How to handle a customer’s cancellation request

It might not be too late to win them back

It’s that moment every Customer Success Manager dreads- you’ve just received an email from a client requesting to cancel their contract. Don’t panic, here are a few key facts about cancellations.

It’s not too late to turn things around

First, the good news- you could still save this account! In my experience, some clients see requesting to cancel as a way to renegotiate the terms of your partnership. These folks like to be in a position of power and to put you and your team on the defensive. Similarly, this can give them an opportunity to demand a feature they’ve been wanting or to voice a concern that they’ve have with your product or service. No, you should not negotiable with terrorists, but this can act as a wake up call to the leadership team that you really will loose this account if they choose not to prioritize the features this client wants. The leadership team might make the conscious decision to let a client go after weighing what it would cost in development resources to keep them. It is much better to make a conscious decision to pass on their business than to be left wondering what you could have done to save the account. Wow, the “good news” that you might be able to scrounge together a renewal doesn’t sound all that positive, does it? Yeah, that brings me to my next point.

You should have seen this coming

If you didn’t anticipate this cancellation, this should serve as a wakeup call to you and your team. What key indicators did you miss? Did the support team have a lot of issues or complaints from this account’s users? Perhaps you were not paying close enough attention to notice a drop in engagement or usage? There are a few very simple ways to maintain an open line of communication with a client that should eliminate any “surprise cancellations”.

  • Reach out with usage reports and ask for insights into an increase or decrease in any key metrics. Reports should track metrics the client established as being indicators of success during the launch
  • Use marketing materials or product updates to continually provide value in every communication, and to show a continued investment in the partnership
  • Establish an annual or bi-annual relationship review to get a pulse on the partnership and give the client a chance to bring up any barriers to renewal

This is an opportunity to uncover critical feedback

In addition to some internal reflection about what went wrong with this account, you should always reach out to the client to try to dig for more details about where you went wrong. Management will likely hold you responsible for reporting in detail on why this account churned, so push yourself to find some useful insights. Most Customer Success teams have a set framework of questions you should ask a client who cancelled (example here), which has the benefit of allowing management to compile some standardized data on why accounts are churning. A cancellation is also a great time to gather feedback that could provide useful to nearly every team. Just as a Customer Success Manager is not solely responsible for an account’s success, nor are they entirely responsible for a cancellation.


Originally published at brooke.land on April 9, 2015.