A customer who threatens to churn is a Customer Success Manager’s worst nightmare. Especially when the threat blindsides you.

Your heart sinks and your manager might ask “How did we not know about this before?” or “Where else do you think this might be happening in your accounts?
There are a few ways you can react to this situation:

  • Hide under your desk – this is NOT recommended.
  • Find out exactly what is going on with your at-risk customer.
  • Escalate the issue to your manager or executive team.

As my business partner Nils likes to say: Customer Success is the lifeblood of a SaaS business. When there’s an emergency, it’s your responsibility to be first on the scene with first aid. We encourage you to take ownership of your at-risk customer and revive the relationship.

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In this post, we reveal 4 proven questions that will help you rescue customers from churning. These questions have been field-tested with large enterprise accounts.

As a Customer Success Manager, you’re hardwired to solve people’s problems. Your natural instinct is to dive right into solution mode and fix any problem you come across. But when the stakes are high, you need to shift down a few gears. Your first task is to discover everything a customer is threatening to churn and create a plan to save them. You can only achieve that by asking the right questions.

“What has changed in the last few months?”

This question is a powerful diagnostic tool.

Don’t try to defend a poor customer experience or glaring gaps in your product. Let your customer vent and pour their heart out to you. You’ll discover a new perspective of why they’re feeling so frustrated. To keep them talking, ask subtle variations of “What else has changed?” or “Tell me more about that…”

Pay close attention to the specific language they use to explain their frustration. Capture their words verbatim in your notes. Later on, when you get into solution mode, these notes will be critical.

Your customer should talk 90% of the time. You’ll be busy making a list of their frustrations, complaints and concerns.

“What impact is this having on you and your business?”

It’s time to identify, rank and clarify each problem your customer is facing. This question will help you determine the urgency of each issue, too. Make a commitment to share this feedback with your product management and marketing teams.

There’s a big difference between a pesky problem and a showstopper. A small issue will have a simple work-around. A major issue might cost a customer thousands of dollars or dozens of staff hours each month. It’s your job to separate the signal from the noise.

“What would an ideal solution look like to you?”

This question creates a bridge from the past to the present.

Take your customer’s point of view and identify what it would take for them to get back on board with your product. You can provide specific prompts to customers by using the list of concerns you created. Repackage their concerns and the relative priority to help keep the conversation on track.

As you dive deeper, leverage your product knowledge to set your customer’s expectations. Some solutions will be workable, but others will be a stretch. Do not rule any requests out at this stage. Instead, get crystal clear on their requirements so you can create a plan to deliver them.

Let’s imagine a customer is screaming out for a product feature that you know you can’t deliver. Even though the solution may not be obvious yet, start thinking about how you could solve the problem. You might need to coordinate an internal team or create a project, so don’t rule anything out yet.

“If we can resolve this, how would that affect your view of our product and service?”

This question clarifies the potential of maintaining a relationship with you.

Remember – there are significant switching costs for changing to a replacement product or service. Your customer will need to deal with many issues that will suck up their valuable time and money. In short, its your job to stop your customer from exchanging a minor headache for a migraine.

You can build your customer’s confidence by using subtle nudges. You’re looking for a tiny commitment to this process. Explain how much effort you are going to invest into delivering their ideal solution. Become their champion. Solve their problems. Keep the account. Save the day!

You’ve added 4 powerful questions to your Customer Success quiver:

  • “What has changed in the last few months?”
  • “What impact is this having on you and your business?”
  • “What would an ideal solution look like to you?”
  • “If we can resolve this, how would that affect your view of our product and service?”