The capacity to forecast that a specific customer is at a high risk of churning while there is still time to do something about it is a major new possible revenue generator for any company. We, at CustomerSuccessBox, spoke to some of the Top Customer Success Influencers to know how they manage churn!
Elodie O’Rourke is currently the Diversity & Inclusion Leader – Customer Success Director at Financial Times. She’s one of the Top Customer Success Influencers. She is always passionate about people and making a positive difference in their lives. When she’s involved with a project at work or as a volunteer, she always gives her best to achieve success.
We asked Elodie to share her opinion on customer churn and retention. The following is what she has to say.
Check out Elodie’s interview where she gives insights into how you can manage churn efficiently. 👇
Q: Please introduce yourself.
A: I’m Elodie O’Rourke, the head of customer success at the Financial Times. I am working in the B2B department and I’m more specifically looking after the EMEA region. So Europe, the middle east, and Africa. We are helping out our corporate customers to get the maximum value with their FT subscription, which is not only ft.com, but we are also selling other products that we are currently developing at the moment.
Q: What do you think are the common reasons why a ‘churn’ occurs?
A: Sure. Well, the first factor would be when the customers aren’t the right fit. So they actually purchase your service or your product for the wrong reasons.
It can also be because it can lead you to the fact that sometimes it’s coming from the relationship they had with the salesperson. When they were there, there wasn’t clear communication on their needs or on the outcome of the product. So it can very much have that person that is actually also buying the service sometimes just, it’s a way, it depends on the future as well, but in some countries, people have a hard time saying no, and they actually buy the service to stop the relationship with the salesperson.
So when the customer success team comes on board, it’s really difficult because you can’t properly onboard the client, which actually leads to the second factor. This is when people can’t be onboarded properly, you lose the momentum, and then they cannot really get the maximum value they could get from your service or your product. Also sometimes it’s because you have the wrong stakeholder. And so many, many times we are dealing with procurement people and their job is to purchase a service or product. And once their job is done, their job is done. So they don’t really mind if the product is not properly because their job is only to purchase the service or the product. So when you don’t speak to the right stakeholder, uh, for the customer success team, it’s really complicated.
And this is one of our main challenges at Financial Times. Many, many times we are dealing with people who are not using the financial times, not even reading the financial times because many times they don’t even speak English. And because we are an English-speaking publication, uh, if you are dealing with a procurement person or even a librarian who doesn’t speak English, I mean, for them, it’s not crucial if people are not using the service.
So if people are not using the service, they are not adopting the product or the service, then it’s really difficult to actually prove to the decision-makers at the end that they actually need you. So it’s a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, but that’s why I think that most customer success leaders are right to say that actually churn is a company‑wide responsibility because it starts at the very beginning of the sales relationship. When the salesperson is selling the product to ensure that they are talking to the right people, they have the right stakeholders.
And then it’s also the relation, you know, the responsibility of the product team to ensure that the product they are, uh, actually, you know, the user PDTs there, that actually the customer do need this product, because if you do create a product that no one needs, I mean, you would have a problem at some point as, as well. But yeah, these are, I would say the main factors.
Q: What should be the KPIs for measuring churn?
A: I think the risk score must be very down to the specific product or service you are selling. I don’t think that there is a one size fits all, you know, in terms of what is your service. So for instance at the financial times, it depends if we are talking about what we call an access license, when we actually give access to the financial times to let’s say, an entire organization, then our product would be the financial time’s Ft com because we are only focusing on Ft com. We are not the customer success team that doesn’t deal with the paper prints, but then our license administrators are not necessarily using Ft.com their product is actually our administration platform.
And then, so, you know, you have to bear in mind who is your target audience and what are your needs? And there are so many different levels that you need to take this into consideration. So when it comes to KPIs and how we do measure, when it comes to our, let’s say, what we call the end-user. So they’re the readers. You need to look at engagement. So are they actually using the service? Do they access the license? So they’re actually logging, using their Ft com access, are they reading articles? Do they follow topics? You know, that type of thing.
And then when it comes to the license, administrators, you have to look at are they’re using the enterprise. Uh, well, it’s called enterprise tools, but their administration platform, do let’s say, download analytics reports. Are they using specific features? It has to be very meaningful to your customer needs and what your product and your service are solving, what type of program is serving your product or your service to them. So let’s say for the end-users that they’re supposed to use the financial times to have, it’s a business intelligence tool, and to help them to make better-informed decisions. So how often are they using the FT? Are they actually using the right content for the FT?
