11 Winning Retention Tactics from 11 Remarkable Marketers
When it comes to customer retention, two key actions can make or break your business:
1. Facilitating undeniable customer impact
2. Delivering an unparalleled customer experience
The first is about facilitating a profound change in your customer’s organization. According to Gallup, this one action is “the single greatest driver in generating growth for B2B companies”.
When you transform your customer’s reality by dramatically improving their workflow, significantly reducing their costs, or helping them skyrocket their revenue, you make your product indispensable in the process. No wonder it’s a key ingredient in maximizing retention—it encourages habitual usage of your product.
The thing is, “okay” isn’t good enough in 2017. Customer expectations are at an all-time high. You now have to curate a timely, relevant, and personalized customer journey, nail customer support, and take advantage of every opportunity to surprise and delight.
Phew! That sounds hard, doesn’t it? 😰
Well, it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes quick wins can have a big impact, which is why this post features 11 tried-and-true retention tactics that take mere minutes to set up.
11 Winning Retention Tactics from 11 Remarkable Marketers
Nadya Khoja, who contributed to this post, recently wrote an article on the shortage of gender diversity in the MarTech space. Near the end of the article, she addressed ways we can all make an impact. “An easy place to start is to include more female influencers in any of the round-up articles that you work on,” she wrote. In honor of that, I’ve highlighted 11 remarkable women in this post:
1. Shayla Price on optimizing for retention before leads become customers
2. Lianna Patch on writing “personal” welcome emails
3. Eloise Shuttleworth on wowing customers with proactive support
4. Claire Suellentrop on healing the pain of monthly payments
5. Alexa Hubley on calling your customers by name
6. Clair Byrd on providing real-time customer support via SMS
7. Kaysie Garza on traveling back in time to delight your customers
8. Alli Blum on writing emails your customers actually want to read
9. Nadya Khoja on re-engaging inactive users with webinars
10. Nichole DeMeré on creating a customer-centric community for your product
11. Jes Kirkwood on the right way to reward your ambassadors
Expert content marketer Shayla Price on optimizing for retention before leads become customers
The first step in transforming leads into long-term customers is earning their trust. It’s not always an easy task, but one tactic seems to work well: Including user-generated content in your email marketing campaigns.
It makes sense. You’d be more likely to believe the customer who voluntarily posted a review online than the person who wants to sell you something, too. In fact, MarketingCharts found that peer recommendations and consumer reviews lead the way in influencing the purchasing decisions of American adults.
So next time you’re crafting an email for a campaign, insert some social proof (like a five-star review or even a picture of a happy customer using your product). It could be the difference between earning a new customer and never hearing from them again.
How to source user-generated content for your email campaign
1. Sift through online product reviews
Explore online review and comparison sites, like G2 Crowd, GetApp and Capterra, to discover 5-star reviews of your product.
For example, this is the most recent review of Autopilot found on G2 Crowd:
2. Dig into your website’s customers page
Your company’s customer portal is chocked full of case studies, customer testimonials, and other great content you can include in your emails.
Here’s a call-out from Autopilot’s LiveChat customer story:
3. Search social media for positive WOM
Customers aren’t afraid to broadcast what they think about your company on social media, which can help or hurt a brand’s reputation. To collect this user-generated content, search Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for positive WOM spread by your customers.
Here’s an example taken from Autopilot’s repository of tweets:
Hint: To keep track of these testimonials, Autopilot adds them to a Twitter list called Remarkable Tweets.
4. Scan other sources for user-generated content
Product review sites, your customer portal, and social media are all great channels for sourcing user-generated content. But they’re not the only places you can find rave reviews from your customers. Be sure to also check your inbox, support tickets, and the comments section of your blog.
Lianna Patch, Founder, Punchline Conversion Copywriting on sending “personal” welcome emails
🎵 Hello… It’s me / I’ve been wondering if, after signing up, you’d like to chat 🎵
You probably already have a step-by-step onboarding sequence set up for your product, helping them to get quick wins. You’re slowly, slyly making your solution part of their everyday work routine. And that’s killer!
But before you start sending emails encouraging new users to become active in your product, send them a quick welcome email that asks a question. This is a golden opportunity to get user insight that can inform and improve your product messaging, while making every new user feel special and heard.
