With the current economic climate there has never been a more important time to hang on to your customers. We have asked our readers for their top tips for dealing with customer retention.
1. Make sure you have the opportunity to retain the customer
It might seem obvious, but a call centre can only help retain customers if it’s given the opportunity. Are customers directed to call in if they want to cancel? Some companies insist on customers writing in to cancel and most offer the option of writing or calling but don’t try to influence the customer either way.
It is much more difficult to retain a customer when they have written in to cancel than if they call. As part of writing the letter the customer mentally confirms their decision to cancel and that they are making the right decision.
Encouraging customers to call in may increase your costs a little but catching the customer on the phone at the point of cancellation makes for more successful retention. Retention activity at point of cancellation can be 2 or 3 times more effective over the phone.
2. Make sure you have the essentials you need for effective customer retention
Different tools are needed depending on the reason the customer is cancelling:
- Customer is experiencing a reduction in income – Do you have a slimmed-down version of the service or product to offer? In an economic downturn it’s better to retain a customer at a reduced price than lose them altogether. You then have the opportunity to contact them in the future and upgrade when fortunes improve. It might seem extreme, but could your company afford to offer a payment holiday, e.g. 3 months free while the customer gets a chance to improve their income? It’s worth weighing up the cost against the cost of acquiring a new customer to replace the one you’re losing.
- Customer switching to a cheaper service provider – Your customer may be perfectly happy with your company but at a time when every penny counts customer service excellence alone may not be enough to keep them with you. Do you have the ability to match your competitors’ price?
- Customer is cancelling because they are unhappy – Believe it or not, the majority of your customers will only cancel as a last resort – British consumers are well known for their inertia. Even if they feel extremely aggrieved you can still save the situation. A skilful customer service agent is often enough, but when coupled with gestures of goodwill such as a month free or sending a customer flowers or chocolates gives your people the power to turn the unhappiest customer into a loyal advocate. Gestures of goodwill can cost very little.
3. Specialist retention teams
Consider setting up a specialist retention team by identifying agents with natural talent and personality or recruit the skills you need. Invest in a focused training programme. Find an external expert who can inject fresh ideas. You can minimise costs by training your training experts to roll out the programme internally.
4. Make sure you do ‘sweat the small stuff’
Call centres do more than just speak to customers. They often handle white mail and email communications as well. All this activity generates written customer communications many of which are automatically generated when the customer service agent wraps up a call. Are these communications sending the right message? Does a one-liner to a customer saying ‘I confirm that we have cancelled your X’ have the same power as something warmer, regretting the loss of their custom and encouraging their return? Review these communications, every contact with the customer is an opportunity to retain or bring them back.
There are plenty of other small things you can do, so examine every customer touch point and see what you can find.
Janette Coulthard, Marketing & Commercial Director, 2gether Consulting
5. Evaluate how you manage your customers
Providing personalised and unique experiences and advice for each customer is now the only way to keep customers on board and grow wallet share. Companies need to take advantage of technology that can help to anticipate customer needs prior to an interaction and then deliver relevant and meaningful communications.
6. Find the best proposition for your customers
Next-Best-Action (NBA) marketing is one way that companies can find the right proposition for the customer. NBA involves creating a mini business case to guide customer actions and communications for every channel and line of business and – in the case of inbound contact – for every response during a live interaction.
The agent will need to follow the customer’s lead while taking proactive recommendations from the company’s NBA Decision Hub. Even inexperienced agents are able to provide enhanced service to the customer as the Decision Hub offers detailed guidance and recommendations.
7. Re-define how you interact with your customers
With the right level of customer insight, the traditional rules of marketing, such as outbound campaign rules, can be thrown out of the window. Companies can start talking to customers as often as is appropriate. The rules of appropriate interaction rather than a campaign-based ‘call every six weeks or so depending on their segment’ can reduce churn and mean that even those who do not take up an offer still have a pleasant experience.
Rob Walker, VP of Strategy & Innovation, Chordiant
8. Anything else we can do?
Before hanging up always ask “is there anything else I can help you with?”
9. Don’t get bogged down by ACD stats
Keep customer service the top priority. (Don’t think of lots of short calls as being better than only a few long calls.)
Rachel Clarke Call Attendant at Canberra Connect
10. Let your people take ownership
Train and coach your people to accept the idea that they own a part of the business as if it were their own.
Take that attitude to sales and customer service and you will have a person who will embrace the customer as if it were a one-on-one relationship between a proprietor and a customer. This is the old-fashioned grass-roots approach – treat the customer with total respect.
Richard Capasse, Business Development Associate at BroadReach Partners, Inc
11. Say Thank You
I worked for a company that sent “Thank you for your purchase” postcards out to all customers that made a major installation purchase, offering a separate freefone number to a pilot group of associates in case the customer had any questions.
12. Offer customers a dedicated support line
Associates who had demonstrated strong quality scores in the past were specifically chosen for this pilot. After receiving a call from the customer, the associate would immediately contact a separate group of agents that would page a district manager (in the customer’s area) via Blackberry to report any concern the customer had.
The original receiving associate would remain in touch with the customer and heavily document actions taken until results were received. The “ticket” was not closed until the customer was happy with the end result.
The customers who contacted this special number expressed how happy they were that they only had to make one initial call to resolve a problem. To ensure strong results, these associates were heavily monitored and then praised when they did well.
In my opinion, the programme was successful for both the customer and the associates – they both loved it!
Teri Melone, Manager of call center operations
13. Recognise customers’ needs at every stage of the customer lifecycle
So when customers call in, route them to advisors who know their buying history and preferences and can deliver rapid service and first-time answers. Provide channel choice so customers can make contact how and when best suits them – providing self-service solutions for customers who prefer their ease and convenience. And at critical points, such as when a high percentage of customers typically churn, proactively manage customers with outbound activity to ensure they are satisfied, and make promotional offers to reward their loyalty.
Anita Marsh, Manager, Marketing, Europe and Africa, Aspect (www.aspect.com)
14. Deliver a Differentiated Experience
Offering something the competition doesn’t (or can’t) is a wonderful way to retain customers. In fact, according to a recent Accenture study, the ability to deliver a differentiated experience was the leading factor in maintaining customer loyalty.
Les Schwab Tires are a chain of tire stores mainly in the western United States. They make it a practice to run out to greet you at your car when you arrive in the parking lot. This, of course, sets the tone for the rest of the interaction, and subconsciously tells the customer that they will hustle throughout the entire interaction. Les Schwab is a loyalty leader in their industry.
Ed King, StayingInDroves.com