But I think the main one would be, uh, the health score in terms of engagement, everything that is done to the usage, because if people are not using your service anyway, at some point there is a risk. Also, I think you should take into consideration how often you are engaging with your customers as a customer success team, they’re less engaged or responsive to your customers when you are trying to book meetings with them. It should be a red flag, for instance, if they don’t want to talk to you and why, and also probably everything that is down to customer satisfaction in general. So it, depending on how you would measure that if it’s NPS or, CSAT or depending on your product, but for me that these are the main KPIs you should be, uh, considering
Q: You have already answered my next question that the entire firm should be responsible for ‘churn’. Can you explain this a little deeper?
A: Well, because I would say that any organization is a team. And as a team, it’s, it’s a little bit like in sport, let’s say a football team. It’s not only one player who’s winning the game. It’s the entire team and for a corporate organization or any organization is exactly the same mindset. So if you are a lone Wolf, I mean, if you’re a very successful salesperson, it can work, but up to a certain point.
So I do have a very specific example in mind where once when I was still a CSM working on a specific territory. In my new business, this person was on holiday and someone else took over for a specific deal. And because there wasn’t the person’s territory, you know, that person was just trying to close deals, right, without looking too much into details. Just to close the deal and to get the commission, the person actually made a huge discount that was completely disconnected from the actual usage for these various clients. So imagine the conversation we had when actually they had such a huge discount that it was completely disconnected from the renewal figures at the end of the journey, right?
Imagine the compensation, when you have to explain well to your customer, it’s like, imagine if you would be able to fly from London to New York for one pound, that was a type of discount. It doesn’t, you know, then you can say, oh, the, this customer, there is a churn at the end. There, they are just canceling that subscription because no, it’s the entire organization because the very first person should have been honest. And I’ve been doing proper work explaining how it works. But also it’s not this person who would just be involved in the very beginning afterward, another salesperson like an account manager was involved and the conversation should have been starting way before the renewal, just to set the customer’s expectation then because as a customer success team as well, I wasn’t for, you know,
I was responsible for the customer, but I wasn’t really aware of the deal in the beginning, because I wasn’t looking at the contract as such for me, that was just my customer and they needed to gain value. So I was just trying to promote the content, and the engagement, and that was doing my job. But you know what I mean?
So if you don’t actually talk to each other and it can be even worse, if for instance, you do sell a product and you don’t take into account your customer’s feedback, let’s say, oh, dear organization, I would love to have this feature implemented. Would it work for you? So if you can do it and if you don’t do it, it’s also the problem and the responsibility of the product team. Do you know what I mean? Because at the end of the day, if they come to you and they say, well, thank you to your organization. But six months ago, I asked you about a specific feature that is still not there. And I really need that feature to, uh, be, uh, using a better your product. And if their concern is not only your fault, it’s not anybody’s fault, but the product team.
So it’s kind of common work. And that’s why, uh, avoiding working in silos it’s crucial and very important because otherwise, everybody’s doing their own little thing in the corner, and then you end up working in silos, and then it’s like, and how does it look when you’re talking to a customer and you don’t even know what your marketing team does or what your product team does. So you have to, as a team, and then when you are working properly as a team, then everybody should be responsible and accountable for churn, for sure.
Q: Do you have a framework/template/playbook in place for analyzing the churn?
A: It works in progress because we recently appointed a customer success operation person. Uh, so customer success manager, uh, focusing on only on the operation and we are reviewing all our KPIs, all our metrics you know, the life cycle, the checkpoints, and we, because we are quite a large organization, even if it doesn’t look like it, we are trying to be consistent across all-region. And, uh, this person is talking to everyone.
So it’s still very much a work in progress, but in an ideal world, uh, we would like to implement new metrics such as product adoptions, and risk scores, you have to take into account different things. And also you have to take into account the cultural differences as well. Uh, because in countries that are not, uh, behaving the same way when it comes to even closing deals.
I do have this very specific example in mind where, um, one of my colleagues went, they went to attend a meeting in the middle east, and, uh, the whole business meeting was all about everything, but work. And then the person who joined the meeting was really upset because there, they were like, oh my God, how this meeting is pointless. I’m not talking about numbers, I’m not talking about the deal. And actually, they did an upsell in the end. And it’s just because with this client in that culture for them, it’s not because you don’t talk about business, that you are not doing business.
Do you know what I mean? And you have to be mindful also of everybody’s cultural differences and how people work. For instance, even, in some southern European countries, it’s absolutely normal to be late to meetings, uh, whilst in the UK, if you’re not on time, it’s really rude. You know, all these little things are, uh, very important. And also this is something that when it comes to risk, you have to take, into account because something could be interpreted as a risk in some, in certain regions where in others there aren’t. So also the regional focus is something that really, that is really important to us at the moment.
