Lessons From Offline Retail To Help You Retain Your SaaS Clients

by Richard


How does your SaaS address customer retention?

If you are an average company, your churn rate probably sits between 5% and 7% annually. Less than this and you are among the high-achievers, but if your numbers are any higher, you are heading towards trouble.

Lincoln Murphy notes in SaaS Growth Strategies that 30% of SaaS companies surveyed had an unacceptable churn rate. There are also a surprising number that don’t give churn a lot of attention, focusing instead on strategies to bring in new business.

Given that it tends to be easier to keep a current customer rather than obtain a new one, you should be paying attention to retention!

Business owners often complain that customers aren’t forthcoming about why they cancel, but whether customers stay or go often boils down to similar reasons customers leave any offline business. Here we check out some lessons that SaaS companies can apply from the offline retail world…

What should you be asking to retain more customers? Click here for our free guide

Lessons from offline retailers

Whether a customer sticks with you or cancels boils down to one of two things:

  1. You have a product which provides them with demonstrable value.
  2. Your customer service

Assuming that your product is awesome and answers the needs of the customer, we will focus on elements that set companies apart for their customer service…

Acknowledging the customer

Most of us like to be acknowledged when we walk into a retail store. It communicates to us that the store values our business and that there is assistance immediately available if needed.

Perhaps it is a large store and we are looking to quickly grab one specific item, or we have a question about a product we already bought; we appreciate having someone available to quickly answer our questions.

The same can be applied to the service on your website. A greeting message showing where to get help is appreciated by the visitor who doesn’t want to spend a long time clicking around.

Real-time customer support is on the rise online too, with Zendesk’s Q1 2015 Benchmark Report finding that live chat provides higher customer satisfaction than any other service channel.


They also report that 30 days after implementing live chat, help ticket volumes from webforms plummet, suggesting customers prefer the live chat option rather than waiting for an email response.


A Kissmetrics article points out that live chat is an effective way of gaining direct access to a customer’s pain points. This puts your company in a better position to answer them before they silently cancel.

By implementing real-time customer support you immediately acknowledge the customer and make it easy for them to get the help they need. Just remember to use it wisely! Much like we prefer not to be followed around a brick-and-mortar store while browsing, it gets annoying on websites if your chat keeps popping up and visitors have to keep closing it before they continue…

Taking care of problems

When you walk into a retail store with some kind of problem with your purchase, usually the first customer service person you see can help you, or the next person they refer you to can.

Wordstream reported on a Zendesk survey which produced the following stats:


You’ve probably faced the frustration of repeating yourself to multiple customer service reps before – it usually happens when you are being bounced around on the phone.

How well does your company handle customer issues? The customer should only have to explain their problem once to get it taken care of. Even if your customer service reps need to refer up, they should be introducing the customer and their issue – it’s a basic element of good customer service.

Recognizing loyal customers

How well do you look after your VIPs? Your local cafė gives them a free coffee for every ten or so they buy, while other retailers might offer a percentage discount or cash back for being a loyal customer.

People like to be recognized and loyalty programs tap into that need. A well-administered loyalty program has been shown to work.

Jeremy Smith writes in analysis of effective loyalty programs that they must be simple to enter and understand, provide truly valuable rewards, and require the continual participation of the customer.

It doesn’t have to complicated – perhaps your SaaS could offer an annual discount after 12 months of continuous subscription, free upgrades, or even discounts or vouchers toward complementary services.

Measuring customer satisfaction

What questions should you ask to retain customers? Get our guide here…

Businesses that stay ahead of the curve are tuned in to the sentiment of their customers. Retailers such as Lowe’s and Verizon measure the satisfaction of their customers by surveying them and keeping track of customer growth and churn.

Another important factor that takes into account those who dislike surveys is making it simple for customers to leave feedback.  In a Forbes article it is pointed out that many consumers have “survey fatigue” now and are reluctant to complete them. You will get better information from those who are freely willing to give it (rather than trying to incentivize them), so clearly showing a simple channel for feedback may work better for many companies.

Either way, gathering actionable feedback is key. One feature of Retained gives you the ability to easily measure how customers feel with Sentiments. They will occasionally be asked how they feel about your app, can pick an appropriate emoticon and have the option of typing in some feedback.


Store environment

Think about what you like about your favorite offline store; is it organized and welcoming? Easy to find things? The staff is knowledgeable?

Environment plays a big part in why we prefer one store over another, and all of those things are key components.

If you apply this to your own “storefront” online, how welcoming is it for your customers? They should be able to:

  • Understand the language you use (you need to be talking in their language!).
  • Easily find what they are looking for (you use simple navigation and menus).
  • Be able to connect easily with someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Your online storefront is part of how you serve your current (and future) customers. Just like any offline store, the environment has a documented effect on consumer behavior. A research paper on the online shopping environment points out that excellent website design adds value to the customer experience and has a positive correlation with their level of satisfaction.

Final Thoughts

Taking good care of customers is actually not that complicated, yet a large number of SaaS businesses are churning at a dangerously high rate because they’re not doing so well on the customer service front.

The reasons that customers stay or go tend to be the same reasons you would choose to stay or go at your local offline store. Customer service on any platform has the same basic requirements.

If your SaaS acknowledges customers appropriately, delivers demonstrable value, measures customer sentiment and stays on top of the numbers, and creates an inviting environment where customers can easily find what they need, you are laying the foundation for improved customer retention.

Kill your churn. Keep more of your customers. Get an invite to Retained.

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