Great customer relations is essential for companies to retain customers. But once in a while, when companies get too big, they forget how essential customer relations are.
My attempt to get a phone for 3 months from a leading telco is a great example of how bad customer service can dent the trust of even the most loyal customer.
This is more than a tale of poor customer service though. It also highlights the importance of investing in backend operations.
3 Months To Get A Phone??!
It is usually easy enough to renew a telco contract, and pick up a new phone. Just walk into a service centre, sign on the dotted line, pay for your phone, and walk out in an hour.
But it took me 3 months to get a new phone from this major telco. Seriously.
When I investigated the issue, I was shocked to learn what really happened…
No, that’s not me. But I look exactly like Ice Cube when I found out what was going on…
Customer Relations Failure #1 : Breaking Promises
They are a popular telco, so it was no surprise that they would have no stock of the phone whenever I drop by their service centre.
Each time though, they will have me register my interest, promising to reserve a unit for me. They also said they would call me when they receive the unit on Monday or Thursday.
Unfortunately, they NEVER called me back. Not even once.
Lesson #1 : Don’t promise customers something, even it’s a simple call back, if you do not intend to fulfil it.
Customer Relations Failure #2 : No Coordination With Other Departments
Eventually, I got fed up and called their customer relations call centre instead. Their customer service specialist immediately saw the absurdity of the situation.
He told me he would have the phone mailed to me instead, and that the delivery service would call me to make arrangements.
FABULOUS! Finally, someone doing something proactive…
But more than a week later, there was no sign of the phone. Not even a call.
When I called customer relations again, I found out that a separate home fibre department put a stop to my phone order, because I allegedly owed them money on an account that was terminated long ago.
As far as I could tell – there was no coordination between the two departments. No one called or emailed the other department or even me to inform me of the situation.
Lesson #2 : If Department B makes a change to Department A’s customer order, it should inform both Department A and the customer!
Customer Relations Failure #3 : Three Backend Failures No One Addressed
With the help of another customer relations officer, we discovered that I did not actually owe them any money.
It was all due to, not one, not two, but THREE backend failures that no one addressed for more than a year!
- In the past, every home fibre customer will be given two accounts – one for the home fibre Internet, and another one for the VOIP phone service.
- In February 2018, they began consolidating them – combining both into one account. However, they failed to do this for my account… and no one noticed.
- They also began charging for printed itemised bills, in an effort to encourage users to sign up for e-billing.
- However, that exercise was apparently not properly executed, leading to my account being charged even though I neither used the VOIP phone, nor received a single printed bill.
- On 14 April 2018, they “terminated” my VOIP account for “non-payment” with an outstanding sum of RM 37.55 ($8.99) for itemised bills that were not actually printed or sent.
- Their system failed to send me any notice to pay for this mistake, and no one noticed for more than a year.
- Someone eventually realised I still owed them money and forwarded this princely sum to the collections department on 15 May 2019.
- As it so happened, that was about the time I requested for the phone to be delivered to my house… which they promptly cancelled without notice.
Lesson #3 : Enterprise IT is not sexy, but it is CRITICAL. We have to wonder if they made so many mistakes because their backend teams are understaffed.
It is human to make mistakes. But it takes a special kind of genius to make THREE mistakes like that, and not notice them for more than a year.
Customer Relations Failure #4 : Taking Too Long To Make A Change
Their customer relations officer assured me that I never actually owed them anything, and that it was a mistake on their part. Which was a relief… which meant I could now get my phone?
However, he also shared a problem with their system – it would take them at least 24 hours to correct the records. Only after that, can they release the hold on my account, so I can have that phone.
Seriously – in this day and age – it takes no less than 24 hours to edit a payment record?
Ultimately, this means that after 3 months and numerous pledges to reserve the phone, and one attempt to mail it to me, I am no closer to getting that phone.
Lesson #4 : Again, enterprise IT is not sexy… but it’s CRITICAL. If it takes your team 24 hours to make a change, your IT systems are easily 20 years out of date!
Customer Relations Failure #5 : Lack Of A Proper System
Even though their customer relations officer reserved the phone with a particular service centre, I found out that the service centre has NO VISIBILITY on reservations.
When I went to pick up my “reserved phone”, the customer service officer there told me there was no system to check for reservations.
Now it makes sense why no one actually reserved a unit for me, even though I kept registering my interest to “reserve the phone”. Not even when their own customer relations officer reserved one for me…
Fortunately for me, and happily for them, they happened to have stock of the phone. So I walked out yesterday with the phone, not because it was reserved, but because they happened to have stock of the phone…
Lesson #5 : If there is no reservation system, pretending to have one is wrong. If there is a reservation system, but your staff does not have visibility of the reservations, that is just plain stupid.
What They Got Right
Despite all these travails, every single customer relations officer I spoke to did one thing right – they were all calm, pleasant, and tried their best to be helpful.
My exasperation in being dragged along for 3 months must be very obvious, but they were never condescending.
Even though I’m really annoyed it took me THREE MONTHS to get a phone from them, I’m glad it did not escalate into an epic screaming match.
Customer Relations Is More Than Just Lip Service
If there’s anything to gain from this article is that I hope they LEARN the lessons from this tale of rampant systemic failures, and fix the problems BEFORE they get worse.
Ordinary customers will NOT care why you guys got things wrong so badly. They just know that you screwed up, period.
So we sincerely hope that this analysis will help ALL telcos improve their systems to avoid such issues.
Because if they persist… it can only mean one thing – the system was DESIGNED to indirectly extend the customer’s expired contract for as long as possible. Now, that would really, REALLY wrong, wouldn’t it?
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