[Podcast] Part 2: 4 Advantages & Methods of Focusing on Customer Retention

Our guest speaker, Rick Lang, former Chief Marketing and Sales Officer of Comcast and current Head of Global Cable Sales at Afiniti, an AI company, focuses retention on “the little hinges that swing a big door.”  In this podcast, Rick shares his lessons learned on the 4 advantages and methods of focusing on customer retention – and it all begins with analytics, data, and insights.

[Podcast] Part 2: 4 Advantages & Methods of Focusing on Customer Retention


Speakers

Speaker
Rick Lang
Head of Global Cable Sales
Afiniti

Host
Luci Rainey
Former Marketing Executive
Comcast & PODS


*The following transcription has been adapted from the 4 Advantages & Methods of Focusing on Customer Retention podcast

LUCI

This is an interesting spot that actually, you and your teams produced while you were at Comcast. Obviously, in the spot you’re trying to say that you have real, new, fast speeds, and your competitor who in the spot is featured as an AT&T worker. And again, comparing him to the famous folks who really didn’t, who were kind of telling a fairytale. The big bad wolf I’m sorry, Goldilocks. There was Chicken Little in there, Pinocchio was in there. Obviously, those are all fairytale characters who weren’t exactly accurate all the time.

And so, tell us quickly about your thoughts and creating this de-positioning spot, to help improve retention so customers wouldn’t leave and go to AT&T.

RICK

Yeah, no, great, great question, those were fun days. The reality is when you have a competitor that’s coming in and making claims that are negatively impacting your business, and frankly, they were just not true, which is why we kinda came up with that theme of, the support group, and with people who were very famous for not speaking the whole truth. 

And, so, it has kind of been a fun way of just basically calling out that what these people are saying isn’t true. Now, just to give you a little history on that spot, that was the fastest I got plenty of during my tenure as doing advertising, with Comcast.

I got plenty of whether it was from a lot of variety of other competitive companies getting cease and desist letters, you know, from them, so you’d have to stop the commercials and everything…but this one, I think this one, it took like 16 hours before we got, we got the first one. 

You know that these claims are, are false and you’re misleading the consumer. And so, again, obviously Comcast had a large amount of budget and could do the kind of resources that way. But it, it, just the overall point of de-positioning it really can be used effectively, to de-position your competition but also reflect on, hey, you got really good speeds on the data capability, and these people, even though they’re saying they do, they really don’t…kinda look under the hood.

So it’s a good tool to have in the arsenal on certain occasions when somebody is out in the marketplace making claims, trying to take your customers.

You just need to make sure you responded, and sometimes you can do it in a funny amusing way and make the point and you’re not necessarily being indignant and, “Oh, they’re lying there.” You kind of do it in a funny way and deliver the message the right way. It can be very effective.

Leveraging De-Positioning to Retain Customers

LUCI

Yeah, that’s great. Here is a quick Southwest 15-second ad. And in the ad Southwest is exactly doing de-positioning, as well against the other airlines. They talk about two free bags and other things that you actually have to pay for with other airlines.

Without actually mentioning the competition, they’re really de-positioning themselves against the competition who, have larger fleets, newer planes, and first-class seating, and you can select your seat before you board. A lot of the things that Southwest doesn’t do. Sometimes they are known as the low-cost, no-frills airline. But really, they want to be seen as, we’re being a little flexible, we’re not going to make you pay for bags, you know. And we don’t make you pay for ticket changes and things like that. 

And the way that they do their de-positioning messaging, I think, is very effective and not only works in short-form video, which is very popular right now, but also can easily work in social, programmatic, and even, and even search as well. So I’ll leave that one. That’s the second link in the chat for everybody to go look at as another great example of de-positioning. 

How to Turn Customer Retention Into Customer Loyalty

So, in other words, our third point today is really to know your competition. Do you have something really different and unique that can’t be copied and replicated, that you can really leverage? Even if you’re not the market leader, to de-position against your competition and consider de-positioning, but make sure it’s for the right reasons, and that you are established in the market, as Rick suggests. Now, the fourth area that I know, Rick, you shared, you’d like to talk about, was really around loyalty.

And loyalty is a big word, when it’s, when it’s considered part of retention, But, in the simplest form it’s, how do you reward your best customers in some way that’s usually low-cost to you? And I’ll give some examples. 

Airlines, again – you join their loyalty programs, you get miles, you get free tickets – but they do other things for their best customers, like allow you to board first, or get two free bags. And car rental companies, when you come in to rent your car, they may offer you an upgrade. It’s not really an upgrade – it’s really them managing inventory, but it seems like one to you, and you walk away feeling good about it.

You know, in retail it might be something like, no question returns like Nordstrom’s has been famous for, or even Amazon actually does, no question returns within 30 days, and you can just drop it at the UPS office. But Rick, you’ve long been, again, in this retention business. And, how can companies really think about loyalty rewards? Whether formal in a program or informal as a  marketing term, “surprise and delight”, will say, what are some options for companies to think about loyalty?

