Lessons From an Exercise in Customer Service Futility

Recently, I went through the absolute worst customer experience of my life. The experience was with a major telecommunications firm that, in my opinion, is sorely lacking a customer-centric focus and a strategy for effective social business.

I normally am not one to vent publicly, but in this case I absolutely feel compelled to share my story.  I am choosing not to name the company in question, but I am endeavoring to contact senior staff. I want them to know that this happened. Maybe I am naïve, but I am hopeful writing this post will make a difference.

Towards the end of the post, I have shared a few thoughts on things this company might consider doing differently.

Day 1: It begins.

  • I called the company to order TV and Internet, with specific interest in a new TV service they’re offering.
  • After being on hold for 20 minutes, I reached a customer service rep. I was given pricing for TV and Internet, but soon realized that the TV pricing was for an older, existing service – not the new service.
  • I was told that I needed to speak with someone in a different department to order the new service and was transferred, enduring another 20 minutes of time on hold.
  • Finally, I spoke with someone about the new TV service and we went through pricing. Given the multitude of pricing options, things got confusing very quickly. All the while, I made it clear that I only wanted the most basic TV and Internet package.
  • Before proceeding with the order, I was told that the TV and Internet package would actually be $20 less expensive per month if I added home phone; reluctantly, I decided to do so (I use my mobile and I don’t have a need for a landline).  Installation was set for the following week, on Saturday.
  • I received my invoice via email, and realized that monthly pricing was actually $40 more expensive than I was quoted. There was no “bundling” discount for ordering home phone, and I wasn’t given the basic TV package I had asked for.
  • I called back, to cancel home phone and change my TV package. After enduring another 30 minutes on hold, the customer service representative told me that he was not able to cancel home phone; I needed to speak to someone in the “Loyalty” department, he said, which was closed for the day. I needed to phone back tomorrow.

Day 2: Nobody home.

  • I phoned to cancel my home phone, and endured another 15 minutes on hold before speaking with another customer service representative.
  • I was told that the “Loyalty” department was not open on Sundays, and that I needed to phone back on Monday – in spite of being told the previous day to call back “tomorrow”.

Day 3: Starting to memorize the “on hold” music.

  • Again, I phoned to cancel my home phone. Again, I endured 20 minutes on hold before getting through to a customer service representative.
  • The customer service representative said that I can’t directly call the “Loyalty” department, and that he would need to transfer me – resulting in about 25 more minutes spent on hold.
  • Finally, I spoke with someone in the “Loyalty” department and was able to cancel my home phone.

Day 5: My head hurts.

  • Fast-forward a couple of days, I received an automatic email from the telecommunications company reminding me about my installation on the upcoming Friday – and that I would need to be home from 8am to 5pm.
  • Of course, this made no sense! I had earlier arranged for the installation to be on Saturday, and received an email confirming the day. I work during the week, which was why I needed a Saturday installation.
  • Again, I called the telecommunications firm. By this time, sadly, I was starting to memorize their number.
  • Again, I had to spend 20 minutes on hold before speaking with someone.
  • I got through, but then was told that I had the wrong department – I was connected with the department responsible for the “old” TV service.
  • The customer service representative said she needed to transfer me to a different department; I was put on hold, and 20 minutes later I was connected with the SAME department.  That’s right, the department responsible for the old TV service.
  • Once again, in a second attempt to transfer me, I was put on hold for another 15 minutes.
  • Finally, I was connected to the right department. In short, I was told (1) the installation was changed to Friday, (2) they didn’t know why, and (3) there was nothing they could do about it – they couldn’t reschedule back to Saturday.
  • I explicitly mentioned that I work during the week, and that weekday installation not possible under any circumstance. The customer service agent then proceeded with litany of questions including (1) Can someone else be home for you? (2) Can you get building manager let the installation technician in? and (3) Are you available next week?
  • My answers: NO, NO and NO!
  • Finally, I was able to schedule installation for Saturday of the following week. Or at least I was hopeful that installation would be on Saturday – by this point, I had lost all confidence and trust in the company.

Day 6: Now I’m laughing.

  • Yes, there’s more! I received an automated call from the company indicating that installation would be on Friday –  the day I had just said would not work for me. By this point, I didn’t care, and didn’t bother to respond.

Day 7: This company likes to call me.

  • I received automated call from company indicating installation would be on Saturday  – the original day I had hoped for.

Day 8 (the original installation date): Peace and tranquility.

  • Nobody showed up. Not that I was expecting anyone to. I mean really, I wasn’t.

Day 14: Another lovely automated call.

  • I received automated call from company indicating installation would be on the following day.

Day 15: Hallelujah!

  • The installation technician showed up, and my home TV and Internet were set up.  Of course, during the installation, the technician himself had to endure about 20 minutes on hold with someone at the company.

So there you have it. Really I don’t know where to begin with the failures of this company. The tools, the technology – they now exist to help organizations become customer-centric. However, a customer-centric focus starts with senior leadership and well-directed strategy.

What could this company do differently?  Here are a few thoughts.

