When Companies Lose Customers …

United Parcel Service suffered staggering customer defection as a consequence of its 15-day Teamsters work stoppage in 1997. The result was that, even after their 80,000 drivers were back behind the wheels of their delivery trucks or tractor-trailers, many thousands of UPS workers were laid off. A UPS manager in Arkansas was quoted as saying: “To the degree that our customers come back will dictate whether those jobs come back.”

United Parcel Service suffered staggering customer defection as a consequence of its 15-day Teamsters work stoppage in 1997. The result was that, even after their 80,000 drivers were back behind the wheels of their delivery trucks or tractor-trailers, many thousands of UPS workers were laid off. A UPS manager in Arkansas was quoted as saying: “To the degree that our customers come back will dictate whether those jobs come back.”

The UPS loss was a gain for Federal Express, Airborne, RPS and even the United States Postal Service. They provided services during the strike that made UPS’ customers see the dangers of using a single delivery company to handle their packages and parcels. FedEx, for example, reported expecting to keep as much as 25 percent of the 850,000 additional packages it delivered each day of the strike.

UPS’ customer loss woes and the impact on its employees was a very public display of the consequences of customer turnover. Most customer loss is relatively unseen, but it has been determined that many companies lose between 10 percent and 40 percent of their customers each year. Still more customers fall into a level of dormancy, or reduced “share of customer” with their current supplier, moving their business to other companies, thus decreasing the amount they spend with the original supplier. The economic impact on companies, not to mention the crushing moral effect on employees—downsizing, rightsizing, plant closings, layoffs, etc.—are the real effects of customer loss.

Lost jobs and lost profits propelled UPS into an aggressive win-back mode as soon as the strike was settled. Customers began receiving phone calls from UPS officials assuring them that UPS was back in business, apologizing for the inconvenience and pledging that their former reliability had been restored. Drivers dropping by for pick-ups were cheerful and confident, and they reinforced that things were back to normal. UPS issued letters of apology and discount certificates to customers to further help heal the wounds and rebuild trust. And face-to-face meetings with customers large and small were initiated by UPS—all with the goal of getting the business back.

These win-back initiatives formed an important bridge of recovery back to the customer. And it worked. The actions, coupled with the company’s cost-effective services, continuing advances in shipping technology, and the dramatic growth of online shopping, enabled UPS to reinstate many laid off workers while increasing its profits a remarkable 87 percent in the year following the devastating strike.

UPS is hardly an isolated case. Protecting customer relationships in these uncertain times is a fact of life for every business. We’ve entered a new era of customer defection, where customer churn is reaching epidemic proportions and is wrecking businesses and lives along the way. It’s time to truly understand the consequences of customer loss and, in turn, apply proven win-back strategies to regain these valuable customers.

Nowhere are the effects of customer defection more visible than in the world of Internet and mobile commerce, where the opportunities for customer loss occur at warp speed. E-tailers and Web service companies are spending incredible sums of money to draw customers to their sites, and to modify their messages and images so that they are compatible and user-friendly on all devices. Because of this, relatively few of these companies, including many well-established sites, have turned a profit. Customer loss (and lack of recovery) is a key contributor. E-customers have proven to be a high-maintenance lot. They want value, and they want it fast. These customers show little tolerance for poor Web architecture and navigation, difficult to read pages, and outdated information or insufficient customer service. Expectations for user experience are very high, and rising rapidly.

Internet and mobile customers, to be sure, have some of the same value delivery needs as brick-and-mortar customers; but, they are also different from brick-and-mortar customers in many important and loyalty-leveraging respects. They are more demanding and require much more contact. They require multi-layer benefits, in the form of personalization, choice, customized experience, privacy, current information, competitive pricing and feedback. They want partnering and networking opportunities. When site download times are too long, order placement mechanisms too cumbersome, order acknowledgment too slow, or customer service too overwhelmed to respond in a timely fashion, online shoppers will quickly abandon their purchase transactions or not repeat them. Further, they are highly unlikely to return to a site which has caused negative experiences.

What’s more, the new communication channels also serve as a high-speed information pathway for negative customer opinion. If unhappy customers in the brick-and-mortar world usually express their displeasure to between two and 20 people, on the Internet, angry former customers have the opportunity to impact thousands more. There are now scores of sites offering similar negative messages about companies in many industries, and giving customers, and even former employees, a place to express grievances. It’s a new form of angry former customer sabotage, which adds to the economic and cultural effect of customer turnover.

