Jon Michaeli’s Blog


Giving thanks for superior customer service

Poor customer service is one of my biggest pet peeves, and lord knows, we encounter it virtually every day. Here’s my most memorable recent example, largely because of the sheer silliness of the situation. I visited Sel de la Terre Boulangerie, an upscale bakery serving gourmet breads, pastries, sandwiches and coffee.

  • My offense: I ordered a medium coffee in a large cup so that it doesn’t spill in my car.
  • The response: With a straight face, the cashier rang up a large because “we need to charge you for the extra milk you will be using.”

Brilliant – annoy a customer over a measly…get this…10 cents. Once I realized she was serious (which took an awkward 10 seconds or so), I dropped the extra dime on the counter and walked away, never to return. (There are at least 5 other places within close proximity serving as good or better coffee.)

Now for a positive spin. Because of this experience and countless others like it, we have come to expect such treatment, which is why it’s even more noteworthy when someone representing a company or brand surprises and delights you. And since the Thanksgiving season is all about showing gratitude and giving thanks, I want to call attention to someone, who on multiple occasions, has gone way above and beyond in providing me with superior service. His name is Kyle Cunningham, manager of the AT&T Mobility store at the Natick Collection in Natick, MA. For all of the legitimate criticism of AT&T’s shoddy 3G network and customer unfriendly policies, this guy makes up for all of it, and then some.

A bit of background. My BlackBerry Bold is near death. Despite OS upgrades, the device is super sluggish, has memory leak issues, and is powered by two almost completely drained batteries. Time for a new phone.

  • The problem: I am not eligible for an iPhone 3Gs for another 5 months, and the “powers that be” will make no exceptions to this policy. Sound familiar?
  • The solution: The best offer AT&T could make is $399 for the 12GB version, and only if I extend my contract for another 2 years. That is $200 more than the price I’d pay if I were eligible.

Sheer stupidity. I can cancel my account for $175 ($24 less), walk over to Verizon – whose network is far more reliable – port over my mobile number, and get a brand spanking new Motorola Droid for $200 with a 2-yr commitment. In other words, AT&T is telling a customer who has always paid on time, has 2 accounts (my wife is also a subscriber), and spends well more than the monthly average, that it will give him $24 to take a hike and go its biggest competitor. I guess AT&T doesn’t use CRM, segment its customer base, or care about retention or loyalty. Or if it does, it doesn’t know how to apply these tools and disciplines to real world situations. Maybe instead of spending time, money and resources on suing Verizon for false advertising, AT&T should focus its efforts on serving its customers.

Now that I got the marketing jargon in, back to the story. Despite it all, I am still with AT&T, because quite simply, Kyle provides the absolute best customer service on the planet. Having worked for mobile app company, WorldMate, I called on Kyle countless times over the past two years. In this particular case, Kyle not only did everything in his power short of risking his job, but he also offered to lend me his virtually brand new Bold until I am upgrade eligible. How often do you experience that caliber of service? I am 36 years old, and so far, just once in my lifetime. With nonsense business practices that create negative switching costs, AT&T puts an unfair burden on Kyle to keep subscriber attrition in check. I’m sure upper management doesn’t realize how lucky they are to have him.

In the spirit of the holiday, please express your appreciation to those who’ve served you well in the past year. If we let these folks know and share our stories with others (it’s as easy as a tweet or brief mention in conversation), just maybe kick-ass service will start to become a trend.

Verizon FiOS: A Case Study of Anemic CRM

I’m sure many others are laughing along with me as Comcast and Verizon spend ridiculous amounts of money attacking each other on TV, stretching truths and greatly exaggerating the other’s fallbacks. As is true of virtually all negative advertising, the message about customer benefits gets diluted in all the bickering. When it concepted the campaign, Verizon likely was aiming to replicate Apple’s “Get a Mac” ad series success, portraying a Verizon technician as cool and clean cut, and his Comcast counterpart as disheveled, overweight, and anything but hip.

But alas, Verizon is no Apple. Apple delights with elegantly designed products and fuels demand with brilliantly executed clean and bold marketing. Verizon is inherently disadvantaged as a tech hardware and infrastructure company. There’s no argument it provides cool services, but it cannot create the same emotional connection, because these days a landline phone connection is BORING, wired broadband is a commodity,  and credit for the sharp picture in your living room goes to your high quality HDTV.

But enough with the Apple comparison, as that is not the focus of this post. My point is simple. The hoards of cash Verizon and Comcast are spending to one-up the other in this fight would be far better invested in sophisticated CRM systems.

No question, price and number of HD channels are two factors to consider when choosing a cable provider. And internet speed is important. But at the end of the day, are the companies’ capabilities really all that different? On the other hand, if you buy a bundled package (i.e. at least 2 of these 3 – phone, internet and cable), before long you’re bound to have a technical issue with at least one of them. Lord knows, FiOS has had numerous outages and glitches since I started using them around 2 ½ years ago. Working in the high-tech/internet space, I understand complex systems sometimes fail and service upgrades often don’t go quite as planned. So, I’ve been patient with FiOS as they’ve gone through their growing pains.

But recently, when my credit card was triple charged almost $300 (i.e. $900 in total) due to a glitch on the FiOS website, I wanted answers, and I wanted them immediately. The fact that it happened in the first place is very disconcerting. That I still don’t have the issue resolved a couple of months later after speaking to over 10 Verizon reps (including a couple in the Collections Dept.), is inexcusable.

My initial experience with FiOS was great. The installation was fairly smooth, a local manager stopped by to inspect the work and ensure my satisfaction (he even gave me one of his cards), and they waived the installation fee of an extra phone jack for my fax machine. Judging on this one-time event alone, I would give FiOS a solid “A” for service. Therein lies the difference between simple customer service, and its far more powerful cousin CRM, which requires deep commitment to put systems, procedures and people in place to foster relationships with customers throughout the life cycle. It is here that FiOS has failed.

As one of the first subscribers in my town who’s still with FiOS, by definition, I am one of their longest standing (i.e. loyal) customers. My guess is I’m also in their upper tier of monthly spend at ~$160. And perhaps my best quality of all: I always pay my bill on time. Undoubtedly, these are 3 of the most important factors in assigning value to FiOS’ member segments. Not rocket science.

So CRM 101 should reveal to FiOS that if nothing else, I’m an above-average customer. Work even a little to keep me happy (e.g. a priority 800#) and show me you care (e.g. actually call me back when you say you will), and there’s a good chance I’ll stick with you. Take it to the next level and show you understand early adopter = influencer with potential for real evangelism, and watch how many people I bring to your service. And if segmentation is too much to ask, at the very least try following the no longer new Web 2.0 trends and establish a presence on social media channels, such as Twitter. Score one for Comcast, which is leaps and bounds ahead with its @ComcastCares initiative. Obviously Twitter alone is an insufficient strategy, but it symbolizes Comcast’s commitment to differentiate on service.