By Ronni Marshak
SVP and Sr. Consultant/Analyst, Patricia Seybold Group
In these hard economic times, we keep being reminded how important it is to keep the customers that you have. But sometimes you simply can’t. The customers aren’t moving to another provider, they are simply doing without.
So it is important to also offer a great customer experience for the customers you are losing so that, when things get better (soon, we all hope!), they will be excited about returning to do business with you.
Looking at finances this week—and facing a major construction repair project in my condominium—I realized that I had to cut down on expenses in anticipation of a possibly bleak financial year and continuing investment losses. Just yesterday, I had two very different customer experiences related to reducing my costs.
An Unpleasant Product Cancellation Experience
First, the bad experience:
Months ago, I ordered a beautiful, yet relatively expensive sweater online from an etailer with whom I have often done business, and with whom I have a great history. The sweater was backordered, but I was informed it would be shipped before the end of the year. During the holidays, I got an email notice saying “good news, your backordered item has been shipped and should arrive within 5 to 8 business days.” And then I forgot about it as I went about celebrating with family and friends.
Since I hadn’t yet received the sweater, I called the company, first, to see where it was, and second, to arrange to return it. I really didn’t need it.
After going through the IVR labyrinth, I was connected with a lovely woman to whom I told my story. She checked my account and saw that the delivery company stated that the package had been left outside my (condominium’s) door. Since my item was now “missing” (probably stolen, since it was left outside the building), she had to escalate to a supervisor.
I didn’t have to wait long for the supervisor, but I did have to re-identify and start at the beginning of my story (very annoying). To my surprise, instead of expressing any concern for my plight (at that point, simply not receiving the item), I was matter-of-factly told that the item was “only 9 days late and couldn’t be officially regarded as missing until it was 20 days late.” My credit card had been billed on the day it had been sent, but it couldn’t be credited until after the 20 days. Further, I had to contact them after the 20 days; they couldn’t make note of it or even send an email to remind me to notify them.
I found this policy very off-putting—obviously, the sweater was not going to show up. But she just kept coldly repeating the policy. I very calmly thanked the supervisor and asked to speak to her superior. She seemed startled and asked why. I explained that I wanted to put in a complaint about the company policy and to provide free advice on how the situation should be handled. I pointed out that I had been a great customer for years, and expected better treatment. She again repeated the policy. I again asked for a supervisor. I was put on hold, and a minute later, she came back on the phone to tell me that I had been credited for the missing sweater and to have a nice day. I told her the same, thanked her for her help, and hung up, feeling very undervalued as a customer. Even though I got the result I wanted, the experience was unpleasant and will make me think twice about going back to that vendor.
A Great Cancellation Experience!
Now for the good experience—with an insurance company no less!
Years ago I got a life insurance policy from Aflac (a friend was selling them, the cost was low because I was very young, and what the heck—why not). But any monthly expense is suspect in this economy (and with my building’s stucco falling down!), so I decided that the approximately $30 per month would be better applied to the repairs.
Since I had set up automatic payments where the company took the money out of my bank account, I worried that, since I really didn’t have the account information on hand, it might be difficult to cancel. And, after my sweater experience, I was expecting the worst.
I called Aflac, and, again, navigated through the hell that is IVR (when will they learn?). But once I got to requesting speaking to a live associate, things went amazingly well. I was told by the IVR system that my wait would be between 7 and 10 minutes (nice to know), but then was offered the option to enter my phone number to have an associate call back during that time frame! I jumped at the offer. Sure enough, about 8 minutes later, my phone rang. It was an automated system asking if “Ronni Marshak” was available (press 1 when she is on the line), and then immediately connecting me to a live customer service rep. Further, since I had answered a bunch of security questions through the IVR (SS#, zip code, date of birth), the representative acknowledged that I had already been screened (although he asked one more question just to be sure someone else hadn’t picked up the phone). I explained that I wanted to cancel my policy. He was very nice and asked the reason. I explained the financial situation, and he was very sympathetic, saying he totally understood. However, he would have to forward me to a different department to cancel. Uh oh, I thought. But then he gave me a tracking number to give to the other department so that 1) I wouldn’t have to answer any security questions, and 2) all my account info would be immediately available.
The transfer to the cancellation department was immediate, and once I gave my tracking number, I was able to request cancellation. Again, I was asked why I was cancelling, but very nicely. I again explained, and again received empathy about the economic climate and assurance that it was no trouble to cancel me.
However, because I had automatic payments set up, and because the cancellation might not go through before the next payment was due, he recommended that, prior to cancellation (minutes prior), he be allowed to change my payment method so I wouldn’t accidentally be overbilled. Instead, I would receive a paper bill. He then told me that I could simply ignore the bill, reassuring me (even before I asked) that it would in no way go into collections or be reported to any credit service (obviously, the company had been asked this before).
Once he changed my billing method, which took about a minute, he put through my policy cancellation, and then told me that he was sorry to lose me as a customer, but to be aware that the policy can be reinstated within 2 years with no penalties and at the same rate as when I opened it!
Because of this customer experience, when I am again looking for insurance, I will immediately go to Aflac. And I will tell all my friends—oh, I just did!
The lessons to learn:
1) Anticipate your customers’ points of pain (waiting on the phone, having to re-identify yourself and re-explain the problem)
2) Anticipate common questions (When will my credit card be billed/credited? Will this impact my credit?)
3) Encourage your customer service reps to be people who can empathize and laugh with the customers; create a human relationship
4) Even if you might lose customers during hard times, make the separation so easy and pleasant that they are eager to return to the fold once things get better