October 02 2017
Of all the things that B2Bs are focusing on this year, it might surprise you that customer retention is the number one priority around the world.
According to Altify’s 2017 Business Performance Benchmark Study, 83% of execs feel that customers are more in control of their own customer journeys than ever before. Today’s business leaders recognize that customers are using more channels than ever to find what they need and expect to engage with a brand in meaningful ways during any point in their experience.
Yet only 69% of those executives say they’re pleased with their customer retention rates. And 35% of sales professionals believe their sales process is not well aligned with the customer’s buying process. In fact, 42% of them say their marketing function does not understand the customer, and two out of three sellers feel they can’t identify their customers’ business problems.
Given these figures, it make perfect sense that customer retention is the number one priority for most businesses this year, beating out both revenue growth and profit growth.
Image source: Altify Business Performance Benchmark Study 2017
Leaders from all enterprise-sized businesses identified nearly all of the objectives listed in the study of equal importance. But here’s the zinger. For those massive players with revenues of $1B or higher, 94% selected retention as their primary focus.
What does this mean for those of us working in the funnel? For marketers, it’s time to double down on excelling at what we do, perhaps implementing some changes that will align our KPIs with the C-suite’s priorities.
We have to get much better at the key challenges associated with customer retention: listening to our customers; engaging with them across touchpoints; gaining a clearer picture of their entire journeys; supporting them throughout their experiences with our brands, and striving to understand where exactly we’re failing to meet their needs.
5 apps to help spike your retention rates
Recently I wrote about how to reduce churn in your customer onboarding. The experts I interviewed for that piece offered some extremely useful insights, and many of them brought up the idea of implementing specific tech solutions during the customer onboarding process.
This got me thinking about how tools can help us solve some of our most pressing retention problems. I think it’s time to take a serious look at what we can add to our tool stacks to make that happen.
Let’s break it down.
#1 Get better at listening to your customers
Hans van Gent, founder at Inbound Rocket, firmly believes that listening to your customers is the key to building solid brand loyalty and retention.
“The best way to keep your customers is to listen to them, period,” van Gent insists. “At Inbound Rocket, we believe that for any company to be successful, and to keep the churn low, customer development does not stop after you’ve released your first version. Only by continuously learning and engaging with your customers can you improve your retention rate.”
How can you make that happen when you’re already maxed out monitoring social channels, customer service portals and all the other channels? Dedicated social listening tools like Sentione are built from the ground up and make these processes as smooth as possible.
Sentione monitors and analyzes your brand mentions from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, forums, content aggregators and similar platforms. In addition to giving you a bird’s eye view of your reach metrics over time, they offer a few key features like real time sentiment analysis and information on our brand’s opinion leaders.
Image source: Sentione.com
This type of solution that can handle social listening can be incredibly useful for understanding how real time events play out for your brand, and can help you not only react to potential brand disasters, but help you easily find and engage with key influencers who can help increase your message’s reach.
We’ve all seen the kinds of disasters awaiting any brand, and most of us are one viral tweet away from an unhappy customer disaster. Some 67% of respondents to a recent Talend Research study indicated that they’d break up with a brand if their negative review went ignored, making it the top factor for churn.
Social listening tools give you the insight and access you need to quickly spot escalating problems and get to the people you need to reach, so you can steer the conversation in your favor.
#2 Take your customer’s pulse and improve their experience
Of course, it’s not enough to just listen during times of crisis. Brands need to understand how customers feel about them and how they perceive the customer experience– not in a long-term way, but in the moment-by-moment reality.
For example, growth marketer Sujan Patel explains that his primary KPI has nothing to do with revenue, number of leads, profits or even churn. Instead, he focuses on brand mentions as his most important metric.
“While those things are very, very important,” Patel says, “they don’t tell you how effective your marketing efforts are today. They tell you the results of what you’ve done in the past and how well that is working today.” That’s the difference between a brand sentiment snapshot and a cumulative sentiment profile.
“My big problem is knowing what’s really happening, and how effective my marketing strategy is, and being able to measure it live,” Patel continues. “That’s why my main focus is brand mentions and immediate customer engagement.”
Patel uses this kind of real-time listening to send a little thank-you message for a link to his website, or respond in real time on social media to a customer comment or question. “It forces me to engage with the people who are my real brand advocates,” he explains.
One way to get a true feel for how your customers are feeling is with a customer survey app like Promoter.io. It’s designed to make it simple and insightful to ask your customers key questions to gauge how they’re feeling about your brand, whether you’re using Net Promoter Score metrics or other useful queries.
Use it to set up segmented survey campaigns, drip or instant surveys, forward relevant feedback to the people on your team, or trigger automated follow-up messaging across communication channels. Their feedback dashboard breaks conversations down by customer segment, so you can clearly see who’s getting the message and where you might need to refine your marketing, your service or your product to better meet their needs.
Image source: Promoter.io
Never underestimate the power of the kind of brand loyalty built from a tool like this. CustomerGauge recently found that the majority of companies that collect NPS data prompt their customers for ratings once every six months, but NPS leaders ask more often than that. Meanwhile, Temkin Group’s data suggests that higher Net Promoter Scores do correlate with superior retention rates, but that doesn’t mean you should obsess over this metric.
Instead, use it to engage with detractors and strengthen your relationships with them, while also giving your promoters opportunities to become ambassadors (more on this below). By asking for – and responding to –direct customer experience, you can build this kind of “I’ll never look elsewhere” loyalty in more of your customer base.
