Customer support, retention, and the brand experience

Sometimes companies forget that keeping a customer is just as important as acquiring new ones.

Do you ever have one of those experiences with a company where you think to yourself…

Do they really care that little about me as a customer that they won’t implement a modicum of basic policies and procedures for ensuring optimum customer retention?

Or maybe you just think

What the F**K!

Yeah. I’m probably more in that second camp myself. And there is perhaps no industry more adept at making me drop an f-bomb as internet service providers.

The trials and tribulations of “Mr. Ron”

For the past few years, I’ve lived as a digital nomad, living half the year traveling through Europe, about a quarter of the year in Canada, and the rest of the time in various parts of the good ol’ U.S.A.

Ron's travel photos on Instagram
Shots from my Instagram. From left to right: Benitaxell, Spain; The world famous Elephant Room in Edinburgh; a narcissistic cat in Croatia; Slashfilm friends in Edinburgh; a plaza in Edinburgh (what can I say, it’s one of my favorite cities); and the cut-outs of the Obamas in the lower right-hand corner is a gas stop I just happened upon in Ireland, outside the village that was home of his great, great, great maternal grandfather.

As we traveled to these various locales, we’d stay in AirBnBs. One of the benefits of AirBnB living is that garbage and utilities are included and taken care of. I don’t need to mess with crappy internet service providers.

But before my life of permanent travel, I did live in homes or apartments with long-term leases. And in those situations, I had no choice but to deal with evil internet companies.

A few years ago, the special introductory rate on my internet service had expired. So I called my provider about switching to a new plan. The gentleman I spoke with gave me three options and I told him I’d need to speak with the wife and get back to them.

I followed up the next week and got routed to the sales department. I told the woman on the line about the three options I was given the week prior. None of the plans she was giving me matched those options.

“Are you sure?” I asked in frustration.

“Yes Mr. Ron.” (I told her that I prefer to go by Ron, so she switched from calling me Mr. Dawson to Mr. Ron. Go figure.)

“But I just spoke with the guy six days ago. I specifically said I would call back.”

“Yes, I see that in your notes Mr. Ron. But it’s possible those plans are no longer available.”

“Well, can I speak with a supervisor then.”

“Um, okay. Hold on.”

A few minutes pass.

“Hello, Mr. Ron?”

“You can just call me Ron. But, yes?”

“I will have to transfer you to our retention department. Okay?”

“Sure. Whatever.”

“Thank you for calling ACME Internet Company (not their real name). You have a wonderful day.”

“We shall see.”

So I get transferred to “the retention department” which is just the main friggin’ menu. (He must have pushed the wrong button.) This time instead of hitting the “new service” option, I hit the “cancelling or downgrading” option. That apparently leads to the retention department.

The retention rep got on the line, and from the very first sentence I could tell I was dealing with a completely different caliber of person. There is no real diplomatic way to say this, but let’s just say his diction, eloquence, and demeanor were significantly more advanced than the “Mr. Ron” lady. (FWIW, the “Mr. Ron” lady was NOT a foreigner, in case you’re wondering.)

Mr. Retention Guy quoted me the exact same packages the guy did from the previous week, without even looking up my record. WTF! He was pleasant to speak with, called me just Ron, and answered all of my questions. I swear, it was like talking to a completely different company.

Sales vs. Retention

I get what’s going on here. They use the less trained and lower paid employees in the sales department; employees who basically only have the skillset to read pre-written scripts (which was pretty much what Mr. Ron Lady did).

But if they could possibly lose a customer, they bring out the “big guns” and utilize better packages and employees who have a greater command of the language and are capable of making decisions on the fly.

In and of itself, this is not a bad thing. It can cost a company anywhere from 5 to 25 times more money to gain a new customer than keep one you already have. So, by all means, use your best people to keep your customers.

But don’t me jump through a bunch of hoops to get to them!

The brand experience

You will repeatedly see me refer to what a brand really is. It goes way beyond logo use, typography, and color palette. A brand is about feeling and experience. And it starts way before a person ever becomes a customer of yours.

I understand the need to retain customers, but my guess is that because this particular company pretty much had a monopoly in my area, they could afford to invest less in getting new clients vs. keeping current ones. (This is just one of the reasons good, strong competition is healthy for business.)

What is your sales process like? Do you invest as much in getting new clients as retaining your current ones? What kind of processes do you put in place to retain your current clients (e.g. emailing them periodically so they don’t forget about you; giving them incentives; etc.) From soup to nuts, are you ensuring the experience you provide is congruous with the brand you want to convey?

4 ways to keep your customers smiling

Since we’ve established that customer retention is vital, I want to quickly give you four commonsense ways you can keep customers. You probably already know these (and if you don’t, you should), but adding this section will really boost my SEO on this topic, so here goes. 🙂

  • Offer a kick-ass product or service: this should go without saying, but make sure whatever you’re selling is actually pretty damn good. It doesn’t need to be perfect. In fact, if you’re just starting out, your minimum viable product might be for shit. But get it out there and keep updating it. Which leads to #2.
  • Keep it fresh: if you make software, please have an update schedule more frequent than a leap year. If you provide services of some kind, stay connected to your clients and find out what new ways you can serve them or improve what you’re already offering. If you’re a content creator (e.g. blogger, podcaster, or YouTuber), this is even more vital.
  • Offer great support: I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a great customer support system. Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company using Intercom, or a 1-person freelancer, the ways in which you support your customers and clients can make or break your business. In every product or service, there will come a time when something goes wrong. How you handle those situations will go much further in keeping a customer/client than almost anything else. In fact, if you screw up and WOW your customer in the process of making up for your mistake, you may earn yourself the best reviews you’ve ever had. And that is a nice segue to method #4…
  • Remember we’re human: remember that you’re dealing with a human being on the other side of the phone, email string, or chat box. These are people with feelings and are dealing with all the same kind of craziness in the world that you are. Treat them with empathy.

One of the best videos I’ve seen that addresses the issue of empathy and relating to your customers as people, is the video “This is Water” set to a commencement speech to Kenyon College by the late, great David Foster Wallace.

What tips do you have for creating a great customer experience?

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