Increase Customer Retention: Don’t Send Them to the “Re-Tension” Queue!

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Re-Tension: A second phase of tension that a company quickly creates for a customer who has finally decided to eliminate the first phase of tension that builds up slowly in that customer due to the company’s failure to provide good value or customer service.

If you didn’t quite follow the definition above, then perhaps the story below will help to explain it.  And if you have ever experienced trouble canceling a monthly service, the story might sound familiar.

I recently had some first-hand experience with the lengths that companies will sometimes go to increase customer retention and keep an income stream flowing into the organization.

For about 10 years, I had been a reliable and steady cable customer.  Translation: For about 10 years, I had always paid my cable bill on time.

Recently, my cable bill had climbed to $165 per month, so I started exploring other options.  I realized that if I switched to satellite as a new customer, my TV bill would get a lot cheaper.  Before making the switch, however, I decided to give my cable company a chance to keep me as a customer.  I called the customer service call center to cancel my account, because I was told if you call to cancel they will “give you a better deal.”

So I did just that.  I called the customer service call center, and when the nice customer service agent answered the phone, I told her I was calling to disconnect my cable service.  The agent said, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.  May I ask you why you are leaving us?”  I indicated that my cable bill had become too expensive, so I had decided to switch to satellite.  She said, “We would really hate to lose you as a customer.  Is there anything I can do to help you stay with us?”  “Sure,” I replied with a chuckle, “Find a way to lower my bill.”

The agent offered up a couple of special deals that were available at the time, but I quickly assessed that neither of those options would work for me.  So I thanked her but indicated that I wanted to proceed with the cancellation.  That’s when she said something peculiar: “Okay, sir, I’m going to send you to our Retention Team.  They can offer deals that I can’t in order to save customers.”  So after being on hold for 7 minutes, then spending an additional 13 minutes discussing whether another option could keep me on the company’s recurring revenue roll, I am now being passed along to something called the Retention Team.  Ugh.

Enter the Retention Team member.  After hearing a summary of my story, he immediately empathized with me and offered up a couple of deals, both of which were more favorable than the two options provided in my conversation with the agent, but neither of which were tempting enough to steer me off the cancelation route.  My goal was to reduce my monthly bill to around $100, and the closest they could get was about $129.

After a few more minutes of back and forth, I again requested the cancellation, and the switchover to satellite had begun.  My cancellation experience lasted 34 minutes from start to finish, and by the end of it I was exhausted.  I found it hard to believe that canceling a service could be that difficult.

About three weeks into my new adventure with satellite, I received a special offer from my cable company – it was a “we miss you, please come back” cable package for $89 per month.  As I tossed the offer into the recycle bin, all I could do was shake my head and think to myself, “If they had just made an offer like this available to me a few weeks ago …”  Oh well.

So here is a company that is trying to increase customer retention by using a Retention Team and a Please Come Back Team in addition to regular front-line agents.  But the Please Come Back Team was deployed too late in the game.  In fact, the game had already ended at that point.  My question is this: Why wasn’t the first agent I spoke with not armed with the company’s very best deal and authorized to discuss it with me and offer it upfront?

After this experience, my curiosity compelled me to try the disconnect ploy for several other of my monthly service payment arrangements.  Each vendor had some form of retention team or similar function, but in each case, it seemed as though the company’s focus was not on saving me as a customer, but rather on the income stream I represented.  Retention offers were made only after I invoked the word “disconnect”.

Why do companies create such tension in their efforts to increase customer retention?

Is it trust?  Do they not trust their own front-line employees?  If so, that means they don’t trust their management to ensure that the offers are made under the right circumstances.  So many companies are so poorly led, they can’t effectively lead, manage or train their front line to make the right offer under the right circumstances.  As a customer, this is not only disappointing, it’s tension inducing!

I’ve concluded that retention teams are all about creating new tension with customers when they threaten to leave and stop paying their monthly bill.  To all customer service call center managers out there – if you really want to increase customer retention, don’t play games with your offers, and train your front-line employees to handle all calls fully and completely.  Don’t exacerbate your customer’s tension by sending them to the “re-tension” queue.  Instead, make it easy for them to stay on board as customers.


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About Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey, CEO, heads Pretium Solutions’ Customer Experience & Sales Area focusing on Customer Loyalty, Brand Loyalty and Customer Retention Strategies. He directs Pretium’s revolutionary customer loyalty program, the Golden Touchpoint™. Pretium Solutions is a premier provider of cutting-edge, sustainable and globally-recognized customer experience management solutions and customer service, call center and sales training, consulting and leadership programs. Pretium shows companies how to create, build and maintain customer loyalty, the most important measure of a company’s success with its customers and the most profitable customer service outcome.

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