Put the Customer Back into Customer Service

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI’ve come to the realization that I tend to put off buying things. It’s not because I procrastinate (at least not too much), or because I am adverse to making decisions, or even because it is a money issue. Sadly, the reason that I often avoid purchasing things I want or need is simply because it is too much of a hassle. More to the point, going without some items is less inconvenient than investing the time and enduring the frustration required to acquire them.

For quite some time – okay, it’s been more than a year – I contemplated getting a couple more cell phones. I anticipated signing up for a family plan and adding phones for my wife and kids. At 10 bucks a month per additional phone, it was a no-brainer. I could then find my wife when she was out and about, keep in touch with our daughter in college, and it would be I nice perk for our son, as well. (When our son garnered his driver’s license, he tactically implored, “Dad, doesn’t it concern you I’m off driving by myself without a cell phone?)  However, I put off expanding our cell phone infrastructure because I dreaded the process of doing so.

Finally the time for action came. I gathered my courage and boldly made a commitment to resolve my shopping-avoidance issues. My dubious plan was to call my existing carrier. They confirmed that my contractual obligation had long been met and would therefore not hinder making any changes. “What I want,” I explained, “is to get on your ‘family plan’ and add a couple of phones.”  I was even willing to buy the additional phones if need be.

“That’s not a problem,” the rep assured. “Each additional phone is only 10 dollars a month and some phones are free if you sign a one-year contract…and,” she added, “we can replace your current phone too!”

This was too good to be true, but before I could tell her to proceed, my short-lived euphoria was interrupted. “Oh, there’s a problem…” The problem was that they required me to be on a plan with more minutes – many more. I tried every angle I could think of: more phones, fewer phones, longer contract, and not replacing my current phone. She was intractable, “No, you still need to move to a bigger plan.”

Doing so, and adding just one more phone, would more than double my rate.  I’m not adverse to spending money – just to wasting it. Her proposal it didn’t seem very “family” oriented. I told her so and then tried an emotional gambit. “I guess I’ll just need to cancel my service and to go another carrier.”

The rep’s response was one of shocking gall and arrogance, “If you need to, go ahead, but you won’t find a better deal,” she stated matter-of-factly and lacking concern. “We’ve all got basically the same rates.”

“Okay, let’s leave everything as is for now,” I said, not wanting to burn my bridges.

Now it was time for plan B. Perhaps I needed to talk to someone face to face, to do business with a local person who would take a personal interest helping me complete my quest. So, on my next outing, I stopped by the local store of a national carrier that does lots of TV advertising. There were several aspects of their pitch that appealed to me. I was confident that they had a plan for me and I intended on completing my mission in one stop.

I walked in the door and as my eyes adjusted to the lighting, a stereo-typical salesperson charged towards me – must be they’re on commission. Brashly, he ushered me into his office and grilled me on what I wanted. With each request, he would nod knowingly and affirm that he could do that. He was typing things in a computer and then gave me a total. His solution was twice the amount of the prior one (I guess the rates are not all the same after all)! I couldn’t help but laugh at his audacity – which seemed to irritate him. “Okay, now let’s get realistic,” I suggested.

“Nope, that’s the best I can do,” he retorted. Thinking we were still pursuing a mutually desired goal, I begin to reply, when he stood up and gestured towards the door. “Sorry, I can’t help you,” he concluded disingenuously – maybe he wasn’t on commission after all.

Not ready to give up, I asked if he had any literature or paperwork he could give me about what we had discussed. “We don’t have any,” he retorted with aggravation. “It’s all online, just go to our website and order your phones there.” In five short minutes, I went from “ready to buy” to unable to leave quickly enough. I later learned that there was in fact a much more attractive package, closely matching what I wanted; I probably would have bought it from him had he only offered it.

On to plan C. Originally, the cell phones were going to be a surprise, but I knew that having eliminated the easier choices, I would need to call for reinforcements. I wisely enlisted the aid of my daughter, who was home for the summer and having just completed her summer-school job, had extra time on her hands. We made a list of the major carriers and she Googled some more. Then she got busy doing research online, while I went back to work. After more than a day, she presented me with a spreadsheet of comparisons. She explained what she learned, we talked about options, and she made a recommendation. It was going to require a two-year contract, so we needed to be sure it was right. We discussed each plan’s weaknesses, the fine-print, footnoted exceptions, and ways we could be charged for services we thought were free.

I agreed with her recommendation and we made a list of questions, the chief one being whether the plan’s coverage area included the city she anticipated moving to next year. I called carrier and verified our understanding of the details. Everything was confirmed and a sale was imminent. Lastly, I asked if the city in question was included. “Yes, it is,” the rep stated a bit too quickly and with insincere bravado. I doubted his veracity and prodded some more. His assertion could not be swayed, but doubting his honesty, I ended the call without placing an order. It was good that I did, as we later found a coverage map – albeit a bad one – online. The map showed the city in question to be annexed from the coverage plan. I have been lied to – imagine that!

We then discussed our remaining options and visited again the website of our fourth selection. Thinking I would once more attempt working with a local rep, I called their closest office. After several rings, a recording informed me that no one was available and summarily disconnected me. Next I dialed their toll free number. This rep was actually helpful. The first truly pleasant and knowledgeable person I had talked to during this whole quest. She patiently and professionally answered my questions, confirmed the plan’s coverage, and told me about their 14-day, no-obligation trail. I placed an order and the phones arrived the next day.

If cell phone companies can’t get a handle on decreasing their churn rates, I can help. All they need to do is to put the customer back into customer service. It will work for them and it will work for you.

Peter DeHaan PhD is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.


Three Wrongs and a Right

  • With my existing carrier, I was willing to buy a second phone, pay an additional $10 a month, sign a long-term contract, and run the risk of overage charges; they were only willing to upsell me and lost a customer in the process.
  • At the second carrier, their rep got greedy (or was under trained – or both), literally ushering me out the door.
  • For the third carrier, a cavalier lie on an important issue eliminated them from further consideration.
  • After a bad start at the fourth carrier, a well-trained, professional, customer-focused phone rep made a nice recovery and closed a sale.

[From Connection Magazine October 2005]