We get the language of customer retention and attrition all wrong. We say things like “customers abandon us,” “they leave,” or “they attrite.” But in framing our brand’s retention issues in this manner, we swap the subject and object of our sentences. We make the customer the subject and our brand the object, as if they’ve done something to us, but the reality is precisely the opposite. We are the subject–our organizations are the ones accountable for the customer experience (CX), for ensuring customer satisfaction, and for earning customers’ loyalty and dollars. Our brand is not victimized by ungrateful customers who leave us but has a duty to create an experience that invites customers to remain.
This isn’t just about language but about the way we think and act. Our mental models influence the language we use, and the language then reinforces those same mental models.
Your brand may not intentionally “fire” the customer, but make no mistake: If you neglect customer needs and expectations, ignore their feedback, consistently prioritize profit over customer satisfaction, and expect loyalty in return for mediocre and undifferentiated experiences, you may as well engrave an invitation for your customers to quit your brand. To influence customer-centric change in your organization, start with the right vocabulary and mentality. Stop blaming your customers for leaving, and embrace your obligation to offer experiences that invite customers to stay.
Another example of the way our language betrays us is the term “moment of truth,” which has been popular in CX for years. The idea that your brand has some limited number of consistent and eternal “moments of truth” that are essential to every customer in every situation falls apart pretty quickly when you poke at it gently.
Any moment can be a moment of truth if your brand disappoints or harms a customer. Moreover, satisfied and loyal customers don’t abruptly seek competitive solutions simply because your brand dropped the ball in one, big, predictable moment of truth; instead, you lose customers when your brand suffers a sustained loss of trust, loyalty, and satisfaction due to a series of effortful, disappointing or frustrating experiences. In the battle for customer retention, every touchpoint is a moment of truth, and the decision on which moments matter most is not yours but each customers’.
To illustrate, let me share two brief stories. In the past year, I have accepted the invitation to leave brands to which I was once loyal. In each case, ask yourself if I decided to go or was invited to do so? And was there one giant moment of truth or were these a series of unfortunate and preventable events?
The Time The Large Retailer Invited Me To Leave
I was once very loyal to a large retailer, visiting their stores several times a month. Also, I had a good reason for wanting to support this retailer since I am boycotting Amazon (which is another story for another time.)
Then this happened: I ordered a set of plates, and three times in a row I received either a single dish or a set of broken plates. Each time, I called customer care, and the tone of the support began to change. It felt as if the call center reps were interpreting my repeated calls as an attempt to scam the company. In frustration, I ordered the set of dishes for delivery at my nearby store rather than my home, figuring I could open the box in front of a store employee and they could see the problem. But, when I arrived at the store, picked up the package, opened the box, and showed the employee that (once again) the company shipped a single plate and not a set, she told me, “I’m sorry, but since you ordered online, you’ll have to call our 800 number.”
I didn’t call customer care for the fourth time, didn’t return the plate, and didn’t ask for my money back. I simply accepted the retailer’s invitation to leave. And in the past year, I’ve not spent a dime with this brand that once captured thousands of my dollars every year.
So, what was the “moment of truth” in that story? Was it the first order? Second order? Third order? Or fourth order? Was it the repeated mistakes with picking, packing, and shipping in the warehouse? Was it at the point of each return, when the lack of a closed-loop process failed to alert fulfillment of the problem so as not to repeat it? Was it the increasingly fractious call center interactions? Was the moment of truth that last employee interaction in the store? Or was it leadership’s inability to integrate online and offline customer experience as customers expect?
The Time My Bank Invited Me To Leave
I was once faithful to a bank. In a category that earns very little loyalty, I felt this bank offered positive experiences.
Then this happened: Over several years, I had difficulty accessing my accounts via a web browser. Since my browser cookies are frequently deleted, the site never recognized me, and I constantly had to request a code be sent so I could sign in. My preferred method was SMS messaging, but the bank’s system never worked for either of my two phone numbers. I’d request an SMS code for one mobile number, then another, and finally, had it sent to my email address. After years of frustration, I contacted the bank for a solution, but I was told they could not assist me because my wife was the primary account holder, even though my name is on the checks and a credit card the bank issued. So, I accepted the bank’s invitation to leave and found another bank with a better sign-in process and–score!–it pays interest on my checking account, unlike my former bank.
So, what was the “moment of truth” in that story? Was it the bank’s decision to implement a particularly complex multi-factor authentication process that relied on ephemeral browser cookies? Was it the failure of its SMS feature? If so, how many time did it have to fail before I reached that critical moment of truth? Was it that the bank didn’t proactively offer assistance because it failed to notice I constantly requested multiple codes in multiple ways? Or was it that, even though my name is on the accounts, I was refused support?
Offer Moments That Invite Your Customers To Love Your Brand
Much like marketers’ challenge with advertising attribution, the “moments of truth” concept encourages a sort of last-touch attribution mentality that ignores the reality of customer satisfaction and loyalty. While it’s possible that a single catastrophic failure can sever an otherwise healthy customer relationship, that is the exception and not the rule. When your customer leaves, it usually isn’t because they reached a fickle and unpredictable decision but because you ignored the signs (or failed to look for them in the first place). The customer may be in control of their relationship with your brand, but you’re in control of the customer experience that earns customers’ business and loyalty, and your language and culture should reflect this reality.
It will take more to improve your brand’s customer experience than changing grammar, but properly framing the problem helps. Your employees should not be encouraged to see the brand as a victim of customers’ whims, nor should they buy into the myth that your brand’s most significant problems can be solved with fixes in just a handful of moments of truth. Getting the customer experience right demands your brand know and optimize your customers’ preferred journeys, commit to collecting and disseminating customer insight, empower employees to make customer-centric decisions, and consider how your systems, policies, and procedures foster customer dissatisfaction across the entire customer journey.
It’s never just a single shipment with one broken plate that kills your customer relationships. Too often, your brand’s priorities, decisions, and dysfunctional corporate silos conspire across a range of touchpoints to systematically lead customers to reach one clear conclusion: This brand does care about me, and its actions have persuaded me to leave.