What is an average churn rate? Here's how to work it all out

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  1. Introduction
  2. How is average churn rate calculated?
    1. Calculating churn rate by contract renewal
    2. Calculating expected renewal rate
  3. Industry-specific churn rates
  4. An overview of SaaS metrics
    1. Average churn rate
    2. Customer acquisition cost (CAC)
    3. Lifetime value (LTV)
    4. Monthly recurring revenue (MRR)
    5. Customer satisfaction and net promoter score (NPS)
    6. Expansion revenue
  5. Why average churn rate is important for subscription businesses
  6. How businesses can use their average churn rate
  7. Limitations with using churn rate as a metric
  8. How to improve average churn rate
    1. Get to know your customers
    2. Identify at-risk customers
    3. Help customers succeed
    4. Improve your product
    5. Be flexible with pricing
    6. Work as a team
    7. Keep innovating
    8. Choose the right customers
    9. Encourage happy customers to share

Churn rate is a metric that indicates the number of people who have discontinued their relationship with a business in a given time period. Churn rate provides businesses with insight into customer retention and satisfaction, and is particularly useful for subscription businesses. High churn rates may signal underlying issues with the product or service, customer service or overall customer satisfaction, while low churn rates may indicate that the business is maintaining its customer base effectively.

It's not always easy to work out what constitutes a "good" churn rate. Benchmarks vary by industry – business-to-business (B2B) companies tend to experience lower customer churn rates than direct-to-consumer (DTC) subscription businesses, for example – and even within the same industry, there can be a large amount of variation. It's important to know how to calculate your churn rate, how to minimise it and how to factor it into business decisions. Here's what you should know.

What's in this article?

  • How is average churn rate calculated?
  • Industry-specific churn rates
  • An overview of SaaS metrics
  • Why average churn rate is important for subscription businesses
  • How businesses can use their average churn rate
  • Limitations with using churn rate as a metric
  • How to improve average churn rate

How is average churn rate calculated?

Here's how to calculate average churn rate for a given time frame.

  • Calculate the churn rate for each period: First, calculate the churn rate for each period within the time frame that you're examining. For example, if you're calculating the average monthly churn rate over one year, you would start by calculating the monthly churn rate for each month. You can calculate churn rate by dividing the number of customers lost during the given time period by the number of customers at the beginning of the given time period, then multiplying that figure by 100 to get a percentage.

  • Add up the churn rates: Add up all the churn rates that you've calculated for each period. If you're calculating the average monthly churn rate over a year, you'll add the churn rates for each of the 12 months together.

  • Divide by the number of periods: Divide the sum of the churn rates by the number of periods that you're considering. To assess the average monthly churn rate over a year, you'll take the sum of the 12 different churn rates and divide it by 12.

Calculating average churn rate – rather than the monthly or quarterly churn rate – gives you a better sense of the typical customer loss rate over time, smoothing out any fluctuations that may occur in any single period. Different types of churn rate calculations may measure factors other than total customer losses. For example, they may look at the number of contracts expected to be renewed, known as the expected renewal rate, or examine the churn rates of different pricing tiers to see if higher rates of churn are happening at certain price points. A more granular look at churn rate might involve segmenting customers into cohorts based on when they signed up, their contract terms or their pricing tiers, and then calculating the churn rate for each cohort separately to understand how different factors influence churn.

Here's a more detailed look at different types of churn rate calculations.

Calculating churn rate by contract renewal

Formula: Churn rate = (Number of contracts not renewed / Total number of active contracts at the start) × 100

Example: If you start with 100 annual contracts and 20 are not renewed at the end of the year, your annual churn rate is (20/100) × 100 = 20%.

Calculating expected renewal rate

Formula: Expected renewal rate = (Total number of active contracts / Number of contracts expected to be renewed) × 100

Example: If you have 100 contracts and expect 80 to be renewed, the expected renewal rate is (80/100) × 100 = 80%. The churn rate would be 100% - 80% = 20%.