#3 Power up your customer support
The importance of customer service in retention and brand loyalty can’t be overstated. Simply put, if your customer service isn’t up to par across the board, it’s costing you customers.
Loyalty value, according to a 2017 report by Accenture Strategy, is “slipping through our fingers.” And so-called “loyalty programs” – earning free coffee or getting points toward free hotel stays – aren’t enough.
Accenture’s research found that, while 66% of consumers spend more on brands they’re loyal, almost a quarter of them are ambivalent about, or even negative toward, traditional loyalty programs. And if they aren’t feeling loyal, they won’t stick around. Some 54% have switched service provides in the past 12 months alone.
Image source: Accenture.com
True customer loyalty isn’t built on free coffee or oil changes, but on a strong, positive experience at every touch point.
Duff Anderson, a co-founder and senior VP at market research agency iPerceptions, notes that “At Disney, every touch point is an interaction… they’re driven by two customer-focused elements: ‘know me’ and ‘be relevant.’ In each customer interaction, the company is constantly asking questions that give them a better picture of their customer’s needs and wants; it’s a process that’s built into the way they do business.”
Image source: Zoho.com
While this type of attentiveness may seem out of reach to your time-strapped and short-staffed team, customer service tech like Zoho Desk can help. Its advanced features let you focus on the tickets and situations that really matter – not in chronological order, but in real world priority. It automatically ranks tickets by displaying them when they’re due, but also alerts you to important metrics beyond time.
For example, the platform’s “handshake” mode alerts CS agents when a long-standing customer or brand advocate needs assistance, so they can prioritize their interactions with them. And the built-in CRM connection lets your CS agents easily find and attach the right information to get tickets resolved efficiently. This kind of “I’m important – they get me” response builds the kind of loyalty that no amount of free hamburgers can.
#4 Visualize your customer’s journey to understand where you can improve
Listening to your customers and learning how they feel is great, but it’s not enough to really maximize retention potential. There is often a wide gap between what people say, and what they really experience – not necessarily because they are intentionally trying to deceive you, but because they’re either not being asked the right questions, or they simply don’t have an accurate, conscious awareness of the truth.
Fortunately, technology like Mixpanel can help close that gap by unlocking insights into actual user behavior.
“We make use of things like Mixpanel to analyze the behavior of our customers to come up with new hypotheses to test and learn from,” notes InboundRocket’s Hans van Gent. “Next, we use this information to email our customers to get better insights and see in which direction our product needs to go. The benefits are simple. You will stay on top of mind, and your customers feel special because you’re listening to them.”
Mixpanel works by collecting metrics relating to your customer behavior, so you can analyze it to find the triggers that lead to better engagement and higher retention. The platform gives you rich data relating to key areas or “events” in your CX to help you understand how engaged your customers are with your platform. You can correlate events with user segments, times of day, devices, geo-locations, or any other parameters you collect.
For example, as you make improvements in your product, Mixpanel can tell you whether you have better retention before or after your current changes by seeing when they come back and re-engage.
Image source: Mixpanel.com
What’s great about this tool is that you can ask Mixpanel to measure increasingly sophisticated questions. For example, you can learn how many users return to use your product broken down by specific marketing messages, ad campaigns or rollouts. This will help you inside the mind of your customer, learning what compels them to repeatedly use your product.
If the sales reps surveyed by Altify in the aforementioned study are right and marketers don’t truly understand their customers, then these kinds of data insights can have an enormous impact on retention.
#5 Find out why your customers left
Customers leave. It happens. A certain percentage of your customers will sign up, use your product a few times (if that) and never come back. Another percentage will be good, active customers for a longer time, and then quit. Churn rates vary by industry, type of product or service, and a host of other variables.
For SaaS companies, churn rates can run the gamut, as a 2015 analysis from VC Tomasz Tunguz, segmented by company size, illustrates.
Image source: TomTunguz.com
But if you don’t know why your customers are leaving, it’s nearly impossible to fix the problem.
“The best way to maximize customer retention is by surveying your customers and more importantly, your past customers,” says Jason Quey, the VP marketing at Codeless Interactive and founder of The Storyteller Marketer. “With the right questions, you can find out exactly why they left, giving you an opportunity to fix the leak and potentially resurrect the customer.”
We all know that it’s hard to learn the tough things about yourself – but it must be done if you want to improve retention. Make it easy to contact the customers that you haven’t heard from in a while with a product like Typeform. The template-driven interface lets you create mobile-friendly, embeddable and personalized forms that will help you get the insights you need from the people in your “quiet” and “account closed” segments.
Image source: Typeform.com
By creating quick, one-touch step-through questions, you can easily drill down to what’s happening out there. And it’s useful for more than just exit interviews; you can use it for post-purchase satisfaction surveys, post-event feedback, anything you need to know to help you improve the customer experience.
You can also use it to poll users about new features they’d like to see, bounce price point ideas with them to see what sticks, or test any kind of trial balloon you want to fly. The system helps you write close-ended or quantitative questions that will make your data more meaningful, as well as open-ended questions for more complex inquiries.
Better retention begins with understanding your customers
Improving your retention rates ultimately comes down to viewing your customers as human beings and then leveraging the right technology to help you pick up on the signals they send your way. The right tools can help you to better understand and react to your customers’ needs.
“Customer conversations can reveal that the message the brand intends to transmit via its marketing is not the message being heard,” writes Peter Friedman, CEO of social marketing software LiveWorld, in a recent AdWeek column. “Either the marketing needs to be improved, the target audience changed, or a fundamental product change is needed.”