Houston voices

University of Houston expert on feeling the churn of customers and what to learn from it

Customer churn is inevitable, but it's what you do with the opportunity that matters. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Think of customer churn as a robust balloon, ready to touch the sky as soon as you let go. Every day you hold on to that balloon, air molecules will diffuse through the knot. Your balloon will become flabby. This exodus of air is known in business as a churn. Customer churn is the amount of customers that your company loses during a specific time frame. Canceled subscribers, dissatisfied clientele, or customers that just found a better alternative. Keeping track of churn is a vital part of your company's continued growth. Doing so will give you the brutal truth regarding customer retention.

It's difficult to measure the success of your startup without keeping track and analyzing your shortcomings as well. Sure, you want 100 percent customer retention. But even a company that has figured out how to stop the aging process will not have such an unrealistic rate. Losing customers is part of the game. However, you don't have to let it kill your company. You can learn from it.

Measuring customer churn rate

You can measure your churn rate by subtracting lost patronage from the number of customers you had to start a period. So, if you started off the month or quarter with 1,000 customers, and end up with 500 at the end of that period, your churn rate is 50 percent. You lost 50 percent of your customers. Ouch. Unless your company decides to go into selling raincoats in the Sahara, it is doubtful your churn rate will be that high. But you understand how it's calculated now.

So, why is customer churn so important? Well, for starters, the cost of acquiring new customers is 25 times higher than the cost of retaining the ones you already have. Further, research has determined that a mere five percent rise in retention rates can boost profits upwards of 25 percent.

Curb your churn

There are a few ways to curb customer churn.

One way is to concentrate on your most loyal customers. One of the biggest gripes against Comcast is that they offer so many special rates to new customers, and almost nothing for their long-time customers. The same was said about Uber until they recently launched Uber Gold. How many "special deals for first time customers" do you see with phone service companies? Tons. It would be more advantageous to focus your resources on your loyal customers. Give them another reason to stay. After all, as we just covered, it's cheaper for your company to retain them than to get new customers.

Another way to reduce churn rates is to track and analyze it every fiscal quarter. This analysis can help you understand why exactly customers are leaving. You can even detect patterns to show at what point in their patronage they are leaving. All this data can be used to make better decisions about improving your company's services or products.

Listen to fleeing customers

Speaking of making better decisions for your company, the best way to do that is to talk to the customer. When you were in high school, you probably had "intel" on your crushes to see if they liked you back. You probably spent months agonizing over what they meant by this text or that comment. In retrospect, you probably now know it would have been so much easier to just ask. Letting the customer be your compass will steer your company in the right direction. Lapsed customers will almost always be honest with you. What have they got to lose? They will tell you straight up what they didn't like and why they didn't like it. With a large enough sample size, you'll soon have a good idea about what you could be doing better to keep your current customers from fleeing your company like it's Blockbuster. No offense to Blockbuster.

In summary, keeping the customers you have is just as important as winning over new ones. It's harder to put air into an already knotted balloon than it is to just keep the air it already has inside. If you focus on keeping your customers, much like that air-filled balloon, sky's the limit.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Breakthrough research on metastatic breast cancer, a new way to turn toxic pollutants into valuable chemicals, and an evolved brain tumor chip are three cancer-fighting treatments coming out of Houston. Getty Inages

Cancer remains to be one of the medical research community's huge focuses and challenges, and scientists in Houston are continuing to innovate new treatments and technologies to make an impact on cancer and its ripple effect.

Three research projects coming out of Houston institutions are providing solutions in the fight against cancer — from ways to monitor treatment to eliminating cancer-causing chemicals in the first place.

Baylor College of Medicine's breakthrough in breast cancer

Photo via bcm.edu

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Harvard Medical School have unveiled a mechanism explains how "endocrine-resistant breast cancer acquires metastatic behavior," according to a news release from BCM. This research can be game changing for introducing new therapeutic strategies.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and shows that hyperactive FOXA1 signaling — previously reported in endocrine-resistant metastatic breast cancer — can trigger genome-wide reprogramming that enhances resistance to treatment.

"Working with breast cancer cell lines in the laboratory, we discovered that FOXA1 reprograms endocrine therapy-resistant breast cancer cells by turning on certain genes that were turned off before and turning off other genes," says Dr. Xiaoyong Fu, assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology and part of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor, in the release.

"The new gene expression program mimics an early embryonic developmental program that endow cancer cells with new capabilities, such as being able to migrate to other tissues and invade them aggressively, hallmarks of metastatic behavior."

Patients whose cancer is considered metastatic — even ones that initially responded to treatment — tend to relapse and die due to the cancer's resistance to treatment. This research will allow for new conversations around therapeutic treatment that could work to eliminate metastatic cancer.

University of Houston's evolved brain cancer chip

Photo via uh.edu

A biomedical research team at the University of Houston has made improvements on its microfluidic brain cancer chip. The Akay Lab's new chip "allows multiple-simultaneous drug administration, and a massive parallel testing of drug response for patients with glioblastoma," according to a UH news release. GBM is the most common malignant brain tumor and makes up half of all cases. Patients with GBM have a five-year survival rate of only 5.6 percent.

"The new chip generates tumor spheroids, or clusters, and provides large-scale assessments on the response of these GBM tumor cells to various concentrations and combinations of drugs. This platform could optimize the use of rare tumor samples derived from GBM patients to provide valuable insight on the tumor growth and responses to drug therapies," says Metin Akay, John S. Dunn Endowed Chair Professor of Biomedical Engineering and department chair, in the release.

Akay's team published a paper in the inaugural issue of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society's Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology. The report explains how the technology is able to quickly assess how well a cancer drug is improving its patients' health.

"When we can tell the doctor that the patient needs a combination of drugs and the exact proportion of each, this is precision medicine," Akay explains in the release.

Rice University's pollution transformation technology

Photo via rice.edu

Rice University engineers have developed a way to get rid of cancer-causing pollutants in water and transform them into valuable chemicals. A team lead by Michael Wong and Thomas Senftle has created this new catalyst that turns nitrate into ammonia. The study was published in the journal ACS Catalysis.

"Agricultural fertilizer runoff is contaminating ground and surface water, which causes ecological effects such as algae blooms as well as significant adverse effects for humans, including cancer, hypertension and developmental issues in babies," says Wong, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in Rice's Brown School of Engineering, in a news release. "I've been very curious about nitrogen chemistry, especially if I can design materials that clean water of nitrogen compounds like nitrites and nitrates."

The ability to transform these chemicals into ammonia is crucial because ammonia-based fertilizers are used for global food supplies and the traditional method of creating ammonia is energy intensive. Not only does this process eliminate that energy usage, but it's ridding the contaminated water of toxic chemicals.

"I'm excited about removing nitrite, forming ammonia and hydrazine, as well as the chemistry that we figured out about how all this happens," Wong says in the release. "The most important takeaway is that we learned how to clean water in a simpler way and created chemicals that are more valuable than the waste stream."