Sunday, March 24, 2013
I sure can't help you
My wife's smartphone was stolen last week. Suspending the number on that stolen phone so no one else could use it was simple enough.
But since she uses the phone as her primary work phone, it was important for her to get another phone set up with the same number as soon as possible. A quick call and a long wait on hold with our cellphone service provider got us to a service representative who wanted to help us. We told him the situation and asked how much it would cost to buy a replacement phone.
"$649," he said.
We pointed out that we were three weeks away from being eligible for an every two-year upgrade at a discounted price. He pointed out that the same phone would cost $199 in three weeks.
Pointing out to him that the only reason a new phone was needed was because the old one had been stolen resulted in a lecture about how they could not make exceptions because their contract with the phone's manufacturer could be canceled if they did.
We hung up and hunted around to see if we had an old phone lying around the house that my wife could have her cell phone number transferred to for three weeks while we waited. Having successfully found a very old phone, we called our cellphone service provider back to ask about the temporary switch. My wife would have to wait the three weeks to be able to have her contacts switched over since it was a very old nonsmart phone. But saving the $450 seemed worth the three-week wait.
When a different service representative answered, we told her what we wanted to do.
"Why do you want to do that?" she asked.
We explained that even though the phone had been stolen, that we have been customers for years, and that we were willing to sign on for another two years and three weeks if need be, we were told we had to wait until we were eligible for an upgrade and didn't want to spend an extra $450.
"We can do better than that," she said. And then she proceeded to move up my wife's eligibility date so we could qualify for the lower price.
No talk of concern about the phone manufacturer canceling the relationship. No questioning of any sort. She heard what had happened and responded by trying to provide service to a customer in need. She even texted us to make sure the phone had arrived and was working.
So who did the right thing? The first representative who claimed nothing could be done? Or the second who worked to find a solution?
Customers should not have to resort to asking to speak to a manager when a service representative refuses to try to solve an issue. And it shouldn't take repeated calls to different service representatives to hope one among them might be amenable to resolving an issue.
It falls on companies -- cellphone companies, banks, credit card companies, cable television companies -- to empower their employees to do what's right by the customer as long as it doesn't cheat the company. That's both the right thing to do and a good business decision if companies don't want their customers to take their business elsewhere.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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(c) 2013 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.