Do you care about your customers? Suzanne from Sky does and that I why I love her!

Background

BSkyB is the dominant pay TV company in the UK and is more commonly known simply as Sky.  Over the recent years Sky has expanded into broadband and fixed line telephony; to use the broadband service you have to get your router from Sky.

Back in December 2009 I signed-up for the triple play (TV, broadband, telephony) with Sky on the basis that this would make my life easier.  After a promising start things went downhill fast and I wrote about that in this post: “How to convert an advocate into a detractor – a personal experience”

By December 2010 I had a much kinder, more understanding, perspective on my Sky experience and I wrote about it in the following post:  “The value of transparency or why I am no longer mad at BSkyB” As a result of this change in attitude, pressure from my children and an attractive retention offer from Sky I decided to continue to be a customer.  And everything was going well until Tuesday 6th April when my broadband router stopped working.

I contact Sky Customer Services and find my competence being questioned

On Tuesday morning I found that I did not have access to the Internet so I went to check the router.  I found that the on/off switch had developed a fault: it only worked if I kept it pushed in with my finger.  So I decided to phone Sky Customer Services to get a replacement router.

Once I found the Customer Service number (no easy task as none of the statements have a contact number on them) and navigated through the IVR, I was greeted by a friendly female voice.  I explained the problem with the existing router and asked for a replacement.

To my surprise the CSA asked if I was sure that the on/off switch was not working.  I found myself feeling offended and replied that I was 40+ years old, knew what I was doing and if I said that the on/off switch was faulty she could take my word for it.  Why did I become offended?  Because it occurred to me that the CSA was questioning my competence.   

Company policy takes precedence over doing right by the customer and cultivating loyalty

Once we agreed that a new router was needed, the CSA told me that it would cost me £28. I questioned why I had to pay this cost given that I could cancel my broadband contract (as the twelve month period had already expired), sign-up as a new customer, pay the same monthly charge, and get the router free of charge.

The CSA’s response was that it was simply Sky policy to make existing customers pay for replacement routers.  And that if I did cancel my contract and signed up as a new customer I would not get the router free of charge.  No matter what I said the CSA did not budge: she simply insisted that it was company policy.  When I asked about the rationale behind the policy, she did not explain.  When I asked her to put me through to the Retentions team she told me that she did not know if one existed. In the end, I agreed to pay the £28 as I felt I had no choice.

Amazon can guarantee next day delivery, Sky can only state that it is likely to take 3 – 5 days

Once I had provided my credit card details, the CSA told me that it would take 3-5 days to get the router to me.  I was astonished:  Amazon can and have got books to me the next day (guaranteed delivery) and Sky can only promise 3 – 5 days! I think I simply said “3-5 days!”.  The CSA responded by telling me that I could track the status of the router via the website.  My response was that I had no interest in tracking the router, I simply needed it delivered asap; allowing me to track the router deflects calls into customer services but it does not help me to get my router on time!

Sky does not keep its first promise which makes me wonder about the second one

I then asked the CSA if it was possible to speak to her manager – not about her but about the Sky policy including the delivery time.  The CSA was helpful. She went to look for her manager, found her to be in a meeting, took down a contact number for me and told me that her manager would ring back between 9:45 and 10:15.  No-one rang back.

How am I feeling at this point?  Truth be told, I am cursing my family for wanting SkyTV and persuading me to continue with Sky; I am cursing myself for my stupidity in continuing to do business with Sky.  And I start thinking about how to bring my dependence on Sky to an end because it is clear to me that Sky does not care about its customers and cannot be counted on to deliver on its promises.  Will Sky deliver the router in the promised 3 – 5 days?

Wednesday 7th April, around 7pm Suzanne from Sky ‘calls into my life’

At around 7pm on Wednesday 7th April I got a call from Sky and found myself speaking with Suzanne.  She asks me how I am and I ask her how she is.  I am pleasantly surprised by her refreshing honesty: she tells me that she is well and will be even better when it is 9pm and she can go home.  Wow, I am speaking to a real human being!  I like her already.

Suzanne then runs through the SkyTV package.  She compliments my choices and asks me what I watch.  I tell her that the SkyTV is mainly for my children and list their favourite shows.  After listening, Suzanne brings the conversation back to me and asks if I watch anything at all.  I tell her and she replies that she likes one of the shows that I like.  I feel comfortable talking with Suzanne – she occurs as genuine and actually interested in me.