Industry-specific churn rates

Benchmarks for churn rate vary by industry. Here's a look at some industry-specific average churn rates (as of April 2024):

Industry
Average churn rate
Energy and utilities
11%
Consumer goods and retail
5.5%
Manufacturing
35%
Computer software
14%
SaaS
4.67%
IT services
12%
Professional services
27%
Telecommunications
31%

An overview of SaaS metrics

For SaaS businesses, churn rate is only one of many important metrics. While the average churn rate gives a direct insight into customer retention and loyalty, comparing it with other SaaS metrics – such as customer acquisition cost (CAC), lifetime value (LTV), monthly recurring revenue (MRR), customer satisfaction, net promoter score (NPS) and expansion revenue – provides a more comprehensive view of a business's health and growth prospects. Here's a summary of other important SaaS metrics and how they relate to churn rate.

Average churn rate

Average churn rate is the percentage of customers who cancel their subscription within a certain time frame. To calculate it, divide the number of customers who churned during a specific period by the total number of customers at the beginning of the period. Then, multiply that figure by 100. For example, if a SaaS company begins the month with 100 customers and loses 5 by the end of the month, the monthly churn rate would be (5/100) × 100 = 5%.

Churn rate indicates a business's ability to retain customers and high churn rates can be a warning sign of underlying issues with the product or service.

Customer acquisition cost (CAC)

CAC measures the total cost of acquiring a new customer, including marketing and sales expenses. CAC focuses on the initial acquisition, while churn rate measures retention. If churn is high, the return on investment for acquisition costs decreases. For overall financial health, businesses must balance acquiring new customers with retaining existing ones.

Lifetime value (LTV)

LTV is the total revenue that a business can expect to receive from a single customer account throughout the customer's relationship with the service. High churn rates reduce the average customer lifespan, thereby decreasing the LTV, while lower churn rates potentially indicate increased LTV.

Monthly recurring revenue (MRR)

MRR is the predictable revenue that a SaaS business can expect to receive from its customers every month. Churn has a direct effect on MRR, as lost customers lead to a reduction in recurring monthly revenue. Tracking MRR alongside churn can offer specific insights into how losing customers affects revenue.

Customer satisfaction and net promoter score (NPS)

Customer satisfaction and NPS gauge customer satisfaction and loyalty. NPS measures the likelihood that customers will recommend the service to others. These metrics can serve as early indicators of potential churn. Given that unhappy customers are more likely to leave, dissatisfied customers or a low NPS can predict higher churn rates.

Expansion revenue

Expansion revenue tracks any additional revenue from existing customers, from upsells, cross-sells or upgrades. Expansion revenue can offset churn by increasing the revenue from remaining customers, demonstrating how a focus on growing existing accounts can help to mitigate the impact of churn.

Why average churn rate is important for subscription businesses

The average churn rate is particularly important for subscription-based businesses because it has a direct effect on their revenue and long-term viability. Churn rate helps businesses to identify underlying issues, whether they're related to the product, customer service, pricing or market fit, thus allowing them to make strategic adjustments to improve customer retention – and business performance.

Churn rate affects the following aspects of business operations.

  • Revenue predictability: Subscription businesses rely on predictable, recurring revenue streams. Churn rate affects this predictability because a higher churn rate means less stable revenue, making it challenging for businesses to plan for future investments or expenses.

  • Customer retention costs: Acquiring new customers is usually more expensive than retaining existing ones. A high churn rate indicates that a business is losing customers faster than it's gaining new customers, leading to increased customer acquisition costs to maintain revenue levels.

  • Profitability: The profitability of subscription businesses often hinges on long-term customer relationships. The longer a customer uses the service, the more profitable they become, as the initial cost of acquisition is spread over a more extended period of time. High churn rates shorten the average customer lifespan, affecting overall profitability.

  • Growth metrics: For subscription businesses, growth is a balance between adding new customers and retaining existing ones. High churn rates can negate the effects of new customer acquisitions, resulting in stagnant or even declining growth.

  • Customer satisfaction insights: Churn rate can serve as a proxy for customer satisfaction. If many customers are leaving, it could indicate issues with the product or service, such as lack of value, poor customer support or unmet customer expectations.