1. Differentiate yourself based on customer service and relationships.

“The fastest network”.  “The most reliable network”. “The best rates”. Do you know which specific telecommunications company made those claims? Didn’t think so.  Telecommunications companies can’t differentiate themselves on product, but they can differentiate themselves based on service to the customer.  In the case of this company, the time has come to create and adopt a “customer is king” (or “customer is queen”) philosophy and focus.  Put the customer at the center of planning, and re-engineer business processes accordingly, creating the best customer experience possible. Believe me, we’ll notice. And you’ll win – because word will get out. Yes, we’ll tell our friends about the amazing experience we had with your company – instead of telling the world about terrible debacles.

2. Simplify your phone system and leverage technology to improve it.

A different call center for each TV service that you offer, with each having little or no knowledge about the “other” TV service?  Really? Train your employees so that they have a broad and in-depth understanding of all of your different products and services – and empower employees to speak about them.  Also, implement automatic call back functionality.  I spent hours waiting on hold, I shudder to think what my cell phone bill will be (thankfully, my cell phone plan is with one of your competitors).

3. Be available to listen and to help – when and where your customers want it.

I tried to look for help on Twitter and on Facebook.  I was looking for you. I was looking for your helping hand.  But where was it? It is clear that you have no social strategy. If you do, it is being extremely poorly executed. Have a look at what a litany of other top tier companies are doing – and follow their lead.

Now, having written all this, if the guilty company is reading this – you still have a chance. I am still your customer.  Please …. show me that you’re listening. Show me that you care.

Right now, I have my doubts.

The One Question That Truly Defines Someone’s Level of Social Media Expertise

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to blog. Now that my life is a bit more settled, I hope to be able to write and share my thoughts on a more frequent basis.

Over the last number of months, there’s been a fair bit of discussion in the social media world about how people describe their level of social media “expertise”. Terms like social media “expert”, “evangelist”, “guru” and, surprisingly, even “ninja” are used so frequently, it’s almost like there’s a fire sale on them.

Now, I am all for the progression of social media – I feel that it’s important for companies to leverage available tools and technologies in becoming more social and more human in the way they act, communicate and conduct business.  Having people who are enthusiastic about social media, as well trained in and knowledgeable about social media tools and emerging technologies, is key to this progression.

However, unfortunately there is a significant credibility issue when it comes to people and their often self-proclaimed level of social media expertise. Social is evolving at such a breakneck speed, can anyone really claim to be an expert? In my opinion, no. Further, and more notably, many who claim to be experts actually lack formal marketing or communications experience – social media doesn’t exist by itself in a vacuum, it needs to be integrated with marketing, communications, customer service and other business functions!

This leads me to a key point I would like to make. There is one great way to judge someone’s knowledge of social media. Ask them this question:

What tangible business results have you created through your social media efforts?

The proof should be in the pudding. Even Bruce Lee can’t fake an answer to this question.

WestJet vs Air Canada: My Experience

A few weeks ago, I posted  that I was going to Edmonton on a business trip, flying there on WestJet and returning on Air Canada. From my observation, consumers have somewhat different perceptions of Air Canada and WestJet. WestJet is often regarded as a young, fresh upstart that has provided travellers with a friendly alternative to Air Canada. Their advertising campaigns really project a strong human element on the brand – an employee-owned company in which staff really will go the extra mile to satisfy customers. On the other hand, Air Canada comes across as being more corporate and less sensitive to the needs of travellers. Case in point, the PR fiasco they faced as a result of how they responded to the severe winter storms that hit Canada in December 2008, with disgruntled travelers as a result of many delayed and cancelled flights.

I thought I would take the opportunity to compare my experience with each airline on my Edmonton trip, from a marketing perspective. I should mention, I have done a fair bit of flying before, mostly with Air Canada and other international airlines. The WestJet flight to Edmonton was only my second with the airline.


It may be a small thing, but one thing stood out for me right from the get-go with WestJet. The itinerary confirmation I received by email included the line “Have a great flight!”. At the gate, their staff was open and friendly, joking as I was the last person to board the flight. The crew on the flight had the same demeanor, and wow was it ever refreshing. On the flight, I really enjoyed the convenience of having access to satellite TV, giving my choice in viewing pleasures.  All in all, it was a pleasant flight and an enjoyable start to the day. WestJet lived up to expectations, based on my perception of the brand.

Air Canada

My flight back to Vancouver the next day was very routine, the staff at the airport and the crew onboard the flight were friendly. On it’s own, a good experience. However, when compared to WestJet, Air Canada didn’t quite measure up.

Upon further reflection, it’s the small things that WestJet did, and the conveniences they provided, that made a difference. “Have a great flight!” being included on my itinerary. The staff that told jokes. Access to satellite TV. Going the extra mile.

WestJet vs Air Canada: Comparing Brand Experiences

It has been awhile since I’ve flown, and I earlier this morning I booked a trip to Edmonton for next week. My flight to Edmonton will be on WestJet, and my return flight will be on Air Canada.  Over the years, much has been made about the different experiences consumers have with each airline – particularly given the emphasis WestJet places on customer serivce.  I intend to write a blog post comparing my thoughts on each brand next weekend.

I just received my confirmation emails from each airline. WestJet’s subject line said “Have a great flight!”. Will that be an indicator?

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