Customer Retention, Whose Job Is It Anyway?

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I wrote, Customer Retention-Different Approaches, the other day. It stimulated a lot of discussions. One of the most interesting was with my friend Brian MacIver. He reminded me of the terrible difficulty sales people have in retaining and growing business with existing customers, as well as the absence of customer retention strategies in many organizations.

We hold sales responsible for customer retention. We may measure them on retention, we may have goals for growing the business with our existing customers through cross sell, upsell, expanding our relationships. Account planning is a key element of virtually every organization’s sales strategies.

But sales only has a small part of the job of retaining customers. Too often, it’s the other things our organizations do that impact sales’ ability to retain and grow customers.

Where is the responsibility for customer retention? Does it start with:

  • The shipping department that ships the wrong product or ships it late.
  • The company phone system that requires a customer to walk through several levels of menus to find the person that you want.
  • The customer service representative that makes the customer feel like she’s being inconvenienced by your call and questions about how to use the product.
  • The billing department constantly making errors with invoices.
  • The legal department creating contracts that are unreadable or make every problem the “customer’s risk.”
  • The manufacturing department that has cut corners in product quality to meet their manufacturing goals.
  • The procurement department buying lower quality components to it hit their cost reduction budgets.
  • The design and engineering group that failed to look at how human beings use products, creating something that is difficult to use.
  • The warranty department—–well why should a customer even have to exercise a warranty, why did the product fail in the first place.
  • The marketing department that has represented the product in a certain way–but it’s not quite there yet.
  • The corporate executives who say they are “customer centric,” but only view customers as nothing more transactions enabling the company to hit earnings targets.
  • And the list goes on…… But you get the point.

It takes a company to retain a customer. While the sales person is the “point of the spear,” it’s the entire customer experience of the company that creates the desire in the customer to continue to do business.

Sales is tough enough. Our companies don’t need to make it tougher.

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