It's So Hard To Say Goodbye (But It Shouldn't Be)

(originally published on LinkedIn)

Here's a question to my fellow call center and customer service colleagues: have you re-evaluated your company’s cancellation procedures in light of the recent Comcast cancellation fiasco?

Block, the AOL executive that tried to cancel his Comcast service. After 10 minutes of getting nowhere with the representative, he started recording the call and since then, the world has been given the chance to share in his eight minutes of pure pain.

As a call center leader, I was astonished. I was flabbergasted. And then I took a look at what it means to cancel service in my call center. 

We all need compelling reasons to keep our customers coming back. Customer retention is vitl and getting customer feedback can give great insight into the future success of our business, but we need to allow customers to leave us. We need to be gracious and offer solutions but when the customer says it’s time to break up, it’s time to say goodbye. 

You get what you measure

Call centers are data-rich environments. We track and monitor every nuance of our operations and look for every opportunity to measure performance and squeeze out even the slightest efficiencies. We measure how easy (or difficult) it is to do business with our company. 

Measuring the ease-of-doing-business needs to include your customers 

leaving you

. Yes, retention is vital, but making it difficult for a customer to say goodbye can be, as we have seen, disastrous. Some of the questions you should be asking:

  • How long does it take for a customer to cancel service?
  • Are there fees associated with cancelling?
  • How many different offers do our representatives present to a customer before finally canceling the customer’s service?
  • How many different people in our company does a customer need to speak with to cancel?
  • Are we capturing specific feedback about our customers’ reasons for cancelling?
  • If so, are we sharing that data within our organization and working on continuous improvement in our service?

You get what you pay for

We need to be sure we don’t create incentive plans that overly reward representatives for retaining business at the cost of doing what’s right for the customer. Ultimately, these kind of scenarios play out because of incentives. 

What controls do you have in place to monitor the quality of your representatives that are part of the customer cancellation process?

 Is your leadership team paid purely on retaining business? 

As call center leaders we know that every metric can be abused, even if unintentionally, and therefore must have a counter metric to monitor. Call centers learned this many years ago when we created incentive plans based solely on Average Handle Time without a quality metric to counter it. 

Measuring the quality of the service experience during cancellations can help ensure your retention efforts aren’t working against you


Comcast is not the first

There is some coincidence here. In 2006, a 

representative at AOL did nearly the same thing

  Even after a 

2004 settlement

 accusing the company of not properly canceling customers’ accounts.

In late 2004 I visited the AOL call center in Ogden, Utah. I spent some time observing calls and speaking with the General Manager of the site and others on his leadership team about how the company was trying to balance retention efforts with a positive customer experience. I remember at the time being impressed with their oversight at this critical point in the customer life cycle.

In both the Comcast and AOL examples, it is most likely that the representative went rouge. Clearly, there has to be some truth to that. But, it’s also just as likely that neither company had adequate controls in place and were focusing incentives, on some level, on bad behavior. 

And before I am accused of throwing stones, I spent a number of years at Providian, the credit card company that, in the summer of 2000, 

settled with the US government and the State of California for $300 million

. Among the number of deceptive business and marketing practices the company was found to be committing, Providian made it difficult for customers to cancel some 

fee-based products

 (Article X, 

§ 2, clause (f)).

Providian had challenging times, and as an organization we learned from them and I am proud to have been a part of that transformation. Of course, we all know how it ended. We were acquired by Washington Mutual in 2005 and in September 2008, Washington Mutual was shut down by the US government and sold to JP Morgan Chase.

Now what are you going to do?

Your cancellation policy and procedures should be reviewed regularly and your quality monitoring program should have some focus on the cancellation process. Review your incentive programs periodically to see what the financial impacts of cancellation are (follow the money).

Dedicate some of your time to understanding the customer experience of saying goodbye to your company. Now is the time to evaluate cancellation procedures and quality guidelines around cancellation requests. 

Don’t only worry about trying to avoid embarrassing press or social media; do the right thing and treat your customers well. When you need to say goodbye, do so with grace and professionalism and maybe they’ll come back to you someday.

Photo courtesy of Drew Leavy (