Churn risk: How to spot the warning signs and take action

Madeline Jacobson

July 25, 2023

How do you know if a customer is getting ready to churn (i.e., stop buying from your business)? In many cases, they’ll tell you–through calls, chats, or emails with your customer service agents. However, it’s not always as straightforward as your customers saying “I’m going to leave”--and ideally, you want to identify customers who are at risk of churning before they get to this point and take steps to retain them.

While you can’t save every customer, reducing your churn rate (the percentage of total customers lost during a set time period) will reduce negative perceptions of your brand, increase the lifetime value of your retained customers, and ultimately grow your revenue.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how you can use insights from your customer conversations to better understand churn risk and take action before your customers decide to leave.

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Identifying and addressing churn risk through conversation intelligence

Your organization may evaluate churn risk through multiple sources of customer feedback, including:

  • Customer survey feedback
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) responses
  • Support tickets
  • Social media and review sites

However, one of the best ways to get a holistic view of how your customers feel about your business–and how likely they are to churn–is to use conversation analytics, or conversation intelligence.

Conversation intelligence software ingests customer conversation data from connected sources (such as call recordings, chat transcripts, and support emails) and uses machine learning to surface insights your organization can use to improve the customer experience and reduce points of friction. It allows you to measure and analyze both explicit churn (customers saying they want to cancel) and implicit churn risk (customers showing signs that they are likely to churn) so you can take action and reduce your churn rate. 

Below, we’ll take a look at some of the most common leading indicators of churn to look for in your conversation data, as well as some of the specific ways you can use conversation intelligence to prevent churn.

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4 leading indicators of churn risk in customer conversations

There are thousands of ways customers can express frustration or indicate that they’re likely to stop doing business with your company. And with a high volume of calls, chats, or email conversations, you’re unlikely to manually review every interaction for signs of dissatisfaction. Post-interaction surveys can give you some indication when customers are unhappy, but with survey response rates typically in the 5-30% range, you’ll still be missing a large part of the story.

Fortunately, a conversation intelligence platform (such as Tethr) can ingest all interactions and automatically identify phrases and behaviors that indicate a customer is a churn risk. This can help you see bigger picture trends around common leading indicators, including:

  • Missed promises
  • Remedy demands
  • Detractor signals
  • Chronic effort

Missed promises

Example phrases: “I was told this could be taken care of,” “this was supposed to…,” “I didn’t hear anything back”

Customers can understandably become frustrated when an outcome doesn’t align with what they expected based on marketing messaging, brand promises, or what frontline sales or service reps told them. Broken promises or missed expectations may cause customers to lose trust in your brand, share their negative experience with others, and stop doing business with you. 

Remedy demands

Example phrases: “You better do something to fix this,” “can I get a refund,” “what can you do for me”

If a customer requests or demands that your business take action to make things right, chances are high they’ve had a negative experience and are unhappy. Your agents may be able to provide a save offer within your company’s policies (such as a refund, discount, or credit) to prevent the customer from churning.

Detractor signals

Example phrases: “I know to stay away from you,” “this has been the worst experience,” “I’m very unhappy with the service”

NPS surveys aren’t the only tool for uncovering detractors (unsatisfied customers). Customers, especially unhappy ones, will let you know how they feel on calls or in chats with your agents. By using a conversation intelligence platform, you can identify all interactions in which customers signaled they were unhappy, allowing you to look for trends and find solutions for common problems.

Chronic effort

Example phrases: “I’m calling about the same issue,” “this is my fourth time trying to resolve this,” “I’ve been having this problem for months”

Customers who have to put in a lot of effort to do business with you or get an issue resolved are highly likely to churn. 96% of customers who have a high-effort experience report being disloyal compared to 9% with a low-effort experience, according to research from CEB (now Gartner) shared in The Effortless Experience (co-authored by Tethr’s former Chief Product and Research Officer, Matt Dixon). When customers reach out to you and mention they have tried to get their issue resolved multiple times or have been dealing with an ongoing product or service problem, there’s a high probability they’re getting ready to churn.

