Praying for humility

 Have you ever wished that you were more humble? I have. It’s not a pretty ending.

I have a friend who wished for humility and soon after he got his car totaled, lost some things, and more bad things happened. His wife was understandably pretty upset with him as she relayed the story to me, with him in the room!

I’ve been reading the book Antifragile and been thinking, “I should become more anti-fragile.“ Well, that’s pretty much like wishing or praying for humility. You get what you asked for but it’s not fun. 

You wish you could learn it from watching Netflix rather than experiencing it. Yet it’s that very hard lesson that teaches us so much that it sinks deep into our core. Many of our memories fade. These lessons stick. Cherish these bitter tasting events as they guide you. Be grateful you failed because it made you stronger. 

Rollercoasters, Boredom, and Foie Gras Sandwiches

I wrote this post last summer, but have been holding onto it. I finally am ready to hit publish.


A couple years back I watched a travel channel/food network show one time with Canadian chefs who want to do fine dining and create an elaborate experience, but created a foie gras sandwich because that’s what the young market demanded. Essentially, the original was insufficient. It does exist and it’s in Montreal. It’s served at Joe Beef and is called the Foie Gras Double Down Sandwich, in case you were wondering.


In a similar way, technology is addicting. We are glued to social media, news, TV, Netflix, and so much more. I had to pull myself away from an article that didn’t matter to my life to watch my darling daughter play with a toy and simply relish that moment. My attention was attached to the wrong thing.


When was the last time you had the willpower to put down your computer, set your tablet aside, leave your phone, disconnect your watch, and any other items of technology and simply be? Were you too afraid because you were “disconnected” and all you had were your thoughts? When will enough technology be enough for us? If Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat and others aren’t enough, what is the right number? If we need more devices (phones, tablets, watches, bluetooth speakers…), then when will it be enough?


Now is probably a good time to share that I love technology; I am no technophobe. I have many devices at home and allow my kids to watch TV and play games. But I also see the inherent dangers and the relational damage caused by it. 


There’s a reason the Catholic Church and other religions have called gluttony a sin. It’s not merely to protect our bodies (flesh), but to protect our lives (relationships and souls). We can binge on food, TV, work, and more — it’s not exclusively food that weakens our willpower. As we use food and other things as a distraction, what becomes of our souls?


Screens are a contraceptive to boredom. We’re afraid of our own thoughts, of the silence that may ensue. And yet…and yet that’s exactly what we need…to get off the rollercoaster because we cannot keep riding forever. 


Can we get off, to rest, to reflect, and to be grateful for the lives we’ve been given? How long can we keep binging?

Stealing ideas and original ideas

I reread the post Your First Thought Is Rarely Your Best Thought: Lessons on Thinking by Farnam Street and, upon reflection, thought about Lincoln Murphy’s open complaint about how people are stealing his material (you can substitute “Lincoln Murphy” for just about anyone as ideas are stolen or “borrowed” all the time). Aside from the hucksters who do it maliciously, why do we steal ideas? 

Could it be that our first idea was not so great? Could it be that we could not come up with something better? Maybe it’s because he or she has got it all figured out and there’s really nothing else to add. If a speaker, coach, or pundit is 100% correct, then what incremental improvement will I find down the road? 

So why do we steal? I think it’s because our best ideas require more effort and it’s easier to grab someone else’s lunch from the fridge than it is to get our own. We know Tom usually brings a good lunch and we are pretty sure he won’t need it because he’s scheduled to go out today. So it’s fine. It’s easier to take than to create.

Or take deadlines. If I have a deadline to write a college paper, save an account, or win an election, I’m under a lot of pressure. It’s far easier to take what’s already proven. Besides, it’s more like “borrowing” anyways. So we justify it. I’m tired, it’s the end of a long week of travel and I want the easy way out. 

Another possibility is since childhood we were taught not necessarily to be creative, but follow a form. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That English paper or math question taught us the building blocks of how it’s put together. So we disassemble and reassemble over and over. We learn structures, but not originality.