No matter how you frame this email, make sure it accomplishes two goals:
1. It feels like a personal, one-on-one email
2. It’s designed to answer your team’s burning questions about your customers
How to write your “personal” welcome email
Welcome to Low-Hanging Retention Fruit! 😉 I’m your host, Lianna Patch, and you’re about to learn how to write “personal” welcome emails.
1. Send your email from a real person
Instead of sending welcome emails from your company name and email address, send them from a real person, like your CEO or founder.
This strategy helped Autopilot increase conversions: An A/B test confirmed that emails sent from a real person (e.g. “Guy Marion”) convert 12% better than those sent from a general company sender (e.g. “Your mates at Autopilot”).
Bonus: To make your email even more relatable, include the person’s headshot.
The Buffer team has the “personal” welcome email on lock:
2. Choose a question that helps your team fill in messaging gaps
When choosing which question to ask, consider what your team needs to know to improve your product.
You can’t go wrong with one of these questions:
- What was going on in your life that caused you to sign up for [Our Solution]?
- What’s the most important goal that [Our Solution] will help you accomplish?
- How will you decide whether [Our Solution] is a worthwhile investment of your time and money?
For example, Dropmark asks, “How are you using Dropmark?”
Groove asks, “Why did you sign up?” Note the plain-text formatting, which makes this feel even more like a one-on-one interaction.
To better understand customer pain points, MailCharts asks, “What is your biggest email marketing challenge?”
3. Follow up with your customers
When it comes to boosting your retention, this is the most important step. Your customer has gone out of their way to give you valuable insights about why they use your product, what challenges they face, and/or what goals you can help them achieve. Now it’s time to show them you care by following up with them directly.
Remember: A little reciprocity can go a long way in building profitable, long-term customer relationships.
If you’re lucky, you just might end up on the phone with one of your customers, getting all of your burning questions answered—like Adam from BetterProposals did with me. 😉
Eloise Shuttleworth, Sr. Customer Success Manager, Autopilot on wowing customers with proactive support
Most people have a love/hate relationship with customer support.
When it’s good, it’s great. You get a quick, informative, helpful response that sets you on the right path and makes you feel good about your investment.
But when it’s bad, it’s awful. In fact, surveys show that 91% of users will take action after a negative customer experience—typically via social media channels, where there’s no option to duck and take cover.
Here’s the good news: Awful customer support experiences are preventable, and the great experience we’re all striving for is well within reach.
Enter proactive support—a strategy that focuses on solving customer problems before they happen.
Proactive support journeys take mere minutes to set up, but effectively reduce your number of support tickets, drive customer engagement, and increase word-of-mouth-referrals.
Here’s Autopilot’s proactive support journey:
Within two weeks of creating this journey, emails were sent to 96 people who searched our Zendesk support page. Of those, 61 opened it (63.5% open rate) and 25 replied (26% reply rate). While 14 couldn’t find the information they needed, two confirmed that they found what they were looking for, four wanted to set up a demo call to learn more about Autopilot, and five wanted to know if Autopilot had a particular feature.
The feedback we gathered from this process was invaluable. It helped us make many articles more clear, and motivated us to add several new articles to our knowledge base. It also enabled us to start conversations with leads and gather product feedback that might have otherwise been missed.
How we created an automated proactive support journey
1. Set up a smart segment within Autopilot
To identify contacts who’ve searched our Zendesk support portal, we created a smart segment that automatically captures anyone who visits this page: https://autopilothq.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/search
2. Created a new journey in Autopilot and added a smart segment trigger
After creating a new journey, we added a smart segment trigger and selected the “Zendesk – Visited Search” smart segment created in step one.
When configuring the shape, we clicked “Add contacts that enter this segment in the future”.
3. Added a send Slack message action shape to notify our team
We like to keep our finger on the pulse, which is why we set up a custom Slack notification. Now each time a contact searches Zendesk, we get notified immediately.
4. Added a 30-minute delay, followed by a send email action shape
To avoid emailing the contact too quickly, but still reach them while their question was top of mind, we added a 30-minute delay after the trigger.
Then we sent the contact a personalized email, asking if they found what they were looking for.
We configured the email so it wouldn’t be sent again if they came back another day and performed the same search. After all, we don’t want to be too pushy.
5. Published the journey
Once all the shapes had been configured, all that was left to do was hit publish!
