Three Non-obvious Signs Your Customer Might Churn (And How to Prevent It)

Three Non-obvious Signs Your Customer Might Churn (And How to Prevent It)

Image this, one of your customer's renewal dates is just around the corner. Their engagement metrics look good, and their recent feedback has been positive. It looks like the renewal will go smoothly, so you begin celebrating. Unfortunately, there's an unpleasant surprise around the corner.

Unbeknownst to you, they decided to switch to one of your known competitors. Turns out they were testing another product behind your back, resulting in an imminent churn.

This situation is shocking, especially when a seemingly satisfied customer switches vendors when they have no reason to do so. Despite the reasons leading to this unfortunate decision, you can spot and manage these risks as a Customer Success Manager.

But how do you know when your customers might be moving away from your product "behind the scenes"?

The following are three non-obvious indicators of competitor assessments, along with the steps you can take to save the account.

1. They have a significant stakeholder change 

Whenever there's a change in stakeholders, it always comes with a new set of opportunities and potential risks. Newly appointed stakeholders have their own agendas and ideas of what success looks like to them. They may have had a positive experience with your competitor, which led them to stand out in their previous role.

Because of this, the new stakeholder is confident they can replicate the same accomplishments - consequently getting the full attention of your competitor in the process. As a result, your competition will take full advantage of this to win them over as customers.

Your company might already have a stakeholder change playbook for this situation. Among the actions included in your playbook to detect and mitigate risks, make sure also to include the following activities:

  • Conduct a background check. Use your network, your colleague's network, and any available online "footprints" related to the new person running the show to find out anything that can help you assess the situation.
  • Approach your new stakeholder as soon as possible. The earlier you initiate the first meeting, the quicker you understand their objectives and see if your product fits within their plans.

Knowing about the stakeholder's intentions can help you better assess the risks and benefits associated with the change. In the best-case scenario, their expectations align with what you can deliver, and you can adjust your efforts accordingly. In the less favorable scenario, you may realize that the risks are too high and that you need more time for planning and executing a mitigation plan.

2. They ask about features you don't offer or plan to add

If you're experienced with your product, you should be able to anticipate the common questions that customers will ask. The frequency with which users ask these questions can also indicate their engagement. This is the point in time when you can use your expertise to guide your customers to achieve their desired outcomes.

It may all look good. However, this can also be tricky.

You may receive multiple questions from your customers about features and functionality you do not offer. This could signify that they are considering a proof of concept (POC). In tandem, they may fill out a feature comparison matrix as part of their evaluation and inquire about capabilities your product does not support.

At the same time, competitors will emphasize their uniqueness while promoting features your product does not offer, which your customers want. It is hard to determine if these questions are based on curiosity about your product or something more worrying.

This "magic" question can help you probe deeper when you detect these types of questions:

"Can you describe this requested feature in more detail and explain how it will best serve your business?"

If their answer needs to be clarified or more specific, there may be no need for a new feature or worry. But you may need to reinvestigate if similar questions continue over the coming days or weeks.

Here are a few tips when you're faced with suspicious questions.

  • Know your product very well. Your professional advice and guidance will be the first "line of defense" in case of a POC with your competitor.
  • Know your opponents, their unique selling propositions, and your product's position in the market. Use this knowledge to remind your stakeholders about your product differentiation.

Asking good questions will help plant doubt in the customer's mind about their parallel evaluation before the critical decision is taken.

3. They start using features they never used before

If your customers express genuine interest in new or additional features of your product, this is a good indication that they are engaged with your product. However, if they inquire about features they haven't used before, they may be comparing your product against your competitors. The challenge is distinguishing between curiosity about new features and active comparison shopping.

Similar to the earlier example, you can spot this pattern by qualifying the use case and underlining the need. Suppose the stakeholder requests a report they have yet to use to meet a new operational, financial, or legal requirement. That's a positive signal and outcome.

Alternatively, if the customer can't explain why they're suddenly interested in the report, it may mean they're comparing your reporting capabilities against a competitor's offering.

You can uncover these necessary details by asking good questions. Here are a few other tips when facing "suspicious feature usage."

  • Familiarize yourself with the different use cases your product supports.
  • Understand your customer's environment, objectives, and challenges. When the questions are asked, you can promote additional usage and verify the true nature of these questions.

If you begin to spot these potential red flags, here are steps you can take to investigate and save your customer.

Leverage your position as a trusted advisor

Evaluating a competitor's solution is often an additional burden to your customer. Suppose your product has delivered measurable value, and you've built a solid relationship with your stakeholders. In that case, you have more influence to change the course of their direction than you may think.

