Different Kinds of Customer Retention Defined
There is a big downside to being too hard to break up with.
Much of what you will read in this Blog is about customer retention. This post will contrast two kinds of customer retention – that which is driven by corporate economic goals by making it difficult for customers to leave and that which seeks to keep customers by addressing their needs.
Coercive Retention Techniques That Focus On Needs of Company Are Risky
A video (really, a sound recording) portraying a bad customer experience (see above) went viral a couple of months ago, doing much damage to a national cable provider, Comcast's, already checkered reputation for customer service. To summarize the video briefly, a long-time Comcast customer, Ryan Block, records himself attempting to close a Comcast Internet account. Ryan encounters an aggressive and determined Comcast Customer Retention Unit CSR who refuses to close the customer's account. The 18 minutes of ensuing banter is brutal when listening from the customer's perspective, and "hard to listen to," for the leadership at Comcast, who had to respond to the media in its wake.[i] While it is easy to blame the CSR in this instance, an internal Comcast leadership memo leaked to CNET points out that this CSR did what he was trained to do. [ii]
One reason this video went viral is that so many of us can empathize with the caller. How many of us have found ourselves trapped in subscription arrangements, the details of which were glossed over by salespeople when we made the purchase agreement? How many of us have been driven to anger after suffering a bad customer experience at the hands of a service provider with which we had a long-term contract? I'm sure each of us can think of a provider, anything from alarm systems to cell phones, to landlords, and business services, where this has occurred.
For example, I recently tried to cancel a service with an online meeting provider. I called, then emailed my local business services representative requesting cancellation. He never replied. When I received a renewal bill for the next year's service a month later, I contacted accounts payable (in India) then fought my way back to a customer service executive assigned to my region here in the US. The executive said that I hadn't canceled in time, and I owed the full subscription amount for the next year. I said I had requested cancellation, however, their staff had failed to take action on my request. Back and forth it went. It took five emails and three phone calls to address the issue. The whole ordeal cost her company (and mine) many multiples of the original bill. And that company lost a customer for life. We will do our best to never do business with that company again.
Service-Driven Retention Focuses On Needs of Customer
For contrast, I will compare these experiences to one I had with a local dry cleaning company, Crown Cleaners, here in Knoxville, Tennessee. While picking up some laundry recently, I happened to mention that my son had just sat in some bubble gum while waiting for me to pick him up from football practice, and the bubble gum had ended up smeared all over the front passenger car seat. Without any prompting, one of the employees grabbed a bottle of solution, came out to my car, and cleaned the bubble gum almost magically removing the gum from the seat. When I offered to pay for the service the employee politely declined saying, instead, that Crown simply appreciated my business.
A little later, I received an email from Crown Cleaners pointing out that I hadn't been in with more dry cleaning for a while. Had something in the service gone wrong, the email asked? I responded no, I just hadn't been traveling a lot lately, doing most of my work from home.
That same week, I ran into the owner at a football game and told him, everything was great, and I loved the systemic follow-up. He said, somewhat sheepishly, that he didn't send it, it was an automated email from his CRM platform. Well, it worked great, I said.
These are two different types of retention activities and two very different kinds of customer experiences. One was focused on the customer's needs, the other focused on the company's needs. While we would all like to think that our company would be more likely to provide the Crown Cleaners customer experience rather than that served up by Comcast, it is hard to know for sure.
As the above YouTube video makes plain, power has shifted into the hands of the customer. If we're smart, we worry about this. If we're even smarter, we do something about it as Crown does.
[i] See: http://www.cnet.com/news/comcast-admits-s ervice-rep-did-what-he-was-trained-to-do/ Citation on 10/17/24.