Exit Surveys: What are They, Why You Need Them, and How to Implement a System

We've mentioned this a hundred times before, but exit surveys are a great tool for improving customer retention and reducing churn over the long-haul. In order to constantly improve your product and create the best user experience possible, you need to know where you are falling short. And exit surveys are the best place to start gathering this data.

So let's dive in!

What are exit surveys anyways?

Have you ever been to a restaurant, gotten the check, and inserted in the server book is a survey asking, “How was your service?” That’s an exit survey. Have you ever walked out of Ikea and seen a simple stand with buttons asking if you enjoyed your experience? That’s an exit survey.

Exit surveys are often used to determine if a customer has had a good experience interacting with a product. Of course, this started in the analog days such as filling out a form in a restaurant, but many companies have seen success bringing them online.

There are a lot of ways in which your customer “exits.” It can be as simple as them landing on your site and then bouncing. Or maybe they sign up for a trial, but then don’t pay for a subscription. Perhaps it’s when they use your product for a few days, a few months, or a few years, and then cancel.

We’re going to focus on the latter of the three: when a customer churns after using your product for some time. Setting up an exit survey when a customer is cancelling their subscription can provide valuable insight as to why they left, where your product fell short, how good (or bad) the user experience was, and how you can improve your product. Let’s get into the why and the how.

Why do you need them?

You may be thinking “Wait, why does my business need an exit survey?” After all, you didn’t just serve a huge ribs dinner, you’re selling online. But here’s the thing: exit surveys allow you to improve the customer experience as well as your product. You can’t fix something you don’t know is broken.

The more information you gather from cancelling customers, the more information you have to improve your systems. And what happens when you provide a good customer experience and improve your product? You reduce your churn and increase retention.

exit surveys

How do you implement a system for exit surveys?

The best way to use an exit survey is to build it into your cancellation system. If the customer can manually cancel through your platform, then you can ask them a series of questions before they are officially cancelled.

exit surveys

The example above is from Birchbox, a makeup sample subscription service. They give an array of options for cancelling the service before allowing you to proceed to cancellation. This allows them to control the information coming in, and makes it mandatory for someone to give that information before cancelling.

It’s ok if you don’t have a built-in cancellation process. If you use customer service to process cancellations, then set them up with their own personalized exit survey. When a customer emails or calls to cancel, have your customer service team first ask them why’d they’d like to cancel, and keep the reasons in an organized place.

Of course, what you ask in the exit survey is of utmost importance, so let’s talk about that next.

What questions do you ask in an exit survey?

There are a few ways to create questions for an exit survey, and ultimately they need to be unique to your business and your customers. Ultimately, the reason for the survey is to find out why they are leaving, but you have a few options here.

Here’s a few questions you need to ask yourself first before you design your exit survey:

  • What do I want to learn from this customer?
  • If they give me feedback on “bad product” am I willing to fix it?
  • Do I want to give them multiple choice options?
  • Do I want open ended feedback?

We strongly recommend being open to any and all feedback, even when it’s hard to hear. The most successful companies are the ones that not only listen to their customers, but improve based on the feedback they receive. If someone is willing to give you feedback, take all that you can get! Get them on the phone, via email, or even set up a longer feedback session with them.

Not only will you have a very happy customer (people love being “heard”), you’ll likely have amazing feedback that you can use to make future customers happy. Your question can be as simple as “why are you cancelling,” but there’s a few other questions you could consider asking, too, if you decide you want to go the open ended route.

Here’s a few other examples of questions you could ask:

  • What did you like about the product?
  • What didn’t you like about the product?
  • What would have prevented you from leaving?
  • What could we have done differently?
  • Would you still recommend us to a friend?
  • What suggestions do you have to improve the product?

If you choose to simply ask “why are you cancelling,” here’s some of the most popular reasons you can use in your multiple choice:

  • I don’t understand how to use your product
  • Your product is too expensive
  • I found something else I like better
  • You’re missing a key feature I need
  • I don’t use it like I thought I would
  • It’s not my decision (someone else is having me cancel)

Once you’ve decided on the best questions, set up your survey and where your collected answers go and fire away!

Keep in mind that you want to gather a pretty large amount of cancellation data before diving too deeply into potential problems. It’s usually best to get at least 100 responses before making any meaningful decisions. Of course, if there’s any glaring bugs or errors, fix them. But make sure you have more than a handful saying “it’s too expensive” before deciding to change your entire pricing model.

Wrapping Up:

Now that you know what exit surveys are, how to use them, AND even what to ask, start thinking about how you’re going to implement one in your own cancellation process. Remember to keep an open mind, take criticism as a way to positively change your product, and listen to your customers.

Once you follow these best practices, you’ll start to get answers from your exit survey. And we bet you’ll be surprised by some of the answers. You’ll start to gain a deeper understanding of your users as well as your product, and the feedback will arm you with a plan for future success.