Retention Talk
Retention Talk

Two ways to segment churn | Close's Liz Stephany

On today's episode of Retention Talk, Neel speaks with Liz Stephany, Director of Customer Success at Close. We talk about eating your own dog food, learning from customer feedback, and putting churn into two buckets: avoidable churn and unavoidable churn.

This episode might reference ProfitWell and ProfitWell Recur, which following the acquisition by Paddle is now Paddle Studios. Some information may be out of date.

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There will always be churn that is unavoidable. Being able to determine what buckets to put your churn into, however, will dictate how you treat that customer. While not all churn is avoidable, you can still attempt to recover customers, after the fact, if you have the right tools.

On today's episode of Retention Talk, I speak with Liz Stephany, Director of Customer Success at Close. We talk about eating your own dog food, learning from customer feedback, and putting churn into two buckets: avoidable churn and unavoidable churn.

Key points discussed in the episode

We've really iterated over time, but I think the foundation of retention, as a whole, at our company has always been talking with our customers—listening very closely.” –Liz Stephany

Eating your own dog food

It’s essential to know how your products work from a customer perspective. At Close, Stephany says that the sales and CS team both use the product on a day-to-day basis. It’s easy to put yourself in the shoes of your customers when you're already there in the first place.

Learning from customer feedback

When you listen to your customer, you will no longer have to wonder what is wrong with your product or how you can make them stay. They'll proactively point out the areas in your product that they want improved. The key, however, is to act on that feedback, not just write it down.

Segmenting churn

There are two buckets you can put churn into: avoidable churn and unavoidable churn. If you’ve done your offboarding properly, you’ll know if a customer left due to a reason that is within your control or not. Focusing on responses you get from surveys that contain something like a lack of a feature request, an adoption issue, and so on, will empower you to observe fixable trends to give retention a boost.

Take Action:

Want to go deeper? There's a lot you can do to analyze your churn further. The following steps will help you get started on conducting your own in-depth churn analysis.

1. Predict your churn

A useful solution will be able to predict the most likely causes of churn and flag any customers at risk. For example, how much of your churn is coming from simple credit card delinquencies, or how much of it is coming from that poorly strategized onboarding process.

2. Analyze your pricing tiers

Pricing is fundamental. Incorrectly setting price points and packaging products in the wrong tiers can lead even a company with a great product to underperform and to a higher than necessary churn rate.
Appropriate pricing tiers are fundamental for conversions as well as minimal churn. Ensure that your tiers are focused on buyer personas, not your own perceptions of your features.

3. Get metrics like ARPU, MRR, and ARR

Understanding churn is essential because of the effect churn can have on other key metrics. Choosing a solution like ProfitWell Retain, our churn reduction software, for your customer retention analysis will show you exactly how the pieces all fit together to build user retention, reduce churn, and maintain engagement.

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We really took, you know, probably ten steps backwards and started at the very fundamental stage of just listening, asking a ton of questions, listening very closely and then slowly starting to build up content in our knowledge base, answering a lot of those questions, you know, digging in deep to find ways to problem solve sharing all of this

great feedback back with our team. So we've really iterated over time. But I think the foundation of retention as a whole at our company has always been talking with our customers, listening very closely. Welcome to retention talk. I'm Neil Dhesi and we're talking to the best minds in the world of product and customer success.

They bring you actionable strategies on reducing churn and boosting retention. This week, we're talking to Liz Stefani, the director of customer success at Close. In this episode, we talk about how important it is to eat your own dog food, taking customer feedback and growing from it, and pay close attention to the two ways close segments turn.

Liz, thank you so much for being here with us today. I'm super pumped to learn more about Close's retention efforts and what you guys are up to. I'd love to give the audience sort of a quick background on how did you get here?

What led you to sort of working on customer success and retention? Just love to hear a quick story. Sure. Yeah. Well, first, you just want to say thanks for the opportunity to talk to your listeners. I'm a big fan of profit.

Well, really passionate about retention and helping customers be more successful and helping your listeners can take away one or two ideas from our chat. So how did I get here? So I'm Liz Stephanie. I'm the director of Customer Success for Clothes dot com.

We're known for being bad all in one CRM built for small businesses and specifically for inside sales teams. And then I think what really sets us apart in the super competitive CRM space is really the ease of use of the product, how quickly salespeople can get set up and how quickly they're able to close deals faster.

