How to Run Customer Exit Surveys to Improve Product Retention


No matter how great your product is, it is very likely that 40-60% of your free trial users never see the product a second time.Samuel Hulick, Author of ‘The Elements of User Onboarding’

Whether you’ve found product-market fit or not, your business will be confronted daily with:

  • Visitors coming to your site and leaving;
  • Users signing up for your product without using it;
  • Paying customers churning.

Although these 3 situations are completely different, they have one thing in common: they’re great opportunities to learn how to improve your product and tighten your product-market fit.

For this post, we’ll focus on customer churn (e.g. churners), but learning from all 3 situations is essential to make your business grow.

Why Customer Exit Surveys Matter

There are countless reasons why visitors cancel their subscriptions.

Maybe…

  • They found another product that better matches their needs;
  • They’re only using a fifth of your product functionalities;
  • Your product is slow and buggy;
  • Your support can’t answer their questions;
  • Their business has cashflow problems and no longer can afford the subscription;
  • Your user or economic buyer has left the organization;
  • The credit card associated with their account expired;
  • Your product has become too expensive;
  • Etc.

These situations can be handled differently, yet they all lead to churn.

Sometimes your product is at fault, and sometimes there’s nothing you could have possibly done to prevent the cancellation.

Customer exit surveys help you gain valuable insights into how well your product meets the goals and requirements of your customers; they help you prevent future cancellations.

How to Recruit Participants for Customer Exit Surveys

It’s notoriously hard to recruit customer exit survey participants.

Because they’ve already expressed dissatisfaction with your product (they left!), a lot of churners won’t want to engage further with your team. Chances are, the participants you’ll get will be either early adopters or the angry-type. It’s something to keep in mind when analyzing survey data.

The best time to ask churners to take your survey is at the time of cancellation – when they’re still thinking about your product – as part of your downgrade flow or via email.

You’ll get the best response rate by asking the following question during the downgrade flow:

“What’s the single biggest reason for you cancelling?”

  • [  ]  I don’t understand how to use your product
  • [  ]  It’s too expensive
  • [  ]  I found another product that I like better
  • [  ]  I don’t use it enough
  • [  ]  Some features I need are missing

If email is the best option for you, you’ll want to contact churners right after cancellation with a low-friction exit survey.

Some businesses incentivize their churners with gift cards (e.g. Amazon gift cards) to increase the number of responses they get, but this is often unnecessary, and can lead to biases in data collection.

How to Analyze Customer Exit Surveys

Once you know why your customers are leaving, it’s not hard to realize that some cancellations could have been prevented.

However, to truly understand what the data means for your product, you have to segment responses using key criteria:

  • Subscription plans (e.g. Basic vs Pro, Monthly vs Yearly);
  • Personas;
  • Product engagement;
  • Subscription length (First month vs Second year);
  • Feature set used;
  • Etc.

There are usually patterns to be found, but they won’t be apparent without segmentation.

These patterns will help refine your customer success, onboarding, pricing, product, etc.

Customer Exit Survey Interviews

To dig deeper into these patterns, I recommend conducting Jobs to Be Done interviews.

Contrary to customer discovery interviews, Jobs to Be Done interviews focus on a single story. In this case, it’s the story of what led your users to stop using your product and start using another. Because of this, these interviews are often call “Switch” interviews.

Here are a few customer exit survey questions I like to use in these interviews:

SAMPLE QUESTIONS WHAT IT TELLS YOU
  • Why did you initially sign up for [PRODUCT]? Did you evaluate other tools?
  • What was your previous experience with [SOLUTION SPACE]?
These questions help you understand your customer’s expectations coming in, and what convinced them to give your product a try. They help you understand whether the customer was a good prospect to begin with.
  • What were you using [PRODUCT] for? How often were you using it?
  • When was the first time you had the first thought that maybe [PRODUCT] wasn’t going to work? Or realized that you weren’t using it?
These questions help you understand the Job they were hiring your product for, and what sparked their cancellation.
  • What happened the last time that you used [PRODUCT] for [JOB TO BE DONE]?
  • What happened the first time you had [JOB TO BE DONE] that you didn’t use [PRODUCT] for?
  • Why did you cancel the day that you cancelled? Why that day, and not the day before or after?
  • What are you using now? How do you feel it compares to [PRODUCT]?
  • What happened the day you started to move to the new [PRODUCT]? Why did you start that day and not after?

These questions help you understand whether the customers are actually better off with a different solution. It also gives you good insights into the actual switch.

Note: if they’re not using a replacement product or just not using anything, it might mean that they perceived your product as a nice-to-have.

  • What would it take for you to reconsider subscribing to [PRODUCT]?
  • How much do you feel [PRODUCT] improves [JOB TO BE DONE]?
  • What is the biggest benefit of [PRODUCT]?
Bonus questions: These questions can help you evaluate the perception of value and benefits of your product.

To make sure you capture valid information, you’ll want to brush up on the code of conduct for customer interviews.

A Customer Exit Survey Template

There are several customer exit survey examples available online. To help you get started capturing cancellation reasons and Jobs to Be Done, we made our customer exit survey script available:

Get Started Fast – Download my Customer Exit Interview Template for Free

More on Customer Exit Surveys


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