A little background….
6 months after getting the iPhone 4 I took it rock climbing and put a nice big crack in the front. Everything worked but needless to say I’ve been counting down the days until the new version was announced… 5, 4s, 2011… As much as I wanted the curved design, the features were almost irrelevant.
But while my upgrade decision has been stable, my carrier choice, not so much… Not [just] for the usual AT&T complaints but because half of my new apartment flat out doesn’t get a bar of service. So, while my contract may not be up, it seemed worth the termination fee to make a jump.
And then came an [unexpected] great customer service moment
After reading tweets from @DannySullivan and some “unknown” friends, I prepared for a battle on the phone, to push through a wall of counter arguments from one of AT&T’s “resolution specialists” [seriously, that’s their I.V.R. greeting] and all the usual drama you expect when calling a company. My experience has always been that these “service” battles actually make it easier to cancel out of sheer frustration, but none the less, it’s a painful experience to know you’re walking into.
But after a few minutes on hold and giving out all of my personal information again the rep didn’t fight me. Instead he merely asked what the issue was and when I explained the lack of signal coverage, he apologized. Rather than going into a pitch, he then told me the cancelation cost [$325 - $10 / month of service was $175 for me] and how to cancel to insure a smooth transition of my number, how to get a hold of AT&T after the change for any issues, etc. Only as he was finishing up did he finally throw in a “I realize this won’t fix your signal issues but if you want to stay I can offer you a small credit off your bill, if not…”
Attitude. That’s what good service is about.
The rep offering me $75 wasn’t a deal breaker; heck that’s well less than a month of service between my minutes, texting and data + tethering package. Verizon’s service doesn’t work great here either [why there’s poor coverage in a “upscale” apartment community with 750+ units is beyond me] but between their trade-in programs, a better service reputation, and just being a different experience I was willing to jump ship despite the added cost until the rep, and thus AT&T, demonstrated commitment to me as a customer. Sadly commitment has become a rare thing these days.
The rep did everything other than what I expected. He was polite and legitimately apologetic. He provided the information I wanted first, an offer last. And when I took him up on it, he made the process seamless, taking the order, getting the right information, providing the little details [like the fact that the phone may just show up after the 14th despite what websites say]. As icing on the cake, he also noticed that – for a reason which he didn’t know – I’m getting another $75 credit from AT&T in a few months for having an iPhone with my particular history… a retention bonus… we all know keeping a customer is far cheaper than replacing them.
iPhone ordering makes for great case studies because, between millions of experiences, you have the best and worst service scenarios all coming together around one constant. The apple website should be a prime example to every single etailer of how you make a shopping experience – the selection process is about a solution, not a shopping cart; the up-sells appear as value-adds and never stand in your way; the form fields are minimal and rarely error on a legitimate entry [like a special password or unique address]; and between split payments, multiple-financing options, and gift cards, it’s just as flexible as shopping in store. On the other hand you’ve got stories from the carriers of nightmare hold times, conflicting upgrade information, insanely high costs, near arguments over account features, discrepancies in warranty offerings & information… all in one ordering experience.
I didn’t expect to have a blog-worthy experience in upgrading a phone but what AT&T did goes beyond their service, iPhones or the cell industry – the sad reality is that we, as consumers, have come to expect our opinions to be practically ignored, to be hard-sold by someone reading off a script with 3 different levels of service and to be brushed aside with generic response. Despite all the talk of being social & transparent, most of customer service is still about getting the issue to a “closed” status rather than actually engaging to understand, acknowledge and learn from the issue.
The truth is you can’t always fix the root problem a customer is having but when you allow your reps to be honest, friendly, informative, and let them decide how to handle a negative based on their expertise doing this hour after hour, you do what customers don’t expect… care.
Unfortunately I didn’t get the rep’s name; but if anyone from AT&T reads this, email me and I’ll give you the order number as he deserves a thanks.