Why are your Customers Leaving?

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I had lunch with a friend this week.  Over the last six to nine months, she has cancelled or not renewed three memberships to business associations or networking clubs and one on-line marketing / business listing site.

As regular readers of my blog know, I am a big believer in identifying your company’s customer touch points and then asking “What does my customer want, need and expect from me at this touch point?”  One very important touch point is your response when a customer decides he or she decides to no longer do business with you.

None of the four organizations gave her a hassle when she let them know she was cancelling or not renewing. That is a positive.  Unfortunately, not one of them asked her why she was leaving.  One organization, the one she had been most actively involved in for over two years, sent a generic form letter, not even addressed to her, expressing disappointment in her decision.  The others simply said nothing.

So I asked her why she left. One didn’t abide by their own code of conduct, one simply didn’t work from a timing perspective anymore, one had made political statements outside of her beliefs and one didn’t provide the results she was looking for.  All valid reasons.

Customers who have been with you for an extended period of time and then decide to leave can provide valuable insight. Take the time to ask them why they are leaving.  If you hear the same concern expressed over and over again, it’s an issue. Find a way to fix it. The organization that didn’t abide by their own code of conduct didn’t ask my friend why she left.  She told them anyway and she’s heard they have made significant positive change in that area from members in that group.

Asking the question “Why are you leaving?” doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change. The reason “It’s not you, it’s me.” may very well be true.  It is very possible the product or service you offer is simply no longer a fit for your customer. There is also the possibility that the customer wasn’t the right fit to begin with. Exit interviews with departing customers can help you better define your target market, providing you the information you need to focus on the people who benefit the most from the product or service you offer.

Asking the question “Why are you leaving?” is about ensuring you don’t lose the opportunity to become even better at what you do.  It’s about demonstrating you value the opportunity you had to be of service and that you value the customer.

When talking about customer touch points, I also suggest looking for ways to exceed the customer’s expectation.  One final way to demonstrate that you are truly service minded, that your concern is for the customer first, is to provide the departing customer information on other companies that can meet their needs.  What a way to exceed a customer’s expectations and leave a positive last impression.

The Grumpy Bear and the Sly Fox – Repost

bearfoxI receive a request to repost my bear and fox story, so here it is!

Not so very long ago, in a forest close by, lived a grumpy bear and a sly fox.

The grumpy bear was known to roar loudly when a gentle growl would have been more appropriate.   The grumpy bear was not comfortable at expressing any kind of emotion.   When the grumpy bear felt uncertain, he became even grumpier.  But underneath that grumpy, growly exterior was a big heart filled with love and good intention.

The sly fox on the other hand, was a smooth communicator.  He spoke softly and gently.  His words were chosen with care and always reflected exactly what his listener wanted to hear.  He never growled or challenged anyone and so many animals in the forest eagerly listened to whatever the sly fox had to say.

The sly fox used the grumpy bear’s gruffness and roughness against him.  The sly fox liked nothing better than to poke the fire and fan the flames of dissension.  He would say things like “If the grumpy bear cared about you, he would do this. That’s what I would do” or “The grumpy bear doesn’t understand you like I do”.  Sometimes the sly fox knew things that would help the grumpy bear, but instead of sharing information or offering to help the grumpy bear, the sly fox would go to others in the forest and say “Why isn’t the grumpy bear doing this?”

Of course, the sly fox never actually did anything to help anyone in the forest.  He left the hard work for the grumpy bear. The sly fox whispered, using his smooth, gentle words to turn the other animals against the grumpy bear, making the grumpy bear’s job even harder.   Then the sly fox would grin, rub his paws and skulk away … until the next time.

****

A lot of us have a grumpy bear or a sly fox in our lives.  We meet them at work, at play and sometimes at home.  The grumpy bear doesn’t realize how words and actions can be misconstrued when others perceptions and emotions are not taken into consideration. Sometimes the grumpy bear speaks poorly from a place of sincerity and positive intention.

