How to calculate churn rates

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  1. Introduction
  2. What is churn rate?
  3. How do you calculate churn rate?
  4. Churn rate best practices
  5. Why is churn rate important for subscription businesses?

To understand the health of their business, companies need to track the right metrics. For subscription-based businesses—whose core revenue comes from recurring subscriptions—there are specific metrics that are relevant for their business model, including churn rate. For example, the churn rate for over-the-top (OTT) streaming services in the US was 47% in 2023, highlighting a need to constantly acquire new customers in that sector.

Below, we’ll explore what churn rate is, how to calculate it, what it indicates about business health and growth, and best practices for minimizing it.

What’s in this article?

  • What is churn rate?
  • How do you calculate churn rate?
  • Churn rate best practices
  • Why is churn rate important for subscription businesses?

What is churn rate?

Churn rate is a business metric that measures the percentage of customers or subscribers who end their relationship with a company during a specified period. Often used in subscription-based businesses or those that rely on recurring revenue, churn rate provides insight into customer retention and satisfaction.

How do you calculate churn rate?

Calculating churn rate involves two key numbers: the number of customers at the beginning of a period and the number who left during that same period. The formula to calculate churn rate is relatively straightforward.

Churn Rate = (Number of Customers Lost ÷ Number of Customers at Start) x 100

Let’s break this calculation down step by step:

  1. Determine the time period: Decide on the time frame you want to measure, whether it’s a single month, a quarter, or a year.

  2. Identify initial customers: Count the total number of customers you had at the beginning of this period. This number serves as your baseline.

  3. Count lost customers: Tally the total number of customers who ceased their relationship with your company during the chosen period.

  4. Apply the formula: Divide the number of lost customers by the initial number of customers. Multiply the result by 100 to convert your result to a percentage.

For instance, if a company started a quarter with 200 customers and lost 10 of them by the end of that quarter, the calculation would look like this:

Churn Rate = (10 ÷ 200) x 100 = 5%

This means that the company had a 5% churn rate for that quarter.

Churn rate best practices

While calculating churn rate might be a simple exercise, creating a strategy for reducing customer churn is a little more complex. As with any performance metric, the value of measuring churn rate depends on how meticulously you calculate it and what actions you take based on those insights. Here are the best practices businesses should employ for minimizing churn rate:

  • Monitor churn rate regularly: Calculate and review your churn rate consistently—on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis. This habit allows you to identify trends and address issues proactively.

  • Act on feedback: Actively seek feedback from current and former customers. Their insights can reveal issues in your products, services, or overall customer experience.

  • Implement proactive customer service: Anticipate potential problems and address them ahead of time. This proactive stance can reduce the number of customers that leave due to unaddressed concerns. A 2018 PwC report shows that 32% of consumers say they will stop supporting a brand after just one bad experience.

  • Create a loyalty program: Rewarding loyal customers can motivate them to stick around. Such programs can provide special discounts, exclusive access, or other perks that add value to the customer experience.

  • Offer onboarding and training: Some customers leave because they don’t fully grasp the value of a product or service. Providing thorough onboarding and training can help them maximize their benefits.

  • Segment your customer base: Not all customers are the same. Segmenting allows you to customize strategies and communication for different groups, which can increase retention.

  • Analyze exit surveys: When a customer decides to leave, request an exit survey. Their responses can highlight areas for improvement.

  • Develop a win-back strategy: Even after a customer leaves, there’s still a chance to win them back. Create win-back strategies, such as special offers or addressing previously mentioned concerns, to encourage their return.

  • Maintain open communication: Ensure customers are aware of updates, changes, or improvements to your products or services. Transparency can foster trust and reduce misunderstandings.

  • Focus on quality control: Always strive to deliver the best possible product or service and continuously add value. This can reduce the number of customers who leave due to dissatisfaction. A 2020 McKinsey & Company survey found that 30% of consumers say a lack of fun or new experiences would factor into their decision to cancel a subscription.

Keeping churn rate low requires ongoing effort, attention to detail, and a genuine commitment to customer satisfaction. While it’s natural for some churn to occur, these best practices can help businesses minimize it and foster long-term customer relationships.

Why is churn rate important for subscription businesses?

Churn rate is one of the most important metrics that subscription-based businesses can use to assess their overall performance. While other metrics relate to how customers engage with the product or service or how new subscribers are acquired, churn rate tells you how many customers you’re losing relative to how many new customers you’re gaining.

Here’s why churn rate is so useful for businesses and what they can learn about their operations:

  • Revenue predictability
    In the subscription model, businesses rely heavily on consistent, recurring revenue streams. This predictability is important for budgeting, forecasting, and making long-term investments. Churn rate can tell businesses how predictable their revenue will be in the coming months: if churn rate increases, predictability decreases, indicating the business may be less stable.

  • Average customer lifetime value
    The longer a customer stays subscribed, the more valuable they become in terms of revenue. An elevated churn rate implies that, on average, customers aren’t staying as long, which reduces the average customer’s lifetime value. Customer lifetime value directly impacts profitability and how much a subscription business can afford to spend on acquiring new customers.

  • How much to spend on customer acquisition
    Attracting new subscribers often requires significant investment via advertising, promotions, or other marketing efforts. Businesses can justify high customer acquisition costs if churn rate is low, meaning they’re retaining these new customers. If churn rate is high, those acquisition costs are harder to justify.

  • Whether the business is shrinking or growing
    Each new customer can represent business growth. But if existing customers are leaving at a faster rate than new customers are joining, the business isn’t truly growing. And if more customers are exiting than joining, the business may be shrinking. Churn rate can give you a holistic picture of what direction your business is moving in.

  • Product and service quality
    An increase in churn rate can be a valuable warning sign that something about the product, service, or overall customer experience isn’t meeting expectations. Such insights give businesses the chance to rectify issues before they escalate.

  • Cost benefits of customer retention
    Maintaining a relationship with an existing customer is generally more cost-effective than establishing a new one. A lower churn rate indicates that the business is enjoying associated cost savings and can allocate resources elsewhere.

  • Community and network health
    Many subscription businesses benefit from maintaining a vibrant, engaged community. Consistent churn disrupts these communities, and departing customers can weaken the benefits that come from a network of engaged customers.

  • What strategic decisions may be needed
    With churn rate as a guiding metric, businesses can make informed decisions about product development, marketing strategies, and customer service improvements. It offers a clear picture of where attention is needed and where resources should be directed.

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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