Churning, Churning, Churned: 20 Ways to Win Back Customers

It’s easy to tell your boss you’ll reduce your company’s churn rate, but to actually do it is much harder. Have you tried all of these tactics yet?

Ben Jacobson
September 24 2018

You already know it’s easier and more profitable to sell to an existing customer than to find a new one – that’s Retention 101. But what about stale or churned customers who fall somewhere in between customer and non-customer status?

These are people who have an existing relationship with you, and are already familiar with your business, which should give you an advantage over new customer acquisition. But here’s the thing: if they stopped using your product or service, the disposal happened for a reason.

Their past experiences with your brand may not be working in your favor, so winning them back might call for some extra-extreme acrobatics.

And that doesn’t just mean a hulking big discount, it means solving the problem that sent a customer astray in the first place. For example, if a software user goes from logging in multiple times per day to radio silence, understanding their change in activity might uncover that they simply need educational resources for your latest dashboard update that left them completely confused.

And it can be as simple as that.

In an ecommerce business, you might want to pay closer attention when a customer’s time between orders changes or someone who once dependably made seasonal purchases skips a season. A discount might be what’s needed to stop the comparison shopping and keep their business with you.

And service businesses, including agencies, will want to look at warnings for churn-like clients moving from retainer to project-based contracts, or decreasing their project volume.

Reactivating nearly-churned or even fully-churned customers can still be a great opportunity, but you need to know what you’re up against and cater your approach accordingly. And no matter how well you play it, you’ll never be able to win back 100% of your buyers.

If you’re trying to get once-loyal customers re-engaged and buying from you again, here are some tactics that can win them back.

Re-engage Stale or Churned Customers

1. Personalize Push Notifications

To bring inactive users back into a mobile or web app, use personalized push notifications based on previous behavior. It’s going to take something extremely interesting to pull a disengaged user back in, and the best way to do so is to get personal and appeal to their identified interests and actions. For example, see how lighthearted quiz game QuizUp gets the attention of lapsed users:


2. Send Usefully Empowering Emails

Try using email marketing with existing customers to send educational content solving common customer problems and pain points. Create content around the most common stumbling blocks that cause churn in the first place, –and using automated sequences and segmentation in a tool like Polymail,– deliver it to exactly the right people at exactly the right time.

3. Awaken Some FOMO in Inactive Users

To really make stale customers miss you, highlight what benefits, uses, and other value they’re missing out on by remaining inactive. Agitating that fear of missing out can remind them of the value your product provides, enough so to take a second look.

4. Use Change as Opportunity

Before any big changes for your customers, such as plan adjustments, new or retiring features, and other brand shifts, use warnings as an opportunity to re-engage your customers. Those changes may make the difference for a customer about to churn, and well-communicated shifts can turn around a lot of dissatisfied customers. These can even become highly profitable emails, with Appcues’ price increase emails actually yielding sales growth – to the tune of 263%.


Make an Offer

5. Give Them One Last Incentive

On the other hand, if a customer is disengaged but seems worth saving, offer a small incentive to pull them back in. A one-time discount can be effective for re-engaging stale customers – without offering so much that you’re incentivizing non-ideal customers to stay on with you. A free year requires zero commitment and convinces customers who are bad fits to stay. A steep discount on a renewal or on a plan upgrade, is often enough to only motivate customers who are on the fence. And by upselling to a higher service level, they’ll be more likely to see the value in continuing with you.

6. Be the One to Initiate the Breakup

If it’s clear a customer isn’t receiving value from your business anymore, you can always proactively end the relationship. It gives customers who’d likely leave anyway a clear and easy out, freeing up your resources to focus on replacing them with customers who are a better fit for your product. If they do decide to stay, you’ve shown your commitment to their best interests and gained major customer service points.

7. Celebrate Their Special Occasions

Given that your customers’ purchases are often based on outside behavior and events, celebrating different events in their customer lifecycle can call attention to your product’s fit within those cycles. For example, a business analytics tool might call out creating end-of-month reports as an important event that highlights the customer’s need for its solution.

8. Offer a Break Instead of a Breakup

With a recurring product or service, offering the customer a temporary break from their subscription is a way to give them more time to make a final decision. It allows space for any change in behavior, for example a temporary change in needs, and in a trustworthy way that places value on long-term customer relationships. For example, Slack’s fair billing policy dictates customers won’t be charged for inactive users.


