Another day, another customer cancellation – but is that a bad thing? Customers cancel subscriptions all the time. Rather than lose sleep over your churn rate, you should leverage a customer exit survey to gain valuable insights.
Your customer exit process should always help you improve customer experience and retention. Here’s how to achieve this.
Back to basics: What is a customer exit survey?
A customer exit survey is a questionnaire given to a customer who has (or is about to) cancel their subscription to your SaaS product. This can be conducted online, via email, or over the telephone.
For many businesses, a customer exit interview is a tick-box exercise, with the results going no further than a colorful graph at the quarterly team meeting.
But, for growth-hungry businesses, the customer exit survey is a unique opportunity to learn about your business from someone who matters.
You stand to gain customer exit survey insights from customers who:
- Thought they needed you, but realized they don’t.
- Does need you, but doesn’t want you (yet).
- Was willing to try you, but left unimpressed.
All of these have great potential to become actionable strategies for your growth, product, and support teams.
The importance of a customer exit survey
Why should you interview someone who doesn’t want your SaaS product, and probably doesn’t have anything nice to say about it?
Criticism can hurt, but it offers valuable feedback on matters such as:
- Product/market fit — Are you targeting the right audience?
- Features — Does your product have the tools people need and want?
- Bugs — Are there any bugs or design flaws that impact usability?
- Support — Are you providing customers with the necessary support for your product?
- Marketing — Does your product marketing match reality?
- Competitors — How do your competitors compare?
Together, these insights can improve your SaaS product, enhance your user experience, and increase retention. In some cases, you may even convince a departing customer to stay, or return after you’ve added certain features.
Remember, this customer is already leaving — asking them a couple of questions upon their departure will only result in the same or a better outcome. You have little to lose, and much to gain.
Tip: The exit survey is also your chance to leave a good impression on a departing customer. According to the peak-end rule in psychology, it’s likely that much of a customer’s lasting impression of your brand will be formed during this final touchpoint.
6 Exit survey questions to ask your churning customers
It’s essential to ask the right questions to get the most out of your customer exit survey.
Before divulging the six best questions to ask in a customer exit survey, let’s first cover the essentials:
- Short surveys get better results. Price Intelligently found that SaaS customer development surveys between one and two minutes in length had a 90%+ response rate.
- Optimize for mobile and desktop. According to Customer Thermometer, 75% of customers complete surveys on their mobile phones.
- Use a mix of open and closed questions. The human attention span is now only eight seconds long — keep people engaged.
Now onto the six essential questions for your customer exit survey.
1) What were the trigger(s) that made you cancel?
Start with the elephant in the room – why they’re canceling.
Customers will tell an average of nine people about a good experience, and an average of 16 about a bad one. By asking them straight away about their experience, they get it off of their chest and feel heard so they’re much more likely to continue the questionnaire.
This is also the most important insight for your business. Understanding why someone wants to leave you can help identify pain points, or resolve the reasons for cancellation. For example, you can explain a misunderstanding or provide extra support.
2) What did you like about the product or service?
Your survey shouldn’t only focus on the negatives. Asking a churning customer what they like about your SaaS product reveals what you’re doing right and should continue to do.
It also reminds hot-headed and reactive customers what they love about your product, which might be all they need to retract their cancellation.
3) What didn’t you like about the product or service?
In most cases, customers will list everything they disliked about the product under “what made you cancel?” However, it’s good to revisit this topic.
Perhaps there were little inconveniences that snowballed into frustration, bugs that prevented operation, or a surly customer service agent who wasn’t helpful. The more information you can gather on existing issues, the more data you’ll have to fuel improvements.
4) What suggestions do you have to improve the product or service?
Customers love putting on their CEO hat to tell you what you could do better. This question can prompt small, but positive adjustments, or even uncover new features and tools that would improve user experience.
You spent a lot of money attracting that customer to your product, so this is one final way to earn something valuable in return.
5) Would you reconsider our product in the future? What would that take?
