Thursday, February 12, 2009

Losing customers without letting go completely

I just cancelled my home VOIP phone service, which Lingo raised to $33/month from $21/month in 2003. The service agent was polite in handling my cancellation request, and then she offered me the option to downgrade to $7/month for a “basic plan", which allows free incoming calls forwarded to my new phone number and $0.03/minute for outbound calls. Since many people still have my old number, I took their offer because it's worth $7 not to lose incoming calls while I transfer people to my new number.

Losing customers the wrong way

No one wants to lose customers, but companies handle this inevitable situation differently. AOL made it easy for me to sign up for a "free trial", but I found it almost impossible to figure out how to cancel after the trial ended so I wouldn't get charged every month. I finally cancelled and never would consider going back. When my wife cancelled our weekly house-cleaning service, the owner lost her temper and verbally berated my wife before slamming the phone down. The business owner never got to hear my wife ask about the bi-monthly or periodic service we wanted to switch to.

Let go, but keep the door open

Lost customers are still customers, and the conversation around cancelling a service is also an opportunity to offer another service of value. For example, a meeting planner may want to cancel their online registration service, but still retain access to their data for past events. So we offer a low-cost basic service that allows access to existing data and retains their web site and event configurations in case they return to use our service in the future. Many clients don't know that they need all of their historical data, but they are terrified of losing it - and they'll pay us to keep it stored, just in case they need it later.

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