Saturday, March 8, 2008

Verizon’s attempt at customer retention

I recently switched my phone service from Verizon to Comcast. It wasn’t because I felt one company was better than the other. I’ve had problems with both in the past. It was because Comcast called me on a day that I happed to have the time to listen to their sales pitch. They got my attention by telling me that they were reviewing my account and discovered that I wasn’t getting as much value from their services as I should be. The solution was simple – switch my phone service to Comcast and I would pay no more than I was currently paying for my cable and Internet service alone. Plus I’d get a $100 Amex gift card (which two weeks later I still haven’t received) and HBO and Showtime at no additional cost. And my rates were guaranteed for two years.

A few days later I received a UPS Next Day Air letter. I wasn’t expecting anything important, but I opened it anyway. To my surprise and annoyance (mainly annoyance) it was a letter from Verizon telling me if I leave now I’ll miss out of great new savings. To give them credit their bundle package pricing is better than Comcast, but their form letter was completely inapplicable to me. If they had bothered to look at my zip code before they sent the letter they would have realized that one of the services they were trying to sell me, DiretTV, isn’t available in my neighborhood. They should have also anticipated that I’d need a little more education on why DSL might be better than the cable modem I was used to, or, if DirectTV was available in my neighborhood, why moving to a satellite dish would be preferable to cable.

That was the beauty in Comcast’s method. The phone call gave me immediate access to a person that could answer the questions I had about switching my phone line. They also didn’t pressure me with urgency. I told the person I was speaking with that I’d have to think about the offer and the sales rep gave me her direct line and told me to take all the time I needed, the offer would be open when and if I wanted it.

Verizon’s attempt at customer retention didn’t make me feel as though they valued my business. They assumed that my only concern was cost. And even with that, they offered me a deal that wasn’t available due to service limitations in my area. Perhaps if they had taken the time in the past to occasionally ask me if I was pleased with my service, or tell me real ways I could save money, or even educate me on why they’re the better service provider I would have stayed. But now they’ve lost my business and made me feel like I was just a number in the first place. In contrast, Comcast took advantage of the existing relationship they had with me, called me with a valuable offer, listened to my concerns and didn’t pressure me into making a quick decision.

The example serves as a reminder that customer retention programs need to be personal if they’re to be believable. And if your customers don’t believe your retention efforts are genuine you risk damaging the relationship (and trust) for years to come.

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