RICK

Yeah. No. Great question.

And I want to circle back for one second to the Southwest ad, and I think it’s a really great example of a company knowing, taking advantage of pain points, and doing the research. And consumers say, I just hate being nickeled and dimed with extra bags. And so there, it’s two-pronged.

It is de-positioning, but it’s also emphasizing the consumer benefit of using their service. I just wanted to bring that up. 

Yeah. And Luci, honestly, on the loyalty piece, that’s a very interesting space, because there’s a lot of things that you can do, ranging to your point of giving away things that, whether it’s boarding first that don’t really cost you anything.

In fact, you could argue it makes it more efficient because the people who are frequent flyers get on first and get settled in and, and go from there, so that is a great one. I mean, obviously, I think the airlines do it really well. A lot of credit cards do it really well.

You know, whether it’s sort of concierge type programs that if you’re certain level, you get, for instance, like Bonvoy, if you’re a titanium member, you get some perks.

You know, so there are a lot of things. I think it can be difficult to pull off cost-effectively.

So you really need to look at your business and say, where are the points that I can reward my loyal customers without diminishing margins to a greater degree? Now, I may be willing to forego some of the margins, because these people are frequent purchasers. So think about your Starbucks loyalty cards. Although, now you need to have 200 stars to get anything. But anyway, I’m not bitter.

But, the point of that is, there are certain things that you want to incent your top customers, but then also how do you get other people in the ecosystem kind of moving up along the value chain as well, and what are the things you put in place?

So, to your point, Luci, what you said is, look, you can do some things that are just like, every once in awhile, “Hey, by the way, you are our 25th customer, you get a basket or whatever.” So, there are a lot of differences in loyalty.

I think, like I said, I think the airlines do a really good job. I think some of the hotels and the credit cards do a really good job of getting those programs in, but those things are not to be taken lightly, because they are a lot of work to manage. A lot of work to OK, who’s in, who’s out, if somebody dropped off…

So, there are a lot of things underneath, depending on the complexity of your program, OK, I’ve got to qualify with X number of miles, but I didn’t hit it. All, those kinds of changes from data going back and forth.

But I do think there are certain times when it’s really effective. And if you look across your entire life cycle of your customer, what are the points in there that maybe they, you know, at 18 months, they’re vulnerable?

So, maybe there’s something I can do there with those particular groups of customers to help ensure ongoing continuing business. So, loyalty is a very interesting one. I don’t want to say it’s advanced but used and done right, it’s extremely effective, because, as you said, I don’t know, using Avis as an example, I love being able to pull into the airport, my name’s on the space, I don’t have to worry about going in talking to anybody. You know, whatever.

I don’t like talking to people, anyway, but the reality is, that’s the kind of customer loyalty you want to instill with a loyalty program. Where people feel like you’re recognizing their business and see them as valued customers.

You’re giving me things that have utility in my life, and I appreciate that, and I will continue doing business with you because I don’t want to stand in the rental car line and fill out paperwork, and give them my license and everything. It’s just, it takes friction out of the relationship when you have a really good loyalty program.

LUCI

Yeah. I think with loyalty, the one thing you have to be careful of is consistent delivery, because, for your most valuable customers, if you flub the loyalty part of it, they’re even more upset. So, you have to be really careful about that. 

So, I hear loyalty is a good thing to consider as you’re looking at retention, marketing activity that you can do that would be really careful about understanding that, that loyalty event is something that helps retention, that you have the people to manage it, and the budget to really support it, and that you’re getting a return on it as well. Definitely agree with all that. We’ve talked about four great things here today.

Did you want to add something?

RICK
Just to wrap up the loyalty piece, I think you need to go into it very specifically and very methodically.

Because, you say you want to have a loyalty program to say you have it, that’s just the death knell of that. You have to go in really strategically really based on data saying, I need to address these particular things and this is how I’m going to do that with the loyalty program.

Because a lot of people will start one up and realize it’s not giving them, it’s not accomplishing the business objectives. So, just be, just be cognizant that you need to, you know, have specific sort of metrics on what you want to do. Whether it’s customer satisfaction, whatever those metrics are, and you’re measuring that, versus, hey we want to give away a free candy bar with everything, which makes us feel better.

LUCI

Yeah. And I think what you’re also saying is that you don’t have to actually have a published program. You can do loyalty-type things for your best customers again, just to keep them retained and whatnot. So we’ve talked about four great things today, Rick.

Larisa, you’ve been capturing questions along the way. Do you have a question or two for us?

Common Customer Retention Mistakes

LARISA

I do have a couple of questions. So what are some of the most common retention mistakes that you may have seen?

LUCI

That’s a good one.

RICK

I think it’s a great question.

