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The Dos and Don’ts of Talking To A Churning Customer

A customer is leaving you, choosing to churn rather than renew. Naturally, you’re devastated: whether this churn is Sudden Change (unexpected) or a Failure to Thrive (a long time coming), it still hurts. Nobody likes to lose a customer, and your feelings are all over the place, bouncing from anger to denial to quiet devastation. Regardless, the relationship is ending - and even though all you want to do is run-off and hide, you still have to communicate while they pack-up your stuff and get you out of their house. Like all breakups, things are very sensitive: nobody wants to say the wrong thing and make a bad situation worse. Still, emotionally compromised as you are, you might be struggling to say the right things. Thus, this handy guide of the Dos and Don’ts Talking To A Churning Customer: things you should say, things you probably shouldn’t say, and things you should never, ever say.

Churn is awful for everyone.

The Dos and Don’ts

DON’T: Make it personal. If you’re interacting with a churning customer at all it is for important reasons: either to complete the off-boarding process, as part of satisfying your obligations as a vendor while they’re still a client, or as part of a fact-finding mission. Your client might be the most important customer you have: losing them might be a serious blow to your company, putting your finances or even your future at risk - but remember that these are businesses making business decisions. They’re doing what’s best for them: and you would expect to be given the space to do the same were you in their position. ‘I would never be so callous’ might sound good in the emotion of the moment - but of course you would. You would put your business first: it’s what you’re supposed to do, what you have to do. So in all your interactions, don’t make it personal: don’t get huffy, don’t make snide asides, don’t be cold or passive aggressive. Treat them with the same courtesy in the bad times as you did in the good. Give them the respect they deserve.

DO: Listen to their grievances. You may have someone calling this company back in six months for loss analysis: besides just being polite, listening to their complaints now will give that future caller a good starting point when conducting their autopsy. “You said when you churned that the API never worked the way you were promised - why don’t we start there?” Also, just because a customer is churning doesn’t mean you instantly stop being their vendor: if you’re still under contract, you still owe them good customer service until the day the contract expires, and even beyond. If they’ve got grievances, take the time to listen - and make notes.

DON’T: Try to re-sell your product. You didn’t like it when the cable company kept try to sweeten the pot after you told them you were cutting the cord, so why should a fellow business enjoy it when you do it to them? This isn’t just unwise behaviour, it’s obnoxious. Pleading or promising dramatic change at the 11th hour will endear you to no one, and give you a reputation for, well, being kind of pathetic. If they say “we’re leaving” you say “I understand” - per above, respect the decisions your clients make, even if you don’t agree. (And this goes double for any of you out there who are cable companies.)

DON’T: Get defensive. If your excuses or explanations were any good, they’d have worked before now, and the customer probably wouldn’t be churning. There’s an attitude of “well actually, you’re wrong: let me lecture you as to why.” Don’t be that guy, and don’t be that company. Don’t aggravate your customer all over again at the end of all things. You don’t have to agree, but this isn’t the time to fight back. Take deep breaths, and let it go.

DO: Promise to take action. Even if the churning customer’s claims are unsound - even if their reasons for churning are Them and not You, there’s no point in brushing them off. They’re giving you the reasons why they no longer want your business: that’s worth taking seriously. It might be too little too late, but it’s better late than never. Besides, they might even have a point.

Maybe Don’t Change The Locks

The key is to keep things cordial and polite. Next time a customer churns, keep a close eye on all your interactions. There’s no reason to expect that treating a churning customer well will someday bring them back to you, but that’s no reason to go burning your bridges, either. Perhaps the reasons they’re churning have nothing to do with you - and whatever issue caused them won’t last forever: they may come back to you yet. If nothing else, you don’t want the reputation of a sore loser or a company that’s prone to tantrums. At the last, your final interactions should always be a firm handshake and well-wishes for the future. Who knows - maybe they’ll call you next year when circumstances have changed.


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