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customer service policiesToday I fired LinkedIn. This might not jibe with the title you were expecting. To be technically accurate, I “merely” cancelled my “Premium” LinkedIn account and downgraded to a free “Basic” account. But I just stopped a recurring payment to LinkedIn, possibly forever. I consider a non-paying “member” not a customer, but maybe that’s semantics.

I wrote a short LinkedIn post about it (see link) and got some interesting and supportive feedback. I also found out that I am not alone.

Of course, before taking this action, I wrote a note to LinkedIn‘s Customer Service and advised them in their cancelation feedback form the reason why.

“Why did I do so?” you may ask – because I hate capricious companies and their lug-headed approaches to customers. The link above tells the full story, but suffice it to say that I felt incredibly insulted by their action, was given no notice and no recourse.  I did not fire them lightly.  Here are some takeaways for any business owner who is thinking of selling or transferring their business:

You can and will be replaced – I have been using LinkedIn for almost ten years. I used to offer simple training for free to friends and colleagues to motivate them to use LinkedIn. I’ve started and still manage several groups. I have even spoken to graduating college students about their NEED to join Linkedin and the difference. Linkedin probably never knew this, because they never asked me, and certainly never gave me anything for it. I was an evangelist for this firm. I am no longer. Evangelists are rare by the way.

Intellectual Laziness happens in every organization – This is not about “working hard.” This is about making a decision and applying it to all customers, to prevent a problem that occurs in rare instances. It’s like using a hammer because you think every problem is a nail. But, you are probably are thinking, “not me, not my people, we’re GREAT!” That’s OK to say if you’re a mascot for a breakfast cereal (Tony the Tiger), not so for the rest of us humans. Even the best customer service focused company will have moments of intellectual laziness. The good companies see it, say sorry and fix it.

Lifetime value of a customer is bigger than you think – Today, some think that customers can switch so fast, that you cannot calculate lifetime customer value. But there is economic value (20 future years as a member times $200/year is not very much really to multi-billion dollar company). But now, with social media, I may have informed hundreds of thousands of people about this very real issue that LinkedIn has created. Social media companies can easily grow and flame out (MySpace and Friendster to name just two); any such company that annoys a lot of customers can join this infamous list.

It can happen so fast – I once knew a company generating tens of millions a year with thousands of active business customers. They had an enviable product suite.  But their CEO knew it and thought that no customers of consequence would leave over a few customer service policies. He also wanted to sell out to retire. He got very greedy and bought a lot of product, pushed it to hard and when customers balked, they walked away. He went from millions to bankrupt in a year and fought lawsuits for years.

So, if you’re a long time business owner, beware the pitfalls of Customer Service policies. Beware of “global solutions” that are really only needed for unique customer issues. Talk to your customers and ask them what annoys them. If you get fired by one, call them and ask for feedback – and don’t try to sell them anything. Accept the firing as just punishment, but also a chance to learn and do better next time. It might also nip an issue in the bud, before the internet blows up the issue (and your business) for you.

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