I think probably just going back to what we talked about with loyalty is, the retention mistake, how long do we have? It’s a cautionary tale all along the entire life cycle.

The retention, I think, when people go in and they think without necessarily getting a lot of data and doing a lot of research in consumer feedback, it’s sort of, “I think this will help”. You know, people will feel better if I have a picture of me with a puppy. 

You know, it needs to be strategic and well thought out, what am I trying to do with this retention activity? And is it going to work?

So, from a tactical point, there’s obviously a laundry list of things you can do depending on the product and service that you’re marketing.

But you need to be real, surgical, and really, and do a lot of the analytics of, is this what customers want? Because many times you get into these boardrooms and CEOs and Chief Marketing Officers, they all have great ideas, and like I said, “Oh! Let’s give everyone a baby unicorn.”

Yeah, no one would leave us if we gave them baby unicorns. But it’s like, OK, what is the ultimate objective, and are we dealing with the biggest problems?

You know, are we addressing, if I’m looking at the, again, the fish jumping off the boat, am I plugging the biggest leak with that particular tactic or initiative?

And that’s where I think you just, Larisa, you have to go through and be very disciplined in asking what’s the biggest problem?

What are the things that I need to do to fix that problem, and then, move to the next one? Because, sometimes, people want to put this hugely, sophisticated automated marketing trigger programs, and all that stuff, which is great if you have the sophistication to do that that’s fantastic. Day 15, they’re going to get this day 23, if they’ve called into the call center, they’re going to get that, and all that stuff, that’s, that’s perfect, that’s the beautiful roadmap, but can you pull it off in are those levers, as we talked about before, are those the hinges that are swinging.

LUCI
Yeah, Larisa, I would say two things. One of the biggest mistakes is not ensuring that your customers onboard well and start their relationship with your customer in the most positive manner. Because when they don’t, then every single thing that happens after that big or small, they have that thing in their mind, like, this isn’t going well. Versus if it goes really well in the beginning, and along their life cycle something goes wrong, it’s like, wow, this is really unusual. They’re usually so good. 

And so I would say, first make sure that your customers are onboarded, as best as possible. And second, I would say, don’t boil the ocean. And I think Rick echoed this as well.

What are the three things that you can do relatively easily, it’s scalable, what are the three things that you can really do to affect customers? 

I know when I was CMO at PODS, we, for example, didn’t have a retention desk. And my head of service came to me and said, so often people just stop renting with us because they say it’s too expensive and they literally get moving truck and go to their container and pack their moving truck, and then they move their stuff to a Cube Smart or a Public Storage. And really, we just needed to have a conversation with them.

Just say, Oh, you have some financial difficulty you need a small discount. Great. We can give you a 15% discount if you’ll stay with us, and stay with us for a year, for example.

And so, we finally created a retention desk, and we were finally able to, somewhat manually solve a lot of these problems. But the customers were so happy. And, there was a lot of work reduced on the customer’s part, and our part as well. So just some, some small things. So we just basically needed to create a call queue that was for retention, and then we can actually address the customer’s issue. So that’s a small thing.

But when you, when you try to boil the ocean, or do things that are very small, and you can’t scale, and it’s really not going to make much difference in the end, it’s, it’s a lot of work for very little effort, or very little result, I would say.

So, really look at your major things, and how you can really scale and attack the most important things that will have the most benefit.

This probably sounds intuitive, but every once in a while, we need to be reminded of that. 

What Steps are Recommended in Developing a Customer Retention Plan?

LARISA

Actually, that runs quite nicely to the next question. You know, I heard don’t boil the ocean and do what you can. So, what are some of the first steps that you would recommend in developing a retention plan, or maybe the top three?

Where to begin?

RICK

Yeah, That’s a great question.

I think, I think, number one, is understand that unless you’ve got a brand new product launch, understand where people are leaving. That to me, is number one. Where along the life cycle are people leaving?

And you have to have good data to sort of say, this is, and then get good data on, why are leaving at this point? And then what is the reaction? Call them up! That is so important because people will tell you, there’s either some kind of product deficiency, or some kind of service deficiency. You know, what it is because you need to attack those.

You can do all the best commercials, you can do all the best materials. You can do all the best recovery things in the world. But if you have a systemic problem that you’re just not addressing, then that to me is kind of number one, two, and three. It’s like you have really good data on when and where people are going, so you can begin to put together the right program.

Because so many times people will go, oh this is probably cool and let’s do an ad or, let’s send them a coupon if we messed up – all those may be great, but they might not be addressing the core issue of why someone is not satisfied with your product.

So customer feedback and prospect feedback is the starting point for everything. Get really good data so you understand.

It’s like, Oh, we do a cool, cool campaign, and it’s like, OK, well, is that addressing the issue when the actual issue is our hold time – when somebody tries to call us is 33 minutes. You know let’s deal with a lot of those issues first and then get more elegant as you move down the chain.

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