Like probably everyone who owns a cell phone, I have a love-hate relationship with my provider. On one hand, Fido‘s service is pretty reliable. On the other, their customer service is spotty at best — ranging anywhere from dismissive to apathetic. (I want to like them, really. I’ve been a customer since they day they opened their doors and even sat on their advisory board for their first few years of operation.)

For the last couple of years, their Name Display service (where the names of inbound callers appeared on my iPhone screen) has just never really worked. Maybe for 2 callers out of 100 I’ll get the name. In most cases, it’s just the number. And yet, Fido’s been charging me for this very Name Display service for as long. Is this a big deal? Nope. It’s only $2 a month. But here’s the problem — trying to get Fido to do anything to take this little charge off (after all, the service doesn’t work!) has been like pulling teeth.

Your Customers Shouldn’t Have to Beg You

Far too many companies — and cell phone companies seem to be among the worst — operate on the principle that they’ll only go as far as they’re begged to by customers. And the only way they’ll go above the call of duty is when competition is nipping at their heels. Canada’s cell phone market is controlled by just a few massive companies, and all iPhone users are locked into three-year contracts. So, I’m stuck with Fido until December 5, 2013 (yes, I track the date). In my experience, I get great service in the few months leading up to my contract renewal, but when I’m in the thick of it like now, they’re loathe to do much.

In this particular case, Fido blames Apple. An Apple rep today told me he doesn’t have any report like this with their phone and blames Fido. In the meantime, I’m stuck with a provider who keeps billing me for Name Display when it doesn’t work, and refuses to take it off my bill until it works again.

The Solution Can Be Found in Santa Claus

A couple of days ago, a man visiting a Disney theme park was asked to leave because — ready for this? — he kinda looked like Santa. He had a white beard and was wearing a shirt with a Santa collage. While a few kids asked for his autograph, I can’t imagine he was being disruptive. Despite the fact that Disney doesn’t own the image of Santa (I’d understand if he came dressed head-to-toe as Mickey Mouse), he says he was asked to leave.

How could Disney have turned this into a great opportunity for everyone? Why not thank him for coming, hand him a bucket of free candy canes to give out, maybe even give him a Minnie Mouse escort for an hour just for fun — and gently ask him next time to tone it down just a bit.

The secret to customer service is actually very simple: Surprise your customer with your a proactive response, and delight them with your solution.

Surprise and Delight is the new Shock and Awe in customer service.

Win/Win Isn’t Difficult to Make Happen

My solution for Fido was simple, cheap, and quick:
Just stop charging me for Name Display until the damned thing starts working.

Instead, I’ve been getting tweets and emails quoting replacement policies, excuses, and oddball metaphors. Here was my favourite:

“Hi Tod… A toaster purchased from a retailer cannot be returned 2 years later and an exchange requested. However, as your service provider we can go further than a toaster  retailer could  by offering to offer to send the handset off for repair within the 1 year warranty [Tod’s note: Naturally, this wouldn’t apply to me as the phone is older than a year old.] at no cost to the customer. This is how we stand by the products sold.”

My response:

“If my toaster never cooked toast, I would expect the company who sold it to me to replace it. Wouldn’t you?”

In the same amount of time it took the rep to type that up, they could have simply said “I’m sorry that’s happening. We’ll take $2 off your bill until it starts working. When it does, just let us know and we’ll put the fee back in place.”

By just going that little bit extra and putting some trust in me, I’d have absolutely returned the favour with loyalty — and I’d have called back if it ever started working again.

How to Calculate the “Is It Really Worth It?” Factor

It boggles my mind how few companies (read: customer service reps) fail to do a simple calculation in their head — is $2 a month (or whatever the issue is) worth pissing off a customer and risking losing them at the end of the contract? It is a business, of course, so there are other factors at play, including the two most important, fiscally:

  • How loyal has the customer been to us?
  • How much money do we make from them each month currently?

Sometimes, being in customer service means making difficult decisions — maybe Fido’s right and the issue is indeed’s Apple’s. Is that worth $2 to fight over?

Is your company making the right calculations when a customer calls in with an issue?