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How Not To Do Customer Retention

September 25, 2007
This is one of those customer service stories that make you want to bang your head into the wall.

Last year, I stopped using my regular small-town oil company because the fixed price they were offering was a lot higher than what other companies were offering. I would have liked to remain loyal to them, but the cost difference was just too great to ignore. They had bought all their oil in bulk just before prices dropped and, though I felt sorry for them, decided that my budget came before my customer loyalty. I ran with another company. Let's call them "Petra."

This year, my tried and true small-town oil company's price was at least as competitive as Petra's. I knew I was contract with Petra had, after all, run out, so they wouldn't deliver any more oil to me. I signed a contract with Small Town Oil, Inc., my old standby company, and forgot about Petra. A salesman from Petra called my home number and left a message. I ignored it. Then Petra sent a letter informing me that "if they didn't hear from me, they would continue delivering oil to me." that means the contract I signed last fall only protects Petra from having to give me oil at last year's price. It doesn't protect me from having an endless, unwanted relationship with Petra?

Apparently. I'd never before heard of those one-way contracts. They must be a newfangled thing in modern law practice.

So I called the company call center. Told the guy who answered I didn't want to do business with them this year. He said, "I'm sorry, I'll have to transfer you to customer retention. Only they can stop an account."

I sighed. Then I waited on hold. For 15 minutes. Keep in mind, the point of this exercise is that Petra is TRYING TO RETAIN ME AS A CUSTOMER. Don't you put all the customers you're trying to keep on hold for a quarter hour? Finally, the original guy came back on. He informed me no one was available in customer retention, I'd have to call back.

I said, "Pardon me, but it sounded like you said *I* would have to call the customer retention department back?"

"That's right," he said.

"But I don't want to be retained. I just want you to stop all oil deliveries or service on my oil burner."

"I can't do that," he said. "Only customer retention can do that."

I was silent for a moment. "Are you spotting the irony here?" I asked.

Apparently, he wasn't.

I gave him my cell phone number, since he couldn't tell me when "customer retention" was going to call and try and retain me. I also informed him that since I had called and informed a company representative that I no longer wanted to do business with the company, I would not pay for any products or services Petra tried to foist upon me. He yawned and hung up the phone.

Yesterday, my spouse was home sick with a cold. "Petra called," he told me when I arrived home. "Said they won't cancel the account without talking to you. Wouldn't take my word for it. They want you to call them back."

Keep in mind, this is still Petra trying to "retain" me. Apparently, giving them my cell phone number had been the equivalent of whistling into the wind.

I still haven't spoken to Petra. I've had about all the retention I can stand. I'm almost tempted to just let it go and see if they try and shower me with more retention, then try to charge me for it.

The only thing I'll be "retaining" after that is a lawyer.


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Comments to How Not To Do Customer Retention

  1. RE: How Not To Do Customer Retention
    Peter Leppik :

    I once went through this trying to cancel a subscription to a well-known financial news website. At least they had the good sense to be embarrassed when they mistakenly copied me on an e-mail calling me a "nut case" for refusing to talk to their retention department.

    There's really only one way to deal with insane policies like this: put your cancellation in writing and mail them a copy via registered mail. If the company automatically bills your credit card, mail a copy to the credit card company.

    Unless your contract specifies that you must cancel by phone (and I've never seen such a thing), you can safely ignore subsequent efforts to uncancel you. You have written proof that you notified the company, and that they received the notification.

  1. RE: How Not To Do Customer Retention
    Eliezer Gonzalez :

    I love your story and the way you tell it. (I've pointed the readers of my own blog to it.)

    I wonder what goes through the heads of those people who work in "customer retention" departments.

    Surely, they can't be normal people!

    From the perspective of a business, "customer retention" is something you do BEFORE people like you want to be "un-retained." It is not something you do when someone advises you that they want to sack you!!! By then it's too late.

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