Seth Godin's blog this morning hit a nerve. He writes about how folks at the White Plains airport are doing things to him as opposed to for him. I had the same feeling this week as I suffered through a phone/internet/TV outage.
We decided more than a year ago to buy our phone, internet and TV service from one supplier. Simple billing, maybe a little cost savings, and easy to work with. Until this week.
On Sunday, all three services stopped working. When I called the service number and waded through those awful voice menus, there was no way I could choose "all of the above." I had to pick either TV, internet or phone as my problem. "No big deal," you say. However, a representative later told me I would have received faster service if I had chosen "phone" - because that would indicate my 9-1-1 service was out. I chose "internet," so my call got shunted further down the waiting list. Okay, a bit confusing, but not the end of the world.
Once I had made my selection, I waited 15 minutes to talk to a person. In the meantime, I had to listen to ads for more services. Now I am not a professional marketing person, but I don't think I would be asking my customers to buy more stuff from me when they were dissatisfied with what they already had. Why can't I choose to just wait on a silent phone (so I can do something else while waiting) - why must I have ads foisted upon me? (Note to the marketer: I am not rushing out to sign up for any more services just yet! The ads did not work.)
I finally got to speak to a person, who promised someone would come by "sometime on Monday." When I complained that I needed my phone and computer for business, she was no help. I mentioned that I would be looking at other suppliers once this problem was behind me. She replied that I would not find anyone with better service, because they all met the requirements of the Public Service Commission. Boy, that made me feel great. The company apparently only gives me any help at all because the Public Service Commission says they have to. I feel so cared for!
The technician showed up fairly early Monday morning. (That was a good thing.) He messed around for awhile, and then told me an "outside" technician would have to fix the problem. Apparently, some technicians are trained just to work on stuff inside the house and others are trained just to work on the box out in my front yard. Hmmm. Wouldn't it save the company money - and its customers frustration - if one person could handle it all? He promised someone would be out later that day.
Which, of course, did not happen. Tuesday afternoon, the outside technician finally arrived. He was able to get my services back up and running.
Score: 48 hours without service, and one unhappy customer. Will I look elsewhere for my digital services? You bet. Will I tell my friends? You bet.
On the other hand...
My local Starbucks outlet reminded me why they are so successful. I zoomed over there Monday morning for coffee and internet access. I hung out all day Monday and most of Tuesday. Internet access, good music, great coffee (with very low price refills) and no hassles at all. Even though I tied up that table for hours, folks just asked me if I had everything I needed, and if the temperature was okay. Sure, I bought more coffee and plenty of cookies. But I didn't have to - no one pressured me.
Will I go back to Starbucks? You bet. Will I tell my friends? You bet.
The lesson I took away from all of this
No matter what our business, we all need to spend time in our customers' shoes.
If the cable company execs had done that, they might have realized that their customer service system was broken. My suspicion, though, is that they don't have to call the same number I have to call if their service goes out. The problem is probably fixed for them before they even notice it.
I would be willing to bet that Starbucks execs make it a point to be one of their own customers as often as they can. (For more on how Starbucks thinks about marketing, checkout this article by John Moore, a long-time Starbucks marketer.)
When was the last time you stepped into the shoes of your customers?
[October 13, 2006: For a more postive story about high-speed internet, see Susan Abbott's post here.]