I’m pretty sure that, at one time or another, every blog has to include a story about customer service hell. It’s probably more therapeutic for the blogger more than anything, especially in a blog that’s supposed to offer marketing tips. But I’ll justify this on the idea that bad customer service is one more thing marketers have to deal with. From that perspective, I don’t envy the marketing team at Verizon.
I ditched Verizon phone service back in the late 1990s when the town in which I was living signed on a competing cable company that offered phone, Internet and TV service in one package. It was a no-brainer from a price perspective. The thought of getting rid of Verizon and its always-aggravating customer service was a bonus.
Fast forward to 2009, when Verizon FIOS came to my neighborhood. Again, it was a combined phone, TV and Internet package that was attractive, especially the speedy Internet service which would let me replace the shaky one from the cable provider in my new town. And being some 10 years removed from my last dealing with Verizon (save for the cellular variety, with which I’ve never had a significant problem), I apparently forgot why I disliked the company so much, or maybe was indulging in wishful thinking that things had changed.
I have now come to the brutal realization that they have not changed a lick.
Late yesterday afternoon, the Internet service in my home went out. After the usual rebooting of the computer and router failed to do any good, I called Verizon tech support. I was on hold for a few minutes before reaching a tech, who spent a few more minutes with me before determining it was a billing issue and sending me to the billing department. Again I was on hold, this time for more than a few minutes, before a customer service rep came on. Again I had to give my phone number, address and so forth – which drives me absolutely crazy in an era when such information should be easily passed from one department to another. After looking into the issue and finding nothing wrong, the rep put me on hold – without telling me why or giving me a chance to request I not be put on hold, which I most certainly would have.
This time the wait was interminable. And when someone finally came back on the line, I found I was back in the tech support department where I started. After lots of back and forth with the tech, he was about to put me on hold again. I protested and instead asked him to take my cell phone number and have his supervisor – or whoever – call me back. He was gracious enough to do that but still – by this time I’d been on the phone for more than an hour.
A few minutes later, the supervisor called me back only to say there was nothing he could do. The billing department had indeed put a hold of some sort on my account and there was no way his department could remove it and restore service. There was also no way for him to transfer me back to billing – by this time, billing had gone home, half of them no doubt laughing about the poor sap in Massachusetts who would be wholly without Internet service for the night. The best he could do, the supervisor said, was have someone from billing call me after they arrived at 8:00 the next morning. Fine, I said – the earlier the better.
After 9 a.m. the next day, I decided to try again rather than wait for a call that I had little confidence would be coming. I told my sad story to the woman in the billing department who, of course, wanted to put me on hold. I protested, asking instead for a call back rather than risking another interminable hold time, especially since I was on my cell phone using prime time minutes. That was impossible, she said. “No it’s not,” I said. “I’ll give you my phone number, you have your supervisor, or whoever, call me back. It’s easy,” especially for a phone company, I thought, although I stopped short of saying so. No, no, it’s impossible, she insisted. Just can’t be done. “That’s absurd,” I said, and gave her my phone number anyway. I told her if I was on hold for more than about two minutes, I was going to hang up and expect a call back. She couldn’t guarantee that, she said, then placed me on hold.
I was bluffing, of course, and stayed on hold for a good 6 or 7 minutes before, suddenly, the music stopped, yet nobody came on the line. I had been disconnected.
By now I’m getting pretty peeved, which is to say, screaming into the dead phone. I decided to try my local Verizon store instead. The woman there was very nice and tried to help but ultimately just wound up giving me the customer service number that I already had.
This story is going on way too long so suffice to say that I called the number again, told my story, again, and after being on hold, again, and again, finally got someone who could help. Turns out the issue resulted from my moving my phone service from Verizon to Vonage about six weeks earlier (because Vonage is less expensive and has better features). Verizon ties its billing to the phone number, so when the phone number went away, billing couldn’t cope. So naturally the only thing to do was shut down my Internet service. At least, that’s pretty much what the rep said, while trying to blame the whole thing on Vonage.
Whether there’s a moral here for marketers, I can’t really say. But here’s one thing I know for sure: if your company has truly good customer service, that’s something you can trumpet. And I’d say it’s perfectly reasonable for marketing folks in companies that don’t have good customer service to offer helpful suggestions to their customer service colleagues so they can turn their ship around. Here are a few:
- Implement systems whereby you capture customer information once – whether by keypad or spoken word – then never ask for it again, no matter how many different departments the customer gets transferred to. This is especially true if you work for a technology company, because customers expect you to be good at this kind of thing.
- Offer to call the customer back if hold times exceed 4 or 5 minutes. The first time this happened to me, I was admittedly suspect, but when the company came through, I simply could not have been happier. I don’t recall which company that was but another that did it recently was Sonos, which makes a really cool wireless, multi-room music system that you should check out.
- Even if you don’t offer to call customers back, empower customer service reps to do it on their own, especially if a customer asks. It’s not hard. You take down a phone number and call it when you’re ready. We do this all the time in the real world, or at least we used to before we started emailing and texting everyone.
- When you encounter a customer who has clearly had a bad experience, offer them something to make up for it. Maybe it’s extending their support contract by a month on the house, a gift card to Starbucks, whatever – it’s a just a nice gesture that doesn’t cost much and can help you win back a customer who you may otherwise lose. Or who may decide to blog about you.
OK, enough. But man, I really do feel better!