The Other End of Sunset

Friday, August 05, 2011

Customer Service matters

One more time,

loud as you can


I was in Australia for a week recently, carrying (sadly) all of my devices. I was carrying a MacBook Air, an iPad, and my iPhone. I hate traveling with that many bits of hardware, but, c'est la vie, I guess.

I was carrying the Air in case I needed to project stuff during my talks. Turned out I didn't, so that was a waste, but I didn't know that.

I was carrying the iPad because it's my primary device now -- I use it to read, to do brief emails, listen to music, etc.

I was carrying my phone to have an easy to use phone (yes, I could have used GVoice, FaceTime, etc., on my iPad, but I haven't bothered to set any of them up. Sorry.)

Now, I normally turn international data roaming off on any device I carry, relying on wifi wherever I am to grab content and email. However, this trip included loads of time where there wasn't any easily available wifi.

Ergo, I left data roaming turned on for my iPhone.

I'm grateful that they show me the way

'cause I could never know

--Steve Taylor

So, if you do this, you land in , and immediately get a text telling you that "international data rates apply of $ per MB".

OK, thanks, I get it. Although I appreciate the warning, I deliberately ignored it. I needed my data, so I was resigned to paying a lot for it.

And having ignored the warning, I ignored the data rates themselves. I didn't care about the cost at that moment, I cared about the functionality.

On my 3rd day traveling, I got a text (from some random number) telling me that "[my] international data usage is high. Please call AT&T at ". OK, I've got other things to worry about, but I dial the number, put my phone on speaker, enter the dozens of different numbers asked for by the IVR, and wait.

I'm not just sitting here during this wait, I'm actually trying to work. But every time a voice comes on the line, I stop what I'm doing to pay attention in case it's actually a human.

I wait about 15 minutes for a real human, but have listened to recorded humans about every minute during the process. With such a high rate of interruption, I got virtually no work done.

Heaven forbid

you end up alone

and don't know why

--the fray

At 15 minutes, another recording comes on, but this one tells me what the call is about -- they want to sell me a new data plan. They have wasted my time in order to sell me some new product.

I hate that. I don't care about AT&T's sales goals at this moment.

// Side note: I don't care about AT&T's sales goals at ANY moment, actually, but I was particularly disinterested at that moment. Back to the main line now. //

Having realized that this is a sales call, I hang up. The (annoyed) finger having writ, moves on.


The Neighbor of the Beast

--a T-shirt

A few days later, I get another text from that same random number. This time, the message is "due to your high data usage, we are turning off your data plan. Your data access will not be turned back on, even in the US, unless you contact us at ".

OK, now we've changed from a minor annoyance to a fairly major one. So I dial the number… and have the same experience as before. This time, however, I wait for a real human -- it takes about 20 minutes.

The real human that I talk to is a customer service agent. Now keep in mind, my only goal is to get my data plan turned back on. Nothing more, and nothing less. Not a terribly hard problem.

However, the customer service agent can't turn it back on. I *must* sign up for an international data plan to get the data turned back on.

So, I listen to the sales pitch, and sign up for the cheapest plan. This gets me my data back. Yay!

And, it yields *less* revenue to AT&T. The amount I paid for my plan (even annualized) would be less than the expected international data costs would have been, given my travel plans.

Yes, that's right, not only did AT&T annoy me, they yielded themselves less revenue!

Some marketing person should lose their job, along with whoever does financial planning and analysis at AT&T. Really, the core value proposition is to generally maximize revenue while making your customers happy.

In this case, neither goal was hit. W00t, AT&T!

Know that these things

will never change for us at all

--Snow Patrol

But there is one good aspect to this whole process: The agent I talked to. He recognized immediately that he couldn't do what I wanted (ie., turn my data back on), and gave me a clear explanation of what his options were (ie., sign me up for some data plan).

Although counterintuitive, this is exactly what customer service should be able to do. No "escalate to my manager" to make a decision, no "here is the smoke-and-mirrors to get you to be happy again". The agent had one option in the situation and was clear about it.

Sadly, I didn't pay attention to his name. However, if any of you work for AT&T, go find him and tell him he did a great job. Good customer service is worth its weight in gold.

At ZestCash (my company), we have gone a long way to hire really (really) talented people to provide our borrowers service. We call them "relationship managers" not because we are playing buzzword bingo, but because it captures how we want them to act.

An RM on the phone has the ability to make almost all changes to a borrower's account. There is never a need for an RM to escalate to make a decision, and our RMs know their options for an account before the call even starts (we have great systems, not surprisingly).

Although I'm hugely annoyed at AT&T, my experience with their customer service was great! They ended up with less revenue from me, but that's a marketing problem, not a service one!

I hope -- trust -- that if anything goes wrong, my customers feel that their relationship managers care about them, are exceptionally clear, and make good decisions.


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