Think about this from your customer's point of view - they are being asked to analyze a product they may not all want while keeping it quiet. Some may wish for the evaluation to end so they can return to normal operations.

You can take advantage of the situation by putting your soft skills and the stakeholder relationship to the test by asking for more information.

When choosing a stakeholder for this, keep these things in mind:

  • Choose this stakeholder wisely. Ideally, they are a power user or a technical person with more knowledge of their company's tech stack. Above all, they should be someone who trusts you, as they are more likely to share insights than a senior stakeholder.
  • Ask indirect questions that will trigger a deeper and open discussion. Keep a pulse on their comfort level during the conversation. If it feels like they are open to sharing, continue asking questions. If you sense they are getting uncomfortable, it might be time to back off.  This is something you'll need to get a feel for as the conversation progresses.

Here are a few sample questions you can ask them as you dig deeper:

  • "I noticed you've been asking about features that you haven't used before. Are there any new requirements that I'm not aware of?"
  • "I noticed lately a few questions about features our product does not support. Do you have new requirements from other teams that wish to use our product?

Remember, you are taking a calculated risk. If the stakeholder feels comfortable, you will collect insights, gauge their "appetite" for change and gather valuable information necessary for your next steps.

If you were over "suspicious" and it's a "false alarm," then your approach should be perceived as a proactive CSM interested in the challenges and priorities of your critical customer.

Avoid the health score "trap" and lean on your instincts

It's standard practice for customer management to keep track of client health and take action when scores are low. However, it isn't easy to assess the seriousness of a client's health score from their satisfaction, usage, and relationship indicators because they could all be positive even if the customer is not happy and trialing another product behind the scenes. Therefore, the health score framework should be taken seriously but cautiously simultaneously.

Following good prediction tactics is essential, but you should open your view to more than just metrics and dashboards. To predict nonobvious churn risk more effectively, "read between the lines, " proactively listen, and follow your instincts.

Set a mitigation plan with leadership's involvement

In most cases, spotting one or two signals listed above should create sufficient doubts in your mind regarding the customer's intentions. This will be the time to act and follow a plan with one objective – retaining the customer and avoiding churn.

Here are a few steps from playbooks I used before that were instrumental in executing a mitigation plan:

  • Your product has delivered a lot of value, so now is the time to double down on that. Some stakeholders (especially new ones) might need to be informed of your partnership's impact, so switching the narrative's focus from product capabilities to business outcomes is essential. Your competitors might have better features, but they lack proof of value. You have that proof, so make them feel the potential pain of having to switch to a different vendor.
  • You don't need to fight this battle on your own. So, you should immediately raise this issue with leadership and set up a task force with senior managers and executives who can enter the battlefield and fight for your customer.
  • If you know which competitors are being evaluated, check in with your product or sales team to see if they have an up-to-date competitive analysis.
  • Review their health score. Look for any deviations or warning signs. For example, has there been an increase in their escalated support tickets?
  • If you and your customer stakeholders are working towards the same goal, you can use that relationship to your advantage, especially when trying to stop the competition. If they're on board with what you're trying to do, ask them for help. For instance, you can ask who else you should speak to from within their company, their reasons for wanting to switch, and how your company can keep them as customers. Bring this valuable information back to your leadership team.

This data and the information gathered during your stakeholder conversation can help you better understand how to communicate with your customer's primary influences and what kind of messaging will resonate.

It is not an impossible mission.

As a Customer Success Manager, it's important to be aware of the signs that a customer is evaluating a competitor's product. This way, you can take preemptive action to keep the customer interested in your product. Sometimes you may notice this early, during the planning stage, but only sometimes. Sometimes it may happen during the latter part of the competitor comparison. Regardless of when you notice it, you should be confident in your ability to make an impact and keep the customer engaged.

Then it's time to take action. My philosophy is simple - "Never Give Up." 

Difficult circumstances, such as the one described in this article, present new challenges, and CSMs must rise to the occasion. You will sharpen your instincts, practice leadership skills, and improve your ability to assess and respond to challenging situations with customers. 

Rely on your strengths. Healthy stakeholder relationships, supporting stakeholders, and trust are significant assets when you need to pull all resources in hand.

I'm inspired by the "Mission Impossible" movie series. In it, Ethan Hunt accepts a job and hand-picks his A-Team. They're able to overcome obstacles and succeed against all odds. CSMs aren't movie stars, but they can gather their team, lead the charge, and take on the challenge. They can also make the most of their capabilities and successfully complete a complicated yet achievable mission.

Latest Posts