Claire Suellentrop, former Director of Marketing, Calendly on healing the pain of monthly payments
Smart marketers know annual subscribers remain customers longer than monthly subscribers.
Why? Because every 30 days, monthly subscribers feel another hit to their credit card—another reminder that they’re spending money. If that payment doesn’t coincide with a decent return on investment (ROI), they’re eventually going to see that charge on their credit card statement and say, “This just isn’t worth paying for over and over again. I’m canceling.”
So, what’s a SaaS team to do (apart from building a high-ROI product, of course)? Prevent successful customers from feeling that monthly hit. Move them to your annual payment plan, where they’ll only be reminded they’re spending money once a year.
How to get customers to switch from your monthly plan to your annual plan:
1. Wait to suggest the switch until your customers reach key milestones
If your pricing structure is like most SaaS companies’, your monthly plan probably costs more (over the course of a year) than your annual plan. But that monthly plan also comes with a very enticing perk for brand new users: no scary commitment.
The thing is, we don’t like to pony up money for things we don’t feel immediate value from. That’s why we’re willing to pay more for the freedom to leave when we please. So, before nudging a customer to subscribe to an annual plan, make sure they’ve seen decent ROI.
Meditation app Headspace uses this tactic well. Here’s their email prompting me to become an annual user:
Notice how they waited to send this email until after I’d meditated for 80 minutes (i.e., eight 10-minute sessions). By that point, the app had helped me begin 8 days with a sense of calm and focus. Because I’d experienced its value, I was happy to pay a bigger lump sum to save money on something I knew I’d keep using all year.
2. Get them excited—and a liiiiittle bit anxious.
Once your customer has felt success with your product—and is, therefore, less likely to fear long-term commitment—it’s time to get them excited about making the switch. To do this, leverage these two proven tactics:
1. Emphasize the money they’ll save
2. Create a sense of urgency
When nudging your customer to switch to your annual plan, lead with the benefit: They’ll save money if they switch! They’re going to get all your awesome product, for less! After they’ve seen value, this is a powerful motivator.
The other half of the equation is a time limit. When you impose a deadline, the urgency principle kicks in, increasing the odds of customers switching right away, rather than waiting around to think rationally about the decision.
Alexa Hubley, Customer Marketing Strategist, Unbounce on calling your customers by name
Listen up! Destiny’s Child can teach you a lesson in personalization.
Beyond being the song with the most grammy awards won for the former R&B girl group, Destiny’s Child’s (RIP) Say My Name also offers a special lesson for marketers: If you want to get your customer’s attention… start by saying their name.
The data backs this up, too. According to a 2016 report from Accenture, 56% of consumers say they’re more likely to do business with retailers that recognize them by name. Combine that with the findings from this Magnetic/MyBuys survey—which found that customers actually don’t mind sharing personal information with retailers because it gives them a more personal shopping experience—and you know you’re on the right track.
Here at Unbounce, we take data and Destiny’s Child pretty seriously. So we decided to sprinkle our customers’ first names throughout a recent campaign, aimed at enticing them to move to annual billing.
The results? Our conversion rates jumped from 2% to 10%. 😲
How we stepped up our personalization game:
1. Added customers’ first names to the subject line or body copy (or both)
To start, we added our customers’ first names to the subject line or body copy (or both) of every email we sent for the campaign. Since we collect this information when a customer signs up for Unbounce, it’s easily added through a personalization token from within our messaging platform.
2. Added customers’ first names to our video thumbnail
As you can see, we also added their first names to the thumbnail image for the video embedded in the email. We did that by following these steps.
At 22%, our click-through rate for this email was the highest of the whole campaign. Our video engagement rates ran from 78% to 86%, which is at the high-end of the industry average according to Vidyard.
3. Added customers’ first names to our landing pages
Since our email’s call to action (CTA) linked customers to specialized Unbounce landing pages with unique offers, we used Dynamic Text Replacement (an Unbounce power feature) to swap the copy on our landing pages with our target keyword (in this case, our customers’ first names).
Clair Byrd, Head of Global Enablement, Twilio on providing real-time customer support via SMS
Rethinking the way you reach and engage your customers can help prevent feelings of frustration when they’re trying to get in touch with you. One great way to keep your customers happy is to give them an easy, contextual way to get help when they need it.
