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Retention Reinvention

Feedback – the crucial first step to establishing trust

Establishing trust and/or understanding with a customer in a retention call is the single most important factor in determining if the attempt to ‘save’ the client will be successful.

Time and time again I review retention calls, and no matter how skilled the staff member is at solving the customer’s problem, or creating new value for the customer, if they haven’t established trust and empathy early in the call, then they don’t even get a chance to help the customer.

Your customers are smart, and they know that you’re going to try and retain them when they tell you they are leaving.  That’s why so many will leave without letting you know (if that option exists for them).  If they do need to talk to you to before they leave, here is the typical context of the situation:

they want to leave…you want to keep them…they know you want to keep them…they know you’re going to make an attempt to get them to stay…they’ve probably been transferred to a specialist team and they want to get through this call as quickly and painlessly as possible…they’ve already made up their mind, and they don’t want you to try and change it…

What an awkward way for a conversation to start!

Firstly, where don’t we start the retention call?  Well, traditional sales techniques rightly suggest that we first have to establish trust and likeability.  But this isn’t normal sales; it’s retention.  The stakes are high, time is precious, and you’re almost always starting from a negative place.  Being upbeat and likeable in this context is likely to annoy your exiting customer.  So we have to do the most trustworthy thing in each moment.  It is not appropriate to try and establish trust and empathy with small talk at the start of a retention call.  Small talk is going to seem glib.  It will create distrust and discord, although it will be happening under the surface, and the less aware staff member will miss the signs all together.  The customer will be polite, and even possibly say nice things, but you’re losing them with every ill placed attempt to gain trust – humour, upbeat tone, questions about how their day is going, or “how about [that local sports team]” etc.  These can all come into the call later, and will be very helpful in the ‘adding new value’ section of a call, but never start with these.

Where do we start?  Set the tone that you are serious about listening to them and get them to state or restate their reason for wanting to leave by using an open neutral question such as “I understand you’re looking to discuss your [ongoing service] going forward”.  Be brief in your introduction and open question, and get them talking as quickly as possible, and as much as possible.  The only thing you are selling in the initial stage of the call is that you’re serious about listening to them, and you’re on their side.

Positive vs Negative feedback?  Now, almost always they are going to give you some feedback, and it’s going to be at varying depths, and it’s going to be varying shades of positive to negative.  Sometimes it’s a surface level feedback, aimed at moving smoothly through this call so they can leave as quickly as possible.  Other times they jump boots and all into giving you their full can of objections.  How you react now will be the most important aspect of the retention call, and it needs to be tailored.  If it was positive feedback, something like, “I’ve loved your service, but it’s time to move on”, then ask them for more feedback, to help improve your business.  “What was your best experience with us?”… “How would you rate us on a scale of 1 to 10?”…“so we can learn from our mistakes, can you share with me a time you weren’t happy with our service and why?”  Actively listen, and use techniques such as verbal noddies, repetition, paraphrasing and summarising, dropping in your own stories and feelings.  If you’ve done this well, you have now established trust, and now have a ticket to the game.  You have now earned the right to attempt to win their business back, and can move to the next step.

If the original feedback was negative, that’s even better, because you have something you can empathise with, and possibly solve later in the call (never jump into objection handling until you’ve drawn out all the feedback).  Empathy is the first step; apologise that the service has made them feel that way.  Put yourself in their shoes, and if true, say something to the affect “I would have found that frustrating”.  But don’t just stay there on the surface; dig a little deeper; give a little bit more of yourself.  Ask for more negative feedback, tailored to their first response – “how did that make you feel?”…”did anything else go wrong”…”How did that impact your time”.  Get it all out on the table.  The customer has to feel like you’re all in, that you want to hear it all, and that you’re on their side.  As above, you now have a ticket to the game.  You have now earned the right to attempt to win their business back, and can move to the next step.

The last point I’ll make on the “introduction, establish reason and feedback” step of the retention call is that everything has to be authentic.  This is all about trust, and you can’t fake it.  If you are asking for feedback, then their needs to be a mechanism where you record it, analyse it and feed it back into the rest of the business, who then listen and make lasting changes for the better to the overall service.  If this mechanism doesn’t exist, or you don’t trust it, then it will come through as insincere when you ask the customer for feedback.

The next step is drawing out all objections and choosing when/if/how to handle them…