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Fight customer churn with UX writing

Building a great user experience is one thing, but developing an ongoing strategy? That’s quite another. Read: really, really difficult.

UX isn’t like other types of content writing. It’s not stagnant, motionless, or trapped in any one place. It’s living copy that should be consistently updated to reflect user needs and growth. I love the way William Butler Yeats puts it: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Point is, the words we use are absolutely critical to the success of our businesses.

And where else are words more important than in user churn? Failing to provide actionable content slows revenue and subscription rates, which wind up crushing growth strategies. Churn is deadly, and you don’t have to be a data analyst to know it. Unless you’re willing to improve your UX copy, you’re going to come face-to-face with some pretty scary numbers.

Let’s look at:

  • What churn actually is
  • How UX writing influences attrition
  • Case studies that prove the point
  • Proven strategies to reduce high churn
Source: ProfitWell

What is churn?

Also known as attrition, churn is a percentage of customers who stop purchasing from a company. In other words, it’s about people who break up with your business.

Customers that cycle out of a company aren’t necessarily abnormal. Almost all established software as a service (SaaS) companies experience 5% churn per year or 3% on the low end. Younger companies may be as high as 24%, although they won’t survive long unless they start improving their approach.

Source: Baremetrics

Churn is problematic for several reasons:

  • Revenue drops: Churn costs US businesses more than $136 billion a year
  • Lower client retention: 1 in every 26 churned customers leave a bad review, which tanks ratings and word of mouth (WOM) marketing
  • Expensive maintenance: It costs five times more to get a new customer than it does to keep an existing one

One of the biggest drivers of high churn rates is poor UX. The difference between good copy and bad copy is already pretty stark, but when it comes to user interfaces, it’s even more important. For now, let’s take a step back and analyze the effects of good UX on churn rates.

The importance of good UX

If you focus on your users, their behaviors, and their feedback, you already know how to make user experience a priority. The ultimate goal of any UX writer is to:

  • Keep customers informed
  • Make navigation easy
  • Help customers get going
  • Boost engagement

There’s a big difference between how consumers understand your business and what it actually does. After all, it doesn’t matter what you think your brand is: it matters what your audience thinks. It also doesn’t matter how good you think your brand writing does its job. It’s all about the customer! This philosophy is super important to SaaS or e-Commerce companies looking to simplify the buyer’s journey.

The real secret of churn mitigation is found in great copy.

Source: UX Collective

How good copy influences churn

As a UX writer, every word you write needs to mean something. It will either help consumers understand their investment, or it will frustrate them into leaving for good. If you’re willing to find the sweet spot between short and sweet, you’ll be able to see the true power of writing: an anti-churn-making machine.

Good copy makes it easy to lead customers through the onboarding process. Content marketing is the MVP of this, generating promotional materials, educational content, and other valuable info. Content also creates ways for customers to learn the ropes of your service. If you’re a SaaS, you’ll want to keep leads interested in your unique value proposition (UVP) by making their experiences better, easier, and less time-consuming.

Customers will be a lot less likely to churn if they’re communicated with regularly. Nobody wants to feel like a number, so when you create a bridge between consumer needs and your goals, everyone is happy. Overcommunication isn’t a bad thing.

Churn case studies

Between dropping signups and falling online reviews, high churn rates are grim indicators of a downward spiral. But not all companies fall victim to attrition, and they have the writing strategies to prove it.

GrooveHQ is one of my favorite examples of this. As a relatively established company, this SaaS offers tech support solutions that plug directly into Salesforce. Straightforward on paper, sure, but maybe not in practice. The company discovered that its churn rates had skyrocketed to 4.5%, which was simply unsustainable in terms of startup growth. They got right down to business with the first step in any good churn strategy: research. After some digging, GrooveHQ discovered that customers were extremely confused about their platform, and often got stuck in their first few tasks. Because of this, they started collecting some serious user info.

Source: GrooveHQ

The results? ‘Red Flag Metrics,’ otherwise known as RFMs. These were a stiff reality check for GrooveHQ, citing plummeting user sessions after the first 30 days. This, they realized, had to do with poor UX.

