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The Root of the Retention Problem: How to Get the Qualitative Data You Need to Understand and Stop Churn

Alli Blum

Tweeting mini-lessons on copywriting, onboarding, and customer research. Free onboarding intro course here: https://alliblum.com/onboarding-intro-course/

New Jersey
Alli Blum

If you've gotten a survey from a healthcare professional under the guise of understanding the patient experience, you've likely felt very frustrated and helpless. If there were some serious problems, these forms don't give you an opportunity to communicate that until the very end.


Most businesses don't talk to their customers.

Multiple choice surveys give you misleading data that you can't use to address churn. What qualitative data should you solicit to understand exactly why people cancel? In this talk, we'll discuss how to gather, organize, and act on this data, even if you don't have time to interview 10 customers a week.

Doing the homework from How To Use Jobs To Be Done To Perfect Your Positioning is easy to slip into a "someday/maybe" project.

It's important, though. If you don't understand why your users are leaving, you don't know what problems to address.

A multiple choice post-breakup survey for relationships and business gives you false confidence and likely won't reveal the actual reasons people broke up with you.

If you do not know why something is happening, you must adopt the tools of the investigator. For the quantifier, that's a multiple choice survey. If you give someone a finite set of reasons why they canceled, you'll get a set of finite data. This will lead to false confidence and things that don't help the problem.

How do you solve this? Ask open-ended questions.

Voice of Customer Data

Voice of customer data is the raw, unedited, non-summarized words your customers use to describe their challenges, ask for help, or sing your praises.

To use your voice of customer data:

  1. Collect it from support chats, customer emails, Twitter conversations, and reviews.

You can also ask for feedback in an email like this:

Hi #{userName},

Thank you for being a #{company} customer. My
 team and I appreciate your business.

If you have a moment, I'd love to know: why did
 you cancel?

My team and I are always working on making ${company} better,
and your feedback will be extremely helpful.

You can hit reply and your response will come
 straight to me. I read every response.

Thanks again,
  1. Organize it once your responses come in into "us problems," "them problems," or "missed connection problems."

Product problems are things like not enough support, crashes, lost data, and missing or broken features. Customer-centric problems are things like the boss said no, I outgrew the product, or I don't have time.

  1. Share it by giving it to your entire team.

Collect your responses in a single place, like Slack or a google doc or Airtable. Blum really likes Enjoy HQ for higher-level data collection.


Quantify Your Data

Quantified data is actionable. If most of your customers cancel because it's missing a specific feature, it makes it clear that it's important to implement that feature.

If people are canceling from your product because a particular part of the user interface is bad, you what to fix.


What do you think about forcing users to give you feedback before they can cancel?

I would not force anyone to do anything as a matter of principle.

We've had four or five different variations of the question "why did you cancel" and everyone just says "we didn't need it anymore." What's the next step?

Try following up on those by inviting people to an interview.

What if too many people are canceling and you can't respond to all of them?

At scale, you might want to have a dedicated person for handling feedback.

How does this apply to one-time sales? I get feedback sometimes on why someone isn't buying.

Another way to get this data is to ask people who did buy what was going on in their world that led them to buy, and if there is anything they thought they were getting but did not get.

Is there a way to gather this information before the patient dies?

The more time and attention you have to investigate, the better. You can look at support tickets people have a week before they cancel.

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