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Retail: Why Customers Don't Like Their Mobile Phone Operator

Pal James Kendrick of JK on The Run is one of the nicest, most easygoing guys I have known in the tech journalism world. As a blogger, he was one of the first I tuned into before the idea of social media took hold. So when I read this post about his experience with one of the nations leading mobile phone operators unfortunately, I have to agree with him. This is an experience that just never should happen. I've run into the same experience at AT&T stores and even in some 3 shops in London. Unfortunately, one bad apple does spoil it for all, but his lament is an unfortunate eulogy on the state of customer service in the USA, not only with mobile phone stores, but in other retail environments too.

It doesn't just happen though with any one carrier though. It happens with them all. And it happens because there's a huge disconnect in what is called "customer service" and what's called sales. There's "no" and "know not." Unfortunately, FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) can sway an unknowing customer. But not one of the best gadget geeks on the planet. Clearly if Verizon Wireless was tapped into the Social Media/CRM world they would have know who James Kendrick is, and press usually gets handled a lot different. But they didn't and someone blew it big time, and James, to his credit, blew the whistle on them.

Let's face it, no carrier wants to lose a customer. Not AT&T. Not Verizon. Not Sprint and not T-Mobile. As someone who has accounts with all of them, plus Cricket here in the USA, and even a burner account with AT&T's GoPhone for experimentation and to loan to friends who visit, I can relate to James' plight. Surprising to me though is it happened with Verizon Wireless, which based on my experience, have improved their support and service a lot, and really become more customer friendly. Over the past year or so my calls to customer service have resulted in "you're on a rate plan with a limit. We can lower your monthly and remove the minutes cap," while visits to the the local Del Mar, CA Verizon store have been so pleasant, I actually refer people there who need Verizon service. And, I know they're doing a good job because the shop is always packed, and no one waits that long, and that wait when it happens has been worth it. I've had phones taken back after the 30 day "no return date" (the Blackberry Storm) and had a lost MiFi replaced creatively, by the store manager, as well in such a way as it saved me money. Why? Because they care about their customers. Especially the corporate account types, which I fall into now. It seems whomever is running that shop knows that customers are savvier, and more knowledgeable these days, and instead of arguing, they simply work to keep the customer happy.

But James is right about the outright sales lies being told at times. I've run into that a few time, plus the arrogance, in the Del Mar Heights AT&T phone store, as far back as when they were Cingular. I've been blatantly lied to by AT&T Mobile Phone store clerks in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York around the time of the iPhone launch. Why? They wanted to take my order, but could care less that they couldn't ship the phone to me in another city. (I wanted to order it so it would arrive day of launch and I was traveling on business.) AT&T clerks have without permission swapped plans out on my wife's Blackberry, including deleting her Blackberry BIS services, remove International calling, and more, all to find out later that it was because of a "promotion" activation program or a training issue that cost me or my wife time in the shop or on the phone to fix the "over charges." I've personally had my International plan on the iPhone run on for months, even when I've said "I only want it on for a month" when I know I'm traveling. Sure the problem gets fixed, but it wastes time, and it's all because of two factors, and unfortunately, James fell prey to it. (Note my way around retail arrogance is to become a corporate customer of AT&T and any issues have all gone away or quickly get corrected without a wait or a fuss.)

So why does this happen?

1. Always keep the customer at all costs to maintain revenue.

2. Poor training due to poor on the floor management

Sadly, Verizon Wireless now is tainted in Houston, TX, and I really wish James had listed the store address. Really now. Who would want to trust a Verizon Wireless person ever again in all of Houston. What should have happened? First, when James said he was going to cancel, instead of spreading lies, the sales rep should have had a "win back offer." That could have been some free service, the offer of a larger data cap (knowing that James was going to capless 4G Clear was the tip off). They could have offered James a new device (not that he needs one) or they could have offered better rate plans, discounts or simply, a no contract/no penalty termination to stay for any line he had with Verizon Wireless. Would any of those kept James on VZW? Likely not, because after testing, and given his needs, 4G is better than what Verizon is offering today in Houston. They didn't have to lie, and they didn't need to do it over and over again.

I feel for James. I've been in his shoes, and I commend him for taking the time to share his plight. Now, it's all up to Verizon Wireless to make it right.

Why? read the comments in the post, especially the one from Ricky Cadden, a longtime mobile phone blogger, and someone I've gotten to know through the Nokia Blogger Relations Program we ran very successfully for more than four years. Clearly the problem isn't just with Verizon, or localized to Houston.

So if they really care, this is where Verizon Wireless needs to buck up, send a written apology to James (and all the GigaOm readers.) The shop in question needs to have their staff pulled, retrained, and a new, more customer trusted culture instilled, likely by a different manager transferred in from somewhere the "Mystery Shopping" program has proved that they don't lie, and don't tell a well informed customer things that are just not true. Just do me a favor, don't take the manager away from the Del Mar, CA store. That person's team doesn't lie and their staff doesn't make it hard on the customers to cancel, change plans, or buy new phones. They just do it right.

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