One of the least enjoyable customer service experiences I have ever had was more than a decade ago when I was a member of a gym chain. It was easy enough to sign up and I was told if I needed to cancel the membership at any time all I needed to do was provide one month’s notice, no questions asked. The problem was that this wasn’t true in practice and in fact cancelling my membership, which I needed to do after two years, was a nightmare.

Firstly you couldn’t cancel over the phone or even via email or written letter. You had to make an appointment with the gym manager. This was inconvenient and made worse by the fact that the manager had limited or no-availability to meet you. Frustrated, I asked why I needed to come in and why this simple matter couldn’t be handled over the phone or via email. They said that paperwork would need to be completed and that the manager needed to “interview” me. Finally two weeks later a meeting was scheduled and it quickly became apparent that this was just a last ditch hard-sell to convince me to stay. Really, who needs a meeting to leave a gym?

Even worse, the monthly direct debit from my bank account continued after I had left and the hassle in rectifying it was something that I would prefer to forget. This company took the whole idea of “easy in, impossible out” to a whole new level…

Years later the company began floundering and I heard a rumour that during their desperate fight for survival they were once asked, in a meeting, the simple question – “how many customers do you have?” Silence followed. The question was repeated. Finally one of their team piped up with – “we don’t call them customers, we call them units.”

When I heard this it explained my experience with the company. I was a “unit” and that was how I felt.

I didn’t feel like a customer, person or anything resembling a human being – I was a statistic and one they wanted to avoid appearing on their customer churn report even if it meant deceiving me and wasting my time.

What I do know is that great customer experiences result from organisations focusing on the interaction, not just the transaction. This includes every single touch point with a customer, even when they decide to leave. It seems obvious but customers aren’t units, transactions, seats, load or any other dumb term used to describe them behind closed doors. If you don’t believe me, just ask them…

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