Friday, August 26, 2005

A Customer Service Lesson from Verizon Wireless

Earlier in the week, I wrote about how my house painters dropped the ball with their customer relations.

Today, I've got a short story about the opposite effect which was achieved by one single person at a humongous corporation.

I switched mobile phone providers because my contract was up and I wanted a new phone/pda-type thing. For months I'd been calling my provider, Verizon, to see if I could get a new phone. They kept telling me that my contract was up in June, so I had to wait until then to get the new phone (for discounts). The people in their store said my contract was up in June, the people in their Radio Shack stores said the same thing, and their phone reps repeated the story. I was convinced. My contract was up in June.

Except it wasn't. It was up in August. So when I switched to T-Mobile in June (because I love the Sidekick II) I got dinged with a $175 early cancellation charge by Verizon. No warning, no nothing. Just "adios, don't let the door hit you on the way out, and how bout kicking us another $175."

So I've been dealing with Verizon people on the phone, getting the right addresses and contact info to state my case. They had me write to corporate, then to another address. I still don't know how it's going to work out, but I'm not going to pay the $175. Maybe I'll pay something less than that, but not the whole enchilada. In any event, I was starting to form an attitude about Verizon Wireless.

That all changed, with one brief encounter, however. The last person I talked to at Verizon was stunning. I've never come across such a person in a corporate customer service setting. Usually you have to deal with some deadbeat who's giving you a hard time or giving you the run-around. This woman was courteous, helpful and empathetic. Unreal. I thought I was dreaming.

The last thing she said to me made me realize that somebody in customer service is doing something right at Verizon. Or.. she's just a diamond in the rough. In either case, she said, "We wish we could have kept your business, and I apologize for this mix-up, but we'll do our best to set it straight and let you go gracefully." My jaw hit the floor. Class, literacy and some recognition that both of us were working toward an equitable solution. I was expecting to get jilted at every turn during this process, but this particular encounter made everything seem like it might work out ok. We'll see.

In any event, the lesson is clear. One person made a difference in how I feel about that company. Right now, I think they're going to treat me fairly. Verizon will get cooperation and a spirit of understanding from me in future dealings (wherever they may lead). Mainly it's because they didn't stick it to me with the rudeness and stonewalling that I expect from large consumer corporations. I was heading down the path of disillusionment and animosity, but one person brought me back and adjusted my attitude ever so skillfully.

In my opinion, every company needs to cultivate employees like this. eBay sellers, small businesses, individual entrepreneurs. Heck, I need to pay more attention to the way I handle disputes in my own business. It's so easy to "throw down" and take a stand, but it's rarely productive. With just a few turns of a phrase, like "let you go gracefully," you can turn bad word of mouth into someone who sings your praises -- even if they're no longer a customer!

Think about how this post might have read if the customer service rep had said, "Screw you. You're hosed."

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10 Comments:

At 6:42 PM, Anonymous Frank Ross said...

Thanks Phil and it's great that you weren't so mad that you closed up to that person's kindness and understanding. I have to deal with angry customers often from my Amazon Marketplace listings. I have little control over the ways my products appear in the Amazon MarketPlace listings and sometimes they just don't present them correctly. This results in a lot of "You $^$%$! You sent the wrong part" complaints from customers. It doesn't do any good to tell them "no you got exactly the part you ordered"; instead I apologize for the problem and send them the instructions for making a return. Often I end up getting positive feedback from these angry people after it's all said and done.

 
At 8:30 AM, Blogger Phil Dunn - qualitywriter.com said...

It's funny. Indignation is one of the quickest things to achieve and defuse. It's like a hyper-active mood swing.

 
At 7:01 AM, Blogger Business Coach said...

I too have found one sensible person at Verizon.

But, I have found about fifty or more jerks.

The biggest jerk is Verizon itself. Their policies are some of the worst I have encountered from an utility company in my forty-two years of business.

They leave their employees absolutely no room to wiggle when dealing with customers. They shaft you and the poor employee has to listen to the same stuff they have heard over and over.

They know they are working for a loser and they do the minimum just to get you off the phone. They know you have a very good point but they have no authority and can do nothing to help you.

In contrast, I was a Southern Bell customer for all but the last eight years I've been forced to deal with Verizon.

They spoiled me with unreal service and I had lots of business with them.

There is a new boy on the block... VOIP. I intend to move over next month.

Jim Walker

 
At 6:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Somebody who actually got some decent customer service from Verizon? That's really rare! I had some dealing with Verizon several years ago that cost me between $20 and $30. If permanently losing a customer and gaining a permanent word-of-mouth critic is worth that much then Verizon got a good deal. I saw an editorial cartoon in my local newspaper that succinctly summarizes my impression of Verizon. It shows a sign that reads "Verizon Customer Service". In the foreground a woman is grabbing another woman from behind a desk by the lapels and yelling "CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?"

 
At 9:06 AM, Blogger Joe Muka said...

Just checking out blogs for ideas to add to my site about home voip and other voip stuff. (I know its a boring subject) I liked your site

 
At 11:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 10:48 AM, Blogger Phil Dunn - qualitywriter.com said...

It's funny - cell service has become the "utility" of this generation. I mean that in the sense that the companies involved act like cold institutions, rather than actual companies that are supposed to respond to actual people.

The contract lock-in is brutal for customers. I see that it's breaking up, though, and some companies are bailing out of that practice.

 
At 7:22 PM, Blogger PolarTrader said...

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At 10:39 AM, Anonymous Joe Rhoades 703-373-2333 said...

The service you descrie is far from the norm at Verizon. I have a had problem with my FIOS account for three months and I get nothing but the run around. I have made at least twenty-five calls and spoke with reps that claimed to be supervisors and then did not call back as promised. Technically, Verzion FIOS is great but be prepared for much frustration and many phone calls - lot of wasted of time on phone calls if you have a problem with the service. I am up to about 10 hours and still unresloved.

 
At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The service you describe is far from the norm at Verizon. I have a had problem with my FIOS account for three months and I get nothing but the run around. I have made at least twenty-five calls and spoke with reps that claimed to be supervisors and then did not call back as promised. Technically, Verzion FIOS is great but be prepared for much frustration and many phone calls - lot of wasted of time on phone calls if you have a problem with the service. I am up to about 10 hours and still unresloved. Joe R 703-373-2333

 

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