  • Business valuation: For investors and stakeholders, churn rate is a key indicator of a business's health and long-term prospects. A low churn rate suggests a sustainable business model, which can be appealing to investments and partnerships.

How businesses can use their average churn rate

Here's an in-depth look at how businesses can use their average churn rate strategically.

  • Segmented churn analysis: Instead of looking at churn as a single metric, businesses should dissect it by customer segment, product line or geography. This approach can reveal patterns or trends that are not visible at the aggregate level. For instance, a higher churn rate in a specific segment could indicate a misalignment between product offerings and customer expectations, or reveal market-specific challenges.

  • Predictive churn modelling: Businesses can predict potential churn at the individual customer level by integrating churn rate data with advanced analytics and machine learning models. This predictive insight allows for proactive engagement strategies, targeting at-risk customers with personalised retention initiatives before they decide to leave.

  • Product development signalling: High churn rates can be symptomatic of deeper product or service issues. Businesses can use churn rate insights to prioritise product development or enhancement efforts, designing product roadmaps to address the underlying causes of customer dissatisfaction directly.

  • CLTV optimisation: Understanding the relationship between churn rate and customer lifetime value (CLTV) can lead to more nuanced financial modelling and strategic planning. Businesses can segment customers by profitability, as well as by their propensity to churn, tailoring strategies to maximise the CLTV of different segments.

  • Customer success data: Businesses should view churn rate as part of a broader set of customer success metrics. By correlating churn with other metrics, such as the net promoter score (NPS), customer satisfaction score (CSAT) or customer effort score (CES), businesses can gain a multi-dimensional view of customer health and predict churn with even greater accuracy.

  • Strategic account management: For B2B SaaS businesses, insights into churn rate can help to identify accounts with a high risk of churn and develop customised engagement plans to retain them, focusing on demonstrating value and helping the customer to meet their goals.

  • Churn rate and market positioning: High churn rates can also signal competitive pressures or market shifts. Analysing churn in the context of market dynamics can inform strategic decisions about positioning, pricing and value proposition refinement.

  • Feedback loop integration: Churn rate analysis should feed directly into a feedback loop which tracks insights from exiting customers and incorporates them into continuous improvement processes across product development, marketing, sales and customer service.

  • Investor relations: For publicly traded or venture-backed SaaS companies, managing and communicating about churn rate effectively can influence investor perceptions and company valuation. Taking a transparent approach to addressing churn and outlining strategies for improvement can build investor confidence.

  • Regulatory compliance and data security: In certain industries, a high churn rate could reflect concerns about data security or compliance with industry regulations. Acknowledging and addressing these concerns can both reduce churn and enhance the business's reputation and trustworthiness.

Limitations with using churn rate as a metric

While churn rate is an important metric for SaaS businesses, it comes with inherent limitations. Here's a brief look at the constraints of relying solely on churn rate.

  • Lack of contextual depth: Churn rate provides a snapshot of one area of business operations but lacks the depth to explain why customers are leaving. Without knowing the underlying reasons, businesses might struggle to implement effective strategies to reduce churn.

  • Aggregate vs segment-specific insights: An overall churn rate can mask variations across different customer segments, product lines or geographic regions. This aggregation can cause businesses to make misinformed decisions if it isn't dissected into more granular segments.

  • Timing sensitivity: Churn rates can fluctuate due to seasonal factors, market conditions or singular events. Short-term variations can lead to impromptu reactions unless the metric is contextualised within a broader framework.

  • Customer lifecycle: Churn rate does not differentiate between new customers and long-term customers. Losing long-term customers might have a different business implication compared with losing newer customers.

  • Volume vs value distinction: Churn rate typically counts customers without considering the value that each customer brings. While losing a high-value customer will have more impact than losing a lower-value one, churn rate alone does not capture this nuance.

  • Negative focus: Focusing too much on churn can lead businesses to overly prioritise retention over acquisition or expansion, stifling growth initiatives.

  • Operational silos: Churn rate might be owned by a specific team (such as customer success), leading to siloed interpretations and actions. For churn insights to be operationalised effectively, they need to be integrated across departments, influencing everything from product development to marketing strategies.

