As marketers, we know that happy customers are loyal customers. Which raises the question of course, “how exactly do we keep our customers happy?” Which is necessarily followed by the question “when?” As in when should we be worrying about their level of happiness, and addressing it? In my experience it takes a certain amount of sizzle to keep long-term customer relationships happy and healthy. And all too often, companies only turn on the sizzle when we tell them we’re ready to leave.

That may have been sufficient in the past, but in the omni-channel, constant-conversation, digital economy in which we operate today, waiting until the cancellation conversation can often be too little, too late. Maybe your customer will give you a second chance, but are you really willing to let their brand perception get to that point? Here’s a personal experience I recently had.

I have a particular credit card that carries a high annual fee. In years gone by, it has provided me with some unique benefits that made up for that fee–such as complimentary airport lounge access, companion fares at a discounted rate and special event experience offers. However, as my needs changed over the last few years, those benefits became less important. The card was still in my wallet, but I felt disconnected from it and the benefits I’d once enjoyed. With no communications from the card issuer other than an annual rewards guide, I felt somewhat taken for granted, and yes, forgotten.

At Comet, we help companies retain customers and generate millions of dollars of incremental value in the process. I decided to share my own card perceptions with a couple of my Comet peers, and in talking through a few of the proactive and reactive retention strategies that we’ve helped our customers build, implement and manage, I decided the time was right to call the card help desk and share my ambivalence about keeping the card in my wallet. Here’s what happened:

In speaking with the contact center representative, I explained my intention to cancel or downgrade my card to avoid the high annual fee that was due. The representative was polite and took the time to both empathize with the fee, as well as enumerate several card benefits that she could tell I’d not previously activated.

Frankly, some of these benefits were not very useful, and yet, others were. After some additional conversation, the representative recognized my years of loyalty by offering me an amount of loyalty points equal to my annual card fee.

Since the agent removed the pain point I’d been feeling (a high annual fee for little perceived value), I decided to give the card another chance and explore those previously unused benefits.
Now, if that was the only touch point I’d had with the card company, I would most likely be back to the same cancellation frame of mind when my annual fee comes around this year.

However, the card company started taking more of an interest in me: keeping in touch with notifications on my mobile phone when large spends went on the card, sending occasional preferred cardholder offers and providing automatic reimbursements for certain airline charges (like baggage fees). My perception of my relationship went from one of being taken for granted to that of being highly appreciated and remembered. A few of the new benefits filled the void that the other unused benefits had previously created.

In other words, the sizzle came back to my brand experience and I will be glad to pay the fee when it rolls around again. I’m feeling appreciated, understood, and most importantly, remembered. I am now a happy customer, and my loyalty not only continues but has deepened. Do your customers feel the same way? Drop me a line to share your perspectives and experiences; I welcome the dialogue.

Marcus Wagstaff

Vice President of Business Development at Comet Global Consulting

Marcus leads the business development function for Comet in North America, focusing on building new client relationships and growing mutual successes with Comet’s technology partners. With over 20 years’ experience selling customer experience solutions in the healthcare, insurance, and life sciences industries, Marcus helps clients achieve their visions, enabled by technology. Marcus holds a degree in Management with an emphasis in International Marketing from Brigham Young University.