By Mark Kersteen - July 16th, 2014
You’ve likely already heard this soul-sucking conversation Ryan Block had with a very… Determined customer service representative at Comcast. What I found particularly interesting was this exchange:
Comcast: We just want to find out what it is that makes a customer who has been with us a long time want to leave.
Ryan: Because that’s what we want to do.
Comcast: Why is that?
Ryan: That’s none of your business. Your business is to disconnect us please.
Comcast: As a company that is a cable and internet provider primarily, that is our business—to know why our customers are leaving. Okay? If we don’t know why our customers are leaving, how are we supposed to make it a better experience for you next time?
Ignoring the presumptuous “next time” at the end, the representative is technically correct. Finding out why customers are leaving would be critical to improving Comcast’s overall experience. Ignoring that the representative is only raising this point as a thin, desperate veneer to keep an unhappy customer on the phone, this highlights a critical dilemma for any company trying to be customer-centric:
Customer-centricity means making hard choices.
It means doing everything for the actual customer right in front of you, not for the nebulous notion of “the customer”.
It means doing exactly what a customer wants, including losing them without a fuss.
Comcast has responded, saying : “The way in which our representative communicated with them is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives," which I don’t doubt. No one could rationally encourage their customer service people to behave like that, and I suspect the problem lies with some very misaligned incentives or punishments.
However, perhaps Comcast’s policy during disconnect calls should be “No questions asked.” Is that so crazy? If a customer wants to stop using your service, respect that they’ve made up their mind and do what they ask. By all means—send a follow-up email, do whatever you can to find out why they left. But as Seth Godin says:
a. the customer is always right
b. if that's not true, it's unlikely that this person will remain your customer.
Sure, it hurts you in the short term, but I have to believe that the shockwaves from an incident like this are going to be far more damaging.
Customer-centricity might occasionally be at-odds with business goals, but making the tough choice to always put the customer first might be paying off in bigger, less-expected ways.
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