Enter SMS messaging.
When given the choice between calling and texting with a support agent, 64% of consumers said they’d prefer to receive support via text message. Plus, when brands proactively reach out via SMS, the customer generally sees and opens the message within 2.5 minutes.
By enabling 2-way SMS messaging, you can authentically engage with customers who’re experiencing problems in real-time.
How to enable 2-way SMS conversations with your customers:
1. Connect your custom Twilio account
Once you’ve logged into Autopilot, click on “Settings” and then “App Connections”. Next, select Twilio and then click on “Connect custom account”.
Benefits of connecting your custom Twilio account include using a custom phone number to send SMS messages, receiving replies from your customers, and getting technical support from their team.
2. Select your custom phone number
Once you’ve connected your Twilio account, the next step is to select from the phone numbers you’ve purchased or ported to Twilio within each send SMS action before publishing your journey.
3. Forward replies to a customer support specialist
Log into your Twilio account, then follow the steps under “If a contact replies to an SMS, will I receive it?” to enable 2-way SMS messaging.
Kaysie Garza, Digital Copywriter, InVision on traveling back in time to delight your customers
Social media is great for real-time engagement and breaking updates. But it’s also a log of your interactions with your customers. Twitter, in particular, is like a time capsule—forever preserving customers’ questions, frustrations, and sources of inspiration.
According to a report by Incite, 71% of people who experience positive social care are likely to recommend that brand.
With this in mind, InVision’s product marketing, social media marketing, and customer support teams came together to implement a unique customer retention tactic. When a new InVision feature was introduced, our social media manager individually replied to years-old tweets—letting users know the feature they had once requested had arrived.
This tactic was effective because it surprised and delighted customers, while meeting a documented need. By personally following up with each user, it also made them feel heard and remembered.
How we delighted users by following up on feature requests
To make this possible, feature requests were tracked by the support team as they came in. Months later, once the feature had been created and launched, a product marketing manager alerted InVision’s social gatekeeper, who was able to follow up with each user on the list.
Alli Blum, Founder, How Do They Get Customers on writing emails your customers actually want to read
“Stop sending boring, self-centered, and overwhelming update emails—and your customers will stop ignoring them.”
You listen to your customers. You analyze your data. You segment your users, build the features they want, and offer the education they need. You’ve done everything “right”—and your customers still ignore your updates. Why?
Like a well-crafted but poorly told joke, the problem is in your delivery. When update emails are all about you, when they don’t explain why the update matters, and/or when you include 15 updates in a single email, your customers’ eyes glaze over and they bounce out of their inbox and over to CNN.
To keep your reader’s attention and, more importantly, actually get people to use the thing you made for them, you need to send emails that continue the conversation already happening in your reader’s head.
How to write update emails your customers actually want to read:
1. Determine one goal for each email
If you send an update email that announces a new feature, shares a new blog post, links to a recent case study, announces your new funding, and highlights your press coverage, you’ll overwhelm your readers. Asking people to take you up on multiple unique actions causes enough decision fatigue to make most people give up and do nothing.
Instead, pick one feature launch, one blog post, or one “ultimate guide” that you want one segment of customers to use, read, or download in each email. In conversion copywriting, this technique is called the “Rule of One”: write one message for one reader and give them one offer.
When Whirlpool reduced the number of unique CTAs to a single CTA, they saw a 42% increase in clickthroughs.
2. Listen to your customers
Before you sit down to write, look for the answer to the question your customers will ask as they read your email: “What’s in this for me?” If you’re building features and publishing content based on what your customers have told you they want, you’re in luck: your customers have already shared it with you.
Sift through your support tickets to discover the reason customers demanded a specific feature or the reasons they gave for wanting to be able to do something with their data in your app. Collect the exact words and phrases your customers use. This is called “voice of customer” data (VOC) and will form the basis for your conversion-optimized retention email. To gather and organize your VOC data, use a writing tool like Airstory.
3. Use your customers’ words to join the conversation happening inside their head
The very best SaaS apps begin their update emails by giving readers a reason to care. They continue the conversation happening in their readers’ heads and then introduce their new Thing That Will Change Everything.
