Monday, 2 December 2013

Define: Churner

Somebody is bound to ask "what's a Churner?". It's a term coined and used to describe massive companies with terrible customer service. It also explains why they have terrible customer service.

Churn (v.) is about customers lost and gained and is sometimes used as a measure to describe the difference between the two. By managing Churn (n.) to be positive, companies are able to ensure their customer numbers are always on the increase.

There are two aspects to managing Churn: minimising the loss of unhappy customers and gaining new ones. Traditionally, this is achieved by
(1) Keeping existing customers happy with excellent service and rely on their personal recommendation to gain new customers and
(2) Advertising worthwhile benefits to prospective customers to gain them.
These are the two simple and obvious things honest small firms and true cooperatives do.

However, when a company is massive it can afford a huge, constant, saturation advertising budget. Even if an advertising campaign is basically daft such as O2's "Be More Dog" (what does that mean?) or tells lies, such as BT (whom I caught telling porkies in TV adverts three times on the trot), plenty of gullible customers will be intrigued, amused or taken in and wander in through the 'front door' of the massive business and sales techniques will persuade them that O2 or BT or whatever is better than anyone else in the same market. All mobile and broadband providers and their equipment are basically the same and cost about the same but If they can gain enough customers through advertising and nothing goes wrong, they don't even need to provide a level of customer service which would satisfy a dog. Sorry dog. Just so long as the number of new customers out-paces the leavers, they are laughing. And they do. Behind your back, but in your face.

So you see, massive advertising campaigns and poor customer service go hand in glove. If there are increasing customer losses because they employ minimum-wage, unskilled, under-trained, call-centre staff who provide poor service, they just increase the advertising budget to attract more new customers. Just so long as losses are manageable, companies don't really care, though this doesn't stop them using JFDI* management techniques in call centres to make everyone think they care. They do not. It is all about the cost, you see. They just use the poor service they have engineered as an excuse not to reward call centre drones (as they see them) with any honey. That's why so many are unhappy places.

Companies who say "your opinion is valued" or similar are probably lying. They really want you to go away rather than interact with 'expensive' customer service operations. Only if you want to give them money is contacting them likely to be quick and efficient. But phone them with an unusual query or write a letter of complaint? They are happier if you die and are replaced by a newbie they can fleece. This is why online chat is like swimming through treacle and you are kept on hold listening to deafening music for 40 minutes if you try and phone Churners and stab every button on your keypad. Press number five if you have lost the will to live. They would rather you went away. Or you can 'do it' online yourself which costs them no wo/manpower whatsoever. If you make contact, the wheels can come off when they have staff who can't use the phone, write letters and what you want to do or ask isn't catered for on their particular window onto the limited and creaking Customer Management System.

So, Churners are usually massive companies who rely on an influx of new customers whom they may bribe with special offers, while the fewer disgruntled, angry, let-down, long-term customers who expect a little loyalty in return, can go and fornicate with themselves.

The financial sector - banking and insurance - have been behaving like this for years. LloydsTSB springs to mind: they even behaved like this towards their own pensioners (me). But their pigeons are coming home to roost and now that the new bank switching service is up and running, they are losing disgruntled customers hand over fist. Quite rightly so. Similarly, the insurance cost comparison sites have made it much easier to switch insurers, though they simply shaft you with ridiculous insurance renewal premiums so demonstrate their disdain for your loyalty slightly differently, don't you Direct Line et al?

You pays yer money and takes yer choice, or so they say, but please be aware that the old maxim "bigger is better" only applies to a penis. Sometimes. Really massive corporations who behave as Churners are worth avoiding at all costs. Watch out for Churners. If you get caught up by one because you have the temerity to ask a simple question, write a blog about it, complain to them on Twitter, call them out on their facebook page. These greedy companies who pile on customers at all costs and shave their customer service operations to the bone need to be called out and their practices forced to change. Or they should simply die. I think we will soon see some changes in the banking sector because the feet are marching already. Away from the PLCs and towards the mutuals and the Spanish.

I have already mentioned a few companies I consider Churners: O2, BT, LloydsTSB and you can probably think of others. Did you receive bad service which seemed to be institutionalised? Does the company advertise widely and hoover up new customers more quickly than it loses 'old' ones? Do they simply not give a damn about you?

This is why Sky and the Big Six energy suppliers are crap too, in case you hadn't realised.

Churners. Vote with your custom. Take it elsewhere.

Please add your own examples to the comments below. It's time we fought back.

*JFDI = Just F###ing Do it - the Churners' and the NHS' management style of choice.

[Tim Hill, the author of this piece, worked in retail banking from 1973-1998, was a training manager and now has his own independent training consultancy.]