CEO and co-founder Bellwethr
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Three smart customer offboarding practices to prevent bad CX from becoming bad PR

Bad customer experiences can create PR nightmares. But a smooth offboarding process helps businesses generate the insights they need to limit customer churn and prevent negative buzz.

10th Dec 2019
CEO and co-founder Bellwethr
Blogger
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Customer experience news
istock

Bad customer experiences unify consumers like nothing else. Everyone has a story about a time when a company failed to deliver on a promise, changed the terms of a deal, or tried to sneak a few extra charges on a bill. Those bad experiences hurt the companies responsible, but when businesses double down and cause even more trouble for frustrated customers, the damage can go from minor to catastrophic overnight.

Comcast is no stranger to bad PR. A few years ago, customer Ryan Block sparked a collective groan by recording and releasing his phone conversation during his attempt to cancel service. The Comcast rep talks over Block, dodges questions, and makes an enthusiastic (and entirely unwelcome) case for the superiority of Comcast’s service. The recording only lasts about eight minutes, but as everyone who has been in similar situations knows, painful interactions with stubborn companies feel like eternity.

On this call, the Comcast rep tried to hold Block hostage by denying or dismissing his reasons for canceling. Many companies use this strategy because they believe that difficult cancellation processes help keep their customer retention metrics high. In truth, hostage-holding techniques only cement bad feelings against the businesses that employ them and guarantee that customers will jump ship as soon as they can figure out how.

Even worse, former hostages will also tell everyone who will listen about the offending company’s tactics. Reputation Refinery reports that 96% of unhappy customers will tell an average of 15 friends about their experiences.

Businesses cannot lock the fire doors and expect customers to give up, but they also can’t roll out the red carpet to the exit for small issues. The surrender strategy is the yin to the hostage strategy’s yang, where customers can click one button to cancel the relationship for a full refund. By not creating an opportunity to correct the problem (or at least gather some data), surrendering companies do themselves a major disservice.

Some customers will leave no matter what the company does, so why not make the most of that chance to generate some goodwill and collect helpful information? A smoother, more intentional offboarding process helps businesses generate the insights they need to limit customer churn, prevent negative buzz, and keep the door open for a win-back.

Smart customer offboarding practices

When customers leave, don’t board the windows or call them a cab. Instead, take the time to understand their motivations, offer potential solutions, and provide help however they need it.

This three-step process forms the basis for most successful offboarding processes:

1. Ask why, for data’s sake.

Many customers cut ties because they can no longer use a service, but others initiate the cancellation process for issues the company can easily correct. Find out why customers want to leave and, if the company can resolve the issue, make the correction swiftly.

Even if customers still want to leave, this is a valuable opportunity to gather data. If a growing segment of departing customers cites the same reason for separation, the company may need to address that issue.

2. Offer a relevant incentive.

Price discounts don’t appeal to customers who don’t use their products or have legitimate gripes with the service they have received. Match the incentive to the issue to up the odds the customer will give the company another shot.

Some subscription services allow customers to pause or change the frequency of their deliveries, which is perfect for people who still like the company but don’t need the full package. Tier upgrades and downgrades may work for people with different levels of need and interest. Customers with a long-term vision may want to hear about upcoming changes, improvements, and options. If none of those incentives apply, discounts may help, but be careful not to get into the habit of discounting as a default.

3. Get permission to try again.

Maybe it didn’t work out this time, but things change. Keep a record of customers’ reasons for cancellation. When the company makes changes related to those areas, reach out to old customers and try to win them back. People loved to be heard, and companies that act on customer feedback can score big points.

Never pester a customer who insists on canceling and doesn’t want to talk about it. Some relationships go south quickly, and attempts to reconcile will only increase agitation and cement the unhappy customer’s drive to spread negative buzz. Gauge the situation, and if the situation is agreeable, use this opportunity to set the foundation for future business. 

The win-back after the split

Following this customer-friendly offboarding process not only helps businesses dodge PR disasters, but it also opens the door for win-backs. Someone who spent an hour on the phone as a hostage will never take a call from the offending company again, but someone who spoke with a nice rep who wanted to help may be interested to hear a new pitch.

Companies with successful win-back strategies treat their customers with respect throughout the offboarding process. By incorporating win-back rate into customer retention metrics, company leaders can get a better perspective on customer churn and attribute value to feedback-based changes.

Effective win-back tactics begin with relevance. When customers cancel because they can’t afford the price, they don’t want to hear about new luxury options. Smart companies make changes quickly and establish contact within 30 days of cancellation, while the company and the issues are still fresh in customers’ minds.

Marketing can help re-nurture old customers back into the fold. Using campaigns segmented by audience (location, type of plan, etc.), companies can speak to people with similar concerns and scale their win-back strategies to catch more people without sacrificing relevance. Take care to exclude customers who experienced significant difficulties from these campaigns, though. The angriest customers may be willing to hear from someone, but they don’t want to be part of promotional email lists, which will only remind them to complain further to their social circles.

Respectful offboarding with a win-back component beats hostage-holding, immediate surrender, and PR disasters every time. Instead of treating departing customers like disobedient children, take the time to listen to their needs and create a process that leaves them with a positive impression.

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