GrooveHQ started directly reaching out to RFM users, using a combination of software updates, direct emails, and good tech writing (with content testing). 26% of customers who were contacted actually responded, and 40% of them stuck around after a month. By the end of the program, GrooveHQ reduced its churn ratio by 71%, all by using good research and great UX writing.

But not all churn success stories are so highly researched. Mention is a brand insight SaaS that manages more than 200,000 clients. Instead of using grassroots research, Mention leveraged what it already knew: consumer behaviors. Paid and free trial customers were more valuable than free plan users and would be more receptive to emails, webinars, and other content.

By developing a plan that factored in highly valuable UX, Mention focused on free trials and content marketing, content testing, and snippets offering insights into their platform. In three months, the company reduced attrition rates by 22%. See what I mean about good writing?

And if you think big companies aren’t at-risk for churn, think again. HubSpot is an absolute giant in the digital marketing world, so when yearly churn rates started to creep, they knew it was time to try something new. Unlike other companies, HubSpot measures churn with what’s known as Customer Happiness Index, or CHI. They tightened up their inbound content marketing to boost engagement and stiffened up the writing on their mobile app too.

This improved UX writing not only affected HubSpot’s onboarding customers, but previously unhappy ones as well. In fact, almost 33% of dissatisfied clients changed their minds after being exposed to better writing.

Source: Vilmate

Strategies for lowering churn rates

We’ve looked at the reasoning behind the strategy, and we’ve outlined some companies who’ve made it work. Now we’re going to take a closer look at the practical strategies you can use to stop churn before it occurs.

Identify metrics

Like GrooveHQ, you have to know who you’re writing for (and why). Look for missing links, or holes in the basket if you will. You can’t plug them all, but you can certainly go after the biggest ones!

  • Remove jargon or uncommon slang from your copy
  • Aim for an 8th-grade writing standard (the simpler the better)
  • Go for clear and concise, not verbose

Content creation

The content you make should be all about your user. Ask yourself what you’d like to see as a first-timer on your own platform. Go with your gut and revise from there.

  • Think about users from all walks of life, including non-native readers
  • Go for ‘valuable,’ not ‘filler’
  • Keep your established brand voice in mind (do you have a style guide yet?)

Tech solutions

Not all of your customers are technologically oriented, so do what you can to make their understanding of your product a little more holistic. Remember: users don’t need every detail. Just enough to get oriented.

  • Try using alternatives to tech words with negative connotations (abort, failure, etc.)
  • When writing about tech, use as many layman terms as possible
  • Don’t oversimplify, just be straightforward

Microcopy

Microcopy is a huge part of UX, and for good reason. According to Google I/O ’17, just changing two words can create a 17% increase in engagement. If you want less churn, start small.

  • Write shorter emails and newsletters
  • Make it easy for users to read quick tips or tutorials
  • Cut redundancy and soft copy

Community feedback

Create surveys that provide insight into what your customers really think, from emails and in-app questionnaires to social media polls. You might be surprised by what you learn.

  • Ask for user opinions (even ones you don’t want to hear)
  • Provide feedback forms on-site or in-app
  • Reach out to at-risk ‘churners’ for how you can help

Where do you go from here?

I won’t pretend that stopping churn is easy. It takes a lot of work to slow down that rolling boulder, and if you’re not committed to the cause, it’s just not going to work.

I hope this encourages you to start thinking about your writing from a new point of view. As business case studies have shown us, good writing can mean the difference between unsubscribing and going premium. It’s important to recognize churn before it starts, and write defensively to encourage customers along that oh-so-special brand ambassador journey.

More than anything, I hope this helped you understand the importance of audience awareness. No good user experience is complete without it! You’re not writing to people inside the business — you’re writing to an audience that may be completely clueless about your in-house terminology. Write well, write carefully, and above all, write for the user.

Meagan Shelley is a freelance writer. You can connect with them on LinkedIn.

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