A Letter to the Management of Companies with Hated Customer Service

A news article headline caught my eye the other day.

“Rogers CEO says customer service needs to improve ‘significantly’”.

Rogers, a Canadian cable, wireless, and media company (Canada’s version of AT&T) – made the bold statement that they need to improve their customer service. The outgoing CEO, Nadir Mohamed, made similar statements when he took the job 4 years prior.

I’m not a Roger’s customer. I’m not even Canadian. But the headline and CEO statements got my blood boiling a bit.

Telecoms are world renown for their soul-crushing customer service. In the U.S., Comcast, Dish, AT&T, & Time Warner frequently make annual lists of the companies with the worst customer service, as rated by the people who should matter most – their customers. Banks like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are not far behind.

Does it have to be this way? I’ve worked with plenty of big businesses that I should also hate by the fact that I must pay them money and they occasionally raise rates on me. My experience with Liberty Mutual, a large insurance company, has every reason to be awful. It’s not. Same goes for American Express. And the regional bank I work with – TCF. I’ve never had a bad customer service experience that left me bitter towards them. Each time I have talked to them on the phone or in person, I feel like they have customer service reps who are empowered to give a damn about customers.

If they can do it, why can’t every company?

customer service complaintSo, I was feeling a bit charitable and wanted to do my part and write this “letter to the management” of the most hated customer-facing companies in America, in the hope that maybe it actually makes it to someone who gives a damn. Maybe it ads a bit of much-needed perspective from leadership who may come across it. You aren’t going to hear this message from short-sighted shareholders, those who report to you, or your board of directors. Hopefully it adds some third-party perspective and gives you an alternative course to pursue. And if you’re a reader – let the management know if you agree or disagree – and heck, feel free to send them an email with a link to this.

Here goes:

To the Management of Comcast, AT&T, Dish, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and All Companies of Similar Customer Service Reputation:

Look, we get it. It can be tough, maybe even stressful to take the long-term view for the company when all that matters to your bonus, your board, and short-term shareholders is short-term performance growth from one quarter to the next. And rewarding customers with high-paid, high class customer service, and… hold on to your cufflinks… loyalty discounts for remaining a customer – probably lead to a negative short-term profit impact.

So, crazy idea here… what if your reputation was built on things other than short-term results – like making or keeping your customers happy, improving your brand or your customer’s brand, and maybe even setting a legacy that lasted longer than a few annual meetings and conference calls? What if you won one for the people?

Whether you realize it or not, the long-term outlook for your company actually depends on you being able to convince others of the importance of this very issue. Do you want to be known as the guy/gal who was there for a few short years, business as usual before fading in to obscurity? Or do you want to be known as THE ONE who changed everything for the betterment of customers, employees, loyal shareholders, and the company’s legacy?

Here’s the thing – when enough customers hate you for long enough periods, they are going to exhaust every possible resource to find alternatives to doing business with you. This is true whether you have legitimate competition or not. If you enjoy a partial government-granted monopoly (i.e. Comcast for cable in just about every geography you serve), they will find a different market sector to move to entirely. By the way, Comcast (special message just for you here) – changing your name to XFinity and creating a funnel to direct unhappy loyal customers to reps whose job is to say “no” is not fooling anyone. Your customer service still sucks. This is not 1990 anymore – we have alternatives, and we are not afraid to use them.

I’m sure you have all kinds of analysts to crunch the numbers – so here’s one that you are encouraged to compute and use as a pillar for change within your company: the lifetime value of a happy customer. Odds are that value is far greater than a customer who signs on for a cheap promotional rate and churns over and over until finally they’ve had enough with your disloyal, scheming ways towards them.

Shame on you for continually raising prices on loyal customers and nickel & diming them with new fees while offering sign-on bonuses and steep discounts to acquire customers with no loyalty.

Shame on you for outsourcing customer service to low-cost foreign workers.

Shame on you for locking customers in by contract when you could have locked them in by virtue of treating them well.

Shame on you for not having customer service policies that reward your representatives for making customers happy.

Shame on you for devoting resources to fight and eliminate market competition instead of focusing on a better offering.

Shame on you for not giving your customers the choice to pay for what they really want, a la carte.

Shame on you for choosing to lead with fear instead of happiness. Recent research shows that happiness leads to productivity and fear does not.

These practices will not produce the marginal short-term gains that pad your bonus at the end of the year when there is no customer base left to draw from. And as consumers only get more and more educated in today’s information economy, and more and more technological disruptive competitors hit the scene, you can damn well bet customers are going to do everything in their power to not only find an alternative, but tell everyone they know and meet about how much better that alternative is than you. Your strategy may have worked prior to the advent of the Internet. It’s doomed now.

You have a choice – do you want to fade away in to the imprisoning walls of your McMansion – left to fight the voices in your head who charge you for doing wrong to others? Or, do you want to go out with a bang and make yourself, your company, and a small slice of this world better for trying?

What’s the worst that can happen? You already have untold millions in the bank, and if you lose your job, you can take a golden parachute and then get some pretty sweet gigs in consulting for companies who do give a damn about their customers, be a consumer lobbyist, and maybe even get a nice book deal. Who knows – you might even make a lasting difference and become celebrated.

I can promise you, your efforts will not go unnoticed.


Everyone who has ever reluctantly given your company money

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