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How to take action based on implicit churn risk

Simply knowing the leading indicators of churn risk isn’t enough. Your business needs to dig into the root causes of those indicators and take steps to address them.

While there’s no way to eliminate customer churn entirely, you can use insights from conversation intelligence to significantly reduce your churn rate. And given that just a 5% increase in customer retention can produce more than a 25% increase in profits, the revenue growth potential is huge. 

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Identify common causes of churn risk using conversation intelligence

You can use a conversation intelligence platform to determine which leading churn indicators are appearing most frequently–and drill down to the specific factors driving churn risk. From there, you can determine the right actions to address these factors. 

For example, let’s say you notice the percentage of conversations with missed promises increasing. You then drill down to the subset of conversations with missed promises and discover that a large percentage of these conversations are flagged as having a missed expectation related to the customer not receiving a callback. You could use this information to refine your processes to ensure that agents are following up with customers when requested.

Example summary of reasons driving churn risks from Tethr’s ChurnRx dashboard

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Empower agents to address churn risk

Your frontline agents are the voice of your company and have a major impact on your customer experience. And unfortunately, a single bad interaction with an agent can cause customers to churn. 61% of customers report that they would leave a company for a competitor after one negative experience, according to research from Zendesk.

By using conversation analytics to uncover the top reasons customers are churning, you can develop new training modules or offer coaching to help agents successfully address those issues. Additionally, you can analyze your conversation data to determine which agents are exhibiting desired behaviors, such as advocacy language, or undesired behaviors, such as powerless-to-help language. This information allows your team managers to identify areas of improvement for each agent and tailor their coaching accordingly.

Example view of agent performance in Tethr’s ChurnRx dashboard

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How to take action based on explicit churn

While you should take steps to prevent future churn based on leading indicators, there will still be cases where customers contact your business with a cancellation request. These conversations provide valuable insights into the top reasons a customer is likely to cancel, the approaches agents are using most and least frequently to save the customer, and the save offers that are most effective. Armed with this information, you can make process changes to help reduce the volume of cancellation requests and coach your agents on the most effective save offers.

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Identify the top reasons for cancellation requests

Finding out why your customers are making cancellation requests is the first step to reducing your cancellation rate. Understanding the top reasons for churn will help you prioritize process or policy changes, new scripts, or save offers to help keep customers from leaving–or at least make the cancellation process as seamless as possible for those customers you don’t save.

Below are two examples of actions a business could take based on insights uncovered in their cancellation requests.

Reason #1: Customer requests to cancel based on their need to reduce spending after a job loss.

Potential action: Develop a new script (including a save offer) for agents to use with customers canceling due to income loss.

Reason #2: Customer disputes an unexpected bill and requests to cancel.

Potential action: Coach sales reps to improve communication during the sales process so customers understand charges and don’t encounter hidden fees.

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Coach agents on save offers

Conversation analytics allow you to track which save offers your agents use most frequently and which are most effective at preventing churn (you can view this as a matrix in Tethr).

Example save offer matrix in Tethr’s ChurnRx dashboard

You can also track how often each agent is making a save attempt and how often they are successful.

Example table of agents handling cancellation requests in Tethr’s ChurnRx dashboard

Team managers can use this information to educate agents on the most successful save offers and identify agents who may need additional coaching to improve their rate of save attempts and saved customers.

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Automate notifications for cancellation requests

When you’re able to identify all customer conversations that contain cancellation requests, you can also set up automatic notifications to alert managers or strategic escalation teams whenever one of these conversations takes place. You can configure these notifications to be delivered over email or via a third-party system, such as Salesforce, so that the right people are able to take action–whether that means saving the customer or by providing a positive experience even if the customer cancels. 

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Final takeaways

Conversation intelligence software gives you the ability to mine every customer conversation for insights, giving you a more complete view than you could ever get from a manual review process or customer survey results.

By harnessing the power of conversation intelligence, you can find the warning signs of churn hidden within your customer interactions–and learn from the instances where customers have churned. These valuable insights enable you to pinpoint trends, identify common issues leading to churn, and take data-backed actions to mitigate your churn risk and increase customer loyalty. 

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