Sometimes, a cancellation is a simple case of the wrong time, wrong place. Either your SaaS product is too small for a customer’s needs, or their needs are too small for your product.
By identifying customers who would reconsider your product in the future, you can (with their permission) hold onto their details and keep them informed about future product updates, or contact them directly when the product meets their requirements.
6) Who do you think is the ideal customer for our product or service?
Similarly, just because your product doesn’t suit that particular customer doesn’t mean they wouldn’t recommend you to others, given a better fit.
If someone is willing to recommend you elsewhere, you can ask them to leave a testimonial or review for you to use. Not all churn is negative.
Exit survey question bank
If you feel that your churning customers would be willing to answer a few more questions for your brand, here are some that can provide additional insights.
About your competition
- Moving forward, what will you use instead of our product or service?
- How did you find this alternative?
- What do you like better about this alternative?
- Did pricing or features play a larger role in your decision?
About your product
- What were the features of our product or service you used the most?
- How often did you use our product or service?
- Where there any features you rarely used, or didn’t use at all?
- What aspect of our product or service did you find most difficult to use?
- What parts of our product or service were too complex to be useful?
- Did any aspect of our product or service exceed expectations?
- What would you be willing to pay for our product or service?
- How could our pricing be better? (Clearer, more structured, different plans, etc)
About your process
- What parts of our onboarding process were confusing?
- What wasn’t clear from our onboarding that you only discovered later? (Or too late)
- Did you have enough support during your onboarding?
- How do you prefer to be onboarded? (In-app, videos, live demos, guides, etc.)
- How could our invoicing process be better?
About your customer JTBD
- What problems were we able to solve for you?
- What problems were we unable to solve for you?
- What are the metrics for success in the processes you used our product or service for?
- Did how you use our product evolve from what you initially expected?
- If you could describe the ideal customer for our product or service, what would they look like?
About your team
- How often did you contact our customer service team?
- What were the main reasons you contacted them?
- Were they able to resolve your issues quickly?
- Was there anything our team did that you didn’t appreciate?
- How can we improve our customer service?
- Were there any examples of great service from our team?
About your sales and marketing
- Did you have any expectations for our product or service that simply weren’t met? What are they?
- Where did the expectations come from? (A sales call, a blog or brochure?)
- Was there any information you feel was missing or hidden during the sales process?
- What did you like about our sales team?
- What did you dislike about our sales process?
- Where do you research the products or services you purchase?
- Was there any information you felt was missing from our website?
- Are you signed up for our newsletter? What convinced you to register?
- Will you continue reading our blogs or newsletter?
The questions above can help shed further insight into why your customers are churning, and how you can prevent or even reverse churn.
3 Free customer exit survey tools
Now that we’ve gone over the different questions you can ask, let’s talk about how to build your customer exit survey. There are several free tools to consider, and I’ve listed three popular options below.
With a free basic plan of SurveyMonkey, you can create as many surveys as you’d like, collect up to 40 responses, and ask up to 10 questions per survey. SurveyMonkey supports different question formats, such as multi-select, dropdowns, and short or long paragraph answers. Sign up here.
Typeform’s free plan includes unlimited surveys with up to 10 questions per Typeform and 10 responses per month. Typeform is best known for its slideshow-like surveys that ask questions one at a time, with the option to use logic to personalize the experience to the respondent. Sign up here.
3) Google Forms
Google Forms do not limit the number of responses or questions you can post, but your participants must have a Gmail account in order to access the survey. You can choose from dropdowns, short answers, and other form fields. Get started here.
How to increase participation in your customer exit survey
It’s worth noting that just because you build a survey doesn’t mean people will take the time to answer it. Think about all the times that you’ve deleted or ignored a “Request for feedback” email. That’s the same sentiment you risk when you send out your customer exit surveys.
To get churning customers to answer your survey, you’ll need to give them a compelling reason to share their thoughts and make it as simple as possible to do so.