And then I'm biased. But we also have a really kick ass company culture that's very customer centric. And how did I get here? So probably a slightly nontraditional path. I went to law school, actually. I joined a large SaaS company after that, working in an account management position, and then was later recruited to do sales.

Pretty well known. Fortune 500 Safe Company and a former coworker referred me to close. They were looking for their first customer success hire. That was five years ago and have it looked back. And I think that background in enterprise account management and sales gave me a lot of experience and good perspective on doing customer success and being

focused on retention for a startup. Awesome. Well, I'm sure it was a big transition going from, you know, Fortune 500 CSR organization to leading something like close, you know, so obviously, yes, super competitive space, heavy emphasis on user experience and quickly delivering value.

How does that translate to, you know, how you think about retention and customer success? Tell me more about like what you guys track and how you've gotten the team to really rally about, you know, caring about retention as as, you know, you've led the team.

Yeah, that's a great question. I think probably a big key to our success and maybe a slight differentiator from experience that past companies is that we use our own product. So both our sales team and our sales team live within close on a day to day basis.

So I think our own experience drives so much of what we do. Our company and our product team is listening to us, our teams as the end users and a lot of that, you know, we have the same experiences as our customers.

We have so much empathy for them because we're using our own product day in and day out and our needs really align really well. So then key to a lot of the ability for our team to put ourselves in our customers shoes because we are I'll never forget doing sales at this one Fortune 500 company.

They have some of the best sales training in the whole industry. They're known far and wide for their technology, but the sales team was doing sales out of spreadsheets. They weren't using their own product. You know, if only I had clothes back then, maybe I would have stayed longer.

But yeah, I think that's a big key to our success is we're really using our own product and we're looking to our own experiences for innovation. Another thing about that, too, is our customers ideas and innovation really drive our product team.

We're always looking for what's the next kind of major feature we should add into the platform, but also what are some small tweaks that we can make to help our customers be more successful short term? And so much of that comes directly from the feedback that my team is gathering from our customers and analyzing that creating use

cases for our product team and really completing that feedback cycle. Interesting. I mean, I think we're in a similar position to where we get to use our own product. And I can't I can't imagine being in any other way, right, because you have increased empathy for all the little quirks and annoyances in your product that may not

get prioritized otherwise, right, but you sort of have to live with yourself. How does this work? Have you guys struggled with pieces of of of sort of improving retention? Or has it always been a strength for you guys?

Oh, I think we've definitely iterated over time. When I joined five years ago, we weren't really talking to customers post-sale because is really known for our sales philosophy. We have a ton of amazing content about how to do SAS sales, how to do sales in general.

That piece of the puzzle was really firm. You know, there's a lot of experts in sales at our company, but what we weren't really doing at that time was kind of listening to the customers post-sale about what they needed.

You know, that's all they did. I feel like for my first maybe six months was just call customers. You know, sometimes it felt like I was doing outbound sales. I was going to get customers on the phone to talk about their experiences, to listen to roadblocks.

They were having to listen to their goals for, you know, why did they even purchase? And what are they hoping to get out of it? We really took, you know, probably ten steps backwards and started at the very fundamental stage of just listening, asking a ton of questions, listening very closely and then slowly starting to build up

content in our knowledge base. Answering a lot of those questions know digging in deep to find ways to problem solve sharing all of this great feedback back with our team. So, you know, we've really iterated over time, but I think the foundation of retention as a whole at our company has always been talking with our customers, listening

very closely. Love it. Yeah, I mean, sometimes it doesn't feel right as the fundamentals around really trying to understand what the pain points are and then doing everything you can to to deliver on them. So naturally, right, this is going to help.

But but ultimately, there are still going to be customers that that used to cancel, right? Tell me more about what that process looks like for you guys. Like, does everyone have an account manager? Is it these are self-service customer base and, you know, obviously enterprise folks.

What happens when someone cancels your subscription? That's a great question, and you definitely hit the nail on the head in terms of the experience can be probably slightly different, depending on the customer size. We are probably a little unique within the SAS industry and also within CRM is that our default commitment is month to month.

You can sign up annually to receive a discount or sign in agreement with sales or with success. But anyone can purchase off of our website. Month-to-month cancelation for all accounts is done in app, so our values are promoting transparency.