Next, Suzanne runs through the services I have and tells me that she can save me £2.50 a month on the broadband if I sign up to another 12 month contract.  I reply that no amount of money would entice me to commit to another 12 months with Sky. I say that whilst SkyTV is great, the rest of Sky particularly the broadband bit is absolutely terrible.  Furthermore, I say that I simply have no confidence in Sky as a brand: I just do not trust Sky to treat me fairly, to look after me as a customer. Then I relay my previous days broadband router replacement experience.

How I fell in love with Suzanne and she changed my mind about Sky

All the while I was talking and sharing my frustration and disappointment, Suzanne listened – she stopped selling and simply listened.  She did not argue with me, try to refute my experience or to change my mind.  She simply said that she understood how I was feeling and could understood why I would not want to do business with Sky.  Then she asked me to hold on for a moment. 

She came back and told me that she was going to refund the £28 I had paid for the router – no strings attached – as a gesture of goodwill. At this point I found myself reluctant to take up her offer as I did not want to ‘owe Sky anything’ – that is how much I loathed Sky!  Yet, I found a moral pressure to grant her request: she had treated me with respect and it was now my turn to reciprocate – so I gave her my credit card details.  Then she surprised me again.

Suzanne asked for my patience explaining that she had asked her manager to do the refund. Why?  Because Suzanne does not do refunds – it is not part of her role and she does not have the authority.  I totally get that Suzanne has gone out of her way to help me!  She did not have to do it, she could simply have wished me well and left it at that when I refused her broadband pitch.  And I am grateful to Suzanne and I tell her that.  I even tell her that she single-handedly (with the help of her understanding manager) has changed my perception and feelings towards Sky.

The lessons

When it comes to delivering a memorable customer experience and cultivating loyalty there is absolutely no substitution for caring for your customers. And caring for customers comes down to employing people like Suzanne (and her manager) and allowing them the leeway to be great – to take the right actions, actions that build gratitude.  Why?  Because gratitude leads to loyalty.

A friendly CSA following the script (as set out in the Quality manual) and adhering company policies is not always enough.  It is necessary to take the customer’s individual circumstances into account. In human affairs fairness and helpfulness are critical needs.  Violate these  rules and you almost guarantee losing the customer.  For example, The first CSA I dealt with did everything by the book and was friendly throughout.  Nonetheless, she left me feeling that she was a prisoner of Sky’s unfriendly customer policies and practices and so she was unable to help me with my problem.

Company policies and practices are some of the biggest obstacles towards delivering memorable customer experiences and cultivating loyalty. Take a good hard look at your policies and practices.  Are they fair?  Do they meet customer needs?  Do they get the balance right between trusting customers and being taken for a ride?  Do they balance the long-term against the short-term focus?  Do they help or hinder your staff from delivering great service and establishing an emotional connection with your customers?

Make sure that your people who interact with customers are in a position to explain each and every single policy that impacts the customer in a way that occurs as reasonable in the customer’s world. For example: why does it take 3 – 5 days to get a broadband router when many companies can do next day delivery?  Or why do Sky customers have to use routers supplied by Sky?  Why can’t I use one of the three routers I have sitting at home?

PS: I have only been able to write and upload this post because I figured out a way of making the existing router work: glue, dice and tape to keep the on/off button pressed in – take a look at the photo below.  Lets hope the replacement router arrives before this solutions gives way!

Why marketing is one of the main drivers of customer dissatisfaction

I find it interesting that on the one hand the CMO is often given the leadership role in improving the customer experience and on the other hand the marketing function is one of the  prime culprits in generating customer dissatisfaction, calls into the call centre and customer churn.

How exactly does the marketing function contribute to customer unhappiness, negative word of mouth and customer churn?  By misleading the customer – sometimes unintentionally but often intentionally.  Lets make this real by sharing some examples:

Recently Vauxhall (GM brand in the UK) has had to change its Lifetime Warranty advert after customer complaints.  Why did some people complain and get the ad changed?  If you read the small print you find that the Lifetime Warranty is not a lifetime warranty in the sense that the normal person understands it.  Specifically, the warranty covers only the first 100,000.  And it applies only to the first owner – the warranty is not transferable to later owners.

How many people will buy a Vauxhall car without reading the small print and then be disappointed?  How many of these customers will then ring the contact centre to complain?  How many will go on to tweet about their negative experience?

My wife shops with La Redoubte regularly so she was pleased when she got a promotional offer through the post.  She proceeded to spend a considerable amount of time and psychic energy in choosing the two garments she wanted.  Then she range the contact centre to place her order.  Only after she had placed her order did she find that she could not get the promotional discount: apparently the promotion did not apply.  Yet the agent could not explain why not – at least not to my wife’s satisfaction.

Result: my wife is no longer an advocate and a loyal shopper that La Redoubte can take for granted.  I will be writing a post about this soon to draw out some insights.

