401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

Gone! The reason customers leave

It’s hard enough to get customers. In tight times, the last thing you want to do, after you’ve gotten a customer, is to lose them. Not a good idea. But, it happens all the time to lots of companies. Why?

One reason. Yes, that’s what I said: ONE reason. In every situation, for every type of product or service, in all the thousands of customer interviews I’ve conducted, it’s obvious that there is really only one reason why customers leave. The reason:

“You stopped caring about me.”

In other words:

When you were selling to me, you behaved as if you really cared about me. I wanted to believe it, even though I knew perfectly well it was probably just because you were selling to me. You did promise you would care about me after you got my money, and I did talk to other customers, who said you had cared afterwards, but now I am having a different experience. You definitely don’t care any more.

When I have a problem, it’s impossible to find an answer unless I spend hours searching discussion groups where people with my problem are also searching for an answer. If I’m lucky, someone out there has managed to resolve the problem. But it wasn’t you that rescued me. You stopped caring about me as soon as you got my money.

You have a published customer support number, but, when I call, I get recordings telling me how much you care, but it’s almost impossible to get a real human being on the phone, and when I do, they can’t help me or answer my question. Or, worse, they lie. They tell me something that simply isn’t true, something that leads me to do something, only to find out later that it was the wrong thing to do.

You may think your customers are all happy. As I listened to one supposedly satisfied customer recently, he revealed that he had mentioned the problems he was having to the CEO more than once, and the CEO agreed that those issues needed correcting. But the CEO didn’t actually correct those issues. As responsible and conscientious as this CEO is, he didn’t manage to solve the customer’s problem. The customer felt he had been heard, but that no successful action was taken on his behalf. Because the problem had an effect on his ability to get his own product out the door – and to be competitive in the marketplace – he was driven to look for a better vendor.

About 5% of all customers I call – who were believed to be satisfied – reveal to me during the interview that they are looking for a better vendor and are talking to competitors. This is the typical ratio for the companies that try to take care of their customers, companies run by the types of CEOs I work for. In companies where the CEO is not so nice, the ratio is higher. And, if the CEO is in denial, or is dishonest, the company is often shrinking because customers are leaving faster than the company can bring them in.

I once did some work for a company that had just merged with another company. Both companies were well-known and highly respected. They were in the same business, and actually did the same thing, but in different areas of the world. So the merger made a lot of sense.

The company I was working for – let’s call them Company A – had done the deal based on the number of customers (in this case, subscribers) that Company B had. What Company A learned after the deal was consummated was that Company B lost 98% of their subscribers every year. I suppose you could say that Company B was actually going out of business every year. Needless to say, the people in Company A were more than disappointed. They really had to scramble – and apply resources – to slow down the stampede toward the door.

The best thing you can do when money gets tight is to look at your own customer base, and examine how your own customers are being treated. Find out – by interviewing customers and employees – who treats customers the worst, and fire them. Let everyone know that that kind of behavior will simply not be tolerated. Train your customer-facing people until they understand the difference between the “I really don’t care” employee and the “I will do anything I can to help you” employee. Reward those who do it right, and penalize those who need to show more enthusiasm for the right way of doing things.

Think about your own interactions with customers. Is there something they’ve been asking you to fix, but you just haven’t been able to figure out how? Sit down with the smartest people on your team, and come up with a solution. Get it done. Then, go back to every single customer who has ever mentioned it – and even those who didn’t – and let them know that you figured out how to solve the problem. Doing this will do more good for your sales than any amount of marketing or selling. People are surprisingly forgiving, and will send as much business your way as they can, if you demonstrate a willingness to care.

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