Detecting the Signs of Drama and Drift in Customer Loyalty

In business circles, it has become fashionable to subscribe to the notion that discrete “moments of truth” determine whether customers stay with you or fly the coop.

However, that’s merely one-half of the customer-churn equation. In fact, your customer’s loyalty may vanish gradually over time without you fully realizing until it’s just too late. Let’s call this the age-old saga of customer drama and drift.

On the drama front, customer moments of truth may hinge on positive sentiments (e.g., “your sales rep really made my day when he gave us that deep discount!”). But the negative episodes are what often stick deepest in the customer’s craw. Was your agent unforgivably rude to them on the phone last week? Did you deliver them one too many products that didn’t work as promised? Why does your toll-free customer service line routinely drop their calls, such as one minute ago when I badly needed to talk to a human about a pressing matter?

Be that as it may, the forces of drift are just as important in driving customer retention and satisfaction. Customers may not realize they’re getting fed up with you. More often than not, their hearts, minds, and money gradually drift away. They may lose interest in your company and its offerings. They may spend less time in your physical and online channels. They may spend less on what you have to offer. When they visit your channels searching for something they need, they may have diminishing success finding it. After a while, they may not have technically “churned” away (i.e., deliberately abandoned doing business with you), but, having lost their hearts and minds, you might as well kiss them goodbye.

Customer loyalty analysis depends on identifying the data and variables that signal both drama and drift. Where drift (attention, interest, sentiment) is concerned, it can be tricky to gauge that in your brick and mortar channels, in which you probably aren’t logging every time the customer walks (or fails to walk) through your physical door. But it’s much easier on online channels, in which you can search for the telltale signs of drift in the form of “abandonment” metrics.

Abandonment is a metric of the extent to which, within a given online browsing session, the customer withdraws from further engagement at any point prior to consummating a transaction or otherwise pushing a B2C conversation forward. As discussed in this recent article, the principal metrics concern whether they’ve left an online shopping-cart before completing a transaction, and whether they’ve left a webpage before scrolling, clicking, or taken other specific actions on that page.

Shopping-cart abandonment is a very mature body of data analytic and online marketing techniques, says author Mindy Charski, but browser abandonment is less so. Both may be early-warning signs of churn, or they may be opportunities to re-engage with the customers in the hopes of persuading them to consummate whatever they started. The appropriate responses to abandonment events depend on a host of customer and contextual variables.

The appropriate responses–immediate or delayed email reminders, browser-based pop-up prompts, human-agent callbacks, etc.–also vary based on what type of abandonment–cart or browser–it is. Responding to every single cart abandonment may be a smart idea, considering that the customer may be trying to buy something but had their connection or browser crash midway through. But responding to every single browser abandonment may be downright irritating, especially for customers who are simply browsing without a specific intention in mind.

Charski’s tip for addressing browser abandonment are worth heeding:

  • “Start simple: Don’t put tracking codes to trigger browse abandonment emails on every Web page but rather insert them on a handful of popular pages from which people could fill a cart.
  • Feature educational content to push conversion: Include calculators, wizards, buying guides, customer testimonials and how-to videos.
  • Test for timing: For some companies, sending emails to browse abandoners quickly can win a sale, but there may be less of a sense of urgency for those researching, say, a cruise.
  • Maintain consistency across channels: Browse abandonment programs can work well with online display retargeting, but make sure you’re communicating the same message.”

It’s also worth considering whether you’re dealing with abandonments by a high-value vs. low-value customer. If high-value customers are abandoning their shopping carts or browser sessions more frequently on your website, it may be smart to trigger immediate response messages more readily than when low-value customers do so.

Defining the appropriate response rules on customer abandonments depends on maintaining a rich, nuanced store of interaction data. It also requires that you factor that data into propensity models that indicate whether particular abandonments in particular circumstances are predictive of churn.

Unless you’re doing an utterly wretched job managing the customer relationship, you probably experience more drift than drama among the churns you see. Where drift is concerned, you may have some time to fix the issues indicated by repeated abandonments. But you dare not try customers’ patience with empty promises that you’ll change your ways at some point in the indefinite future.

One last thought. Please take this notion of abandonment in perspective. Repeated abandonments are not always a sign that you’re losing the customer in question. Even if you’re doing a sensational job, and your customers love you with every fiber of their being, they will still abandon you time and again, for inocuous reasons. Customers may fill shopping carts on your portal, change their minds for reasons that have nothing to do with you, and never bother to empty the carts. Customers may browse your online catalog just to kill time, just as they’ll roam your retail stores to kill time. They’ll engage their curiosity without any intention of engaging your company or any of your employees while they’re amusing themselves.

Abandonment, in these benign circumstances, simply means the customer is exercising their right to shop around. Or goof around. Whatever moves them.

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