promoting a culture of attendance
Illustration by Stephen Rowe

Some of the best lessons about customer service happen when you are the customer. In my case, I spent 20 years as a loyal client of a certain roadside assistance program. However, my new car purchase came with a subscription to a rival roadside assistance program.

Despite that perk, I still considered staying with my old provider. I liked the additional benefits they offered, such as complimentary tour books, road maps and additional services like automobile locksmith services. They also had the option of having your car towed an additional distance beyond the new provider’s mileage limit. So when I called my old provider’s customer service number to “cancel,” a part of me still wanted to retain my membership.

The agent who answered the phone asked for the reason for my call, I said in a very pleasant tone of voice, “I’d like to cancel my service.”

Mistake #1: Not asking for a cancellation reason

This agent never asked for a reason for cancellation. Remember, I was not yelling and screaming. I was very pleasant. In my own mind, I was still not convinced about cancelling, so any attempt at retaining me as a customer might have worked. However, this agent simply said, “OK, I’ll cancel that for you.” No attempt was made to find out why I wanted to cancel. No effort was put into probing for a problem. She just agreed to process the cancellation.

Mistake #2: Not grasping the importance of customer retention

It was obvious from this agent’s response that she did not care about retaining me as a customer. There are a number of possible reasons for this. She may not have known that, according to Bain & Co., a 5% increase in customer retention can improve profitability by 75%. A second cause is the agent may have been disgruntled and viewed my cancellation as just desserts for a company she did not believe in anymore. Or, she may have had several cancellations in a row and was tired of trying to save customers. She may not have realized the impact that even one upset customer can have on an organization. In my case, I frequently write for contact center publications, speak at national contact center conferences and get interviewed by the media. I also have an active Twitter and LinkedIn following. So, I could have chosen to vent publicly, using this company’s actual name. Whatever the cause, she gave a very strong impression she did not care if I stayed as a customer or cancelled.

Mistake #3: Not probing for needs

This agent did not ask a single question related to what I needed from a roadside assistance program. She could have asked how far I travelled from work to home, how frequently I made out-of-town trips or if I was keeping my old car and therefore needed coverage on that vehicle. I was open to answering questions, so she could have probed for ways to help me make the most of my current service. However, the only question she asked was, “How soon do you want that cancelled?”

Mistake #4: Not utilizing the information in your customer database

The roadside assistance included with my new car was simply that: a promise to send out a tow truck if my car became stuck or would not start. On the other hand, my old provider had a number of other perks including membership discounts at hotels, personalized trip-mapping and even discounted movie theater tickets. The agent should have looked at my account and noticed which non-roadside assistance features I had used in the past. She could then highlight those unique features as a reason for me to keep my membership. It might have worked since I was “on the fence” about cancelling anyway! Even if their database was not capable of displaying usage, she could have asked if I used any of her company’s other services. That would have given her clues that she could use to position the advantages of staying with this company, since they offered more than their competitor.

Mistake #5: Not understanding the competition

If she had asked for the name of my new provider, she might have been able to position her company’s services against theirs. For instance, it later turned out that my new provider would only tow my car for a maximum distance of 10 miles. That is not enough to get my car from the city where I worked to the suburbs where my auto dealer was located. However, my old service plan included up to 100 miles of towing as part of the package. That would have made it worth my while to keep my current package. Understanding the competition is a crucial part of any retention training. You need to give your agents the information they need to positively position your organization against your competitor’s offers.

Mistake #6: Not offering a cooling-off period

Another retention technique is to offer a “cooling-off” period, so customers have a chance to think about the benefits of staying. Since I was not irate or pushy about cancelling, she could have said, “I know you just got your new car today. But, since you use a number of our services that are not offered by the plan included with your new car, and since you’ve enjoyed our services for 20 years, why not take a few more days to think about it? If you still want to cancel, you can call back and I’ll take care of that for you.” That type of cooling-off period can work, unless you are in an industry where regulations prohibit that type of offer, or if customers need to give a certain notice period, such as 30 days to cancel.

Mistake #7: Not giving an appreciation statement

I had been a customer for 20 years. I also have referred other people to this company. However, the agent never mentioned that during the call. She should have said, “I noticed you’ve been with us for 20 years. We definitely appreciate that and we are sorry to see you go.” A simple appreciation statement like that can go a long way toward building goodwill and setting up a later win-back attempt. It can also minimize the social media damage from having a customer leave on poor terms and then vent publicly.

Mistake #8: Not leaving the door open for a customer to return

If this agent had asked why I was cancelling, I would have said, “Because my new car comes with roadside assistance for five years.” Even if she could not save me as a customer, she could have used that information to invite me back when the included roadside assistance expired. For example, she could have said, “Since you’ve been with us for 20 years, we would love to have you come back once the program included with your new car purchase expires.” Again, that builds goodwill and increases the likelihood of the customer returning in the future.

Mistake #9: Not even trying to make a save attempt

Ultimately, this agent never even attempted to make a save. Not one of the techniques listed above was used during this call. Instead, my cancellation was processed as if I were simply fixing a typo in my mailing address. Everyone wants to be treated as if they mattered. But, the impression I got was that the loss of a 20-year customer did not matter one little bit. I do not want to be too hard on that agent. There may be a number of reasons behind her lack of a save attempt. However, it stood out for me, since I am in the contact center industry. Proper training, coaching and a reward program for saves can go a long way toward reducing customer churn and retaining more of your client base.

Mistake #10: Not doing a win-back followup call

One of the techniques employed by many telecom companies is to do a win-back call several weeks after a customer has left. That is because buyer’s remorse can set in after a new purchase. So, calling a customer a few weeks after they have cancelled to see how their replacement service is working and can be effective at winning customers back.

The ironic news is that I am about to rejoin my old roadside assistance provider… five years later! However, I might have stayed with my original provider, if the agent had used any of the “save” techniques listed in this article. That would have meant five additional years of revenue for that company. That is the cost of not even attempting to save a customer.

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