Short-Term and Long-Term At-Risk Strategies

Despite our attempts at being proactive, clients can fall into risky territory for a variety of reasons; they may not be a good fit, they struggle to get started, they don’t use the product appropriately, they run into technical issues or perhaps they are non-responsive to you for a variety of other reasons. If a client is truly not a good fit for your product or has short-term needs, that account is probably not worth keeping and would have churned anyways.  However, most other at-risk accounts are valuable and can be salvaged with the right strategies.

When dealing with at-risk accounts, timing is important for determining what strategies to use.  You may have plenty of time to get the relationship back on course or you may need to scramble to take drastic action as quickly as possible.  Using the wrong strategy at the wrong time can also cause more issues for the already rocky relationship. I’ve outlined two of my go-to short- and long-term strategies for at-risk accounts below:

Short-Term Strategy:

If an account is flagged as being at-risk close to renewal, a CSM may want to quickly jump into pushing usage or solving support issues as urgently as possible to salvage any time that is left in the subscription.  However, no client really wants to continue to hear about seeing value in or using a product that they are not invested in using in the first place. Instead, CSMs can lean on relationship building to salvage the account by acknowledging the problem and aligning forces with the client.  When using this strategy, it is important that the CSM frames this as a team effort and is transparent with the client. 

The customer had a need and was sold on using your product at one point; we need to help them buy into that vision again. Lay out a clear plan for how the client can see the success they were looking for and achieve their goals, using your product.  Be up front with the client that we are currently not on pace to meet this goal and how long it will take to realistically get there. Dig into what actions have been taken so far and what needs to change to make this goal achievable. If it’s not possible to achieve in the time left before renewal, ask the client what they would consider a reasonable intermediary goal that would illustrate that we had made sufficient progress towards the longer-term goal.  Instead of continuing to push your product, this strategy shows the customer that you understand what they care about and are an ally in helping them to get wherever they want to go next. Being transparent upfront also sets more realistic expectations for both parties before the renewal conversation. 

Long-Term Strategy:

If you have time before the account is due for renewal, it will be premature to tell your client that we are not on track to meet our goals and erode their confidence in the vision they have for your product.  Instead, focus on being proactive and catching accounts before they become at-risk by learning from your other clients. Look at your most successful customers and what makes them successful. How can you replicate those tactics and strategies across your other clients? Look at your already at-risk clients and what red flags they have.  How can you more quickly identify and track those signs before accounts become at risk? Cut your customers into segments using data and take note of any trends you see. As you notice those patterns, build in checks and systems into your customer journey to prevent those problems from arising for all of your clients. Using this data to build proactive actions into your customer journey, will help you prevent risk before it occurs. 

Ultimately, you will need to align your strategy for at-risk accounts with the specific needs of the client and the root cause of why they are at risk in the first place.  However, having the clients’ best interests in mind, being transparent with them, and being proactive up front to prevent at-risk accounts will always be key to retaining accounts and building a happy customer base. 


Priya Devineni is a data-driven management professional with over 12 years of experience in customer service.  She is currently the VP of School Success at Albert, an education technology company.

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