When push comes to shove, beware a messy break up

Scott-LogieWe are being encouraged more and more to consider switching – our insurance policies, banks, mobile providers, tea bags, even the milk we make the tea with. The Government is putting rules in place to make it much easier and new companies are appearing every day to help us compare prices and choose a new provider.

For those providers we are leaving, this means having to let the customer go in a dignified manner and in a way that ensures they might consider you when the next switch happens.

A story about switching
At home, we have very recently, and somewhat reluctantly, switched broadband provider. My wife and I live in the countryside: we have been with EE for a number of years and have always struggled with bandwidth. We are promised 10Mb/sec but rarely get close to 5. To be fair to EE we have tried a number of providers and always had the same issue.

For those of you living in London or Manchester, imagine having to choose between Netflix or Instagram, Amazon Prime or YouTube. Well, that’s us. If we second screen we lose the first one. We still occasionally see the buffering percentage sign!

However, joy is now unbounded in our household: fibre optic broadband has come to the neighbourhood. The downside: you can only buy it from BT. And we pretty much hate BT. We have been a customer before, and their customer service last time was awful.

Trying to communicate with them is, ironically, pretty impossible and something always goes wrong in the transfer. When we moved into our house, they cut our neighbour’s phone line off, on Christmas Eve, in a household with four boys. We were not popular…

After some annoying phone calls and much soul searching, we decided to switch. And it has gone pretty well. The difference in what we can do is incredible (Facebook and download music at the same time!) and we have only had one minor problem – don’t try calling us at home at the moment is all I will say.

Not the best farewell
However, this is not a tale about BT, this is about EE. Obviously they were notified of the change with a month’s notice as we had to get the fibre optic cable brought to the house. So they had plenty of time to get in touch and see what they could do. They can’t currently offer the same option, so we were always going to move. However, we would have gone back as soon as our contract is over and they can provide the same service.

And then a letter arrived, saying: “Sorry you’re thinking of leaving, it’s not too late to change your mind.” It continued, “As a valued customer we want to offer you a special deal on your EE broadband, get Fibre Broadband for only £23.00 a month.” It’s a nice enough letter, and a pretty good offer. Sadly, the end date for the offer was four days before the letter was actually sent.

So, what happens in companies for this sort of thing to occur? And do they even think about the implications? Instead of leaving EE with a wistful goodbye and a hope of reuniting in the future, I now think of them as a bit of a joke and wonder if they are inept. Doing nothing would have been better than doing something in this case.

From the most recent DMA research on switching, we see a lot of customers moving from the traditional providers in supermarkets, banks and mobile providers. In fact, in general, the newer providers are net increasing while the more established brands are net decreasing.

People will always want to try the new kid on the block: the new brand or the new product. It doesn’t always work though, and when things go wrong, returning to the safety of a well-known brand which is reliable and trusted is the natural outcome. The big banks might be missing out with customers moving to Starling or Monzo but if something goes wrong, either with the company or the service, they will be looking to move again and bigger sometimes does look better.

When to say goodbye
Of course, for some customers, it might be best to let them go. The serial switchers who are draining cost; the constant contractors who cost us in service fees; the ‘buy two and return one’ types who are always marginal. Understanding current and future value clearly helps us decide where to spend our retention budgets and also who to not worry too much about when they leave.

But for others, we really want them to come back. However, making that decision may well depend on how well they have been treated when they moved. My mum always used to say, “Never burn bridges”, and that is as true for brands as it is in life. A “Sorry to see you go, we will be glad to welcome you back and here is an offer that’s open for a couple of years” message might not seem the best thing when someone is leaving but separating on good terms is often as good for the brand as it is for the consumer.

Scott Logie is managing director of REaD Group Insights  and chair of the Customer Engagement Committee of the DMA

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