9. Pop Up with a Timely New Beginning

If your product or service fits into a seasonal behavior for your customers, pop up in the lead-up to that time of year and offer churned customers a new start. Customers who churned because their decreased needs will likely change their priorities again, for example if you offer a financial software lots of people use during tax season.

10. Retarget Your Offers on Other Channels

Any offers you do use to win back churned customers, make sure you’re delivering the message on multiple platforms. They may not engag with your app or emails, but reaching them where they are paying attention can help bring them back in. AppSumo’s recent retargeting efforts brought them a 224% ROI, and retention-based efforts might perform even better.


Surprise and Delight

11. Have an Exec Reach Out

To make a disengaged or frustrated customer feel appreciated, have a high-level team member such as an executive, personally reach out and offer help. This shows your company’s commitment to its existing customers and eagerness to connect with them.

12. Send Personalized Snail Mail

Sending someone a card or letter demonstrates more time, effort, and attention paid to them than email or online communication. With most of us receiving less snail mail, and with much of it junk and bills, a handwritten note can make someone’s day. You can even use tools like Handwrytten to sync and automate the process using your CRM.


13. Randomly Celebrate

Don’t wait for special occasions or churn warnings to celebrate your customers, find unique and random ways to make them happy on a regular basis. Whether it’s personal contact just to check in, offering help that goes above and beyond, or whatever makes sense for your company, it shows that you care about your customers and not just their business with you.

14. Reward the Behaviors You Want Repeated

When customers exhibit behavior you want to encourage, like referring a friend, praise or reward it. Even a small affirmation of the behavior can positively push your customers towards doing those things even more. And with referral marketing software like Viral Loops, you can easily create organized programs around referral marketing and rewards.


Customize the Experience

15. Offer Them More Control

To avoid information overwhelm and annoying customers, let them self-select and control as many communication and support preferences as possible. Letting them communicate on their own terms allows them to build the customer experience they want and need.

16. Make One-on-One Connections

Make sure team members from all areas of the business have regular one-on-one contact with your customers. Build real relationships with them and make sure all departments are in touch with customers’ values, needs, objectives and other relevant considerations. “I gave store credit to a customer who’s hard up, sent spare hard drives to someone building computers for those in need, and even traded a t-shirt in exchange for someone’s home-made jerky,” CloudAlchemist founder Trevor Taylor recently told BigCommerce in an interview about retention via conversation. “This is not something you can fake, you have to be genuine, but the response to opening up and being human with customers is immeasurable.”

17. Ask for Feedback

Your customers have lots of valuable feedback for you, but you’re probably in the habit of waiting for them to offer it unsolicited. Ask for feedback on your product and service, customer support interactions, and everything your customer has insight on. This way you can solve potential problems before they’re severe enough to cause churn, point them towards solutions they didn’t know existed, or implement their advice.

Treat Them Like VIPs

18. Share an Upcoming Exclusive

If customers are in danger of churning simply because they’re no longer satisfied with the product, giving a sneak peak of any upcoming changes or updates can give them a reason to stick around. Try sharing a product roadmap or giving existing customers sneak peeks or early access to new stuff. “Being proactive [by sharing your roadmap and collecting feedback] means you’re focused on what users truly need, and you investigate first instead of granting every wish,” notes Kayla Lee from roadmap sharing and voting platform Canny. “It means that you’ve organized your data so that you can draw insights to make valuable product decisions.”


19. Provide Free Value

When your business can help customers in multiple ways, churning means giving up more than just your product or service. Providing as much free value as possible, from customer education to personal relationships, just gives more reasons customers will want and need your business in their lives.

20. Prioritize Feedback

When a customer has great feedback, let them know if you’re prioritizing it or making changes thanks to their help. Demonstrate how your business actually uses feedback and make them feel great for helping.

Retain the Customers You Can

You can’t win back everyone. Nor should you try to. No matter how optimized your funnel is for a 360-degree view of the customer experience, you’ll probably onboard a few customers who are better off with a different solution. Trying to keep them around only hurts your business in the long run. The principle at play is that your bucket shouldn’t leak more water than it draws – in other words, you want “negative churn.”

Stale or churned customers can easily be written off as lost opportunities, but there’s usually still a way to keep the right customers around. By crafting a retention strategy that pays close attention to churned or about-to-churn people who are otherwise good customers, and that lets bad-fit customers leave, you can fix any problems before all hope is truly lost.


Ben Jacobson

Ben Jacobson is a marketing strategy consultant who specializes in content, social media and influencer marketing for B2B firms. He contributes regularly to publications including MarketingLand, Search Engine Journal and the Orbit Media blog.

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