Advice for fixing a dysfunctional relationship—before your customer leaves you for someone else.
Last month, I switched my incumbent satellite provider after 20 years as a loyal customer. Why did we break up after so many happy years together? I’ll tell you why. They took our relationship for granted. They stopped making me feel appreciated and weren’t paying attention to things they knew were important to me. They didn’t think I was strong enough to leave them and find someone else. It didn’t end well. Let me open a bottle of wine and share the ugly details with you.
We started to become estranged about a year ago. Their pricing schemes and channel-bundling strategies had changed several times, and my evening viewing just wasn’t the same without my favorite channels. There were also technical glitches: The old hardware just wasn’t performing very well, if you know what I mean. And they wanted to charge me for a tech to come to my home and fix their box. Most of all, our heated exchanges over the phone had become very unsettling. All these little disagreements turned into animosity, then finally contempt. Prior to this fallout, I’d been an avid promoter of this company’s services. What did this company do to retain my business and patch up our relationship? Surprisingly, it was too little and too late.
The Warning Signs
Were there warning signs that our relationship was in trouble? Absolutely! I expressed my dissatisfaction several times during countless phone calls. I kept investing in our relationship by repeatedly calling and trying to resolve our differences. I told every agent I spoke with that I was ready to dump them and go to their competitor. Did any alarm bells go off? Did they care that our relationship was on the skids? Did they wake up and realize how important my business was to their success? Nope. I felt like our 20-year relationship meant nothing to them. I felt discarded.
When it was clear there was no chance of a reconciliation, I had to take that big step. I soon found another provider that was much more attractive and easier to live with. I’m still in the honeymoon phase (just received my first monthly bill), but so far I’m getting a lot more value and programming for a lot less money.
I had to call “the ex” one last time to rid myself of the remnants of our old life together: I needed to know how I should ship back the old receiver boxes and smartcard, and to request a prepaid return shipping label. I realized I’d made the right decision to split when I tried to call her for the very last time. She had to know it was me calling because she sees my number come up, but she pretended she didn’t even know me:
My Ex : “Thank you for calling [name redacted]. Para continuar en español, oprima dos ahora. Please tell me the phone number for the account you’re calling about. Or you can say, Enter my account number.”
Me : “Disconnect my service.”
My Ex : “Sorry, I misunderstood. Please try again.”
Me : “Agent.”
My Ex : “Sorry, I’m still having some trouble. Please use your touch-tone keypad instead.”
Me : “Customer Service.”
My Ex : “Again, please enter your phone number starting with the area code, or press star to enter your account number.”
Me : “Disconnect my service.”
My Ex : “Main Menu. With this automated service you can say things like, What’s my account balance, or, I want to order a movie. Just use a few short words to explain the reason for your call. So, how can I help you?”
Me : “Disconnect my service.”
My Ex : “Sorry, I didn’t quite understand your response. Please tell me the reason for your call today…”
Me : “Disconnect my service.”
My Ex : “Just to clarify, did you want to change your programming, or close your account?”
So after repeatedly dodging the issue and invalidating my needs, she reluctantly agreed to connect me to a retention agent. This person was quick-thinking and witty, and obviously incentivized to salvage what was left of our relationship. The agent did her absolute best, even promising to replace all my hardware with the latest technology, heavily discount my bill for one year and throw in three months of free HBO, but it was way too late—I’d already committed myself to my ex’s biggest rival.
The divorce is final and I’m happy to say I’ve moved on to a healthy new relationship. Life is good. But if any of you feel that you need a little “customer therapy” to keep your relationships on the right track, let me share some sage advice with you. In hindsight, there were many opportunities to fix this dysfunctional relationship. Let me channel my best Dr. Phil impression…
“We just don’t communicate anymore.”
