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The Outcome of Your Customer’s End-to-End Journey: Happy Ending or Dead End?

Strategy Matters

Realizing the power of UX strategy

A column by Ronnie Battista
February 22, 2016

As CX professionals, we understand the importance of delivering a holistic, end-to-end customer experience. It’s not just about exceeding expectations for a customer’s initial purchase. Those of us who care about customer experience preach the power and importance of making things right when a customer has had a bad experience.

We all have our stories about CX heroes. For example the owner of the restaurant who comes to your table and says, “I’m so sorry about the slow service tonight. Please have dessert and coffee on me.” Or the customer-service representative who stays on the phone with you for what seems like hours, making sure you get through some ungodly, techno nightmare with their product. These people are business-savvy CX heroes. They know that loyalty rules, and the customers who give you business deserve your attention. Oft-quoted statistics tell us that it’s 5 times more expensive to acquire customers than it is to retain them. Providing a good customer experience is not just a nice thing to do; it’s good business.

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CX professionals help businesses to capture strategic opportunities for serving customers better by creating end-to-end journey maps. These maps can vary greatly, but traditionally, they begin when a prospective customer becomes aware of a company. The subsequent phases represent the progression or conversion of the business relationship—deciding on a product, buying it, getting service for it, renewing a subscription, and so on. Journey maps typically culminate in a final phase that is some type of resolution—for example, the sale of a car or the return or repair of a product.

But does the journey really end there? What happens when a long-time customer makes a decision to leave your company for a competitor? What do you do? How do you treat a customer who is no longer your customer? What happens after you’ve walked that proverbial mile with customers—walking in their shoes? I think such circumstances remain under-served parts of the customer journey. An experience I recently had when switching mobile services really brought this to the forefront for me.

“Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”

This past December, I had to make a decision. After twelve years of loyal patronage to Verizon Wireless, it was time to move on. It’s important that you know from the outset that this wasn’t something I wanted to do. Not at all. I hate doing this kind of stuff. I didn’t want to spend hours in a wireless store, having a guy named Lenny transfer my contacts to my new phone. (“It should take like 45 minutes, but there are a lot of folks here so….”)

I liked Verizon Wireless. The service was good, everything worked, and the cost was on par with that of other services. All was right with my wireless service. But with three kids—only one of which had a phone at the time—my wife and I decided that it was time to add phones for the other two. We would make their phones part of their Christmas present. So I went to my local Verizon Wireless store to get a sense of what it would cost to add them. Suffice it to say that it was more than I had envisioned. Sure, I was extending our account from three to five lines, but I’d heard that Verizon was competing with new shared data plans, so I figured that, with some type of family plan, I’d benefit from the economies of scale.

I wasn’t looking elsewhere. Up until this time, I had resisted the years of commercials from AT&T, Sprint, and others that had tried in vain to convince me that it was worth switching. While every few years, I’d get a price on switching, the effort was never really worth it. When I did the real math, the switching costs were too de minimus to merit consideration. But when talking with a friend of mine who had recently switched his whole family to Sprint, he told me he was really pleased and suggested that I take a look. My previous carrier had been Sprint, and we had parted amicably with no headaches, so why not see?

Of course, with this weighing on my brain, I suddenly started actually paying attention to the onslaught of commercials. Sprint’s showed people using chainsaws and swords to cut their phone bills in half. So I went to a local Sprint store to find out what the price would be. Suffice it to say that the difference was—conservatively, on paper—between $800 and $1000 a year, depending on a few options. That wasn’t chump change.

Companies like Verizon do have retention specialists on hand, as I know from my Verizon FiOS service. They continue to keep their promotional pricing close enough to keep competitors at bay. Comcast pushes seriously good pricing to win my business. I was hoping Verizon Wireless might also be able to find a way to offer something with a close enough price to make it worth staying.

