Customers need, want, and deserve an easy service experience—without exception! Complicated protocols lead to procedural noncompliance and increase errors, dissatisfying customers, employees, and the C-suite alike. Simplifying internal processes and ensuring easy service access (especially via self-service and social media) is a direct route to decreased customer effort and increased customer happiness through a faster, high-quality, more consistent service experience—which also reduces the company’s support costs.
What’s more, service simplicity is directly related to customer churn. As there are many misconceptions about why customers leave, I want to explain some facts about customer churn. First, I’d like to emphasize that many causes of poor service (and ultimately, churn) have nothing to do with the customer service department or its representatives. The truth is that delivering service excellence is a highly interdependent endeavor involving just about every department.
Although service representatives and sales associates are on the front line, the problems that customers face—and the potential for dissatisfaction—lurk in many different places. For example, customer experience breakdowns can result from miscommunication between departments, or from faulty or outdated processes, systems, policies, and technology, or from a lack of performance accountability.
In that light, take note of these churn fallacies: “customers quit because of one or two bad service experiences”; “intervention at any point can save the day”; “one silver bullet will stop churn”; and “just satisfying customers is good enough.” (For more details on churn fallacies, see this article by Bain & Company.)
Churn reality is that customers quit after the occurrence of many service mishaps (sometimes the same issue repeatedly) over a lengthy period and with a lack of service simplicity—in other words, faulty service plus needlessly high customer effort. It’s not the very last service issue experienced, but rather the accumulation of all the times that product use or service has been difficult, that finally breaks the proverbial camel’s back.
When you don’t prevent customer hardship, and don’t intervene early enough or in the right ways when things go wrong, customers ultimately take their business elsewhere. Scrambling, you may try to salvage that relationship, even bribing with freebies and giveaways, but it’s too little too late: the customer is resentful and no longer willing to do business with you. Just about all of that, however, can be prevented.
What I’m going to say next—and your willingness and ability to act on it—will make or break you in terms of reducing customer churn and at some point achieving negative churn as well (a very positive thing). If you don’t take churn seriously, it will persist: slowly at first, but then, as your leaky bucket gives way, so fast that it may not be possible for your company to recover.
I would love to see you wage what I call an internal Service Dissatisfaction Disruption Campaign to identify and permanently eliminate the dissatisfiers lurking within your company. In a previous article, I showed ways to delight customers and effect those strategies through a well-defined journey mapping process. When these efforts are implemented together, retention rises—sometimes dramatically.
To succeed, the Service Dissatisfaction Disruption Campaign requires cross-functional leadership and defined objectives, supported by roadmaps with assigned responsibilities and financial resources. The Customer Officer or a dedicated project leader, reporting directly to the CEO, is the best choice to spearhead this cross-company collaboration.
Think about the departments and processes within your company where customer dissatisfaction occurs. Voice of the customer feedback can help to guide you. From my experience, I recommend several areas for consideration, as follows (your company’s specific circumstances may be slightly different).
Product Development. No premature launches with “known issues”! Involve the sales and service teams to work out potential challenges, ensuring that new products are fully tested and functioning as designed, pre-launch. For existing products, use customer insight to choose the top two or three dissatisfiers—and make those improvements now. Don’t forget to thank customers for their input and let them know you used it.
Marketing. Marketing messages must be current, and the sales team’s knowledge must align with the product feature set. Advertising, special deals, and promotional campaigns should be planned jointly with sales and service teams before launch, ensuring that all staff are informed and prepared to handle inquiries properly and consistently.
Sales. Sometimes sales associates set customer expectations beyond the actual product features, causing post-sale problems: the service experience becomes negative if buyer’s remorse sets in or if the service team has to “resell” the product to an unhappy customer. Coordinate the marketing, sales, and service teams to iron out everyone’s understanding of the features and key messages, ensuring that what is sold and what is bought are the same in the buyer’s mind.
Service. Installation, onboarding, training, and service are critical “moments of truth” and opportunities for great first, second, and third impressions. These connected events must be tightly aligned, with particular attention to handoffs between consecutive processes and departments. Bring those teams together to identify customer experience breakdowns and dissatisfiers, and figure out how to fix them—then do so immediately, requiring accountability from everyone on the new process.
Billing. Are your bills consolidated, easy to read, and reliably accurate? If not, use feedback from customers and the service team to identify specific issues, and make a plan to remedy them. It’s the billing leader’s responsibility to ensure that any and all billing dissatisfiers are resolved within a reasonable timeline.
Process. Nothing creates a negative experience more surely than a poorly designed process. Explore your customers’ journey to discover the aspects that are frustrating, outdated, broken, or difficult to navigate—then initiate cross-functional teamwork to unravel any dissatisfying process and rebuild it in a way that’s both customer-centric and more effective for the company.
Company Policy. Nonsensical policies are maddening. Your frontline service staff knows which policies are dissatisfying customers; customer feedback offers clues as well. Choose the top two or three policies that need changing and give a cross-functional team the authority to make recommendations or redesign them outright—then communicate and change those policies within the next quarter.
Some companies prioritize internal customer dissatisfiers so highly that accountability is structured directly into the leadership process. For example, the company leader “owning” the identified dissatisfier is given 90 days to resolve it or to set up a temporary workaround with a plan for a permanent fix. If the dissatisfier is eradicated, the leader receives recognition and a bonus; but if there’s no follow-through on a lasting solution, the leader’s bonus and performance appraisal are negatively impacted.
The approach I’m recommending here is not easy. It’s not a quick fix, nor should it be—it’s hard work. But as you undergo the effort of this internal Service Dissatisfaction Disruption Campaign, you will make the vital changes necessary to reduce your company’s customer churn.
Throughout my career, I’ve seen the discipline of customer experience emerge, expand, evolve, and now begin to prove its tremendous value—and that value, along with a clear supporting strategy, should not be underestimated. The ability to champion customer experience excellence company-wide is, quite simply, the lynchpin to retaining, expanding, and acquiring new revenue. The creation of a customer experience strategy—and its unwavering, flawless execution—is vital to achieving a sustainable edge over competitors.
Stay tuned over the coming weeks as I delve more deeply into these key elements. This eight-article series will give you valuable insights and guidance as you plan, develop, and implement your own customer experience strategy.
Ready to move forward more quickly? Interested in personal assistance? Let’s chat. Please sign up for my complimentary one-hour Customer Insight Strategy Session by calling our office at 617.848.4589 or emailing [email protected].
Lori Carr is a customer experience pioneer and expert. Working with Fortune 500 companies for the past 25 years, she helps recognized brands to dramatically increase retention, loyalty, and profitable revenues.