Customer retention is more important than ever during these uncertain times. Businesses that are able to retain customers now, at the height of the crisis, will be in a much better position post-crisis. Knowing what to focus on can be challenging when everything has been thrown into chaos—in both your personal and professional life.
This uncertainty can set off changes in customer needs and behaviors. The key to retaining customers, right now, is to focus on activities that support your customers’ current situations and changed goals. The faster you can discover what has changed for them and what they need, the better you can implement solutions to help them get through this challenging time.
Immediate strategies to consider
This pandemic period is one of fast change. What worked last week may not work today. And it certainly is possible that it won’t work in the next 30 days.
Here are some strategies based on basic customer retention principles to help you get through this challenging time.
1) Prepare your team for shifting priorities
We all crave stability and knowing what is coming next. Unfortunately, this is currently not the case. In times of instability, the more a team can embrace the discomfort of instability and shifting priorities, the better they can weather the storm.
Strong and frequent (daily and even hourly) team communications will help your team understand the changes that are happening so quickly. The more they understand, the better they can assimilate the information and gather a sense of control in this turbulent time and feel a bit calmer and more focused.
A team that is well informed and emotionally calm will be able to better listen to the concerns of your customers and respond with appropriate solutions that will help the customer through their own upheaval, while also offering a sense of reassurance that your company understands and supports them.
More than ever, a calm team that offers the right solutions will have a greater impact on the customer experience and their perception of your brand. When emotions are heightened, as they currently are during this crisis, people will remember more clearly what they felt. If they feel good about their interactions with your company early on, during this crisis, that will carry on into the post-pandemic period.
2) Record as much as possible
When times are turbulent, priorities change. These shifts might be significant or they may be subtle. And this crisis period, more than any other time, will reveal underlying goals, values, desires and needs that may not have had the chance to surface previously.
This is what GaragePlug, an ERP for automotive garages, found in the first few weeks of the pandemic. Their customers—small, local automotive garages—began expressing a desire for a feature within the app that allows them to continue to collect revenue despite many shops closing or being open for very limited hours. This led GaragePlug to create a feature for shops to offer their customers automotive service gift cards, to be used once restrictions are relaxed.
GaragePlug’s customer support team kept hearing this recurring theme that customers wanted revenue despite the lockdown. The GaragePlug team was able to note this theme and were able to act quickly to create and implement this new feature.
Now is the time to note emerging themes from interactions with customers. These themes might include new goals, new values, new desires, and new needs. If your customer support is overwhelmed right, instead of trying to code these new themes, tag them instead with a general theme related to the crisis. Once things settle, it’s easy to gather the information labeled with that general tag to see how many of these goals, values, desires, or needs of customers still remain.
The value in quickly tagging this information now will become apparent later when new and lasting themes are discovered. These themes can then be used to inform the creation of new features or products.
3) Allow more time per customer
Your team should also take more time and listen to what your customers need and want. Given how quickly this pandemic affected our lives and in such extreme ways, your customers may not be able to articulate exactly what they need. Or, they may simply not know what they need because everything is changing so quickly.
By giving your support team permission to take more time with each customer, they can better serve those customers and offer solutions that meet their needs right now. No one knows how things will change in the next few weeks. Provide customers with solutions that work for them now and then, if needed, offer them solutions that will work for them in the future.
Everyone, including your customers, knows that support volumes have increased to unprecedented levels and that quick response times may not be available. Once they do get through to your team, your customers will want to be thorough about their situation and how you can help them. They don’t want to get off the phone or live chat too quickly and feel that their issue wasn’t resolved.
Your customers want to be heard, especially now. Give your support team permission to take more time to listen when helping customers. Your customers will be well served and they will appreciate the time your team took to help them. This will help retain them in the long-term.
4) Create new payment alternatives
With so many businesses seeing a dramatic drop in their revenue and facing no other option, but to close their physical doors, offering payment alternatives will not only significantly help them during such a stressful and difficult time, it will also help you avoid churn.
Paused accounts: Many businesses are offering to pause accounts for short periods of time to reduce immediate churn.
Email automation platform, Encharge, for example, is offering to pause monthly accounts for 90 days for its users. They chose 90 days instead of 30 or 60 days as they recognize it will take some time before things settle. A 90-day period also means their customers don’t need to reach out and ask for extensions. This leaves their customers feeling dignified and valued and helps their users leave the interaction with a positive brand perception.
Defer payments: Many businesses are offering payment deferrals to ease the pressure on their customers, for both monthly subscribers and those on annual plans nearing renewal.
User.com, a marketing automation platform, is offering customers who are close to renewal a special three-month offer of 35-50% off their annual plan, depending on the customer’s specific situation. According to Co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer, Michal Korba, User.com customers have been very appreciative of the offer. The User.com team has also noted a shift in the perception of the relationship between the company and its customers—from one of “customer-provider,” to one that is more “person to person.”
5) Create new products or features
If there is a particular need your customers currently have, create new features or products to help them right now, if possible. These new products or features might be temporary and need to be retired once the crisis ends, but only time will tell. With so many business processes and requirements rapidly changing during this crisis, no one is able to know for sure whether these newly created products or features will be needed in the future. Short-term plays are what’s required to reduce churn for the time being.
For example, the pandemic has left many businesses scrambling to cope with new situations. With many businesses needing to close doors, the switch to online has left many with numerous challenges to face because of the change in business model—serving customers in-person to serving them remotely.
To help their customers with this shift in business model, Boxscore Fitness, a software for managing CrossFit gyms, created a feature to help closed gyms offer online programming to their members. This new feature release reflected the urgent needs of their customers. It has been very well received. This new feature has also increased leads by nearly 300% since its release last week.
The goal is to retain your customers. If that means a 90-degree turn in your product roadmap and/or strategy, then now is the time to make it. Any shift in direction; however, should always be made knowing that post-pandemic, things once again will change. But, speed of release and solving new customer requirements should be the focus right now.
There’s no knowing how long this crisis will last and what the world will look like once restrictions are lifted. We’re all operating on a day-by-day and week-by-week basis.The best way to retain your customers during this time is to make sure your entire team is properly informed and supported, so they can offer the best solutions to your customers.
Customers that feel valued and helped during this crisis will have a lasting positive perception of your business and will remain loyal as the situation changes. That’s about all any business can ask for right now.
About the Author: Anita Toth
Anita Toth is a firm believer that businesses care when customers leave them, and that most customers don’t really want to leave. She believes that companies want to reduce churn but often don’t know how. Using her 14 years of experience as a University Research Coordinator, Anita takes scientific methods of inquiry and testing to help her B2B SaaS clients achieve the churn they want, so they keep more of the customers they worked so hard to acquire.