It’s easier to steal what works than to risk investing in something that may flop. This starts out with our thinking. We’re afraid to invest in thinking. As Shane says in the linked article above, “a lot of people see thinking more than a few minutes as a waste of time…” 
If we don’t explicitly see the return on investment, we usually scrap the idea. The same is true for thinking. Thus, we limit our investment in thinking. That habit leads us to steal from others rather than create because we lack the research and development. We don’t fully understand the nuances and components, so we source ideas from others.

You Become What You Measure

Spend a couple moments and fill in the blank: I want to become a better ________. 
Did you fill it something like employee, leader, or something related to your work? Maybe as I recently wrote, a thought leader? Or did you say something like “parent”, “spouse”, “friend”, or something a bit more personal? 
There’s the saying “you are what you eat.” There’s truth to it. In our Information Age, the phrase “the things that get measured, get done” is both powerful, and scary. Here are a few examples:

  • We have the number friends, followers, or connections on social media, so we are drawn to track our worth against that.
  • We use Screen Time or another app to minimize screen time, instead of maximize joy time.
  • We measure our worth by our salary, so we double-down on that.

Measuring the easy thing, not the right thing
When adventurous Europeans set sail westward and had no clue where they were going or if they were going to fall off the edge of the world (the Europeans believed in a flat earth then), cartography (map-making) was a critical key. They used the known stars to help guide them. They used other indicators (wind, direction, sun, and math) to help create maps so they know roughly where they were. As error-prone as their process was, they still had a terrific way of tracking where they were headed and how to get back home (usually). Their lives depended on measuring the right thing.
In our modern age, we often pick a metric that’s easy to calculate, readily available, or something that’s free. For example, why is it so hard to know how many customers truly find value in the product you deliver? Because it’s hard work. It’s not easy. It’s way easier to measure the number of logins, the number of active days (DAU or MAU, for example). It’s a proxy. But we use proxies all the time and everywhere. 

Transfixed by metrics
With measuring so many things under the sun, our minds are transfixed to metrics. They help us, they guide us. What time is it? Use a clock. When should I go to sleep? A clock helps me know what time it is so I don’t stay up till 3am! Metrics — loosely defined in this example — show me how many cups of flour, how much salt, water, and yeast to make bread. Without it, I’m sure I would have never improved my dough from when I first tried it as a five year old. 
Metrics are key. But metrics are a tool, not a savior. Becoming saturated in metrics enables forgetting the surrounding beauty. Spring recently pushed winter aside. Birds are out, plants are popping up through the ground, and the temperatures rise. Focusing only on certain metrics, while helpful to my goal, may also prevent me from smelling blooming flowers. In short, I can get so wrapped up in metrics that I miss all that is happening around me. Won’t you stop and smell the roses with me?

Unhealthy habits
We may not realize following certain metrics are to our detriment. Relentlessly tracking and improving the number of followers or friends on social media may help a business, but it ruins your soul. Metric tracking is a habit creator. When we measure something, we change our focus, which changes our mindset, which changes our lifestyle and beliefs. Are these the habits you want to form?
Are you excited by that? If you continue to measure for the next thirty years by the ways you’re currently measuring yourself, will that finally give you the fulfillment you’ve always wanted or will you find yourself still wanting? Measure carefully.

Dunning Management: Your Rollout Plan to Increase Retention

Dunning Management is an often overlooked aspect of Customer Success. It happens silently.
Actually, it’s less of what we’re doingand more of what we’re not doing. We effect change by action and inaction.
Where is your churn coming from? What is the breakdown of customers (and their respective dollars):

  • Voluntary churn (requesting to cancel)
  • Involuntary churn (payment method fail)
  • Merchant block (where they have their bank block payment to a specific merchant)

I’ve spoken with some SaaS companies who generally have great luck with credit card payment and very few merchant blocks, but have lots of customers requesting to churn. Others allow their credit card to fail to act as a means of cancelling the account. Some just call their credit card company because it’s easier to put a merchant block than request to cancel. 🤷‍♂️
In this post, I want to address:

  • What is dunning management?
  • Etymology
  • Why should I care?
  • Okay, I care, now what?
  • Whoa, this is a lot of work—maybe I’ll do it later
  • Can’t I just get someone else to do this for me?
  • What’s the ROI?