In the UK, the mobile operators are advertising very favourable offers.  When you look at the offers you find that at a price point in the 18 month contract, the customer has to reclaim a certain discount (that is used to advertise low monthly charges) and has to use specific procedure and complete this procedure in a specific time.

The marketing thinking behind this is clear:  you can get customers because the pricing looks attractive and yet the customer’s end up paying more because the redemption process has been designed to make sure that only the most diligent customers will successfully redeem the discount.   How many of these customers will ring the contact centre to complain?  How many are being taught to distrust marketing communications?

Then you have my BSkyB experience that I wrote about back in September 2010.  Where I shared my story of how I was lured in by the slick marketing promising a bundled offer and an easy life only to find a very different reality:  How to turn an advocate into a detractor?

Are these the only companies that are engaged in these practices?  No.  I am not pointing my finger at these ‘bad’ companies – they are no better and no worse than the majority of companies.  Why is that?  Because the practice of misleading customers either through sloppy communication or deliberate manipulation is widespread.  It is even considered good marketing!

The value of transparency or why I am no longer mad at BSkyB

Ok, you have just got a new customers and you want to keep that customer happy: you want to keep her and thus build an annuity stream from her.  Looking at the situation from a service centred (and I would argue normal human perspective) you have three strategies available to you:

  • Do your best to make sure that there is agreement on expectations and that you don’t create problems for your customer;
  • Make it easy for the customer to get hold of you by prominently displaying your customer services number;
  • If and when the customer contacts you then deal with her problem or complaint there and then with empathy.

Where is the leverage in this?  Surely the leverage is in the first of the three strategies: doing your best to ensure you and the customer have the same expectations and that you do not create problems for your customer.

So why is it that so many companies do such a poor job of this?  Let me give you just three examples:

  • I know of one brand name etailer that knows that their shopping process causing big problems for them and their customers and yet continues to do nothing.  When you place an order the website forces you to enter your credit card details leading you to think everything is done, settled.  Yet, this credit card data is only processed later when the ordered items are despatched.  As a result some customer payments do not go through because the card is no longer valid or because the details supplied by the customer were incorrect.  Of course this comes as an unpleasant shock to the customer who was left thinking that their credit card had been accepted  – when she had placed the order.
  • Mobile phone companies continue to sell mobile phones that they know have faults.  They know because they keep a track of which phones are failing and sent back by their customers.  They even know what the main defects are on these phones.  Yet they continue to sell them to new customers knowing that it will lead to trouble down the road!
  • When I joined BSkyB and took out a bundled (pay TV, broadband, fixed telephone line) package with BSkyB to simplify my life I found that it did nothing of the kind.  Whilst BSkyB did a great job of setting up Sky TV I had a horrid time getting the broadband set up.  And when I wanted to get the issue fixed or later cancel the order I found myself bouncing between different customers service teams and different customer services numbers.  In the end I was not able to cancel my order because I found out that I had actually been signed up for three different orders – each with different start dates, different end dates and different conditions!

What if these companies practiced transparency?  What might be the results?

Lets take a look at my BSkyB experience – particularly why it was that I was so mad with BSkyB and am not anymore.  What has made the difference?  Well as a result of research I now know what I did not know before.  Specifically, I have found out that:

  • BSkyB has made up of product divisions, TV belongs in one division, Broadband in another and so forth;
  • The contact centres for Sky TV are outsourced to one company, the contact centres for broadband are outsourced to another company and so forth

From this information I can now make sense of my baffling experience.  No wonder that I had to contact one set of people to get the TV services installed and another set of people to get the broadband set-up.  No wonder the SkyTV contact centres did not have a clue about the order I had placed nor about my broadband issues.  No wonder that the Broadband folks had no idea of my total order and were not able to deal with anything other than broadband stuff. 

Being a human I can empathise with the human beings who were on the end of the phone – in some of the most infuriating interactions I recognise that I was talking to the wrong people because I had a faulty map of the territory!

But why did BSkyB not make this clear to me?  Why did they give me the impression on their website that I could simplify my life by buying the bundle of products from them?  Why did they give me the impression that they would take care of it all and I would have a single point of contact?

If they had told me then it is possible that I might not have signed up and become a customer.  It is also possible that I would have signed up and very clear on what to expect and as such would not have experienced a horrid time dealing with BSkyB.

Yet I cannot help thinking that in a structure where customer acquisition is separated from customer retention, this kind of behaviour is simply what occurs.  So the access to transformation in behaviour is to change the structure: to integrate getting customers and keeping customers under the same person, the budget, the same department.