1) Make it easy for them to respond with no strings attached
Let customers know right off the bat why you’re asking for their feedback. There’s a chance that customers are avoiding your requests for feedback because they don’t want to give you false hope or open the door to unwanted sales conversations. I’ve responded to one too many “We’d love to hear how we’re doing” emails, only to get pitched an upsell or dropped into a 10-email automation sequence that ended up in my spam folder.
Make it clear to your recipients that there are no strings attached and no sales involved; the number-one purpose of the survey is to help improve your product or service. You could even share an anecdote of how you’ve taken action on feedback in the past.
2) Offer something in return
Customers who take just a few minutes to answer your exit survey are providing your company with actionable insights and business-guiding data. That is valuable — but so is their time. There are a million other things they could do with those few minutes, so you should consider offering an incentive as a thank you for filling out your survey.
For example, G2 has a program for charitable giving where they donate $10 when you write a review.
G2 also regularly offers incentives as a thank you for leaving software reviews, as reflected in their community guidelines.
Both of these tactics can be applied to giving honest feedback in a customer exit survey. You’ll just have to make it clear within your email or survey that respondents are eligible for those thank you tokens.
3) Get key churning accounts on the phone
Sometimes a call is more effective than an email. A customer may be more likely to accept a quick five to 10-minute call if they hate to write, or simply find it more convenient. By having one-on-one conversations, you can ask more follow-up questions as well. It’s a win-win.
That said, it may be impractical for your team to call up every churning customer. If that’s the case, you can reserve calls for large, important accounts.
One of the keys here is to focus on discovering why they are leaving, instead of arguing over why they should stay.
Here’s a great automated email I received from Heap after answering a quick feedback survey. It included the rating I gave them (reasoning being the tool worked well for one client and not for another), and invited me to book some time to chat with their director of customer success.
This is a good strategy, because after taking the pulse of their users, it gets customers who rated them so-so on the phone before they churn.
4) A/B test a plain email versus a survey link
Test sending out a simple email instead of a link to a survey. Your response rate for this could be better for several reasons:
- It takes one less click for a person to access your questions
- Recipients can see how long your survey is right off the bat
- Recipients can see your questions immediately and may impulsively want to respond
- Emails may appear more personal than links to a generic survey
Sample customer exit survey email
Here is one example email template you might use to request exit insights:
Subject: We’re sorry to see you go. Share why and we’ll donate $10. No sales involved.
I saw that you’re leaving [Company], and wanted to say we’re sorry to see you go. Would you be willing to share why, so we can improve our product? Don’t worry, we won’t follow up with any upsells — the sales team isn’t invited to this conversation.
The questions below should take around 15 minutes to answer, and you’re welcome to skip any you don’t want to respond to. If you’re willing to answer all 6, we’ll happily donate $10 to a charity of your choice. We’ve partnered with [X] different charities you can choose from (listed below the questions).
- Please share the trigger(s) that made you cancel.
- What did you like about [Product/Service]?
- What didn’t you like about it?
- Please share suggestions for us to improve.
- Would you reconsider us in the future? What would that take?
- Who do you think is the ideal customer for our product?
Here are the charities we’ve partnered with, feel free to leave your preference in your response — or if you have a suggestion for a new charity we’re happy to hear it. [List of charities]
Thank you again,
5) Test different survey lengths
Many of your customers are short on time and will want to know how long your survey will take. By sharing upfront that your survey will take 10 minutes or is just six questions long, you can set the right expectations.
You may also want to tinker around with the total number of questions you ask. Customers tend to ditch surveys halfway through when they feel like it’s taking too long. So, if your engagement rate is low, experiment with just asking one or two of the most important questions. Some insight is always better than no insight.
This email request from Heap was clear upfront that their survey was only three questions. One of those questions is “Are you willing to answer a few additional questions, which will take about 5 minutes?” That is a great way to capture information from recipients who would only be willing to answer a few questions, while still engaging recipients who are willing to spend more time with you.
6) Check your language
It’s possible that how you frame your questions can make a world’s difference. For instance, a customer may react differently if you were to ask, “Is there anything we could’ve done differently?” as opposed to, “Why are you canceling?”
