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Customer Service – Your most powerful retention tool or your competitors most powerful acquisition tool?

It is often said that small actions lead to big results – some good and some bad, but the absence of action could create irreparable damage beyond your imagination. So when it comes to taking care of loyal ,profitable customers, why do so many companies pay lip service to the notion that the customer comes first? Is customer service your most powerful retention tool or your competitors’ most powerful acquisition tool? Let me share with you a real-world example of what I’m referring to:

This past weekend, I attempted to convince Verizon Wireless—my exclusive and long term cell phone carrier since 2000—to grant me an early upgrade “exception”.  My son, soon to be thirteen and in a serious quest for an iPhone, was not due for an upgrade until March.  With his birthday around the corner and Christmas only a couple of weeks away, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to turn a loyal customer into a brand advocate.  Unfortunately, Verizon and their customer service team dropped the ball, leaving me frustrated and disappointed by their lack of consideration or accommodation. After all, aren’t I demonstrating my willingness to continue, deepen, and make my relationship more profitable?  Isn’t that the kind of behavior every company and marketer is trying to achieve?   I don’t get it!

I assumed good credit, on-time payments, long standing client status, low maintenance (I don’t call much, I don’t complain…I mind my own business) would make them eager to upgrade the only “dumb phone” of the  five we currently have with Verizon prior to the official 30 day  contract termination period.  Isn’t this common practice in other businesses to lock customers up before their official renewal dates, before they are at risk of going to a  competitor?  Car companies do it with lease customers all the time.

English: Front view of a closed Verizon Wirele...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where is the customer scoring model or CRM system that is supposed to help the service reps know who they are talking to?  What about giving the reps the ability to make upgrade decisions or satisfy customer requests based on the facts in front them?  What’s the point of all this new technology if it is not applied to real world situations?  OK, if the service reps aren’t given the authority to make such decisions, then surely their supervisor is?   Of course…except that I got the very same “policy statement” from her as well.  What a drag.  Seriously?  No one in the chain of command can actually think of anything creative (other than paying full retail ($ 599 or $ 699) for a phone that sells for $.99  or $ 99 with a new plan)?  How about if I add the extra 60 days to my contract? How about if I pre-pay the extra time?  How about if I push back another phone’s upgrade eligibility the same amount of time?  How about if I give up another phone’s upgrade eligibility for another year?  Seriously, I proposed ALL of these solutions with the exact same response… “No, sorry, that is just not possible.”

Somehow, I have to wonder if Lowell C. McAdam (Chairman & CEO of Verizon Wireless) would have the same response.  It is ironic that he was recently quoted at the NAB conference as saying, “If you look at the problems our customers and society have, we have never been in a better position than we are today to provide powerful answers to help solve those problems.”

Really?  According to Gartner Research by decreasing customer churn by just 5% can increase profits by 25%-125%?  The reason is that it is expensive to get new customers—it’s much easier and more sustainable to keep your current customer and sell them more products.  Has anyone told Verizon?   Clearly, this information has not been communicated  with the Customer Service department, and the irony in that is not lost.  My next question to the rep was “when will the contracts on all five  phones  expire”, because I am ready to move my business to AT&T.  Verizon, can you hear me now?

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