Friday, July 11, 2008

OnlineSpin: Want To Win Customers? Don't Be Like A Wireless Carrier

Two weeks ago Max wrote "The Etiquette Of Seeking Advice."

Ken Moir wrote in response, "Excellent points, all well-made.

I've been in HR and ops mgmt. for years and this post should be required reading for job-seekers everywhere.

I'll be forwarding this to my contacts in placement offices around the country."

Douglas Ferguson wrote, "And if you're only 20 years old and still feeling your way in the world, don't expect me to be sympathetic or helpful, you wretched piece of potential brilliance. Fie on you!

I don't have time to concoct a generic, encouraging, polite response. I think you'll learn a lot from being squashed like a bug -- about me, at least."

Friday, July 11, 2008
Want To Win Customers? Don't Be Like A Wireless Carrier
By Max Kalehoff

As a consumer, I've found that wireless carriers are among the most difficult companies to do business with. But as a marketer, their flops underscore live-or-die principles in how to win customers -- or how to make them hate you. My wireless carrier -- which I'll keep nameless -- recently made this abundantly clear.

After I'd spent three years with the same Palm Treo 650, mobility became painful: disintegrating call quality, a cracked casing, a broken hands-free outlet, one-hour battery life and a number-three button that no longer worked. While I remain fond of the Treo, I decided to upgrade to a more stable business-productivity workhorse: the BlackBerry Curve 8330. (And, no, the new iPhone is not ready for prime-time business usage.)

Simple switch, right? No, thanks to my wireless carrier. Here's why:

1.    Disrespectful of Customer Time: I drove to my wireless carrier's nearby store and waited in line for 30 minutes with my 19-month-old son, only to be told the model I wanted no longer was in stock. "We don't have it any more. Try another store or go online." My experience with the carrier's retail outlet suggested they didn't respect my time.

2.    Broken Promises: That night, I ordered the model I wanted on the carrier's Web site. I chatted online with a service rep to ensure it was available and confirm the rebate, which was mysteriously missing from my order summary. I was promised my new BlackBerry would ship immediately and arrive in a few days. After a week with no shipment, I felt let down. My experience with an inaccurate Web site and clumsy order fulfillment suggested I'm not important. Failure to notify me in a timely fashion when a promised order couldn't be fulfilled made me think the carrier simply didn't care.

3.    Indifferent Problem-Solving: After calling my carrier to hunt for an explanation, the rep I reached said, "Oh, it's on backorder. Sorry for the inconvenience. We'll inform you if we can't get it after 30 days, or you can cancel your order now." Disgruntled, I decided to wait. Thirteen days after ordering, it arrived. It was a relief to finally receive what I paid for. But it shouldn't be that way, I thought.

4.    Painful Activation: Activating my new BlackBerry was relatively painless -- at first. However, there was no customer-care infrastructure to ensure I upgraded my data plan to maintain basic, legacy services I was accustomed to on my old Treo. I had to figure that out myself through trial and error -- troubleshooting on day one. Second, my carrier sent me outdated software drivers to sync with my Mac. After attempts with three customer-service reps, I hunted down the answer myself in an online forum. To add insult to injury, I had to speak with two additional reps before I was informed that the upgraded Internet plan I had just signed up for was not compatible with my company's email server. Oh, the "Microsoft Exchange Enterprise Activation" will cost extra -- on top of all the hours I spent troubleshooting.

5.    Ill-Equipped, Uninspired Service Agents: While my carrier's service agents were all cordial, very few were sufficiently knowledgeable in their products and services. However, the last agent I spoke with during this debacle -- from my carrier's BlackBerry advanced technical division -- was extremely knowledgeable. I asked why so many of her fellow reps were so clueless. She confidentially informed me that her service center provides, on average, only two demo models for every 150 technical service reps. That's a far cry from your average Apple retailer or Apple Genius Bar, where every rep seems to own, master and love all the products they're selling and troubleshooting. Because of this rep's superior knowledge, I asked for her direct line. She didn't have one in her call-center bay, so she offered me her personal email address so I could signal her to call me directly.

I'm not here to rant. But if you want to know the secret to winning customers, the answer is simple: Don't be like a wireless carrier. Do the opposite:

1.    Respect your customer's time.
2.    Keep the promises you make.
3.    If you can't keep promises, deal with them proactively and enthusiastically.
4.    Make activation and use of your product simple and instant.
5.    Empower your technical and service support with the training, infrastructure and culture to execute on the promise.

It's that easy. Now, what are the odds my unnamed wireless carrier will acknowledge my experience and do something about it? For them, I'm sure it won't be easy.


Max Kalehoff is vice president of marketing for Clickable, a search-marketing solution for small and mid-size businesses. He also writes

Online Spin for Friday, July 11, 2008:

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