Call Centers


Customer Retention by Extraordinary Means Is Not CRM

A visibly frustrated caller navigates a seemingly endless loop with a customer service call center.

As we contemplate what’s next in CRM from such innovations as the rapid assimilation of artificial intelligence, it’s good to consider where we’ve been and human nature. These two concerns overlap, and not necessarily in a good way.

A few years ago, there was concern about how some vendors could abuse CRM, and although we overcame at least some of those concerns, it is always wise to keep a weather eye on the horizon.

Then, and even now, some vendors would use CRM, especially in service desk applications, to rebuff or turn away customers seeking redress of product and service issues.

That was easy enough to do. The basic tactic is to channel a call into a doom loop where customers can select options but not make progress. I am sure you’ve been there. Even when you are sure you are being taken to a real person, you detour to some unhelpful sideshow. It used to be worse. Sometimes the “CRM” system would simply disconnect you.

This vicious cycle spawned a movement with the unexciting name of “real person,” as in customers’ demands to speak with human service agents. Some ingenious troublemakers even began publishing the key sequences you needed to enter to traverse phone hell.

CRM Abuse

Today, service systems have vastly improved, and AI can take some of the credit. Thanks to modern CRM, it is far more likely than ever that customers can handle their own service processes with good results. But not always. The rub seems to come when money is involved.

Have you tried to cancel a subscription lately?

You can go to a company’s website, click on the account tab, and even penetrate to a screen that gives you everything about your account except the renewal date and/or option to cancel.

From there, you may even be sent to yet another site to repeat the process. It’s a lot of trouble and too many steps, so in the end, you may just forget about it because the cost is small, and you have other fires to put out, so the whole issue gets pushed off for twelve months.

Of course, not everyone does this, and to my surprise, it seems like smaller businesses are the most likely to try to retain customers by what I’ll call extraordinary means. You can also call it CRM abuse.

Subscription Friction Is Anti-CRM

Just this year, I have gone to my credit card company to claw back a payment that was assumed by a vendor but vehemently opposed by me. The vendor renewed me despite my best efforts to cancel.

The credit card company has been great so far, but this is not their primary line of work. So, I wonder how long we can go on before credit card companies decide they don’t want to be in the middle of increasingly common disputes.

Perhaps that’s not an outsized concern since canceling a credit card is always an option, and presumably, card companies still want to avoid unnecessary churn. Nonetheless, it adds friction to the vendor-customer relationship, something CRM was meant to tamp down.

In a way, fighting over subscription cancellations isn’t really CRM since the technology involved could easily be homemade or more of a billing system issue. Still, the tactics of hanging on to customers no matter what violates at least the spirit of the CRM project we’ve all engaged in for more than two decades.

Clean Good-Byes

If it becomes harder to unsubscribe from services, customers might become more selective in whom they do business with. That’s a good idea with ancient roots, caveat emptor, and all that goes with it. But the relative freedom of being able to buy something online just to see what it does is vital to our economic health and the growth of nascent industries.

When something doesn’t work out, for whatever reason, it’s essential to be able to disengage cleanly. If some businesses can’t make that model work, well, that’s all part of creative destruction, and they need to fail.

CRM was conceived and designed to reduce friction in most interactions. Hanging on to customers through extraordinary means is a retrograde action that we all have a vested interest in preventing.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. Email Denis.

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