Customer Attrition: What It Is, Why It Sucks, and How To Stop It

Danette Acosta Dec 8 2020

For SaaS companies, customer attrition is one of the worst things that can happen to the health of your company. Granted, some attrition is inevitable, but minimizing this key factor will undoubtedly mean the difference between a successful business and a failed one. So, what exactly is customer attrition and how do you minimize it? In this post, we'll take a close look at this metric and how to manage it so your SaaS company's growth chart is moving in the right direction.

Table of contents: 


What is customer attrition?

Customer attrition happens any time a customer ends their relationship with a business, for any reason. The fact is that most customers will not remain active users of a product indefinitely. Customer attrition is normal and should be accounted for when reporting on revenue metrics. In SaaS, customer attrition is commonly referred to as customer churn and is expressed as a rate that indicates the number of customers lost over a given period of time. This is an important indicator of business health, especially in SaaS. 

There are a lot of factors that can lead to customer attrition and a good analytics tool can help you identify those issues so you can take the proper steps to keep your customer churn rate as low as possible. By actively tracking your customer attrition, you can take a proactive approach to identifying the reason why a customer is leaving and win them back. This insight is also very useful to understand demand trends in the market and ensure that active customers are happy and less likely to churn.


The negative impact of high customer attrition

Everyone instinctively knows that losing customers is bad. Because customer attrition is inevitable, however, some SaaS companies simply accept it as a normal part of doing business. This is an unhealthy attitude. It may be inevitable that customers will churn, but it is a metric that can be managed with a little effort on your part. More importantly, taking the time to control it can result in a more solid product that will actually attract more users over time. So taking proactive steps to reduce churn will not only save you money, but will act as an effective strategy for new customer acquisition on top of that. Let's look at some ways that customer attrition hurts your business. 


Less revenue

We'll start with the obvious. If customers leave, so does the revenue. In SaaS, monthly recurring revenue (MRR) is not only the lifeblood of a company, it's also an indicator of long-term viability. Customer attrition directly decreases revenue, so it is vital to keep it at bay. When a customer churns, you've also lost any ability to further monetize that customer. 


Fewer customers

Imagine you have product that you've convinced a single person to spend a million dollars a month on. If you do that, you're riding high for a while, but if you lose that one customer, you've also lost that million dollars. This is an extreme example, but it shows you the value of having as many customers as possible. It isn't just the revenue that having a large customer base provides, it's also the buffer it yields to help when attrition does happen. The more customers you have, the less losing one will hurt you. It goes without saying that in order to have a lot of customers, you need to minimize attrition.


Poor CAC: LTV ratio

Customer acquisition cost (CAC) is the amount of money that you have to spend in order to acquire a new customer. Your customer lifetime value represents the total amount of money you can expect from each of your customers throughout their time with your company. The goal, to maximize profits, is to have the lifetime value of the customer be significantly higher than the cost of acquiring that customer. 

If you're spending to acquire customers and they churn before you make back those costs, then you're running a tough deficit. Churn increases your average CAC. 


How to calculate your customer attrition rate

You can't stop customer attrition if you don't know how or where it's coming from. Let's take a look at how to calculate it. The first thing you'll have to do is to decide on the length of time that you want to measure. Most SaaS companies will measure by the month, but use whatever suits your data needs.

Customer attrition formula


Where number of churned customers is how many people have left your service over the period out of the total number of customers you had during the period. For example, if you start the month of January with 500 customers and 5 of them leave during the month, your churn rate would be 5 divided by 500, or 1%.

Any good analytics tool, especially one designed specifically for SaaS like ProfitWell Retain, will be able to calculate your churn rate for you. These tools will make it easier to monitor the trends over time and ensure that you are moving in the right direction.


Retention vs attrition

Now we need to talk about keeping, or retaining, those customers. Customer retention is the opposite of customer attrition. By putting a sound customer retention strategy into place, you'll be able to minimize attrition and keep your company on the path to growth. To summarize:

  • Retention — This is good. Retention keeps customers on board, gives you the chance to increase their customer LTV, keeps the revenue flowing, and gives you opportunity for expansion revenue, so your company can focus on growing r.
  • Attrition — This is bad. By losing customers, you're losing revenue, plain and simple. Attrition is to be avoided at all costs.

The cure to attrition: bullet-proof retention

In order to stop attrition, you have to have a strong retention strategy. This starts with using tools like ProfitWell Metrics to closely monitor your attrition rate over time. The goal is to always be lowering it. Sometimes, this won't happen. In fact, a spike in attrition may be your first clue that something is wrong. Are there new bugs that you're not aware of? Is some new feature proving difficult for users to figure out? There can be many reasons for attrition, but noticing that spike is an indicator that you need to start looking for something that is causing that change. 

The best way to stop attrition is to take steps to avoid it. This means making sure that you provide thorough onboarding that helps customers understand all the features of your product or service, providing them with an easy and fast way to get answers to any questions they have, and working hard to ensure a bug-free product. In addition, you can use powerful tools like ProfitWell Retain, which helps you identify possible churn and stop it before it happens. Retain's algorithms are constantly evolving to push your recovery rates up.



Customer attrition may be a part of doing business, but it should not be business as usual. A strong retention strategy is one of the only ways to stop attrition in its tracks, especially during difficult economic times—you want to hang on to your customers.



By Danette Acosta

Editorial Lead at ProfitWell, helping ProfitWell take its content to the next level. When she's not busy creating dope content, you can listen to her on the radio.

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