By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
How does your company handle cancellations? Do you allow anyone to process terminations, quickly and without hassle? Or do you have a specific “cancellation” strategy, with a team assigned and trained to follow an exact protocol? Either approach has its strengths and limitations; both fall short of the customer’s best interest.
I once signed up for a credit card simply because of its rewards package. Although I built up a great number of points, I never redeemed them. Over time, my priorities changed and I realized I would never use them.
I called to see what else they could offer. Was there another reward incentive I could switch to? Could I get cash back? How about merchandise? Are there other options they could offer?
The answers were “no,” “no,” “no,” and “no.”
“I guess my only option is to cancel the card,” I ventured.
“Is that what you want to do?” the agent replied matter-of-factly.
“Let me think about it,” I evaded, seeking to delay the decision.
It took a while, but eventually, all uses for that card were switched to another. I called again, this time to cancel. I was transferred to the cancellation department. This agent feigned shock at my intent and tried to dissuade me. She offered a lower rate, better terms, and more flexibility on the rewards package. Her arguments would have retained me as a cardholder, if not for the fact that they were offered too late. I canceled the card.
This scenario has repeated itself on numerous occasions: with my cell phone provider, satellite and cable service, long-distance, and local phone service. Each time, the agents answering the phone are not empowered to take steps to retain me as a customer.
Each time I make careful plans, arranging for service from their competitor. When I call back to terminate my service; the cancellation department would step in and suddenly sweeten the deal.
Often they offer the concessions that I wanted—and which I suspected were available all along—but not presented by their front line staff.
They express their regrets over my decision and ask me to call back if I change my mind. If only their solutions had been offered earlier in the process. Then they could have retained my patronage and saved me the aggravation of switching.
The solution seems obvious. Just pretend you are going to cancel so that you can get to the “cancellation” department on the initial call and obtain their best deal. I tried that and it went like this:
“I want to cancel my service.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Let me see what I can do.” I wait, expecting to be transferred. After a few seconds, the agent announces, “Okay, your service has been canceled. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
I am too embarrassed to ask that it be reinstated, so I thank the agent and hang up.
In the first examples, the staff was trained and empowered to retain me as a customer was interjected too late into the process; my decision had been made, the alternative in place, and my call was a mere formality to end the process.
In the latter scenario, the agent was empowered, but apathetic and untrained. She was highly efficient but completely ineffective.
There has to be a better way.
Customer Service Success Tip: Train and empower employees at your company to interact with unhappy customers while there is still a reasonable chance to keep them.
Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.