If you need the TL;DR version, skip down to the Can’t I just get someone else to do this for me? section. 

Disclaimer: I’m not being paid me to write this. I’m simply sharing my experience and what’s worked for companies I’ve worked and consulted for. The experiences below are for B2B SaaS firms.

Dunning management 

Dunning management is all about collecting what’s truly owed to you. It’s less obnoxious than reminding your friend that he still owes you $10.

Losing $10 to a friend — not so big of a deal. However, ten friends that each never repaid their $10 loan, now that’s becoming a problem. And that’s where dunning management comes into play. It’s the art of fixing payment processing issues such as canceled cards (often due to fraud), new cards (old one expired), and insufficient funds.

Etymology

This is a fun one, because whenever I talk to anyone outside of SaaS they look at my like I’m from outer space. “Dun” or “to dun” is to collect payment. It was popularized around the 1600s as debt collectors went house-to-house collecting on loans. 

Why should I care?

Inaction is causing you to throw away money. Needlessly. We all have customers who decide they don’t want our product or service and cancel. That at least I can handle because they made a conscious decision to move on. Payment failure is something different. Sometimes those people didn’t want our services any longer, but most of the time they forgot to update their billing, they didn’t realize their card expired, or something else happened.

For example, years ago I had one customer who tweeted at our company about why he couldn’t access his account. It was an 8pm tweet, interrupted my evening, and I tweeted back to let him know I was looking into it. Sure enough, the account was inactive from failed payment. He didn’t realize it. I couldn’t simply tweet back, “hey, you need to update your billing.” Kindness matters.


Okay, I care, now what?

First, before you sound the alarm bells, go look at your churn breakdown for the last 3-6 months to know whether you really ought to sound the alarm. Using your billing system, reporting system, or whatever tools you have, figure out how much is actually going out the door due to involuntary churn. Is that your top priority? Even if it’s not your number one priority, is it high enough that it warrants you attention? Remember, once you establish a good system, it can run on its own. We’ll get to this down below, but a good tool can help you automate this process so you can put your mental energies elsewhere, like calling those customers who requested to cancel. 

Your steps are:

  1. Calculate ARR or MRR lost due to delinquent churn
  2. Evaluate your current process – is it effective? Could it be better?
  3. Ask yourself the question, “even if I only fix half of the delinquent churn, would that be a major victory for me?”
  4. Spend 4 minutes asking, “how could this be a better customer experience?”

Whoa, this is a lot of work—maybe I’ll do it later

Yeah, there’s a decent amount of work here. But run a quick calculation in your head. Even if it takes a total of 40 hours to research the issue, find a vendor, design the customer experience, and implement, would it be worth it?

Can’t I just get someone else to do this for me?

Yes and no. You can hire a consultant to help, or you can do it yourself. There are plenty of vendors to choose from, methods to set it up, and customer messaging to set up, but if you want to see a basic layout, then buckle up. This won’t work for everyone, but here are some suggestions if you have flexibility:

Billing system

Use Stripe as your billing system. It’s effective, scalable, and extremely reliable. Plus, you can plug in a ton of vendors into it. 

Revenue reporting system

Though we haven’t touched on this, but a great free product is ProfitWell. It’s terrific for tracking your monthly sales, downgrades/upgrades, churn, etc. It seriously saves me at least 20 hours a month — minimum.

They’ve got a great, friendly team willing to help and invest in you. Their base product is free, but they have several upgrades that charge a fee. However, many, many companies stick with the free version and really love it! 

