When you’ve been a customer for more than 20 years, you can sometimes get into the comfortable habit of assuming that the vendor always has your best interests at heart. Which is obviously a dangerous idea - but not nearly so dangerous as a vendor who takes their customer for granted, or who refuses to trust that their grievance is genuine.
And that’s exactly where I found myself with Vo-duh!-fone today. More fool me, but even more fool them. More than a month ago, I phoned Vo-duh!-fone to change my contract: it was more than 24 months old, they had already amortised the cost of my iPhone, and it seemed reasonable that they should reduce my monthly fees.
A good deal - or so it seemed
It seemed reasonable to them at the time. Despite dropping my call a couple of times along the way (in retrospect, this should have been a warning sign) I sat patiently though the recorded announcement that my call was being recorded “for training purposes”, and got through to their upgrades team, who offered me a sweetheart deal.
It reduced my costs, increased my minutes and - this was critical to my decision to stay with them - their upgrades specialist confirmed that the contract included tethering at no extra cost. This was important to me, because I wanted to use my data allowance to connect my iPad through the iPhone. I was reassured that “all our new contracts do this”. I was told that my contract was being updated that day.
Stuck in the past
Yee-hah! Or so I thought. Until I got my latest Vo-duh!-fone bill. I was still on the old contract. But worse, because I had been using tethering since the call, I was faced with a large incremental bill for data. No problem, I assumed: they have recorded the call, and they will honour the deal I struck with their upgrade specialist. Their call logs will prove my case.
No such luck. I gave Vodafone details of the deal and the day of my original call. They denied that my call had ever been made, and told me that the deal I had carefully noted did not exist in their repertoire, despite my assurance that this was exactly what I had been offered.
It gets worse. Their response started off far higher than the deal I had been originally offered. I eventually argued them down to something close (but still higher) than the deal I had agreed. But despite my protestations, and despite that fact that I was a 20-year customer, they refused to backdate the inferior deal. And they claimed that none of their contracts included tethering as standard.
Now, maybe I’ve been stupid in not comparing rates with the other carriers every time I upgraded my contract, but I had come to trust Vo-duh!-fone. Not any more. I called around and spoke to O2. I found that they offered a much better deal. More minutes, and I could use my data allowance for tethering. They even discounted the first three months by more than it would have cost Vo-duh!-fone to backdate the agreement.
Severing the relationship
You can guess what happened next. My relationship with Vo-duh!-fone - a relationship that I imagine has been consistently profitable for them for 20 years - has come to an end. And they could have preserved the relationship (at my cost, because I would have continued to pay them more than I am now paying O2) by the simple expedient of trusting their customer and honouring their commitment.
One rogue sales person (let’s give Vo-duh!-fone the benefit of the doubt) has ruined the relationship. And one otherwise charming Vo-duh!-fone account manager, because they were not empowered to deal with the problem, has permanently lost them a customer.
Now, this is not a diatribe against Vo-duh!-fone (although, Heaven knows, they deserve one). It’s more of a learning opportunity for all of us.
Never take each other for granted
As customers, we owe it to ourselves to keep our suppliers honest by regularly re-checking to ensure that they are offering us a fair deal. But the more important lesson is for us as vendors: it is in our best interests to ensure that our customers get a good deal. But it is also incumbent on us, when we do come across a problem with a long-standing customer, to trust their account of the situation and do whatever we can to put the situation right.
Oh, and if we insist on boring our customers with tedious remarks about calls being recorded when they call into us with the objective of speaking sometime soon to a real human being, we could at least ensure that we have a system to retrieve the recording when the conversation is called into question.
Duh! What would Homer Simpson have thought? More to the point, what do your customers think of the experience they get from calling your company, or from raising a genuine issue? I hope you’re doing better. I’m sure you do. But how can you be sure?