For many of these sites, part of their charter is to help consumers find value; and, like us, they understand that customers will provide loyalty in exchange for value. They also recognize that the absence of value drives customer loss, and that insufficient or ineffective feedback handling processes can create high turnover. As one states: “The Internet is the most consumer-centric medium in history—and we will help consumers use it to their greatest personal advantage. We will increase the influence of individuals through networks of millions. We will raise the stakes for companies to respond. We will require companies to respect consumers’ choice, privacy and time, and will expose those that do not.” This may sound a bit like Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” but it does acknowledge the power of negative, as well as positive, customer feedback.

Some businesses seem minimally concerned about losing a customer; but the only thing worse than the loss of high value customers is neglecting the opportunity to win them back. When customer lifetime value is interrupted, it often makes both economic and cultural sense for the company to make an active, serious effort to recover them. This is true for both business-to-business and consumer products or services.

So how does a company defend itself against the perils of customer loss? The best plan, of course, is a proactive one that anticipates customer defection and works hard to lessen the risk. Companies need defection-proofing strategies, including intelligent gathering and application of customer data, the use of customer teams, creating employee loyalty, engagement and ambassadorship, and the basic strategy of targeting the right kind of customers in the first place. But in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, no retention or relationship program is complete without a save and win-back component. There is mounting evidence that the probability of win-back success and the benefits surrounding it far outweigh the investment costs. Yet, most companies are largely unprepared to address this opportunity. It’s costing them dearly, and even driving them out of business.

Building and sustaining customer loyalty behavior is harder than ever before. Now is the time to put in place specific strategies and tools for winning back lost customers, saving customers on the brink of defection and making your company defection-proof.

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: How to Enjoy March Madness at Work (Thanks, Web Technology!)

As a die-hard sports fan, not to mention college basketball junkie, March is gluttony at its finest. I’m not alone in my revelry. Round-the-clock action serves as a rite of spring for sports fans across the nation, who are rooting on their alma maters, local universities and, of course, whomever they’ve penciled in to their brackets. But with the “madness” comes a real dilemma: How do you watch the games when they’re being played in the middle of the day during the workweek?

This week we have a guest post in my spot: Joe Keenan, senior editor of All About ROI and eM+C … and sports fan.

As a die-hard sports fan, not to mention college basketball junkie, March is gluttony at its finest. I’m not alone in my revelry. Round-the-clock action serves as a rite of spring for sports fans across the nation, who are rooting on their alma maters, local universities and, of course, whomever they’ve penciled in to their brackets. But with the “madness” comes a real dilemma: How do you watch the games when they’re being played in the middle of the day during the workweek?

Worry no more. CBSSports.com has got you covered — and without the risk of getting caught. (CBS is the official broadcast network of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.) While the site has broadcast live streaming video of NCAA tournament games since 2004, helping stranded office workers like me keep track of the action, the threat of getting caught by the boss was always a deterrent hanging out there.

Enter the “Boss Button,” a tool that when clicked hides the live video action on the screen and silences the audio, replacing it with a “business-like” image. Slacking off at work has never been made so easy.

Designed by cartoonist Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic, the boss button was first rolled out in 2009 to more than 2.77 million clicks. The functionality has been redesigned for this year’s tournament, and sneaky office workers have taken notice: The button was clicked more than 1.7 million times on the tournament’s first day alone, more than 60 percent of the total clicks of the boss button for the entire 2009 tournament.

And there’s an entire contingent of fans out there who are watching the action apparently without repercussions. Consider the following traffic statistics released last week from CBSSports.com:

  • 3.4 million hours of live streaming video and audio were consumed by 3 million unique visitors to the NCAA March Madness on Demand video players on the first day of the tournament last Thursday, a 20 percent growth versus 2009 — both numbers represent the largest single day of traffic for a live sporting event on the internet;
  • 2 p.m. to 2:59 p.m. ET was the most watched hour last Thursday with 533,000 streaming hours (16 percent of the total for the day), peaking at 2:45 p.m. with 147,000 streaming hours; and
  • the most watched game from last Thursday was the double-overtime Florida vs. BYU game with 521,000 hours of streaming video and audio, a 50-plus percent increase over 2009’s most watched game from the first day of the first round (Washington vs. Mississippi State).

“The continuing evolution of NCAA March Madness on Demand gives our fans even more reasons to stay connected to the tournament on a daily basis,” said NCAA Senior Vice President for Basketball and Business Strategies Greg Shaheen in a CBSSports.com press release. “Tremendous first round games, enhanced features in the MMOD player and solid early traffic numbers all point towards an exciting few weeks to come.”

Has your company found success streaming video online? How about implementing a special functionality on your site such as a boss button? Tell us about your experiences by posting a comment below.