So there's really no I've had this experience in other companies. You have to call one 800 number, you know you, you hit a person who tries to convince you otherwise. You know, the whole experience becomes very tough and frustrating.

You know, we are not about that. I close. You can simply click a few buttons to export your data. We don't hold any of that hostage, and then you can click a button to cancel. There's an option to email us within the cancelation window if you do have some second thoughts.

And we do ask for the cancelation reasons. So in that space, you know, we make it probably against a lot of maybe SAS advice out there. We make it fairly uncomplicated to cancel a subscription. And then on that kind of the back side of that sort of behind the scenes, the team is alerted and a slack channel

when any cancelation happens. You know, my team has Slack channels, we kind of monitor that. We also have automated email cadences that are sent to cancel customers asking for more information. I think some offers to come back and then we have campaigns when new features are added that are sent out to cancel customers.

But when we look at kind of high value cancelations, it's a slightly different. We typically know about high value cancelations months in advance. Our customer success team has just really great relationships with our customers. Many of them are under contract and we're often told when an account is looking for a new tool or they're deciding to build

one in-house or they're having struggles with their business. We have a lot of foresight into large churn and typically have the opportunity to work to save them and keep them with us. Got it! I love what you said around.

You know, we try to make it simple and philosophically, like, don't want our customers to jump through a bunch of hoops, but you're still learning a bunch through the process. It seems right. Like, you know, getting feedback around why people cancel, letting them reach out to you.

So I think, you know, we're trending as an industry to be better about not forcing customers to jump through hoops. But I think something that a lot of folks struggle with that I think you guys do really well is trying to reconcile that with still learning because every time a customer journey is an opportunity, you learn something

and clearly you guys do that, as the survey responses led to any product development or action on on the team's part. Yeah, that's a great question. You know, the survey responses, probably like any company, they break down into a number of different ways avoidable churn or unavoidable churn.

You know, we definitely keep an eye on the avoidable churn. Was it a feature or a request? Was it a training issue? Was it an adoption issue? You know, those types of things that maybe we could have corrected ourselves to better.

Those are the things I think we get obviously the most value from and the things that we pay attention to in terms of product strategy or content strategy. So yes, those survey responses we find incredibly valuable. There's always going to be some of that unavoidable churn, you know, in any business, especially when you're really focused on SMB

and start ups. There are companies who fail their companies. You've got a business that I think can be really heartbreaking. We invest a lot into our small businesses. We really want them to succeed. We care deeply about entrepreneurs that are companies.

So sometimes those can be the losses that we feel really deeply because we as a software provider couldn't help them hit that profitable mark or help them make more sales so. Those are tough. Yeah. That's all I got.

That's super helpful on the topic of terror and we sort of internally sort of bucket turned into two buckets, right? You have voluntary churn, which is like people actively canceling and then you have involuntary churn and these are, you know, mechanical issues with their payment or things like that.

Is there anything being done on that side of things? Sure. Yeah, we got past the turn, but same idea, right? Payment failures, things like that. Again, with SMEs and start, we can see that happening with cash flow being an issue.

So we do have in-app messaging. A status bar appears at the top of the app when there's a payment failure and that alerts the customer and gives them a quick link to get back to the payment screen to correct.

We also can rely on Slack. Every payment failure triggers a message to a specific Slack channel, so the team is aware and we can follow app to make sure payment is corrected. And then we also have automated email cadences that we send to all administrators, letting them know about the failure in case they aren't in close all

day, every day, like an end user is. And one of those emails comes from our CEO, which I think also has a little bit of added edge or CEO's. Delhi is pretty well known in the sales world. People, you know, see an email from him and they open it immediately.

So we try to get as much attention to the fact that a payment has failed or a card is expired or any of those reasons, so we can help people correct that. Love it. No, that's awesome. I mean, I love that you guys have your bases covered right in terms of getting in front of the customer and

, you know, letting them know, Hey, this has happened and to get continue getting value, you got to you got to update it. Something you mentioned earlier was that, you know, at least a default, folks sign up for a month subscription.

Recently, we've been looking a lot into what we are calling term optimization, which is basically getting folks on longer term plans to improve LTV and drive retention. I'm sure for the enterprise folks, right? There's contracts and sort of special terms there.

I'm curious, though, for the self-service folks. Do you guys do anything around term optimization, getting folks on annual plans and things of that nature or not? Really. Yeah, that's a great question. You know, part of our core goals, especially for higher value accounts, is closing new agreements and renewals.

