer to buy. Allowing customers to purchase the way they want always increases customer experience and makes for more loyal customers.
#2. Evaluate new products, new features and end-of-life products.
Periods of crisis can be used to rethink old and new products, features and services.
In some cases, new opportunities will open for feature expansion or new product lines as a direct result of the pandemic.
GaragePlug, an ERP for automotive repair garages and service centres, created a brand new product line to help closed garages generate revenue while they remain closed. It’s a new loyalty program where GaragePlug customers offer their customers gift cards for future automotive repairs. Auto repair shops expect to have high customer demand once restrictions are lifted. Customers may not have the cash flow in the future to pay for necessary repairs, depending on how long the restrictions last. This new product is beneficial to both garages and their customers.
Companies can also use this time to go through older customer feedback and metrics with a new view–the post-pandemic view. Consider, as best as possible, how things will change going forward and whether old products or features need retiring and whether your product roadmap needs changing.
#3. Update customer knowledge bases.
Most companies do not regularly go through their knowledge bases to remove or update old reference pages. You’ve likely experienced this when you’ve been looking for a quick answer and instead have to take extra time to reach out to support. It simply doesn’t make for a good customer experience and puts more pressure on the support team to deal with trivial or small requests instead of focusing on handling more challenging or difficult issues.
Small issues like incomplete or out of date knowledge pages add up in customer’s minds and help shape their customer experience. Take the time to review knowledge base info and delete or update as needed.
No one knows for sure how this pandemic will change your life and the lives of your customers in the next 6 months. Financial pressure and changing daily patterns are leaving people frustrated, tired and anxiety-ridden.
People are seeking to be understood, listened to and helped. Businesses that listen to their customers and make it easy for them by providing new offers, options to downgrade or pause accounts will experience good customer retention in this crisis period.
Companies that can take the opportunity to review customer feedback with a new focus to those things that will improve customer experience in the post-pandemic period, will set themselves up for greater customer retention once the crisis settles and a new normal is established.