Customer Trust

Customer Retention Is Also about Keeping Your Promises

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If you’re reading this, you likely already know your brand is your promise to your customers.  But there is an important extension to this:  keeping customers means keeping your promises.

Let me tell you the story of what just happened to me (I admit this is a bit of a rant, but if you’ve been following my customer retention stories, you know how I love to pick on the companies with the worst customer service—they are fantastic examples of what not to do).

This story is about my mobile phone upgrade.  You’re probably not surprised to learn I have not been thrilled with my mobile phone carrier.  When my contract was up and the new devices became available, it was time to upgrade.  I did my homework, calling and asking lots of detailed questions about devices and plans.  I got great answers from very helpful people.

In other words, they made me a promise.  They made promises about the features and plans, and more importantly, they made promises (implicitly) about the kind of service I would receive (friendly and helpful, making the upgrade process easy and smooth).

When it came time to place the order, things started to go wrong, and small issues turned into big issues, leaving me wanting to switch to another carrier.  First, when I called to place the order, I was told I could only do that online.  Just a small inconvenience, so I tried online.  Even though I was out of contract, they wanted to charge me a fee for upgrading (this is a common, if customer hostile, practice).  I called to complain and was put on hold, then transferred to three (!) different departments.  Then I was told this fee was required, and that I could not upgrade my phone without it.  And no, not even if I paid full price for an unlocked phone could I avoid this fee.

More than an hour later (trying my patience), I hung up and called another carrier.  They agreed to sell me new phones (the same model) with a similar plan without any fees to get started.  The only reason I did not sign up right there and then was a small technical feature I need—which they do not have.

So I called back my old carrier and told them I would leave if they didn’t waive the fees and process my order without further hassles.  I was transferred to the “customer retention department.”

As you probably know, these are the people whose job it is to handle the angriest customers and the worst customer service mistakes the company has made to improve customer retention.  The mere fact a customer retention department exists means customer service is failing (If you have such a customer retention department in your company, I advise you to do a better job of customer service).  They succeeded (they were nice, apologetic and made the process easy for me), and I renewed and upgraded.

But they’d made me a promise:  an easy process with no hassles.  They broke their promise and failed in every possible way to deliver.  Then they were forced to spend time, effort, and money to “retain” me.

If you’ve dealt with customer service or even customer retention departments, you probably have at least a few stories that sound just like this or maybe worse.  But this, as I noted above, is the bad example.

What you can do to avoid having a customer retention department and doing this to your customers is simple:  keep your promises.

When a customer comes to make a purchase—any kind of purchase —make them a promise.  Your promise is not just that the product or service you sell will perform an expected task, but it is a promise about the kind of service you will offer, what the buying experience will be like (now and every time they come back), what their experience will be using the product, how they will feel about your product, and how your product will affect their reputation.

The single biggest mistake companies make when they are seeking repeat or return business is breaking promises.

As a consumer, you know what it feels like to have a company break a promise.  You are left with a sour taste and a desire to seek out competitors.  Sometimes you switch, but even if you stay put, you are not a happy customer.

In your business, you are probably breaking promises to your customers far more often than you think (and certainly far more often than they are telling you).  Without your customers’ willingness to tell you every single time you break a promise, how do you know?

Here are two questions you must ask for effective customer retention:

  1.  What promises are you making to your customers? Make sure you know every single promise your customers  think you are making and not just the ones you want to make.
  2.  Which promises do your customers value? Companies break promises all the time, but most of the promises  broken are unimportant to their customers.  Find out what’s important to your customers.

Once you know the answer with a great deal of certainty, you are left with the very hard customer retention work (don’t underestimate this) of finding out how you are breaking those important promises.  It might be in very small ways (oops, we forgot to tell you we charge $40 to upgrade your phone.  Didn’t you read the small print?  And if your agent starts quoting small print or company “policy” to your customer, you have blown it).  You will have to look hard.

You’ll probably have to do the hardest thing of all:  get outside your view as a representative of your company and step into the view of your customer.  Live the experience your customer has with you as if you are your customer.  You might be surprised at what you find.

In my experience working with companies whose business depends on having customers come back again and again, the work of fixing the issues you find is the easiest part.  Often there are some simple tweaks to your processes that will help.  Almost always, giving your employees on the front lines the authority to solve customers’ problems will solve most of your customer retention problems.

No matter what kind of business you are in, you depend on customers coming back. Breaking your promises in important ways (even if the importance is small) can ensure they never do come back. If you are in a recurring revenue and custom retention business, broken promises will certainly spell the end of your company.

Please share how you found out about your own broken promises and how you fixed them in the comments.

Customer Success

Four Steps to Fixing Your Biggest Customer Service Mistake

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There’s one big mistake you can make in your customer service, and, if you’ve read my earlier posts, you know this is a pet peeve of mine:  Letting your process and policies govern how you deal with people.

