From Loyalty to Loss

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Follow me, won’t you, down the rabbit hole of horrendous customer service.

When I got my first cellphone 17 years ago, I was a meticulous consumer (just starting college). I researched all the available carriers, and found the one with the best network. I figured out how many minutes I’d need (and NEVER would I pay for texts! Who would TEXT someone when you could talk to them!), and purchased my very first phone. I could not have been more proud as a consumer.

Over time, this carrier and I would have an occasional call. I’d see (like most of us) some “grass is greener” advertisement from another phone company trying to lure me away. I’d call my service up, ready to leave. And every single time, the friendly agent would figure out a way to continue to earn my business. Be it with a minimal discount on my bill, a new phone upgrade, adding some text messages in to my plan (turns out, texting is fun!) or some other bric-a-brac… I would wind up right where I started, but feeling pride in my decision. Loyal to my brand, as they’d been loyal to me.

Sounds familiar, I hope.

Well, such as it was, the other day an advertisement caught my eye. After 17 years, my single limited-minute no-text plan grew up in a family plan; 4 lines on smartphones sharing talking, text, and data. The shiny new company was offering me unlimited talking, texting, and data, new phones, and a lower monthly cost. Too good to be true, so I called up my friendly agent. Well, that’s not exactly what happened.

As a Millennial (so they say), I opted for my first initial contact to be via a webchat. As I was working in the office at the time, it made sense to be able to discuss my plan and such via chatting versus being on a phone. And so I went to the carrier’s site, logged in, and found a chat agent. So far, so good.

I let loose my thinking – how this other deal was ‘too good to be true’ and I was hopeful that my service might find a way (as they always had) to help me rationalize continuing my loyalty. Let me clarify: I had no desire to hold a service I paid for hostage over this… it’s truly a matter of dollars and cents. As a father of two with one on the way, making sure I’m living the frugal life trumps everything else. And so the agent hemmed and hawed, and ultimately gave me a phone number to call. “You’ll need to speak to a specialist about that.”

Fine. I’ll play along.

On my drive home, I dial their super-secret number to the super-secret agents. I’m immediately placed on hold. And hold I do… for 17 minutes. When someone finally connects with me, I detail the whole story to them. They listen attentively to my five minute diatribe and interject:

“You’ll need to speak to our customer retention department. Please hold.”

And hold I do. For another 22 minutes. By this time, my drive home is complete. I need to be a dad again, so, the call is ended. I am displeased, but not deterred. After dinner, bath, storytime, and beddy-bye for my boys, I sink into my basement office, and redial the super-secret number to the super-secret agent. 13 minutes on hold, I immediately tell the person who picks up I need to speak to Customer Retention. Another 8 minutes pass, and finally I reach the mystical person who should be the one to help me. I let loose the same story I’ve pitched out now in writing and on the phone previously.

“Well sir… that does sound like a great deal. If I tweak things here and there and…”

He does his best fiddling in his computer. At best he suggested a way to reduce my bill by 5 dollars, and in turn, truncate my data service to a smaller package.

“So, after 17 years of loyalty, the best you can do is offer me an inferior package in an effort to trim 5 dollars off my bill, versus the 60 dollars the other guys are giving me, plus new phones?”

“Yes sir.”

And so, I politely informed him that wasn’t enough. Not by a country mile.

Still with me? Good.

The lesson here is actually simple to digest. Look how I, a loyal customer, saw my business float away with one customer service failure after another. From a lengthy chat on the web leading me to a phone call, leading me to hilariously long wait times (with no helpful “we’ll call you back when the line is free” services), ultimately winding up with an agent unwilling to work with me… the carrier I’d given literally the entirety of my business for (in their product line) actively worked AGAINST any chance of keeping me as a customer. And I even laid it out for them! I wasn’t looking for a dollar-for-dollar match. I was looking for this company to rationalize staying with them. Such as they had numerous times before.

My bill and plan only increased with them over time. Such as it were, that will continue to expand further (no doubt) as my children eventually need phones (thankfully a LONG time from now!). But without seeing that potential and using it? They acquiesced to my argument of a greener pasture, and turned me away without any attempt to retain me as their customer.

The question is now turned on you:

When it comes to your customer service… What are you doing to ensure you’re keeping your customers loyal?