  • Feedback delays: Churn rate is a lagging indicator. By the time it reflects an issue, the business may have already lost numerous customers. Relying solely on churn for feedback can result in delayed responses to emerging problems or market shifts.

  • Customer engagement levels: Churn rate doesn't differentiate between engaged and unengaged customers prior to churn. Understanding the engagement level can offer more nuanced insights into potential churn risks and opportunities for intervention.

  • Risk aversion: An excessive focus on reducing churn can sometimes lead businesses to become overly risk-averse, which could hamper innovation. Businesses might hesitate to make necessary changes or introduce new features that could benefit them in the long term because they fear short-term increases in churn.

To overcome these limitations, businesses should integrate churn rate insights with other metrics, qualitative feedback and market analysis. This holistic approach allows for more informed and nuanced business strategies.

How to improve average churn rate

Get to know your customers

Learn why different types of customers use your product and tailor your services to meet their specific needs. If a customer decides to leave, ask them about their experience to understand what you might need to change.

How to do this:

  • Conduct interviews to learn about customer needs and preferences.
  • Segment your customers based on their behaviour or usage patterns to design more personalised services or products.
  • When customers cancel their subscription, provide a simple, optional survey where they can share their reasons.
  • Analyse exit feedback to identify patterns or recurring issues.

Identify at-risk customers

Use your data to spot signs that a customer might be thinking of leaving. Get in touch with these customers to see how you can improve their experience.

How to do this:

  • Monitor usage patterns and flag accounts with declining activity.
  • Set up alerts to notify your team when a customer's level of interaction with the product drops.

Help customers succeed

Make sure that customers are getting what they want from your product. This might mean offering guidance or training so that they can get the most out of your product.

How to do this:

  • Create tutorials, guides or webinars for your customers.
  • Provide a help desk or customer support where they can go for quick answers to problems.

Improve your product

Update and refine your product regularly, based on how customers use your service and the feedback that they provide you with. When customers give feedback, take it seriously and use their suggestions to make your product better.

How to do this:

  • Implement a simple feedback loop where customers can share their thoughts on your product or service easily.
  • Review feedback regularly and take actionable steps to address common concerns and emerging customer needs.
  • Consider adding frequently requested features.
  • Test new features with a small group of customers before a full rollout to ensure that they add value.

Be flexible with pricing

If possible, include different pricing options so that customers can choose what works best for them.

How to do this:

  • Provide different pricing tiers or packages that cater to different customer needs or sizes.
  • Consider discounts or special offers for long-term commitments to encourage customer retention.

Work as a team

Make sure that everyone in your business – not just the sales or customer service teams – grasps the importance of keeping customers happy.

How to do this:

  • Ensure that all team members understand their role in customer retention.
  • Encourage departments to share insights and collaborate on strategies to reduce churn.

Keep innovating

Always look for ways to make your product better and more relevant to your customers' evolving needs.

How to do this:

  • Stay up to date with industry trends and anticipate changes that could affect customer preferences.
  • Encourage a culture of innovation where employees are motivated to suggest and develop new ideas.

Choose the right customers

Focus on attracting customers who really need what you're offering. Customers who don't benefit fully from your product are more likely to leave.

How to do this:

  • Develop a clear customer profile that you can target in your marketing efforts.
  • Tailor your sales process to attract customers who will benefit and get value from your product.

Encourage happy customers to share

If your customers love your product, encourage them to tell others. Positive word-of-mouth can attract new customers who will stay with you.

How to do this:

  • Create a referral programme that rewards customers for bringing in others who sign up.
  • Feature customer testimonials or case studies on your website and in your marketing materials.

The content of this article is for general information and education purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Stripe does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, completeness, adequacy or currency of the information in the article. You should seek the advice of a competent lawyer or accountant who is licenced to practice in your jurisdiction for advice on your particular situation.

The content in this article is for general information and education purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Stripe does not warrant or guarantee the accurateness, completeness, adequacy, or currency of the information in the article. You should seek the advice of a competent attorney or accountant licensed to practice in your jurisdiction for advice on your particular situation.

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