Before you get to the part that’s about your product, start with the part that’s about your customer. Talk about what’s going on in your customer’s world using the language they use. Describe their problem, their “before” state of being, or their fears. Then present your new feature or piece of content as the solution to that particular problem.
Here’s an example of a customer-focused email from Sumo:
Nadya Khoja, Head of Marketing, Venngage on re-engaging inactive users with webinars
Venngage is an infographic maker, so naturally we run webinars that are completely focused on making and using infographics.
But every now and then, we present a webinar on a topic that isn’t directly related to infographics. Instead, we focus on content marketing or another less-related topic, but find a way to incorporate infographics (our core offering) into that presentation.
For example, we recently gave a training session on the principles of viral content—and guess what? A lot of the examples we referenced of content that went viral were infographics!
We promoted this webinar to 2 segments of marketers: one was a cohort of active users, and one was a cohort of users who hadn’t been seen in over 7 months. Not only did we reactivate 9% of our users from that inactive cohort, but 3% ended up converting to paid plans!
By showing the value of our product from a new angle, we appealed to our users in a way they may not have assumed was possible before. Plus, we were able to easily test a strategy that otherwise might have been missed.
How to re-engage inactive users with webinars
1. Brainstorm webinar ideas that are loosely related to your business
You’ll first need to come up with an idea for your webinar. Ideally, you want to select a topic that’s broad enough to attract your target audience, while still being related to your core offering.
For example, Autopilot could present a webinar on designing a wow customer experience—a topic that’s relevant to founders, executives, and marketers. While the webinar wouldn’t specifically focus on customer journey marketing automation software, it may include cutting-edge strategies that have been implemented in Autopilot and/or be organized around Autopilot’s customer journey marketing framework.
2. Promote your webinar to inactive users (and churned customers)
When it comes time to promote your webinar, target both inactive users and churned customers. To do so, create a smart segment in Autopilot and then use it as the trigger for your promotional journey.
Product Hunt & GrowthHackers Moderator and SaaS Consultant Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré on creating a customer-centric community for your product
Building a community around your product can be both a retention tactic and longer term customer retention strategy.
They’re easy to create—as simple as a setting up a Slack channel or Facebook group. Plus, they’re a powerful asset not only for customers, but also for your marketing, support, success, and product teams.
Above all else, they’re a way to prove that you really are customer-centric—because the whole point is that you’re right there to answer their questions, share ideas with them, listen to their suggestions, and give them a place to communicate with each other about how they’re using your product.
ProdPad has been having great success with their Slack channel. Their UX team uses it to share mockups and sketches for things they’re working on, find suitable users for research and interviews, and collect voice-of-customer data. But that’s nothing compared to what it has done for their customer retention.
As ProdPad’s Head of Growth Nandini Jammi notes, “Slack has quietly become our strongest retention channel at ProdPad.”
“As time passed, we started seeing a pattern we really liked: Customers who join our Slack community were not cancelling their ProdPad plans at all. In fact, 99% of our cancellations were (and still are) coming from customers who weren’t part of our community.”
But they’re not seeing results because someone took 5 minutes to set up a Slack channel. They’re seeing results because of how they’re using it: They’re committed to transparency, have a policy of “never saying no” to a customer, and log every single conversation as customer feedback because it’s important to them.
“We can handle all kinds of feedback because we engage with it and actively work to find our solutions for our customers.”
How to create a customer-centric product community
1. Establish your philosophical framework
You need every member of your team to understand what your community is—and, just as importantly, what it isn’t. ProdPad’s community works because they’re 100% committed to transparency and welcome the customer into their process. Yes, you’re doing this to drive retention and referrals. But if you aren’t primarily doing this to help your customers succeed with your product, you won’t achieve either of those outcomes.
Another question to ask yourself is, what you want to accomplish with your community? Do you want to increase retention by supporting existing customers? Or, do you want to create a space that helps you attract and acquire ideal customers? For example, Pieter Levels, founder of NomadList, created a Slack community that was only loosely tied to NomadList, but cleverly targeted ideal users. It now has nearly 10,000 members, 3,000 of whom are active on a monthly basis.
Fun fact: Growth Hackers began as a community for Qualaroo, and Inbound.org began as a community for HubSpot. Don’t be surprised if your community takes on a life of its own!
