Surprisingly Pleasant Service Experiences Highlight 4 Lessons in Loyalty

If there is one industry that takes a hit when it comes to customer service, it’s the telecom industry.  It’s hard to find someone who has not had a horror story experience with their phone company or wireless service provider.  However, a couple of recent experiences point out both an improvement and some important lessons in customer loyalty marketing.  Here are the stories…

Problems with my wireless billing and data usage plan led me to call my provider, Verizon Wireless.  Their website was actually easy to log into and navigate, as well as find a support number.  After an acceptable number of digits pressed, a friendly voice asked how she could help.  Because I was on my mobile phone, there was no need to ask me the same information I had just keyed in, and we got right to the heart of the issue.

The issue was relatively easy and was quickly solved.  There was one item that she was not sure about and she said she would investigate it and get back to me.  She then checked my usage and noticed that I could save $10 per month with a simple change.  As a customer, I felt like she went out of her way to help me, despite the fact that it lowers Verizon’s revenue by over $100 per year.  Now, what do you think would happen if the call was actually being “monitored for quality assurance”?  Would my friendly advocate get praised or scolded?

I like to think Verizon is enlightened enough to know that what she did was actually better for the company’s bottom line.

The end of the call was my favorite part.  She ask to make sure there were no other issues, said thanks for calling, and hung up.  No long, scripted speech about Verizon’s commitment and valued customers.  Are you listening, Comcast?

What happened next surprised me even more.

A couple of days later I got a call from the same rep.  She was following up on the one unresolved item and letting me know the outcome.  She was also checking to make sure everything was now OK.  No sales pitch.  No speeches.  Just a friendly follow-up by the SAME rep.

The second experience came a few weeks later.  One of our employees was going to Europe for a couple of weeks.  She has a company-owned phone, so I asked her to call Verizon to get international calling enabled.  She did so, but they needed my authority as the main contact.  As I was walking to work I got a call from Verizon.  It was a service agent who mentioned that he had our employee on the other line and needed me to approve the additional service.  I said yes, he thanked me, and that was it.  The entire conversation took about 30 seconds, just long enough to wait for the light and cross Orleans St.

So those are my stories.  Let’s go back and pull them apart. There are some really great loyalty lessons in there that almost any organization can apply.

Understanding Customer Lifetime Value

Verizon is a data-rich organization.  They have a wealth of information on all individuals and organizations and have developed strong models to understand both past and predicted value of each customer.  They also understand that the most important factor for improving lifetime value is keeping me as a customer.  Infinitely more important than any upgrades or cross-sells they could possibly hook me into.

Verizon clearly understands the importance of retention and these service experiences provided some proof:

  1. Value my time. We are all busy, and the last thing we want to be doing is dealing with the phone company.  By focusing on user experience both on their site and one the phone, Verizon shows that they value my time.  By limiting or forgoing the standard closing statement, Verizon again shows that they value my time.  Telling me how they value me as a customer and repeating their latest slogan does nothing.  Demonstrating it is what matters.
  2. Be my advocate. This is a strategy that the best performers all understand and use effectively.  Saving me $10/month on a bill that averages over $300 makes financial sense.  It makes me feel valued.  It creates an emotional bond, which improves REAL loyalty.  If that tactic results in an increase in customer retention by just a few days, Verizon comes out ahead.  And I have no doubt that is does.
  3. Follow up. Part of being an advocate is following up when necessary to ensure satisfaction.  Verizon did not go overboard with this.  A simple, quick touch point is all it takes to instill positive emotional loyalty.  This was a lesson I learned many years ago when we made follow-up calls to first-time progressive lens (no line bifocals) buyers for an optical chain client.  That simple call produced a verified ROI of close to 700%.
  4. Understand the critical path. Verizon needed my approval to add the international package.  Traditionally, they would have told my colleague to have me call in, get routed through 3 agents, explain the situation (as if I was an expert) to each one, then go through a myriad of security checks to verify my identity so they can push a button and charge me more money.  That creates multiple unnecessary touch points, eats up valuable time, and causes negative emotions.  Instead, Verizon understood that there is a quicker, easier path to completion.  Just call the person from whom you need approval.  They may actually answer.  And when they do, get to the point.

Finally, I don’t know whether these experiences were exceptions or the norm.  Regardless, positive examples are always welcome.  It is especially refreshing to see this in a large, complex, regulated organization like Verizon.  I feel for the loyalty marketers at these large companies who are blocked and frustrated daily by financial and legal overseers.  These cannot be easy policies to implement.

So think about your customers and their experience.  How can you better value their time through your interactions?  Remember the critical path and always try to keep to it.  Understand lifetime value and that lowering revenue in the present only hurts if you don’t increase retention.  And how can you follow-up just to make sure everything is OK?  There are plenty of ways to automate this, and the payback will surely outweigh the effort.

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