This often happens even in the best customer service organizations.  In fact, this one mistake can sour great service more often in companies already known for great customer service than in ones where there is little or no customer service in the first place (though sometimes this is true because there is no service to sour in the latter set of companies!).

My Customer Service Experience

Here’s what one recent experience I had looked like:

My computer (partially) died.  It could do a few simple things, but it was useless for anything significant and pretty much stopped all my work and productivity.  My computer is from a company known for great customer service.  So I called.

They sent a technician to my office the next business day with a replacement part.  He opened up the computer, did his work, and left in less than an hour.  I was thrilled.

The people were helpful and friendly, the service was quick and personalized, and what could have been a lengthy loss of time and work for me turned into a quick repair without my ever leaving the office

Then things went sour.  It turns out there were two parts that needed to be replaced, and the technician didn’t know this.  But the company acted quickly, and the next day he was back replacing the second part, avoiding a potentially poor customer service outcome.

But while the technician was working on the second part, he broke an even more critical part.  He then spent two more hours in my office trying desperately—and unsuccessfully—to fix it.

So, again, I called.  The customer service department wanted to send him out a third time with a replacement for the broken part.  This was just a bit too intrusive for me.  The next best offer from customer service was for me to ship my entire computer to them—and be without it for 10 days.

Yes, there’s a lot of drama behind this story.  But the point is that it started out as a fantastic experience based on a set of customer service policy rules that allows the company to provide me with great initial service.  Then it turns quickly sour because the same set of policy rules which are intended to make the service great end up creating more pain for the customer.

And yes, you’ve done this to your customers.  I don’t know if you do it all the time, but I’m sure it’s happened.  And I’m sure you looked at how it happened and decided that the policies in place were really best overall and that the particular case was unusual.  But we’re all the unusual case.

How do you redesign your customer service policies to delight your customers─and keep delighting them even if things go wrong?

Develop People Centered Customer Service

Most customer service processes are designed to keep interactions short, solve problems quickly, and get cases closed as fast as possible.

People centered customer service does not lengthen the process.  Rather, it changes the policies and procedures so they work around how your customer works and what is happening to them.

Sometimes changing this focus is easy.  Car dealership service departments have been notoriously customer hostile, and they take your car (usually your primary mode of transportation) away for some inconveniently long period of time.  The key issue is that the car owner’s life revolves around his or her car, and loss of the car is a pretty big deal.

The solution to that, at least for some dealerships, was to set aside a fleet of loaner cars. Now, for some cars, when you take your car in for service, you drive away in a loaner car (if yours is like mine, a newer and nicer car than yours!) which you use until your car is fixed. Transportation problem and intrusiveness problems solved.

In my computer situation, the company was so focused on getting quick, personal (on-site) repairs scheduled, that they lost site of why it is an issue for me.  They forgot that my primary means of working is my computer.  They forgot that sending someone to my office to fix it is intrusive.  They forgot that every time they do a repair, I then have no computer for ten to twelve hours while my backup restores.

There was no process in place to allow the company to ask whether one more day, one more on-site visit, or one more restore would be just too much for me (The end of the story and the right answer is that they are sending a new computer but only after way too many hours on the phone arguing).

How do you implement people centered customer service in your organization?  Here are four steps:

1.)  Develop a model that helps you understand your customer’s life surrounding your products.

You might already do this to some extent for your marketing efforts.  And if you have lots of different kinds of customers who use your products in different ways, you will have to develop something such as marketing personas for describing the various situations.

Your model needs to ask questions such as:  How does this customer use the product?  How critical is the product to their work or life?  What will happen in the customer’s life if he or she is without the product for a period of time?

2.)  Develop your service, support, and repair procedures to fit the scenario this customer faces.

Ask questions such as:  How much are you requiring the customer to do on their own?  Can they do it, and do they have the skills?  Is it best for them to do it themselves?  How much can you do for them without intruding on their routine?  How can you choose routes to the solution that fix the problem effectively but minimize how much it affects the customer?

3.)  Ask.

Before you insist that there is a defined next step in solving the problem, ask the customer if that next step is reasonable.  Taking the same step three or four times may seem right to you, but it might not work for your customer.

4.)  Consider the context and what came before.

When you offer a next step in a solution, look at what came before.   Have you put the customer through significant burdens in the previous steps?  Are you asking them to accept the same burden one more time?  Your process and policies need to consider that when the problem is not solved on the first try, the tolerance of the customer is often challenged in subsequent attempts.

Don’t forget that this applies not only to previous attempts to solve the issue at hand but also to how you handled issues in the past.  If you need to ask the customer to do some work to resolve the issue, you need to know if this is the fifth time in six months you are asking.

Make sure your process allows for escalation and severity increases that go along with failures to fix the issue.

If you can design those four steps into your customer policies and processes, you will go a long way to making your customers happy—and keeping them happy.

And we know that a recurring or repeat customer is the most profitable of all.

Let us know how you are making your customer service people centric.