How not to please the customer

One of the core principles of Quality Management is “please the customer”. It’s such a central (and simple) theme that it has spread to Project Management (“manage expectations”), Marketing (“raising the bar” and many more variations), and Entrepreneurship (“be the best you can be”).

This principle can be expressed in three simple rules:

  1. The customer determines what is quality (price being one characteristic)
  2. The customer demands quality and you need to deliver it
  3. You need to please the customer in all transactions. Before they buy from you. When they are buying from you. And when they are leaving you. The second is the most important because it’s always cheaper to keep a customer than replace them.

It’s so important that there is NO EXCUSE for any company intentionally failing.

I’m experiencing one of those situations now.

Bell Canada is a major conglomerate with fingers in television, film, radio, internet delivery, web services, mobile telephone, television distribution (aka satellite & cable), and of course telephone systems. It’s one of the major companies that developed during the era of the monopoly in communications.

I’ve been a loyal customer of Bell Canada for forty years through at least eight moves. Yup … the big 40. (Now I really feel old). And my parents and their parents were loyal customers for sixty years before that. After all, the first telephone exchange was in our home town. I say “loyal” with a bit of tongue buried deeply in cheek … for much of that time, my parents, grandparents, and I didn’t have much choice. There was only one supplier in our area — and that was ol’ Ma Bell Canada.

But times have changed and unfortunately Bell Canada hasn’t.

Now, dealing with Bell Canada has never been a walk in the park. They’re arrogant, slow to react, and charge through the nose. Typical monopoly players in other words.

Finally, this year, I’d had enough. I decided to eliminate Bell Canada from my life and switch my phone, internet, and television services from Bell. I did try to switch about ten years before. But that was a short jump to Rogers … who are just as bad. Bell Canada called back as soon as they heard, offered me a better deal and I ended up switching to them.

This time was different.

About three years ago, I had hit the wall with my mobile telephone bill and decided to try some of the alternatives including Virgin Mobile (since sold to Bell Canada), Koodo (which is Telus … Bell Canada in Western Canada), and Wind. I was so pleased with Wind that they now have all my accounts except my son’s account with Wind (his choice not mine). I’ve learned that most of the new guys have a different attitude to their customers (they’re not doing me a favour by doing business with me, Wind’s actually going out of its way to win my business).  And their prices and plans aren’t based in a philosophy of “gouge the customer ’till he blows away”. Competition was finally really here.

This year, competition came to television and I realized that I wasn’t locked to any company. So I decided I was switching to a new company with a more reasonable view of how to deal with customers.

That’s when I found out how BAD Bell Canada is at dealing with customers and trying to satisfy them.

I already knew that Bell Canada was weak when it came to pleasing the customer before they buy, and when they were buying. After all, their prices and plans are some of the worst in the industry and I’ve personally been left for 2 weeks without phone or internet without any compensation being offered (and the service personnel literally saying “not my problem, don’t talk to me about it”).

Now I’ve gotten to experience just how BAD Bell Canada is when dealing with a customer who is leaving. Their mistakes were horrendous.

First, they offered to drop the price of my bills with them (by 50%). Now that would have been okay except for three things. One they already knew that the new company had dropped my bills by 65% and had given me more services. Two, they offered to do so for only one year. (The other company’s price was just their regular price so it was good until the next price drop or special price). And three, if they could afford to drop my price by 50% when I’m leaving them, why the HELL didn’t they offer me a cheaper price when I was a “loyal” customer?

Second, when I advised them that I wanted to leave they forced me to call their “Loyalty Department”. This resulted in two phone calls. The first was with an insistant hard-sell individual who kept me on the line arguing to prevent me from leaving. Many of the arguments showed their ignorance of the marketplace and the technologies rather than guiding me to make a different decision. You don’t do that. It just makes you look bad (and stupid because your people are supposed to know more about your market and techs than your customers do). I eventually had to hang up on the person. (I’m Canadian and therefore excessively polite). The second phone call got the same script … I just had lost all sense of propriety at that point and started swearing and refusing to even listen. So I got off the phone faster.

Third, Bell Canada couldn’t even cancel the damn services properly. The phone and the television services were cancelled. (Took a bit of work but I did get it cancelled). I got the boxes and envelopes to ship their equipment back to them. Cool. However, despite three phone calls the internet service is STILL not cancelled. And worse they haven’t shipped my the shipping materials. Oh, and of course, I can’t drop the equipment off (it has to be shipped by Purolator). So I can’t even dump the equipment on their desks in disgust.

Do you get the impression they’ve permanently alienated a customer? (Even I can’t maintain this level of pissed off for ever. However. my willingness to bad mouth them and ability to do so have at least another 30 years to go).

Oh yes, and just make matters worse, I tried to ship the equipment back to them via Purolator. That was another exercise in frustration as I found there was no easy way to arrange to do so. Trying to call them put me on to a circular loop in their computerized phone answering system (idiots), and trying to contact them via the internet left me wondering how to send this crap back without paying for it twice (it’s supposed to be sent COD).  It may not be Bell Canada’s fault but it left me wondering if they specifically chose Purolator because it was hard to deal with.

The end result of this fiasco is that not only will I never deal with Bell Canada or any of their related companies again, I will take any opportunity I get to ruin their reputation for good service (okay so technically, they have to have a good reputation first before I can ruin it. But you get the idea.) But I will also never seek employment with them (meaning their pool of employees just got even smaller with all the negatives that implies). And I will never trust an investment with them. After all, if they can’t get something this fundamental right how can I trust them with the complex decisions associated with making money for shareholders? Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I lost money when I bought their shares in the past.

So what is the point of this rant?

You mean beyond letting off steam? Actually, it is a perfect illustration of how to screw up your relationship with your customers. And what not to do.

As entrepreneurs (and business people) we need to be aware of what effect we are having on our customers. It has to be easy to start dealing with us (are you listening Purolator), it has to be easy to deal with us, and it has to be easy to leave us. It’s then up to us to make sure that the customer never wants to lose us.

On a more specific level, The time to win the customer is when they are in your store NOT when the door is closing behind them. If you have a continuity program, it is critical that you monitor your market. If there is a price drop (which you will reflect in the price for new customers), you need to pass that new price to your existing customers as well. Offering to reduce price if a customer is leaving only serves to tick the customer off. The same thing applies to every element in the quality criteria chain. (It’s just easier to illustrate and understand with price).

Second, it has to be easy to deal with you. That includes joining you, continuing with you, and leaving you. If you make any part of the process difficult then you will end up with former customers who bad mouth you. It isn’t worth it (reputation is a delicate thing and every one of your customers knows at least 200 hundred other potential customers). Its always better to have a former customer sing your praises than blast you as providing poor quality, and being a pain to deal with. Better to lose a happy customer than gain an angry enemy.

Your job as an entrepreneur is to make the whole system easy to use, give potential customers a strong reason to become customers, give your customers a strong reason to remain your customer, and to rely on that loyalty rather than cheap and dirty tricks. Its always cheaper and more profitable in the end.

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