The sly fox knows exactly what the other person wants to hear. He or she looks for and feed on insecurities, fears and weaknesses. The sly fox speaks and acts well from a place of deception and negative intention.

With experience comes wisdom and I have learned to look past the exterior to find the intention.  Some people grouse and grumble, then buckle down and act. Others sound positive and supportive,but in reality are only looking to stir the pot. They ditch and run as soon as their real objective, dissension, has been achieved.

Give me grumpy and sincere over smooth and sneaky any day.

Are You Really as Good as You Think You Are?

Man talking to himselfDo you use yourself as an example of what everyone on your team should be like? When hiring, are you trying to find more of you?  If so, stop it!

Chances are, there are some things you are pretty good at, perhaps even a whole lot of things. There may even be one or two things you are really good at. While there are some people who have been promoted past their level of competence or people skills, most people are in a supervisory or management role because they demonstrated capability. Awesome. That very probably applies to you as well.

Now for the reality check. Just because you are good in some key areas, does not mean you are good in all of them.  Just because you think and believe one way, does not make it the only right  way.

Hiring a bunch of mini-me’s serves only two purposes.

  1. It feeds your ego.
  2. It stops meaningful conversation. After all, a group of people agreeing on everything, including how amazing they are and how everyone else needs to be like them, does nothing to take your business to the next level.

If you are brave enough, identify your areas of weakness.  (Really brave supervisors and managers will ask the people around them to identify their weaknesses.)Then go and find people who are strong in those areas. Next … let them shine.  Don’t take credit for their good work by telling everyone how amazingly smart you were to have hired them. All you’re doing then is turning the spotlight back on you. (See point 1 above)

Find people brave enough to let you know when they don’t agree. Wait … let me rephrase. Create an environment where people don’t need to be brave to let you know when they disagree with you. Quite frankly, if this isn’t in place, there is no point in asking others to share their insight on areas of weakness as per the previous paragraph.  That will be an exercise in futility, unless the intent was to feed your ego and hear things like “I can’t think of a thing” or “Oh no, you are amazing.  Nothing wrong with you.”

An effective, engaged team is made up of individuals who recognize and acknowledge individual strengths and weaknesses. They are strong enough to ask for, accept and offer help when needed.  Individuals on a team agree on and work towards a common vision, but their perception of how to achieve the vision may differ greatly. Wonderful. Group think kills creativity.

Go ahead … acknowledge your areas of strength.  Then go and find people who aren’t like you, people who are good or great where you are not, people who bring new ideas to the table, who look at situations from a different perspective and who make you stop and think … “I wish I’d thought of that.”

Sometimes Bad News is Better than No News

The bad newsAbout two weeks ago, I woke up, checked my emails and learned the phones went down at the hotel sometime during the night. Nobody could call in or out. I immediately went in.  Our night audit team had called our telecommunications company and they reported the problem was not on their end.  That meant it must be our phone system.  I called them and in less than an hour a technician was at the hotel.  Long story short … the problem was with our telecommunications provider, not the phone system. There were large scale outages being reported and equipment was being replaced.  About five hours later, the phones came back on line.

Two nights ago work called just after 1:00 am.  The internet was down at the hotel, again a disruption to business.  Not as severe as if it had happened in the middle of the day, but never-the-less, something that needed to be looked into.  Once again, the staff working the desk had called our telecommunications provider and been told the problem was not on their end.  So I got up and went in to work.  I called the 24 hour service line for our telecommunications company thinking … “they were wrong last time, maybe they are again”.  After waiting for quite a while for my turn to talk to someone, I went through the drill, sharing our account number, business address and description of the problem.  I was also told that all systems at the hotel showed green on their end; therefore the problem was on our end. At which point, I very nicely shared with them the story about the phone incident in which we were told the problem was on our end when in fact it was theirs and asked if there was any way they could dig deeper.  Less than two minutes later,  I received an apology and was advised that yes, in fact the problem was on their end.  Outages were being experienced, equipment was being replaced and all should be back up and running within the next five to six hours.  It was back up again in less than two hours.

