The Need for Balance Between New Customer Acquisition & Existing Customer Retention

Giving a disproportionate amount of attention to new customer  –  at the expense of existing customer retention –  is a mistake most organizations can only afford to make one time.

Had to call the Help Desk of a major company recently.  I needed help working through a series of changes I wanted to make to my computer ink program. First thing I did was log onto my account to see if what I needed to do could be accomplished via the self-serve features offered online. Realizing my issue was more complicated than that, I knew it was necessary to call the toll-free number to the Help Desk.

When I reached the Help Desk, the auto attendant started by saying, ‘If you are an existing customer, press 1.’   So, press 1 I did.  I then got this message: ‘Due to high call volumes hold times may be considerable.’  Wait, what?  Maybe you’ve heard the same thing from your Help Desk calls. I know this wasn’t the first time I’ve gotten such a message.  Of course, the problem here is the way this makes you feel.  Call it, customer unfriendly. The way my mind works, if a company is fortunate enough to have high call volume from its customers, then why not staff the Call Center accordingly?  Put more agents on the phones so that hold times are not ‘considerable.’  Sure, that costs money. But we’re talking about serving customers here.

As it turns out, the hold time for me was indeed considerable. I logged it at 25 minutes.  When the agent came on the line, I admit, I vented a bit.  I told her that while I was on hold there was more than just music playing. At least a dozen times the auto attendant reminded me via a recorded message that I can get the answers I need by going to www. etc.  You know, they were trying to push me to their self-help features vs. using a live agent for assistance. I get that – but my problem was not solvable via the self-help features.  This further gave me the feeling that these guys would do most anything to keep me from speaking to someone.

As the Call Center agent resolved my problem (and I’m proud to say it was something only she could do from her end), she ended by saying: ‘Can I give you a tip?’  I said ‘of course.’  She said, the next time you call in, don’t press 1, press 2.  ‘What do you mean’, I asked.  She said, pressing 1 puts you in the existing customer queue which is known for longer hold times. She said if I press 2, that’s for potential new customers, and the call is routed directly to an agent ready to help me.  This left me curious as hell, so I hung up and did just what she asked. I let the recording run, past ‘press 1’ and on to ‘press 2’, then press 2 I did.  Sure enough I got to someone in less than 2 minutes.  Oh man, is there an opportunity to teach the leaders of this organization the value of customer retention.

By now you have no doubt found the punch line in all of this.  It takes a lot of work in most business to ‘recruit’ a new customer.  It sure makes sense to do everything you can thereafter to retain that customer.  The more existing customers are retained the less stress there is on the new business machine of an organization.  Instead, in this experience I went through, it was plain as day that there was a double-standard taking place. Potential new customers got the red-carpet treatment while the ones that have been paying the bills all this time were sent to the back of the line.

It’s easy to give the majority of our attention to ‘new sales.’  Clearly, new sales are what makes businesses run. But to do so at the expense of customer retention – or to minimize the value of customer retention – is a mistake you only have to learn once in a fiscal year – or quarter.  It costs businesses considerably.



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