Dunning management system

First, I would first turn on Stripe’s automatic credit card retry system (click of a button). This will retry their credit card up to 4 times over a span of several days. If this is the only thing you do and learn from this article, do this. 

Second, send email reminders to your customers when their credit card fails. If you don’t have time or need something for free, Stripe’s delinquent churn email reminders can work well. It’s basic and lacks extensive tooling and reporting, but can help get your off the ground. Make sure you push at least your customers’ first name and email address to Stripe!

If you want something sophisticated and more personalized, I highly recommend Churn Buster. There are several other vendors (Stripe, ProfitWell, Stunning, etc.) you should also look into. Note: there’s always the consolidation of certain players (i.e., billing systems) expanding their borders. Over the last two years I’ve seen most billing systems expand into areas like dunning management. Since that’s not their bread and butter — billing is — it’s up to you to decide if a single system is sufficient, or if best of breed is better for you.

I’ve helped SaaS companies implement different systems. One in particular was extremely frustrating and difficult to implement, and it’s no wonder people shy away from billing/dunning management! However, Churn Buster has a great, friendly team with a terrific product. They’re also affordable and have an easy cancellation policy if it doesn’t work for you. 
Their product shines because you can quickly link to Stripe and do a lot from there. Setup will take some time, depending on the size of your organization. It’s not plug-in-play, but don’t let that scare you off from saving recurring revenue.

Best practice: once a customer’s credit card fails, have Stripe run their repayment attempts for several days. If that doesn’t fix it, then have Churn Buster email the customer. You can build a cadence over a period of time (frequently 30-60 days, depending on the customer). This is critical as consumers tend to max out their credit cards around the holidays and payments fail because of that. Giving it 30 days can mean the difference of losing and saving a customer. It’s also important to send multiple emails in increasing levels of urgency.

A few other important things, set automatic retries before you send the next email to the customer. Nothing is more annoying than getting an email to update my payment info when I’ve already done that. With Churn Buster, that next customer email only goes out if the credit card failed. Here’s what the cadence looks like:

  1. Stripe retry (3-4 days)
  2. Churn Buster 
    1. Day 5 card retry 
    2. If above failed, then Day 5 Email customer (after card retry)
    3. If above failed, then Day 8-10 card retry
    4. If above failed, then Day 8-10 email customer 
    5. Repeat through day 30-60

It may sound like a lot, but I’ve been on vacation or traveling when something comes through. Like most people, I can’t read and act on every email within a few days (or even a week!), so don’t expect your customers to be any faster. Give them time.

Another key benefit is you get to write the messaging, make the branding your own, and white label the emails so they come from you (technically, you’re setting up the DKIM/SPF email records for authentication). 

Messaging

Most dunning management software vendors will have their own default messaging, though you can often update it to be your own, in your voice. Some allow you to white label your emails, put your own logos on, and take off their branding (note: Churn Buster allows 100% whitelabeling). 

That said, if you need help with messaging, the cadence, or need someone to bounce some ideas off of, send me a message.

What’s the ROI?

The best is saved for last — so, really now, is this actually worth it? 

For the multiple companies I’ve helped implement a dunning management process, yes! Here are several outcomes I’ve personally witnessed. That said, remember mileage may vary — these are only averages from various companies, not what you will attain. Each company is different: some just use the smart card retry, some use the smart card retry and dunning emails, some have short or long collection periods, etc.
Outcomes

  • Reduced delinquent churn by 40% within 3 months of launch (a conservative estimate)
  • Recovery rate: 60-80% delinquent revenue
  • Smart card retries: accounted for 40-60% of saved revenue (see, just wait a couple days and retry the card!)

Ultimately, implementing these systems saved these companies money, but also paid for the vendors within several months. If you’re serious about company growth, you cannot ignore delinquent churn. It’s not a “nice to have.” Grow your company not just through your sales reps, but here, too.