By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
I wonder if my local phone company is clueless; it seems that they just don’t get it. By “it,” I mean everything: marketing, pricing, customer retention, technical support, and customer service. Although they are surely aware that they no longer function in a monopoly environment, their actions belie that reality. Of course, within their extreme missteps are imbedded opportunities for introspection and relevant truth for all businesses, especially those who field phone calls for a living. To wit:
Marketing: My phone company sends me direct mail and uses bill stuffers. Since I have been their customer for twenty-two years, they should know me by now, making offers applicable to my service. Alas, they do not. I was recently delighted when a bill stuffer offered DSL service for only $17 a month, guaranteed to never go up.
That is half what I currently pay, so I immediately called. The rep was engaging and helpful – until she learned I already had DSL service. She explained that this offer was for new customers only.
Pricing: I understand the propensity to offer promotional rates to snag new business, but doing so is a slam on loyal and longstanding customers. It is even worse to flaunt it, by sending that special offer to someone who is already paying twice as much – and then refusing to lower their rate. She apologized for the error.
Nevertheless, I expressed my desire to lower my bill. She offered me several packages: DSL and long distance, DSL and local calling, DSL and satellite TV, and the triple play: DSL, cell phone, and satellite TV. In each instance, I would need to make a long-term commitment – and my bill would actually increase.
Even so, none of the packages made sense. Long ago, my phone company had inadvertently trained me to not make long distance calls on my landline, opting to use my cell phone instead with its free long distance. My satellite service and cell phone are with competing companies; she tried to get me to switch.
Customer Retention: Just the month before, I had slashed the cost of my business service 40 percent just by asking them to lower my bill. I’m not sure what the rep did, but she made it happen. Now my business line is a fraction of the cost of my residential service! Surely, my residential service could be likewise lower.
I pleaded with her for a way to reduce my rate. Not making any progress, I asked if I could cancel my local number and retain my DSL. Yes, that was possible, but the cost of the DSL would increase by 50 percent (and be almost three times their promotional offer). Sensing that my entire account might be in jeopardy, she offered to change my “unlimited” local dialing plan to “economy.” Now I will be charged four cents for each local call, but at my limited usage, this will still save several dollars a month.
In reality, however, we will merely make those local calls from our cell phones as well, saving even more. Once again, they have provided motivation to bypass their network.
Technical Support: When we first had DSL service, I would report problems as soon as I was aware of them. The response of the technical staff was shocking: they would assume it was my problem and that their equipment was without fault. They would have me changing the configuration on my computers and network, moving cables, and effectively migrating to an unworkable situation. Then they would reluctantly admit that the problem was not on my end, but theirs. They would promise a twenty-four-hour response time and hang up, leaving me to put things back to normal.
I eventually learned to not call to report outages but to take a break instead, as the issues tended to be resolved within an hour without me doing anything. Recently, however, there was an exception to this otherwise reliable pattern.
Customer Service: We lost our DSL service one Saturday evening. It was late anyway, so we stopped for the day. On Sunday morning it was still down, and it was the same in the afternoon. By evening, I acquiesced to report it, with the expectation that it would be working by Monday morning.
Reporting phone trouble is an arduous task, with multiple levels of menus to navigate, dealing with speech recognition software, and entering and verifying my phone number. Of course, once I finally reached a person, the first thing they did was ask for my phone number. What was most exacerbating, however, is that after I pressed the option indicating I couldn’t connect to the Internet, they kept referring me to tech support online for faster service.
Initially, the tech said the problem was on my end but later changed his mind, claiming that a repairperson would need to be sent on-site. Someone would call me on Monday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. To my shock, he warned that if I didn’t answer when they called, the trouble ticket would be cancelled.
I never left the phone on Monday, and they never called. On my second attempt that day to reach them, I got through, asking what happened to their promise to fix it by 5:00 p.m. The agent apologized, testing the line again. This time she wondered if it could be fixed remotely, as the test results were different. She told me that I would receive an automated call once the problem was resolved; this would be on Tuesday.
However, knowing better than to believe anything they told me, I tested the Internet later that evening, and it worked. The automated call, however, didn’t come until the next day.
My local phone company just doesn’t get it – but I’m sure you do!
[From Connection Magazine – September 2009]
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.