I recently had a memorable customer experience – memorable, unfortunately, because it only served to grow my frustration over how little the nation’s largest wireless carrier cares about its customers. To make a long story short, I want to add an international component to my Verizon Wireless (News - Alert) calling plan, but was told my current plan does not support that particular international option, and that I would have to go with a more expensive alternative, unless I wanted to change my plan, which I was loath to do. Why? I had been successful keeping my long-since extinct VZ all you can eat plan.
But, based on all the variables – cost, control, features, service quality – I somehow convinced myself that changing was the right thing to do, and I’ll acknowledge the agent was one of the nicest and friendliest I’ve ever dealt with anywhere. Despite that, I felt I had been forced into a decision, along with a gut feeling something would go wrong with the billing, which is why I deactivated the autopay feature on my account.
That brings me to part two of this journey. Knowing that cell coverage internationally may not be quite what we’re used to in the U.S., I inquired specifically about the region to which I was headed before making my decision, and was told with certainty the coverage would be very similar to what I experience at home. Again, I should have known better. The service was, at best, spotty, and most of the time, non-existent. Now it occurred to me that I had begrudgingly changed my plan to not be able to benefit from the service that predicated the change. Shame on me for believing what I was told, knowing service quality outside the U.S. is beyond Verizon’s sphere of influence.
Then, not surprisingly, the decision to stop the autopay turned out to be a wise one; when I looked at my next statement, I had been overbilled (for something I was barely able to use). For a second time, the agent I dealt with was extremely pleasant and was able to adjust my statement – notably, after hearing a very animated earful about my displeasure, but even he kept focusing on the fact that I’d turned off my autopay, rather than the fact that I, as the customer, had been misinformed, leading to a decision I didn’t need to make.
Unfortunately, two very pleasant agents do not outweigh the poor product experience. Verizon did a great job hiring pleasant agents, but other than that, I’ve become skeptical its service is actually better than the alternatives. The network coverage map is a joke – in reality, there are more holes than in a block of Swiss cheese, and having tried phones from other carriers, I am unconvinced there’s much of a difference in coverage, at least in this region. The market will eventually force an unlimited offer, which the company says it opposes because the networks can’t handle it in a video-centric era. It has, though, introduced a whimsical hourly unlimited plan, called PopData (so I suppose it can say it has an unlimited offer now). Last, but not least, I was led to believe I would have complete control over the devices on my account, which was true – but conveniently omitted was the fact it would cost me another $5 per month.
So while I figure out my own longer term options, a few suggestions for not only service providers, but really any business, when it comes to customer relationships.
Product/Service is king – Too often, businesses find themselves in a position of trying to reconcile for mistakes with exceptional customer care. That may buy you a second chance but, more often than not, the lingering memory will be the poor product experience and if you don’t fix that, you will inevitably lose business.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep – Customer service teams are trained in helping resolve issues, and they’re often given a script to work from. But, often, that script does not resolve the issue. Make sure your customer service teams are able to follow protocol but also trained to go off-script when needed to resolve customer issues. But, also ensure they are well versed on the overall business so they don’t exacerbate the situation by making promises your product can’t support, just to make the sale or keep the customer happy. The longer term impact will be lost revenue.
Customer is always right – We know that’s not true, but pretend it is. What I mean is, your customers often think they know what they want, or what product or service tier is best for them. There are many reasons for this – some logical, some not. Regardless, don’t put the customer on the defensive; don’t try to outsmart your customer; and don’t make the customer feel you’re speaking down to him. Instead, look for ways to help the customer reach his own conclusion that he may have been incorrect initially; let him make the decision on his own. And, when the customer has a complaint, don’t tell him he’s wrong or it’s his fault. Again, be pragmatic, find a resolution that makes the customer feel a sense of accomplishment. And if you know you’ve not completely satisfied the customer, find out how to go a step further to ensure satisfaction and loyalty.
I said at the outset this would be a story with some good and some bad, which it is. But what should be clear now is that the bad outweighs the good – especially since I’m reminded of it constantly, while the good is but a distant memory. Quality customer care is a necessity, but it cannot replace product quality.
Edited by Alicia Young