How To Avoid Making Your Customers Feel Captive


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In the dictionary, the word “captive” is generally defined as “taken and held as or as if a prisoner of war” or “held under control of another but having the appearance of independence.”

Painful, yes? Yet in business, a “captive” customer is often described as a good thing.

I hear “Our customers never leave us.” Leaders strive for “stickiness” and proactively build walls that keep customers from leaving. They rejoice over high retention stats.

If you’re anything like me, you view every purchase through the lens of the customer experience.

It’s like a virtual reality movie playing in my mind where I’m looking to the other side of the purchase to see how buying product or service ‘X’ will solve my problem.

Investment is a vulnerable step. The last thing I want is to make a decision and be “stuck” with it. I don’t want to feel that way and I don’t believe we should make our customers feel that way either.

High retention rates are seductive, but there is a dark side to captivity for your customers.

Have you puzzled over high retention rates but low satisfaction scores? Are loyalty rates high but the amount customers spend with you stuck? Are you performing well at specific touch points in your customer experience but frustrated with low referral scores?

If so, your customers may be captive.

Here are some tips to help prevent your customers from feeling captive and avoid creating brand detractors:

Don’t be generic.

At every step in the customer experience, utilize all that you learned from the customer in the past. Don’t be the company that answers a customer call and doesn’t realize they’ve already spoken with you four other times today!

Some time ago after extensive research, I decided to purchase a Nissan. After spending time two weekends with a salesman, providing him with all my relevant data and working together as I made feature choices, when I decided to buy the salesman handed me a 6-page contract and pen. The first field “Name” had a long empty blank beside it like he had no clue who I was.

Then he offered a financing special contrary to what we already discussed.

I ended up buying the car because the thought of having to go somewhere else and have a similar experience exhausted me. I drove off the feeling like I would never buy another Nissan again. I felt captive, not committed.

Build a modular experience

Let’s say you’re a banking leader and you want your customers to hold as many kinds of accounts with you as possible: checking, mortgage, investments.

To keep customers committed but not captive, integrate their experience across products, but don’t tie them up where they can only make big decisions – where a choice for one must affect everything. Let them make small choices.


A modular relationship goes directly against the natural marketing instinct to retain customers at all costs, but it’s essential to earn customer retention, not extract it.


Help them leverage what they’ve already spent

We feel like we have to continually sell, sell, sell.

For instance, you might attempt to land another sale by showing that 98% of people who buy widgets also buy brooms.

Instead, help them walk to a purchase by telling them what additional things their existing product can do. In this way you show additional benefits from the investment they’ve already made.


Offer them the opportunity to leave

Successful, ongoing relationships require being transparent enough to share what you do well and what others do well.

For example, say “here’s what worked for you and here’s where you could gain more value if you do it next year.”

Be willing to recommend they spend less on if they aren’t using a feature or service. Be willing to admit there is something different for them the next time they talk to you. Give them a door.


Stay focused on the one problem

Ultimately, this is reflected in everything you do. Keep tying back to the need that triggered WHY they came to you in the first place.

Did you actually solve that need? Have you done it in a compelling, personalized, empowering way? Revisit this question annually.

By providing a compelling, memorable experience you’ll convince them that you hold their best interest ahead of everything else. You’ll create the opposite of captive customers. Your customers will be committed.

What experiences have you had as a captive customer? What advice would you give to other organizations?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Linda Ireland
Linda Ireland is co-owner and partner of Aveus LLC, a global strategy and operational change firm that helps leaders find money in the business performance chain while improving customer experiences. As author of Domino: How to Use Customer Experience to Tip Everything in Your Business toward Better Financial Performance, Linda built on work done at Aveus and aims to deliver real-life, actionable, how-to help for leaders of any organization.


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