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December 16, 2012

Is Customer Service Getting Better?

Not a Fido rep, or if he is, that would be quite the coincidence
I had an interesting experience with Fido yesterday. Fido is our cell phone provider, and we've been with them for just over three years, since we first bought our iPhones. Over those years, I've had to make numerous calls to their customer support line, mainly to sort out billing issues as well as to do things like add features to our account and so on. There have been a number of times where I've had to call back at a later date because something that I had called about had been mishandled on their end.

However, like the situation yesterday, it has always eventually been resolved to our satisfaction.

I bought a new phone yesterday with a new number, and in the process of setting it up, discovered that I had somehow been put on another 3-year contract in November when I had changed my plan (my contract had expired so I was month-to-month). I spoke to a manager (Kristin) who was very quick to sort things out and get me up and running. I wasn't looking forward to the fight, and thankfully she didn't give me one. She was calm, pleasant, and very efficient.

Unfortunately, the fact that my earlier call back in November had resulted in this fiasco is a strike against their customer service. That kind of thing has happened a few times, some really good customer service coming out of some really bad earlier service. Because the good and the bad balance out, I would have to give Fido a "fair" rating on their customer service.

It appears I'm not alone, and not just regarding Fido, but customer service in general.

According to Time (h/t: Instapundit), supposedly people around the world feel that customer service is getting better overall. It's not great, but maybe (as Glenn Reynolds says) it had just hit rock bottom.

Brad Tuttle at Time quotes an Accenture study that says:
"In mature markets, switching due to poor service is also on the decline, dropping from 60 percent to 49 percent (the first time below 50 percent) during the same period. Furthermore, in conjunction with this global decline in switching due to poor service, consumers are generally somewhat more satisfied with many aspects of customer service this year, with three general service satisfaction characteristics measured increasing by at least 5 percentage points from last year."
Yet Tuttle notes that people are increasingly willing to switch providers for things like cell phones, Internet, and the like.

My experiences go along with what Tuttle gives as a possible explanation for this seeming contradiction:
"If bad customer service is less of a problem, why are more people switching providers? Well, the absence of good customer service may have something to do with it. In the survey, 85% of consumers who had switched providers said that the company could have retained their business by doing something differently—resolving the problem during the first contact (rather than requiring multiple phone calls and follow-ups), for instance, or giving them some kind of reward or special treatment as thanks for being a loyal customer."
That seems to be the case, at least from what I've seen. The bad stuff has lessened, but the good stuff hasn't moved in to take its place. In Fido's case, it's also a problem that every good experience has been in the clean-up of a bad situation that was also caused by poor customer service. I suppose it could be worse. We left Telus and will never go back to them because they had horrible customer service in our experience with very few positive outcomes.

Customers are more willing to move on because they don't feel any loyalty from the company itself. It's like what we often say about sports and how players used to be on the same team for their entire careers. Now, it's not uncommon for superstars to play for multiple teams. The teams don't show loyalty to the players and the players don't show loyalty to the teams or the fans.

Companies are doing much the same thing, and it's often about money but it's not always. Good companies with good customer service work to keep their customers happy. They realize that, if you've been with them for ten years, you may deserve a little something as a reward, even if it's just not fighting them when some asinine policy rears its ugly head and confronts the customer. I have to admit that Fido has done that before, and I've always appreciated it.

But look at what happened yesterday (and it's not just Fido, they all do this). I had to buy a phone and get a new phone number in order to save almost $150. That's because new sign-ups had a really low price to buy the phone, while renewals were much higher (not as high as just buying the phone without extending your contract, but still much higher than the new customer price).

How is that showing any customer loyalty? I could have gone to any other provider since I was month-to-month. In fact, they even offered it to me. I decided to stick with Fido for a number of reasons. So because I want to stay with you as a company, I get penalized?

Or as Tuttle says:
"Consumers are likely to feel no loyalty whatsoever to their providers nowadays because, in a way, loyalty is punished. What with special introductory rates and promotions aimed at attracting new customers, the structure of many provider business models results in longstanding customers paying far more than the folks who just started doing business with the company. The reward for being a blindly loyal customer, then, is the insult of higher and higher monthly bills."
That's it exactly.

So good customer service isn't enough any more. But it can certainly help keep some loyalty. It is another addition to the "plus" column when you're weighing the pluses and minuses of switching providers, and makes the decision to switch a bit harder. If they've taken care of you, it's sometimes not a good thing to move on into the unknown.

Do you have any good or bad customer service experiences to relate? Or do you work in a call center dealing with the customers? I'd love to hear your story.


  1. I work in retail.
    Been doing it for 40 years.
    I'm face to face with my customers every day.
    What really hurts is when someone you've developed a friendship with starts to shop somewhere else, just when you thought they were the ones that would be loyal.

    1. Yeah, that can definitely be tough. I only worked in retail for 6 years (and it's been a while), but I do remember trying to maintain that loyalty by giving as good of service as I could.

      In this day and age, I guess there should be a distinction made between "retail" customer service (or at least face to face service) versus call center customer service.

      The problems (and good things too) can be vastly different between the two, I would think.


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