So we we definitely do that have a huge emphasis on that. On accounts over a certain size accounts under a certain size, you can actually in app, you can choose to go annually and pay in advance to get a discount.

So that is, you know, an option within our billing terms, within the app itself. So that's a very kind of easy. Again, we make it really easy and simple for a customer to get a discount and then monthly terms.

So if you want to sign a contract that pay monthly, we do have quarterly kind of email campaigns around helping customers basically sign monthly agreements. So we kind of have those options. And I think again, for some views and start ups, flexibility is really key.

A lot of small companies don't have the cash flow to pay in advance, but really want to scale their team. They want to add new users. So the monthly contracts where you walk the term end for twelve months, but the customer can continue to pay monthly and receive a discount.

You know, those have been really helpful and flexible options for smaller customers. Love it. That's sort of like best of both worlds, right? Because they still benefit from this account. You guys can see that the, you know, obviously lower churn there.

But from a cash flow perspective, that's great. Love it. No, that's that's super helpful. And like super tactical, right? Because I think for certain buyer personas, this is a huge channel for not only driving cash flow, but like massive LTV gains.

And so curious how you guys handle that sort of after the initial purchase. But cool. I know we're coming up on time here, Liz. As you look back at sort of all the things you've done as part of the team at close specifically around, you know, customer retention, like what something you're really proud of?

Yeah. You know, I think this goes back to, you know, talking about that feedback loop from success to the rest of the business. When I was here five years ago, that feedback loop really didn't exist. We were doing innovation.

We were creating new features. It was mainly based on our own experience. And I think, you know, over five years, me and my team have worked really hard to foster those internal relationships with our company. And, you know, we're key stakeholders within our company and then also with our customers.

So, you know, I'm really proud that I work for a company where daily we hear how the product is changing people's businesses for the better. And I'm super proud that our company cares about how our customers are using the product and how they can make their experience more productive.

And you know, I'm proud of the the gains that my team has made and analyzing use cases and digging in deep. When a customer asks for a feature, we don't just leave it as, Oh, you asked for that?

And you know, let me enter into this black hole of nothingness where no one will ever review it. We sit with the customer. We ask a bunch of questions. We create a really detailed use case so that our engineers and our product team can can feel that on the other side, where they know what the.

Feature is going to be meant for and what problems it's going to solve, so it can have a ton of empathy. You know, there's even a storytelling component, I think, with my team on telling the story of who our customer is and what they care about and what they need.

So really proud that we've evolved and that way over the course of five years, and I'm excited to see how that's going to change the product to for the better, for the future. That's super helpful as I really appreciate the time.

You know, I think this connects the dots, at least for me. I'm trying to understand like what makes clothes really special because I know from the product perspective, you know, you guys are obviously crushing it, but I think you guys have contributed a ton to the industry and to, you know, educating folks around sales best practices.

So yeah, I really appreciate the time, Liz, and thanks for being here. Thanks for having me. A huge thank you to Stephanie for lending their time to podcast with their help. We've really doubled down on exactly how to boost retention.

To recap, we talked about just how important it is to eat your own dog food. It's absolutely essential to know how your product works inside and out from the customer's perspective at close. Stephanie says that sales and SDKs both use their product on a day to day basis, and this is so important.

It's easy to put yourself in the shoes of the customer when you are already there in the first place and have to deal with all the shortcomings of your own product. second, taking customer feedback and really learning from it when you listen to your customer, you will no longer have to wonder what is wrong with your product

or how you can make them stay. They will proactively point out the areas in your product that they want improved. The key is to act on that feedback and really chase the implication of what they're really asking for.

Don't just write it down and filed away. Really come in with the intention of improving your product. Lastly, segmenting churn into two buckets avoidable churn and unavoidable churn. If you've done your offering properly, you'll know if a customer left due to reasons that are in your control or not.

Focusing on responses that you get from the survey that contain something like a lack of a feature request, an adoption issue and so on and so forth will empower you to observe fixable trends to give retention a boost.

Thanks for listening to this week's episode of Retention Talk. Don't forget to subscribe at Retention Torkham, and if you want to help spread the word, tag me on Twitter and the other side. 23 in less dish on today's episode, please give us a five star review on the podcast platform of your choice and let your friends know

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