General Research Tips
The Exit Interview

The exit interview is part survey and part sales pitch. The objectives are to find out why customers are leaving, and to prevent them from doing so. It is particularly appropriate for companies whose customers have "accounts," -- banks, brokerages, internet service providers, cable television, and mutual funds, to name a few.

The interview is administered by an employee who receives a request to close an account. The interview can be conducted either in-person or via telephone. The process is relatively simple.

Step 1 - Diagnose the Problem

A short series of questions should be asked of the customer to determine why she is leaving.

Step 2 - Empathize

If any of the reasons for leaving are related to issues within the control of the company, such as product or service problems, or pricing concerns, the employee should apologize for the problem, state the importance of the customer relationship, and ask if there is anything that could be done to keep the customer from leaving. "Scripts" should be written for the entire process so that the employee does not have to ad lib. Different scripts can be written for different types of problems. The employees who administer the exit interview should rehearse the scripts in advance of conducting exit interviews.

Step 3 - Make a Counteroffer

It is possible that the customer will change her mind about leaving after receiving an apology in Step 2. If not, it is appropriate to make a counteroffer. Counteroffers should be scripted, and related to the specific problem identified in Step 1. A typical counteroffer to a pricing-related concern might be something as simple as "We really hate to lose your business. Would you stay with us if I offered you 50% off your next six months of service?"

Step 4 - The Follow-up Letter

Whether or not the employee is successful in keeping the employee from leaving, a follow-up letter should be sent to the customer within one day. If the customer has agreed to stay, the letter should state how much the company values the customer's business. If the customer left for reasons within the control of the company, the letter should extend another counteroffer.

Step 5 - Analyze the Data

The data collected should be entered into a database and analyzed to quantify the main reasons customers want to leave.

Step 6 - Make Adjustments to Business Practices

The data analysis should clearly identify areas in need of improvement. Management should address these areas, which may consist of the treatment customers receive from employees, product problems, pricing, etc.

Embellishments

Not all customers are profitable. If you keep a database on the profitability of individual customers, you may want to write more aggressive scripts for very profitable customers, and let unprofitable customers leave without a counteroffer.

You can measure the effectiveness of each counteroffer, and make adjustments to maximize customer retention.