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The Customer Exit Interview – Too Little, Too Late

Love-BannerSo I received this call from Rogers, my son’s cellular provider, asking if I wouldn’t mind taking 5 minutes to answer a few questions about why I called to cancel my service contract. It was the “exit interview,” a common practice within marketing and customer service departments in many organizations. The interview is both a research tool and last-ditch effort to save  customers before they pack their bags and head off to the competition. However, the customer exit interview is often too little, too late.

In theory, it’s a great tool. It helps an organization understand why customers are unhappy and choose to defect to another service provider or product manufacturer.  Similar to the spy novels we love to read, the customer service reps are often trained double-agents, feigning concern over your satisfaction but secretly looking for trigger points that they could use as a springboard for a new sales pitch to maintain your patronage.

Yet most are working with poor intelligence and thus fail to complete their mission or gather the necessary data required for improved decision-making in the future.

Know Your Customer Dammit!

If you’re going to conduct customer exit interviews – and have any hope of retaining or reengaging unhappy customers – you better know those customers, their historical activity, and their pain points – before you call them. If not, you’re simply exasperating already frustrated and dissatisfied customers.

For example, when Rogers, one of Canada’s largest media companies, called me this week, they failed to recognize  that the phone and service plan I was cancelling belonged to my son.  Yes, the account was in my name and I was paying the monthly invoices but it was my son’s phone and it was his usage needs and experiences that convinced me to pay the cancelation fee and switch providers.  They should have known that as he was with me when we purchased the phone and signed the contract. It was clearly stated that the phone was his and that the bills should come to me. Further, I offered this information when I called initially to inquire about cancelling the service.

Even if this fact was missed in their CRM, given that there were multiple phone numbers listed under my name, asking “Who is the primary user of this line?” would have made the rest of the interview more effective as a possible customer retention strategy and provided them more relevant research data. For example, during the exit interview, they asked which age group I was in.  Their marketing team will now filter the data I provided with a customer age range that’s incorrect. They’ve recorded the experiences shared as that of a middle-aged man, not those of the 18-year-old who actually used the phone.

Not only was this poor data collection on their part, it reinforced my decision to move away from Rogers.

Too Little, Too Late

So why did I choose to buy out my contract and move to another mobile service provider? Because in the four years or so that I had this line, Rogers never showed me any love. It’s as simple as that.

They never:

  1. Called to inquire about my satisfaction with the phone I purchased or the quality of the cellular reception we experienced
  2. Shared any new information about Rogers’ products, services or corporate social responsibility programs
  3. Analyzed my son’s usage patterns and suggested alternative plans that might better suit his needs or my budget
  4. Introduced me to any online usage monitoring tools that may have helped me better manage my expenses  or track usage patterns myself

During the exit interview, the Rogers’ customer service agent rhymed off a series of community initiatives, such as the Rogers Youth Fund, and asked if I had heard of it before she mentioned it.  None of the programs rang a bell for me (forgive the pun).  Why was I being asked about this now? Why was such an important and worthwhile community program never introduced to me in the past? I may have become involved. I may have had a different opinion about the brand that I was breaking up with. It may have made a difference in my decision to leave.

The simple point here – one that most businesses are incapable of comprehending – is that brands must show customers some love while they’re customers…not just before and after their status is set to “customer.” Sales and marketing teams take a short-sighted, short-term approach, seeking to woo new customers or regain those lost. Customer service teams are trained to show “customer-love” when in a reactive stance.  We know how often customers call cable or mobile providers to complain about their service or invoices but how often do those same customer service teams call you to ask “hey, just checking in…is everything OK?”

In all the years I was a Rogers customer, I didn’t experience any customer-love nor did I know if they even knew I existed. The only time in our relationship that any love was shown to me was when my son’s initial service contract was coming due.  Customer service teams called to offer a “free phone,” provided that I signed another three-year contract of course. In other words, what could I do for them? How could I spend more money?

Change Your Culture, Reverse Your Fortunes

We’ve all seen the statistics that illustrate how much cheaper it is to retain and grow existing customers instead of acquiring new ones, yet the largest companies like Rogers Mobility, whose single biggest problem is customer churn, fail to dedicate resources to “knowing their customers,” showing them some love, and communicating with them beyond asking for more sales.

It’s really not that difficult. So why do so many businesses fail at this key task?  It seems to me that the biggest obstacle isn’t an understanding of the strategy or the need for it but a corporate culture that is fixated on short-term gains, personal advancement, and stock prices. Changing a business’ culture to accept short-term pain for long-term gain is a more difficult sell than asking for increased budgets to acquire new customers, steal your competitors’ customers, or regain those lost.

Sensei Debates:  Is it feasible for customer service to ever become proactive?  Will the investment in additional bodies, technologies, and processes pay off in lower churn, higher retention, and greater customer lifetime value? Share your views and experiences in the comments below.

Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego

Image Credit: LayoutSparks, licensed via Creative Commons


Join the Conversation

dbvickery 5pts

Wow, I went through something very similar with T-Mobile this year - ultimately buying out a contract for one phone...to switch three to a different carrier. And when you talk to them on the phone immediately prior to cancellation, and again afterwards, they are oblivious to any of the history on the account.

And they are so sadly mistaken that they can somehow win you back!

Yours is a case where some simple research in a CRM could have resulted in a more targeted "exit interview". They may not win you back as a customer, but at least they will not exasperate you with ignorance. But here is another case where companies aren't fully leveraging their CRMs: I was talking to one global brand that has thousands of phone support calls each month. Their phone support diligently records the information into the CRM, and then they diligently try to resolve that issue as an individual incident.

Yet they never go back and look at that CRM data "In aggregate" to see if there are any trending concerns on products or services. Needless to say, I started explaining the importance of text analytics on INTERNAL datasources, also. That is a wealth of information that could better steer the company regarding product development, quality, customer service...and much more.

These folks need to hire us, right? ;)

tamarweiss 5pts

Hi Sam, 

Great post. I know from personal experience how exasperating is is when your service providers don't show love. It seems like they really missed the boat - even exit data can provide powerful insight into buying personas. 

samfiorella moderator 5pts

@tamarweiss Yes, sadly. It's another great example of how we have BigData, but fail to truly use BigData.


  1. […] It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about advertising or marketing – knowledge of your consumer gives you the data you need to meet your consumers’ needs. In other words, understand your customer and you have the context to be successful – something that’s perfectly highlighted by Sam Fiorella on the Sensei Marketing blog, and the example of an exit interview that showed why a wireless provider lost Sam’s business. […]

  2. […] It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about advertising or marketing – knowledge of your consumer gives you the data you need to meet your consumers’ needs. In other words, understand your customer and you have the context to be successful – something that’s perfectly highlighted by Sam Fiorella on the Sensei Marketing blog, and the example of an exit interview that showed why a wireless provider lost Sam’s business. […]

  3. […] post The Customer Exit Interview – Too Little, Too Late appeared first on Sensei […]

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