Q: How soon should you start the renewal process?
A: Well, in an ideal world, you should start thinking about renewal from day one, because it’s sort of about the customer experience. Just put yourself in, you are a customer. I am a customer every day. You are a customer of many different organizations.
Sometimes when you put yourself in the shoes of the customer, you do pay for certain services that are sometimes more expensive than others without giving you more, other than the great relationship you
have with just to give you a very concrete example. Once again, I have a local grocery shop, which is more expensive than others, and I constantly go back there because I love the shop owner. And because the person is lovely, always helpful. Even if it’s a little bit more expensive, I would rather go there just because I have this bond in a relationship.
And also, because when I’m going with my children, you know, there’s always a little a gift for my daughter or something like this. So of course now, you know, my daughter, she always wants to go there, et cetera, et cetera. So it’s very smart, of course. And then, and then I’m like, well, what actually, I do value more the relationship I have with the shop owner rather than the price. So we’d go there.
And it’s the same. Imagine let’s say you subscribe to like a streaming platform, let’s say, and then you have a horrible experience from scratch. Like it doesn’t work, you can’t log in, you can access the content properly and you try to reach out to someone, but no one cares about you. And then what would happen, even if you try hard for a week and you know that your subscription is renewing in a year and you stopped for a year, you would stay because you’re stuck, but then you will cancel anyway.
So that’s why for me, the renewal process, at least for the customer success team for real should start from day one. Because if you mess up the onboarding, that’s not great. And sometimes even if you have a rocky relationship because it’s tricky if you’re good to your customer, if you’re honest if you are transparent, and if you’re, you know, you can still continue, even if you’re more expensive than the competition, or if they can actually have other features with other competitors that you are not providing yet or such things. So yeah, for me, it’s today, you should start thinking about renewal from day one.
Q: Automated vs In-person retention. Which one do you prefer and why?
A: So in terms of automation, I think it depends on the value of the deal you have with your customers. Once again, put yourself in the shoes of the customer. If you’re buying a five-pound product, would you expect to have a luxury experience with the red carpet and everybody, you know, taking a bow at you and praising you for being such a great customer? No. I mean, if I’m buying something at five pounds, I just expect to let, just let me be using my five-pound product and that’s it. But let’s say if I buy something really expensive, that’s, for me, it’s a very important, uh, amount of money or investment, et cetera. Of course, I would expect something different. So it all depends on the value.
So that’s why automation is great for the, you know, tech touch, low touch is great for small accounts, small, uh, yeah. Small value customers, because they don’t even expect you to be that hands‑on anyway. And then of course, if someone is spending like a million or half a million with you, of course, they will expect you something different. And let’s say, they say, dear customer, dear company, I’m using your product. I’m paying this amount of money for your product, but I need this very specific feature. They expect you to be very reactive and to at least try to implement it, et cetera. So very much depend on how, and of course, they would rather speak to a human being rather than a robot.
Q: What are the common mistakes that you’ve made in your career or seen someone else make while handling churn?
A: In life in general we always learn from our mistakes. So it depends on the maturity of your product, of your life cycle, customer journey. And also I think, we need to be conscious of the fact that we are just human beings at the end of the day, so we can always make mistakes.
But I think the biggest mistake as an organization is to sell your product to the wrong customers because then you will have only problems and difficulties in the end, and it would be just like you train to fight harder and to overcome like change it. I would never even up. And if you act you, you would be actually speaking to the right customers if you know what I mean. So I think that’s the, just to answer your question, the most common one.
Q: Any tips for CS leaders who want to manage churn/retention?
A: Yes. This is a thing that I’m actually applying myself. Now, I’m not a customer success manager to talks with customers. Well, I’m still talking to customers, but not as often as I used to be in the past. What I’m
trying to do is actually be the customer success manager of my organization. So trying to understand the needs of my organization, and my stakeholders, it’s exactly the same, uh, intellectual process. So I’m trying to, uh, nurture and build my relationship with my internal stakeholders, trying to understand where they are coming from, which are the problem they are trying to solve, and how customer success might function. The customer success team can help them to overcome the challenges. And that function is exactly the same process.
Basically, my stakeholders are my customers, but I’m having the very same, uh, mindsets. And that’s my team because actually, it’s, it’s working quite well and people they do tend to, uh, appreciate when you take the time to listen to their problems in general. So they’re like, oh, actually someone is interested in hearing about my challenges. So they’re quite open about it. And they quite like the fact that you actually take the time to understand where they are coming from and January trying to help them out.
Asking them questions, listening to their answers, and also acting upon that feedback is one of the most important responsibilities of a CSM.
P.S. – The main image has been taken from pexels.com