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To grow digital subscriptions for a website or an online service, it's critical to cast your net as wide as possible. Then you draw those potential customers to a point of purchase. Some of them then make a payment and initiate a subscription.

But what happens after a month or a few months? What happens if customers encounter a technical or other problem? At some point, they may cease to be subscribers, and as a consequence you will struggle to sustain growth for your business.

Customer churn is a normal part of doing business, and the reasons customers churn are diverse, but they fall in two buckets: voluntary churn and involuntary churn. Understanding the difference between the two can dramatically improve your marketing approach (with help from the right tools).

  1. Voluntary churn is when an end user decides to end her subscription, either by going to a website and clicking cancel or phoning customer support.
  2. Involuntary churn is more common. A customer doesn't want to churn, but his subscription fails—because of a payment issue or a change of email, or perhaps because an auto-renewal was never set up. Ultimately, your system cancels the subscriptions, and these users disappear.

The Sweet Spot for Retention Efforts

During a customer's journey, a marketer may tempt him to subscribe with a trial period. Generally, it lasts for three months, during which people test the service—and maybe leave (voluntary churn) or stay.

A person who stays 12 months or longer can be considered a long-term customer; avoid upsetting him, and offer enhancements from time to time to keep him happy. Many customer retention service providers suggest leaving these people alone entirely, but I recommend monitoring them over the long-term. Settling for happiness today can lead to obsolescence and frustration tomorrow.

It is the period between 3-12 months that is critical for managing churn, especially involuntary churn, so keep a close watch on new customers in this stage.

Identify High-Risk Potential Churners

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image of Chris Cheney

Chris Cheney is a co-founder and the CTO of MPP Global, provider of a Cloud platform for identifying, engaging, and monetizing digital audiences.

LinkedIn: Chris Cheney