The latter can be perceived as harsh and impatient. The last thing you want to do is make your customers think that you’re being defensive and/or want to pick a fight.
As you write your subject lines, intro copy, and questions, be extra mindful of the tone of your writing.
7) Test different send times
Timing may be just as important as the content of your survey. You’ll likely be the most successful if you engage your customers within 24 hours of their last interaction with your team. At this point, your company is still top of mind and may trigger certain feelings.
Another strategy is to have your team members incorporate your survey into any existing conversations. For instance, if they’re already on the phone with a churning customer to help them offboard, it may be appropriate to go ahead and ask your exit interview questions. Or, if they’re already emailing back and forth, have your team member follow up with the survey. This keeps the momentum going from one conversation to another.
What to do with your findings
Your customer exit survey is only effective if you capitalize on the results. Instead of filing away responses, never to be seen again, you can take some time to glean some important lessons.
Use engagement and completion data to enhance your exit survey, and analyze the survey results to discover what customers want, what they don’t want, and how you can make them happier.
1) Consolidate and analyze answers
Of course, not all completed surveys will carry the same weight. There are bound to be outliers in your survey group, as well as accounts that were expected to churn because of a big shift in their business or signs that they weren’t a good fit (as examples).
Still, you’ll want to compile your answers and jot down your learnings. Consider how churn rates vary depending on the season, type of customer, business setup, or other factors. Bridge your qualitative data with quantitative data from your platform. For example, you may find that the people who churned recently didn’t use 90% of your tools or never completed all of their activation steps.
Keep an eye on whether better marketing, training, or customer service could have strengthened the relationship.
2) Share your findings with other teams
Too often, the team in charge of managing the exit survey fails to communicate their findings with the larger team. It could be customer support or marketing not sharing with the overall growth team, meaning product and sales never see insights that could help them do their jobs better. The data lies dormant and never sees the light of day.
Consider adding a step to your customer exit survey process that sets aside a time to compile and share results with the company. It helps to pick one or two people to be the project owners. Encourage them to organize the data, document their learnings, and put together a short presentation that includes any proposed action steps.
The larger team should receive important context, like who you spoke to, why you created the survey, how long it ran for, and quotes from the respondents. This helps to get everyone on the same page and inspire teammates to follow through with any follow-up tasks.
3) Continue engaging churned customers (appropriately)
Just because a customer churns doesn’t mean that you should sever all ties with them. Customers often reconsider their former software when a new one fails to live up to their expectations, or when they’ve heard about platform updates.
Keep the door open to those conversations by touching base with churned accounts every once in a while. Avoid spamming them with newsletters, promos, or other communications that they never asked for. Rather, reach out to them with personal, friendly emails a few times a year. Inform them of any improvements that you’ve made to your platform, especially if it’s based on their feedback, and try to rebuild trust through helpful interactions.
Towards that end, you may want to denote which customers are most likely or least likely to re-engage with you again at the time of their departure. Don’t waste your time re-engaging accounts that have completely shifted focus or have caused your team a great deal of distress.
4) Lower churn rate by scheduling more frequent check-ins
Remember that the ultimate goal of your exit survey is to prevent future churn. To achieve this, you’ll want to consider what steps you can take to reinforce existing customer relationships. A popular way to do this is by scheduling more regular check-ins. One study shows that 11% of churn could have been avoided if the business simply reached out to the customer beforehand.
Proactively contact your customers for their thoughts, even when everything is going smoothly. Let users know that you’re invested in their success and help them to feel emotionally connected to your team. By encouraging regular two-way dialogue and by setting the right expectations, you can prevent a substantial amount of churn.
Wrapping up – Customer exit survey insights
A lost customer isn’t the end of the world; it’s an opportunity to turn their loss into your gain. Customer exit surveys are a way to make this happen. Use these surveys strategically and remember to take action on what you uncover.
Published: September 7, 2020
Updated: June 21, 2021
Updated: February 28, 2022