By Peter DeHaan
Last year, my family’s two favorite TV shows were on the WB and UPN television networks. These two networks merged this fall to become the CW Television Network. Since our provider offered both networks, I was confident that would be no problem receiving the new network. I was wrong.
Repeated contacts to our provider via email resulted in no response whatsoever. My wife was aghast; I was not. My expectations were nil and they were squarely met, but that is a different story for a different time. Subsequent calls to our provider resulted in no satisfying results or tangible communication.
In the midst of this, a direct mail piece arrived from a competing provider. It offered a seemingly attractive price, free installation, and new equipment, including a DVR (Digital Video Recorder). This was an attractive enticement since our receiver and remote (free promotional incentives from our existing provider) were wearing out; the DVR would be a great bonus.
Upon calling the prospective provider, I talked to a helpful and confident agent, Karl. My first query was if they carried the CW network. Karl knew all about the merger (whereas most prior contacts did not) and assured us that they did in fact carry the new network. Additional probing revealed that my hope of slashing our bill was not to be realized, but still it was a worthy change as we would get the new network and new equipment, including a DVR.
My first clue that Karl’s veracity was questionable should have occurred when he insisted that no additional wiring would be needed to connect the second TV to the single receiver. I knew that this was technologically feasible via an RF signal as Karl explained, but I was dubious that such technology would be included in our free equipment. At this point, however, we had established a rapport and I trusted him to be both honest and ethical.
I confirmed my understanding of what Karl said and placed my order. A few days, the installer arrived and set up the system. He quickly gave an overview of its operation while the programming was downloading. I asked what number the CW network was. “That’s the new one, right?” he said. “I don’t know offhand, but it’s there someplace. If you can’t find, it call this number” and he handed me an information sheet.
Thirty minutes later and frustrated, I dialed that number. “I’m sorry,” the agent said. “I can only help you with installation issues and this isn’t an installation question. You’ll need to call the provider.” (We had apparently bought from an authorized agent.) The provider’s call center told me it would be an extra $5 a month to get the CW network. Mad at this unexpected news, I called my buddy Karl. Unfortunately, he was no longer my buddy. “I only deal with sales questions,” he stated curtly. “I can’t help you,” and he hung up.
My wife, who is tenacious in righting wrongs and fixing the unresolvable, took over our quest for the CW network. Over the next few days she called Karl, the service department, the installation line, and the billing department, as well as all the other numbers she was given. Several days and countless hours later, she resigned herself to accept that we had been had. During the course of our dealings, we have been told:
- The CW Network is included in your service package.
- The CW Network is available for only a dollar more a month.
- The CW Network is available for five dollars a month.
- The CW Network is not part of your local channels (even though it is a local channel, albeit an HDTV subcarrier).
- The CW Network is available everywhere, but in your area.
At this time, we still do not have the CW Network, but Karl, who apparently will say anything to close the deal, did chalk up a sale.
There is much to be learned from this saga. One seemingly small miscommunication had widespread and far-reaching ramifications. One agent’s words, either out of intentionality or ignorance, resulted in more that a dozen follow-up phone calls to multiple call centers, not to mention a new customer who is angry and feels maligned. It will take great effort to overcome such a bad start. As such, several recommendations are in order:
- Training: If the miscommunication was out of ignorance, then better training could have averted the whole ordeal. Unfortunately, the payback from training is not directly quantifiable, whereas sales numbers are. This is a dichotomous situation that call center managers must acknowledge and grapple with.
- Call Monitoring: If the miscommunication was intentional, then some policing is in order. Making active call monitoring a management mandated priority (and not just lip service) might have caught the error, could have eliminated the rouge agent, and certainly would have minimized all agents’ propensity towards untrue statements.
- Incentives and Measurements: What gets measured gets done and what gets paid for gets done more. Again, if the miscommunication was intentional, then it was likely a calculated lie aimed at making a sale. Unfortunately, call centers’ measurement and reward systems often unwittingly serve for promote and foster activity and performance that is detrimental to an organization’s overall best interests. The big picture must be continually considered.
- Third Parties Accountability: Whenever customer contact is relegated to a third party, be it an outsourcer or an authorized representative, control over transactions need to be retained and carefully tracked by the issuing party. Their organization is at risk and they need to be able to verify that they are being properly and ideally represented at all times. This involves more that just tracking monthly sales totals or costs per call.
- Consistency: All agents need to have the same information, supported by the same technology, and reinforced by the same training so that they will tell callers the same thing. Furthermore, this needs to be synchronized with their websites and coordinated with marketing pieces: one message, many agents, multiple channels.
- Quickly Salvage Mistakes: There is a ripple effect when a mistake is made. This occurs both within the organization has more and more people are pulled into the problem, as well as outside the organization as more and more people are told about the problem. Both take their toll. First-call resolution should always be a goal, but especially when the company is at fault. Front-line reps need to be empowered to act and to solve pressing issues, not encouraged to end the call just so they can take the next one in queue.
- Problem Resolution: After many calls, finally an agent apologized. But no one ever said, “What would you like done to resolve this?” No one ever suggested a course of action and recommended a solution.
[See “Anything for a Sale, part 2” for more on this topic.]