So I went back to the Verizon Wireless store and spent a lot of time with the sales rep—a nice guy I had worked with on previous visits. He did his best to see what he could do. After looking into a few options, he regretfully admitted that he couldn’t get me anywhere near the numbers I was getting from Sprint. In a very cool move that probably wouldn’t make Verizon too happy, he even confessed that I’d be crazy not to switch. He noted that I’d have to pay over $950 in contract cancellation fees, but I’d wind up getting all of that back with Sprint incentives, so it was a wash anyway. I appreciated his honesty. It was funny because we both acknowledged that it felt like we were breaking up after a long relationship. He even offered to print out a page that would help me to expedite processing cancellation rebates at Sprint.  Awwwww… Bro hugs and high fives!

Fast forward a month or so and my final Verizon bill came in. That’s when the hugs and high fives ended.

“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”

Verizon Wireless bills for their service a month in advance—a practice that obviously benefits them. Still, I’d never had an issue with that and had dutifully paid them my entire time with Verizon.

I had all of our phone numbers ported to Sprint when I was only nine days into my pre-paid month. I didn’t really think about it because I expected that—as Sprint had done when I had left them twelve years earlier—Verizon would simply prorate my bill and reimburse me for the remainder of the month—about 22 days. I assumed they would round up the price by a day in their favor, but had no issue with that. However, it turned out that the next bill I got from Verizon suggested they had never credited my account, which was odd. I figured they might reconcile that discrepancy later on, once they had sorted out all of the contract termination fees. But just to check, I called Verizon Customer Service. There was no mistake. Nope. Verizon was keeping it all.

Adding insult to injury, the Verizon employee with whom I spoke—just like my local guy—was nice, helpful, and genuinely empathetic. So much so that he candidly shared with me that he agreed this Verizon Wireless policy was bogus and unfair. Should that make me feel better? It didn’t, and it went downhill from there. Was I cranky? Sure. So, that evening, I tweeted:

@verizon I understood I’d owe $950+ as early-term penalty to cancel, but you're keeping almost a whole month of advance payment, too?”

To which I received a quick and, once again, quite empathetic reply from a VZW Support employee:

@RonnieBattista It breaks my heart to hear you are thinking of leaving us. It sounds like there is a lot to this situation. Follow & DM ^NK

It broke that person’s heart? Wow! I mean, I lost like $150 on what’s clearly a #firstworldproblem, but they were heartbroken. How could I not engage in a direct message with them? So I did and, after I had explained the situation, the answer I got was this:

I see, Ronnie. When you port, the line is suspended with billing until the end of the billing cycle, since you have already paid for that month in advance. This not only gives the port time to complete, but also allows you to make any last minute changes until the end of the billing cycle, when the system automatically disconnects it. Does that make sense? *GT

Jan 19

The truth is: it doesn’t make sense at all, because this is a red herring. Once my numbers were ported to Sprint on that same day, there were no further changes to make. It was done. Finito. Over. As it is millions of times a month when people switch. Even if this situation were to happen, it would far more likely be an exception rather than the rule. Verizon Customer Service’s deceptive claim—surprise, surprise—bestowed my money on Verizon Wireless.

So, is all of this about $150? I’d make that back in two months with Sprint anyway, so what’s the big deal? True enough. But a few things about my experience of the end of my Verizon Wireless journey stuck out for me. First, through all of this, the employees I dealt with were all good, if not exemplary. I had no human interaction that wasn’t pleasant. Second, they all agreed with me, but were not empowered to remedy the situation. It seemed the only one I could point a finger at was Verizon Wireless itself. But this process actually made me feel like a finger was pointing at me. Verizon was Michael Corleone, and I was Fredo the traitor. “Fredo, you’re nothing to me now. You’re not a brother, you’re not a friend. I don’t want to know you or what you do.” Here’s a kiss on the cheek. I’m keeping your money!

Now, while I’m not sure, I expect that Verizon isn’t the only company doing this sort of thing. I imagine that—like many of the airlines that play off each other when adding new service fees—other wireless companies might be doing the same thing. What this experience did was confirm that Verizon Wireless made sure the door hit my ass on the way out.

I remember that feeling. It brought back a memory of customer-experience whiplash that I had many years ago.

“I Want You. I Need You. But There Ain’t No Way I’m Ever Gonna Love You.”