Your IVR is the first impression you make. That first 10 to 30 seconds can make or break the outcome of each customer interaction and shape your Net Promoter Score more than you think. Using natural language speech recognition to your strategic advantage requires a continuous Improvement cycle: develop, implement changes, measure results and then repeat. It requires regular audits of call recordings to hear what your callers are saying while in your IVR. In the previous example, I should have been directed to a retention specialist within seconds of uttering, “Disconnect my service.” Intentionally making the hurdles too high will just frustrate your customers, setting the tone for the rest of the conversation.
“You hear me, but you’re not really listening to me.”
Do you really know what your customers are saying to your contact center agents? Of course you do—you have a quality team that reviews and scores hundreds of recorded calls a day. But do you look beyond measuring your agents’ performance and instead seek to evaluate your customer service strategy? Do you focus on what the unhappy customers have to say? Speech analytics is becoming a proven, mature technology and can be valuable in targeting specific recordings to understand why your customers are defecting to your competition.
Reliable, actionable intelligence from speech analytics can help hone your retention strategies on a strategic level, but it can also reduce customer churn on a more tactical level. In my ex’s data center, there were a half-dozen recordings over a 30-day period of me venting to various agents about my dissatisfaction and my intent to shop for another provider. All that valuable intelligence on “churn probability” remained buried in those recordings as bits and bytes. And then there’s the 20 years of customer history that should have factored into my “customer value” score.
This love story would have a much better ending if my churn score would have catapulted me to the front of the queue and routed me to a retention specialist long before I signed a contract with my new provider. An even better approach would involve proactive outreach from a retention agent, demonstrating that the provider is really serious about retaining customers.
“I feel that you’re taking me for granted.”
I’m reminded of an old study from Harvard Business Review (I’m paraphrasing here): “It can cost six times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, and a 5% improvement in retention yields a 25% to 95% increase in profits.” Now, if even half of that is true, it’s a compelling case for a solid customer retention strategy. Have you ever considered organizing a crossfunctional “customer retention task force” to pore over the data, study survey results and brainstorm methods to track and reduce churn?
“It’s just not worth investing anymore.”
Yes, but who has the budget for “warm and fuzzy” retention efforts and all that NPS claptrap? I recently pondered the fact that I’d been paying around $185 a month for satellite service, or $44,400 over 20 years. If you consider the customer lifetime value of a subscriber that sticks for 20-plus years AND actively promotes your services to others, it’s a mathematical imperative to reinvest some portion of your revenue into customer retention, versus advertising and promotional discounts to new customers. Comparatively, advertising has a much weaker ROI. And promotional discounts to snag new subscribers merely devalue your products or services in a market that’s already commoditized. Customer retention must be a top-down set of strategies, not an afterthought.
Not All Differences Are Irreconcilable… Until They Are
I keep getting “win-back” offers in the mail from my ex, bribing me with a $200 prepaid gift card if I come back. But I cannot be bought. This was not a financial decision, but an emotional one. I still get annoyed when I see their commercials on network TV. They just don’t get it—every win-back attempt in my case is a blatant waste of marketing dollars. Can’t my ex see the real cost of losing a customer forever?
As my adult children begin to buy homes and shop around for providers, they’ll surely ask me for guidance. This too-big-to-fail company has created a Net Detractor with enough gravitational pull to influence a lot of consumers, and they’ve sacrificed all the future revenue from everybody in my orbit. My ex should just be grateful I haven’t trashed them on social media—there are already thousands of negative posts, and I wouldn’t get much joy from commiserating and adding to the noise. At this stage in my life, it’s better to just move on, but don’t expect the younger generation to exercise the same restraint—have you ever poked a hornets’ nest? How about that high-profile cable company that was blasted in a viral YouTube video, invoking an apology from the embarrassed CEO? Your quality team may not be the only party recording those calls.
Subscriber growth in the utility and telecommunications space is an important metric—but like some say about marriage, it’s often “cheaper to keep her/him.” Companies must make the necessary investments in new technologies, and they must continually optimize and leverage existing tools to gather valuable insight into customers’ motivations. If you make it easy to communicate, actively listen to your customers and start working though the problems before the resentment sets in, your relationships can survive and thrive.