Hutchinson 3 — better known as “3” in the 3G-enabled mobile markets — needs to rethink their customer service strategy. And they’re not the only ones. While in Sydney this week I watched a news story on a local network aca (a current affair, AU) where a family went through a bit of trauma trying to cancel the phone service of a father and husband who has died unexpectedly of a heart attack. As part of the housekeeping process, the son of the deceased called up the “3” customer service and explained his father had died and could they please disconnect the phone service. The answer was an absolute “no.” The family was shocked and tried to explain the situation, with a total bill of $168.00 that needed to be paid in full before the service could be closed. To add insult to injury, when finally closing the bill, the customer service representative (in India) tried to upsell the customer on another phone service plan very aggressively. (NOTE: After the story was aired, 3 contacted the family and refunded their $168.00)
Now, one could say the customer service rep was just doing his job. However a breakdown in customer service has been slowly but surely affecting corporations across the U.S. and in other countries as well. As much as ‘outsourcing’ customer service seems doable and often very cost effective – there is a loss of the personal ‘touch’ and the main purpose customer service is supposed to solve: HELPING THE CUSTOMER. This takes a bit of understanding, some human relations tactics and most of all, some insight into the actual problems or situations the customers who are calling in require in order to get some sense of resolution. But it is not just the outsourced customer service that sucks. After JD Powers ran a survey and T-Mobile USA came up as #1 in customer service, many blogs begged to differ:
In this excerpt: The customer service reps and supervisors are like robots. They won’t do anything that isn’t in writing. I have had many billing problems, many phone issues, and NOTHING has been resolved. If anyone has any thoughts about becoming a T-Mobile customer, please don’t. The customer service nightmare isn’t worth it. I am extremely frustrated because T-Mobile announces “World-Class” service, however they don’t give a &*% about anything except taking your money. Does anyone at T-Mobile care? It doesn’t look like it from this end.
I have never been able to get help on anything with t-mobile in less than 2 days, sometimes several weeks. Calls usually last 1-2 hours. Even the simplest request seems to perplex the t-mobile reps. I am routinely transferred 4 or 5 times every time I call, frustratingly usually back and forth between departments. One time I wanted to activate a phone and sim card that had been shut down only the day before, and they couldn’t do it in any department. I asked isn’t this what you do? “Why can’t you activate a phone for me, it was working yesterday – its at-mobile phone and simcard?” Sorry sir that’s handled by another department, if you could just hold on please…so round and round I went – I was on the phone for 2 hours
To be fair to T-Mobile, I did a google search on “t-mobile customer service sucks” and got 179,000 hits. I did a search on “verizon mobile customer service sucks” and got 213,000 hits. “cingular customer service sucks” and got 201,000 hits. So it seems most every major carrier (not clear if it s all U.S. based) has its share of unhappy customers.
In July of this year, Phillip Winn details a class action lawsuit filed by former AT&T wireless customers against the now merged Cingular. In this lawsuit, the former AT&T customers claim the following:
The suit, filed yesterday by seven plaintiffs in U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleges the AT&T Wireless network was intentionally degraded, even dismantled, by Cingular, and that they were given limited choices. They could either pay to switch to the Cingular network and get a contract with generally less-favorable terms, or they could pay an early-termination fee, or they could stay with the AT&T network where the service was getting worse and worse. The suit seeks $5 million plus punitive damages, and names Cingular, AT&T Wireless, and AT&T as defendants. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status.
And this also may have helped to create disgruntled customers:
This is not the only legal issue facing Cingular. Two weeks ago an appeals court upheld a $12.1 million fine against them in a case which will also involve up to $10 million in customer refunds. That penalty comes in a case in which Cingular was found guilty of signing up customers faster than it could provide service to them and then charging them $550 when they tried to cancel their contracts because of the poor service.
Personally, I have a continuous relationship with customer service in an attempt to decipher my monthly bills and to seek out my ‘patterns’ with calling, mobile data and internet usage in order to get the best rate for my usage. Generally, the highest flat rate package works for me – except when roaming internationally. The one thing I have noted the most when traveling and when home is the lack of flat rate pricing and plans abroad. One of the only things the U.S. has gotten right is subsidized handsets and flat rate pricing plans. After all – American’s don’t like to think (read Steve Krug’s book, Don’t Make Me Think) and they are willing to do nearly anything to get a deal, discount or free item. Pay attention to the mobile user experience – or it might be come a mobile “suer’ experience. ;-)
The point here is for mobile operators, 3rd party mobile service and content providers to consider the entire mobile user experience from a wholistic perspective. This means customer service in-store and on the phone. This also means paying careful attention if customer service is outsourced. Because the mobile market has become such an over commodotized industry – there is very little to distinguish one company over the next. A positive user experience goes a long way to creating a successful brand presence – and customer service is one component of this experience that carriers and operators have control over and make a priority – if they choose to pay attention.