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10 OCTOBER 2018
A good customer experience can impact repeat business
by Julia Ahlfeldt
The recent Telkom ADSL-unsubscribe problem has once again thrust customer experience into the spotlight. Specifically, it illustrates how not to treat customers who want to cancel their services.

Telkom isn’t the exception; many companies have been there. A client wants to end the relationship and is on the final call – they are leaving and taking their cash with them. But even if the relationship is beyond immediate repair, it mustn’t result in a horrible experience for the client. Many companies don’t pay heed to this, harsh words are spoken, and the relationship ends, forever. For the customer this affirms their decision to leave, and they do so with a sour taste in the mouth – which is often rinsed on social media.

It need not be this way. To negate a bad departure experience, companies need to consider two important aspects. First, the cancellation experience itself, and second, fixing the underlying problems.

Make the departure less painful

Telkom’s cancellation process for ADSL lines appears to be a negative and overly bureaucratic one. For some unlucky customers, no matter what they do, lines do not get cancelled and billing continues. Press coverage escalates the bad exposure, and what should have been a manageable problem becomes a PR disaster. The takeaway for companies is to not try and ring-fence customers – they must be free to leave, easily, when they want to.

Having said that, make sure that customers can be contacted again. The final point of contact is crucial. What is said during those moments can set the tone for how the customer remembers the brand. If appropriate, companies can ask the customer’s permission to contact them in future if new offerings appear. “We would like to earn your business back” is a good sentiment to end with. It takes what could potentially be an extremely negative experience and at least neutralises it, leaving the door open for future interaction.

The departure process should also involve acknowledging the company’s shortcomings and apologising for them. This is easy to do, and if the company fosters a culture of accountability, more employees will feel that it is acceptable to acknowledge mistakes and turn them into a learning experience. But this starts at the top, and if management is inward-looking and defensive, it trickles down to the front-line team.

While these steps can be seen as tactical solutions, it still doesn’t address the underlying problem of why many companies’ exit experience is so bad in the first place.

Getting to the root cause

In the case of Telkom, the source of the problem with cancellations was a technical issue with a system it launched earlier in the year. After the PR catastrophe, Telkom said: “In April 2018 we introduced an online process for cancellations which has improved outcomes, although we acknowledge that there can still be hiccups in the process.” These cancellation experiences were doomed before they happened; it prompts the question, why would a brand launch such a flawed experience in the first place?

For some companies, customer experience is an afterthought. Those that are overly focused on business acquisition and not retention may pay little heed to managing the customer journey or delivering a positive cancellation experience. While securing new business might be important at the start, retaining customers requires a different managerial approach – one that is much more client-centric.

As brands push more customers towards self-service channels, like Telkom did with its online cancellation system, the front-line team becomes increasingly important. Instances of talking to a “real person” are becoming less frequent but have higher stakes. When customers do call in, they are more likely to have a complex issue that requires skilled assistance. Front-line employees are at the coalface of customer interaction and a handful of individuals might be the only point of human contact that some consumers will ever have with a company. Make it count: invest in these teams; make them feel part of the company; and provide them with the proper training to deal with customers, new and existing.

The future matters

Getting back to Telkom. While it’s understandable that the company does not want customers to leave, having them jump through hoops to do so is counterproductive. Remember, this is the same company that can provide fibre or cellular data options to customers who cancel their ADSL lines. By not treating the customer well at the end, it might lose not just current business, but future business too. It’s a costly mistake for companies to make.

Julia Ahlfeldt is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) who consults to blue-chips and multi-nationals and advises them how to retain relevance and increase profits by transitioning from inwardly focused silos to being dynamic and customer-centric.
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The Red Zone
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