Why am I sharing this story with you?  Because it’s such a great example of how to frustrate customers!  When the phone system was down, I would periodically check the companies website to see if any status updates were being provided to customers.  Nothing.  The only reference to the outages I found on-line were by frustrated, angry customers, with part of the frustration attributed to not having any information and being stuck waiting to talk to someone at a call centre only to be told …nothing.

Which brings me to the call / service centre.  Is the service team trained to look beyond the quick and perhaps usual reason for the problem?  In scenario two, I asked the person to dig deeper, he did and in no time at all, recognized his first response was incorrect. If I had accepted his first response, additional calls and needless searching for the source of the problem would have resulted in wasted time and even more frustration.

Beyond the training question, I have to wonder why the outages were not reported to the service centre.  While knowing when and how to dig deeper for an answer to a customer problem is important, wouldn’t it be better to give them a heads up so that when a frustrated customer called, they would be able to immediately respond with accurate information?

Of course, it’s not just telecommunications companies that fall down when it comes to managing bad news or frustrated customers.  When something goes wrong, when customers are going to experience service disruptions, say so. Be upfront, acknowledge the frustration, apologize for the inconvenience and share information on when they can expect service to be restored.  If you can, and this doesn’t apply to all businesses, let your customers know of alternative places to get the service they need in the interim.

Share all of that same information with the people who are responsible for responding to reports and questions from customers.

Outages happen. Stuff happens. Whatever the disruption is, understand that your customer is inconvenienced.  It may or may not be because of an error on your end.  It doesn’t matter whose fault it is.  Whatever the reason, know what information your customer needs and be prepared to share it. Acknowledge their frustration, keep them informed and if possible, provide alternative solutions.

In many cases, how you manage the service disruption has a bigger impact on a customer’s continued loyalty than the disruption itself.

Don’t Leave a Bad Taste in Your Customer’s Mouth

Bratty little girlYears ago, my parents took me, my brother and my sister along when they went to visit friends. During our visit, a plate of goodies was passed around. On that plate were some pieces of very yummy looking white fudge.  How could I resist?

As the plate passed by, I helped myself to a piece of that white fudge, took a big bite and promptly tried to find a way to spit that fudge out as fast as possible.  The white fudge wasn’t white fudge.  I don’t recall what I actually bit into that day, but I will never forget the nasty taste and disappointment.

Our hostess that day was not trying to trick me but the same can’t be said for some companies. Some companies try to fool their customers, their employees and the general public into believing they are something they’re not by:

  1. Using marketing slogans like “Our customer is number one” when it’s not really the customer that’s number one; it’s the customer’s wallet that is number one.  Yes, we need our customers to pull out their wallets in order for us to stay in business, but when customer values, opinions and mindset are not taken into consideration until it’s time to pull the marketing piece together, the customer is NOT number one and it won’t take long for them to figure it out.
  2. Professing to support community and the environment but not getting past the lip service part.  Many people today make purchasing decision based on a company’s  local, regional or global social or environmental practices.  Many companies are committed to doing their part to make the world around them a better place and proactively look for ways to be greener and active in the community. Then there are the companies who do the bare minimum or who aren’t willing to put their money behind anything except the PR company hired to make them look like they support community and the environment.
  3. Promising the “best of the best” but refusing to pay for the best of the best. These companies beat suppliers up on price or look for ways to save money at the expense of their customers, both internal and external.  Finding ways to save and be efficient is a good thing, but sometimes saving money is more expensive than paying fair value if suppliers, customers and employees leave because they are tired of being treated like an expense line.

When we try to trick our customers, our suppliers and our community into believing we are something we’re not, it’s bad for business.  Eventually the truth will come out.  As the Customer Service Lady, I believe that service excellence is tied directly to integrity, to believing that we are here to serve, and to respecting those we serve and those who help us serve.

Your thoughts?