2. Choose your platform
The type of community you choose depends on your intended users and your bandwidth. B2B SaaS companies might find that their target customers are already on Slack, making it a natural platform for their branded community. Other demographics barely know what Slack is, but are on Facebook all the time.
If it aligns with your goals and you’re able to allocate the resources, you can even develop your own community and give it a home on your website. If you go down that path, you’ll reap the rewards of increased brand awareness, SEO, and customer loyalty.
As with any kind of marketing, go where your target users already are.
3. Set up your community
To create a community on Slack or Facebook, follow these instructions:
If you plan to develop your own community, take inspiration from these DIY communities:
4. Set expectations
Part of customer success is setting expectations—and you’ll want to set expectations with your customers early on when creating a product community.
The expectations you’ll need to set will differ from platform to platform. For example, Facebook groups benefit from having a set of conduct rules pinned to the top of the page. That way people know what is and isn’t allowed. (Hint: Be prepared to enforce those rules by booting people out.)
Slack presents other challenges. Because Slack enables instant messaging, people tend to expect instant responses. If you have the bandwidth to respond right away, good for you! If you can’t, do like this company did and say so.
“To counter unrealistic availability expectations, we laid out a couple of ground rules together with our clients, such as nobody needs to always answer right away. Although more direct than email, everybody should see Slack as an asynchronous means of communication,” wrote Christian Weyer, Partner, Crispy Mountain.
5. Promote your community
Slack communities and Facebook groups both require users to be “invited” (or at least approved) by admins. The easiest way to discover users to invite is to promote a signup form.
Typeform is an easy, free service that creates simple forms. You’ll only need a few fields: name, email (so you can send the invite), links to online profiles, and why the person wants to join. Check out this guide to integrating Typeform and Slack.
#ProTip from Jes Kirkwood: If you’re developing an online community specifically for demand generation (as opposed to a customer-centric community), ask for referrals in your “request an invite” survey. Giving each incoming member an opportunity to nominate three new members via email ensures your community will grow fast, while reducing your workload.
Jes Kirkwood, Content & Community Marketing Manager, Autopilot on the right way to reward your ambassadors
One sure-fire way to grow customer loyalty is to reward customers for engaging in behaviors that help grow your business.
Because these behaviors benefit your business, you can afford to reward your customers for engaging in them. Suitable rewards include company gear or swag, loyalty points, discounts and coupon codes, and other perks.
For an early-stage business that relies on sponsorship revenue, increasing their subscriber list is a clear win. After all, the more subscribers they attract, the more money they can charge.
How to reward your ambassadors (the right way)
1. Identify the behavior you want to increase
The first step is to figure out what action you want customers to take.
Here are some examples of desirable actions:
- making another purchase
- following your brand on social media
- sharing product pages with friends and family
- publishing a product review
- spreading positive word of mouth online
The action you choose will depend on your goal. For example, if you’re looking to grow brand awareness, driving referrals is your best bet. Encourage customers to refer friends and family via social media, email, or SMS.
2. Incentivize the behavior with a reward
Once you’ve decided on your desired action, it’s time to select an appropriate reward.
Continuing with the same example, what offer would incentivize your customer to refer their friends or family? Is it a discount or coupon code for your product or service, some enticing company swag, or perhaps a gift card for their favorite coffee shop?
Here’s a great example from HotelTonight:
The customer gets $25 off their next stay, and the person they refer gets the same—a tasty incentive to test their service next time they need a hotel.
3. Write a compelling message
When it comes to boosting retention, this is arguably the most important step.
You could cut right to the chase and present the offer. In fact, you’d probably earn a decent number of referrals. But you’d be missing out on the opportunity to show customers you value them.
Instead, write a compelling message that emphasizes why they’re being given a reward.
This email from Harry’s nails it:
When crafting reward emails, many brands come off as me-focused. It’s as if they’re saying, “Do this for me, and I’ll give you that.” 😉
Kids experience that kind of subtle manipulation on a daily basis. It’s an economic exchange—something that’s purely transactional.
In contrast, Harry’s email is you-focused. “You mean a lot to us” is the first sentence (and most dominant text) in the email. The email then goes on to show gratitude to the customer by saying thanks. Finally, the customer is offered a gift: two razors to send to friends.
Both companies achieve the same result: an influx of referrals. But unlike the me-focused brand, Harry’s earns the customer’s loyalty, too.