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How to Perform a Retention Audit in Subscription Ecommerce (AKA, Eat Your Own Dog Food)

Great customer experiences count. Learn how to run a retention audience from Kristen LaFrance, Community Director of Repeat and founder of DTC Fam Media.
May 16, 2022

The DTC market has grown so extensively that successful brands can’t just attract customers; they also need to find the best ways to retain them.

The stiff competition makes it easy for customers to jump ship and head to a different company with lower prices or a product change. Acquisition wins a battle. Retention wins the war.

Kristen LaFrance, Director of Community at Repeat and founder of DTC Fam Media, believes victory lies in great experiences. Ecommerce brands that consistently bring value to their customers through products, content, support, and other experience-based practices win out in the end.

But how can you know your brand does that?

During an episode of Subscription Ecommerce Live, Kristen discussed how performing a retention audit can help brands evaluate and optimize their processes. 

What is a Retention Audit, and Why Should You Perform One?

Kristen compares a retention audit to eating your own dog food. To put it in another analogy, you'll never really know if a bicycle performs as designed if you don't have someone hop on and start pedaling. You've got to have experts go through the whole experience.

Retention works the same way.

When was the last time you read your own emails? Or the last time you followed your customer journey from beginning to end?

Kristen says that brand owners who fail to do this might miss out on opportunities to improve their processes:

"We tend to get really close to our brands, and we think that everything we're doing has to be good because we put our heart and our soul behind it, so of course it's good," she explains. "But what can happen is systems can break, or it can actually not be that good of an experience when you look at it holistically."

Performing a scheduled retention audit lets you experience what your customers go through on their entire journey. You can do it yourself, ask someone on your team, or hire someone else–it doesn’t really matter which, as long as you have an objective set of eyes experiencing what the customer does.

Through the process, you’ll get a chance to evaluate your plan's effectiveness and find what areas need tweaking. The more you experience your journey, the more you can improve it.

Your Retention Audit Roadmap for Emails

A successful retention strategy revolves around communication. 

For most DTC companies, that communication happens primarily through email campaigns, and Kristen offers a few tips on evaluating success in this area.

Read Your Own Email Sequences

Subscribe to your own emails and follow the journey as if you are a customer. Doing so should include automated flows like newsletters or cart abandonment notifications and transactional messages like:

  • Post-purchase
  • Shipping soon emails
  • Payment failures

Check On Your First Impressions

You'll also want to pay special attention to the welcome email sequence. Kristen says you need to "train customers to open your emails" by earning their trust early.

The first impressions set a precedent for the rest of what they will expect, so you need to make sure it draws them in and doesn't ask too much of them too quickly. You need to earn each click.

4 Things to Look For in Your Emails

  1. Moments when you feel like you might be getting too many emails.
    How much is too much? That's the biggest question in email marketing and communication. Make sure your brand sends messages that help customers, not ones that annoy them.
  2. Emails that feel like they aren’t just for you.
    Corporate, template emails get old in inboxes. The best communication sounds like a human wrote it to another, specific human.
  3. Ways to create a positive experience at each step.
    You can use email to build up your relationships with your customers. You just have to look for ways to make them a joy to read and engage with.
  4. Sequencing within different campaigns.
    Audit each email sequence to see if the most critical email for the subscriber is first or buried. Ask what the email’s goal is, and then consider whether the customer will welcome that goal or get frustrated.

Audit Your High-Level Thinking

A retention audit will only be as effective as the team who executes it. Those who evaluate and correct the efforts need to have what Kristen calls a "retention mindset."

She explains that when it comes to retention, "you're basically talking about a whole department... trying to create a customer experience at every touchpoint." It's not just a few simple changes. It's a new way of thinking empathetically about your customers' wants.

A retention audit will only be as effective as the team who executes it. Those who evaluate and correct the efforts need to have what Kristen calls a "retention mindset."

Your brand can use the auditing process to examine the internal teams' thoughts about customer retention.

4 Criteria of a Retention Mindset

Kristen highlights 4 things brands with a retention mindset prioritize:

  1. A cross-departmental emphasis on the customer journey
    Marketing, customer support, design, sales–every team understands that each touchpoint represents an opportunity to contribute to retention.
  2. Consistent and considerate brand messaging
    Modern consumers don't want to receive the same message a million times. They want to engage with your brand on their preferred channels and want a consistent experience for each. Companies with a retention mindset work hard to strike this balance.
  3. A valuable customer experience
    Kristen has a strong conviction that retention comes as a response to great customer experiences. Take those seriously, and you'll have a better chance of retaining customers.
  4. A desire to know what customers want
    Research and personas only get you so far. To nail it with customer retention, brands should make an effort to hear from their customers and get their feedback about various touchpoints.

Audit Your Paid Advertising

Retention is a long-term strategy, but it starts at the earliest stages of the customer journey. For Kristen, the journey includes the prospecting stage.

She encourages teams to go through their marketing funnels to understand what potential customers go through on their journey. Auditing these experiences can help you go through the various touchpoints, from ads to landing pages to whatever CTA awaits them at the end.

You can look at the success of things like:

  1. Messaging
    Is your copy customer-centric? Does it highlight your brand values?
  2. Product positioning
    Have you adequately shown how your product acts as a solution to the viewers' problems? Does the imagery bolster what makes the item special?
  3. Targeting
    Do your landing pages focus only on new customers, or are you getting the most out of your efforts by appealing to existing customers as well?
  4. Strategy
    Are you finding opportunities to cross-sell and upsell? Are you optimizing free channels in addition to paid options? Have you found ways to incorporate retargeting and remarketing?

Keep retention in mind while you evaluate these items. Subscription brands should especially highlight the long-term advantages that come with sticking around.

Audit New Experiences

The competitive nature of ecommerce means brands have to stay sharp with how they create experiences and increase retention rates.

Kristen encourages experimentation with these new technologies and strategies. Part of the auditing process can include identifying missing pieces and trying new ideas yourself before launching them to your customers.

Does SMS make sense for your brand? Does it feel helpful or intrusive? What about social media? Can you identify places where you can better utilize that tool to engage with customers? Would a “shipping soon” email help you cut down on your churn? (Hint: It will!)

These new experiences can extend beyond technology and stretch into the product experience. How can you improve the delivery and unboxing process? Would your customers benefit from product education in the form of blogs or videos?

Performing a retention audit gives you the space to ask and answer these kinds of questions so that you don't take your processes for granted and miss opportunities to win over customers again and again.

Keep Working for Retention

You work to acquire customers, but in today's market, you can't assume that a single sale, or even a subscriber, will become a long-term buyer. You have to keep giving them reasons to come back to your brand, even subscribers

Performing a retention audit will help you evaluate the success of your retention efforts and give you actionable insight on how you can better build lasting relationships with your customers.

Kristen is passionate about DTC and CPG brands creating that level of connection. Check out her full episode of Subscription Ecommerce Live for more of her thoughts on customer loyalty, empathetic experiences, and customer journey optimization.

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