In the Summer of 1997, when I was on my honeymoon in Hawaii, my new bride and I took one of the heavily promoted timeshare tours of the newly opened resort at which we were staying in Kauai. The free parasailing voucher we received as a gift incented our eventual decision to take the 90-minute tour, using our vacation time to hear their pitch. We figured it was worth learning about, so we decided to take the tour. Our tour guide was lovely. I’ve forgotten his name, but I’ll call him Javier because—with his soft, soothing accent and disarming smile—he sounded and looked a bit like Javier Bardem. Within a half hour, he was like family—joking and really making us feel like we were special. But as the hours ticked by, the tour seemed to be going on much longer than promised. This was becoming like the “3-hour tour” that inadvertently ended with the Skipper and Gilligan leading a fight for their survival.

We had requested up front, repeatedly, that they give us some idea about what the timeshare would cost. They had already taken some basic financial information about us and assured us it would be in our ballpark. When, hours later, Javier eventually did get to the number, it was a complete non-starter. A grand-slam, out-of-the-ballpark non-starter.

I recall this story because of what happened at the end. I appreciate what hard work it is for people like Javier to sell such properties, and he was great at making the case. But when, after countless attempts, he made his last appeal that we sign up and we politely declined—as we had repeatedly up to this point—he so abruptly stopped, looked us in the eye, scowled, and walked away that it was shocking. The warm, hand on my shoulder, jovial Javier we had bonded with just disappeared. No goodbye, no “sorry this didn’t work out, but thanks for your time.” Nothing. Javier simply got up and walked away from us. Then, a woman came up to us, put the parasailing voucher on the table, gave us a similar smirk, and walked away. Had they forgotten that we were still actually their guests at the same property?  Apparently so, because our customer journey with them just ended.

The Moral of the Story

The moral of each of these customer-journey stories is simple:

  • A previous customer is a future customer. Customers are human beings, and they experience life-long journeys with companies. Case in point: I left Sprint on good terms. I spent twelve years at Verizon, then I came back to Sprint. As I’ve said, I didn’t want to leave Verizon, but I did. People change. Circumstances change. Sam Walton is famously quoted as saying, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the Chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” Walton is absolutely right. Your customers can fire you, but they can also hire you back.
  • Not every customer who leaves does so happily. There will always be some customers that you lose—customers who, for one reason or another, you’ll never get back. But do you know who they are? Is it clear why they left? Have you asked? Is there a chance that you can win their business back one day, even if that might be years down the road? If that were the case, should you treat them better or differently from a seriously disgruntled customer who will never, ever return? Companies that have successful win-back marketing teams take the time to make sure they are tailoring their messages to the wants and needs of lapsed customers. Obviously, better customer service was not something that would have gotten me to rethink Verizon. My decision to leave was purely a financial one.
  • How you treat customers when they walk out your door impacts their decision to walk back in through it ever again. People remember the last thing you did to them. How you handle a breakup with a customer is not unlike what happens when a romantic relationship ends. When your customer becomes a former customer, will you act like Javier, the jilted lover? Will you impose undue financial or process burdens on those who choose to leave your embrace? Or will you take a more “If you love someone, set them free” approach, making the separation one that is bittersweet, but not unpleasant?

I would love to hear stories from others who have parted ways with a company and had a memorably good or bad experience. 

Practice Lead for Experience Strategy + Design at Slalom Consulting

New York, New York, USA

Ronnie BattistaRonnie is a senior UX executive with 20 years of experience envisioning and delivering creative, cross-channel user experiences with positive bottom-line impact. Ronnie has served in UX leadership positions at Accenture, Dun and Bradstreet, Gextech in Spain, MISI Company, and Slalom Consulting. He has provided experience design leadership to over 120 clients, ranging from C-suite-level strategic solutions to team-level tactical solutions. Ronnie co-created the Rutgers Mini-Masters in User Experience Design with Marilyn Tremaine and currently serves as both Program Director and Lead Adjunct Professor at Rutgers. Ronnie served on the Executive Committee of the Usability Professionals’ Association International (UPA-I) Board of Directors from 2010 to 2012 and was formerly President of the NJ Chapter of the UXPA. A life-long lover of the real Jersey Shore, when not on the beach, he lives in Tinton Falls with his wife Tiffany and their three children.  Read More

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