No, I’m not a shill for AT&T. And I’m not even an AT&T customer yet.
So, what am I impressed by?
Quality of customer service.
Customer service representatives who do their job well.
Instead of just assuming that it should happen all the time and complain when it doesn’t, I get really impressed when it happens. Call me weird or naïve. Really, I don’t mind. I’m funny that way.
My wife and I are moving to Austin, TX in a couple of weeks. She’s currently in NoHo, Massachusetts while I’m in Montreal, Qc. Because she doesn’t currently have her “social” for the U.S., I was to order phone and broadband services. We basically don’t need anything else, besides electricity.
Shopped around a bit. Asked some people over there about alternatives. People who are currently with AT&T said they had no problem with it. Someone with MCI is thinking of switching back to AT&T. Some people gave me more specific advice on plans, including measured service.
For one thing, AT&T’s phone plans are very affordable. Hard to beat, even. Measured service is exactly what we need as we’ll be making very few calls. It’s mostly a way to get incoming calls and have a landline for emergencies. I might end up with a cellphone at some point, but not right away.
Broadband isn’t too different. As someone said, broadband is pretty much a commodity so, unless there’s a very specific issue, any provider would do. I’ve been using DSL with Bell for a while and it’s quite decent. AT&T’s DSL plans are, again, very affordable and quite flexible. Better yet, the plans have no term commitment.
So I was pretty much set. I wanted to get a measured line as our primary residential phone line and the “Pro DSL” package (3Mbps).
Started the ordering process online. Entered our new home’s address. Wasn’t in the database. Spelled out the street number instead of using a digit and the address was found. But with the wrong zip code. Not slightly wrong, as from a neighbourhood close by. Completely wrong. Hundreds of miles away. But the city name was right. Didn’t want to risk it so I decided to complete the order with some assistance.
While doing all of this, a floating box appeared on the page to allow me to chat with a CSR. Normally, such a box might be quite annoying. But, in this case, it was exactly what I needed.
So I chatted with a CSR named Rachel. Got straightforward answers to all questions I had. One advantage of doing this kind of thing through chat is that it’s easy to copy and paste. Plus, you don’t get issues with trying to perceive tone or anything. It works.
I still needed to call customer service if I wanted to check the address from the database. Seemed perfectly reasonable. I could have proceeded with an online order but I really wanted to make sure everything was set right.
So I called the toll-free number, using Skype. (My headset is quite comfortable.)
Contrary to the experience most people have on most occasions, the voice-activated system was actually quite good. Very conversational and natural. Did a good job at recognizing everything which would be in a restricted list (numbers, place names, yes/no answers…). The recognition of a free-form answer was trickier but the NLP itself was quite efficient. It’s just that it’s difficult to pinpoint an issue like the one I was having with a few words. What’s more interesting, though, is that the system “failed gracefully.” Not only did it allow me to try another way to phrase my issue but it provided different examples every time. The nice little added touch was that, the first time it failed to understand my query, it asked “Did I get that right?” and when I answered “no” it actually said “My mistake.” Sounds really silly, but little things like that do help.
I got my query right the third time (by broadening it) and, after confirmation that this was what I wanted, I was directed to a CSR. Waiting time was less than a minute.
At this point, I just wanted to get information about the database entry for our address. My expectations were fairly low. But the CSR did exactly what he needed to do. (Didn’t catch his name. Given his accent, I would be very surprised if he weren’t from the U.S.) While I was just calling to make sure the address was right, I ended up ordering the services directly through the CSR. I may have missed on a deal but I really think it was worth it. The CSR was that good.
What did this CSR do so right? Simple things.
- He adopted exactly the right tone with me, neither patronizing nor “salesmanish.”
- He adopted the appropriate “colloquial yet respectful” form of speech.
- He solved the database issue very efficiently.
- He understood exactly what I wanted. Right away, he understood that the phone line I wanted was the most basic one.
- He never tried to upsell me on anything. In fact, he reassured me that I might not need a protection plan for the lines in our new place.
- He was frank about what the complimentary calling card would be. (I’m still getting it and I’m sure I’ll use it in an emergency, despite the ridiculously high rates charged.)
- He explained everything he was doing.
- He never put me on hold.
- He explained every detail of each plan I was ordering.
- He answered questions I didn’t even realize I wanted to ask.
- He did everything his job required him to do.
I fully realize that many an administrator would look at this list and think that this CSR should get reprimanded or even fired. Especially since he was frank with me and never tried to upsell me on anything. But what many an administrator doesn’t seem to understand is that this quality of customer service goes a long way to bring in faithful customers.
I think that one key here is “basic psychology” and the importance of context. This CSR was able to adapt to my “style” right away. His strategy might not have worked with somebody else. But I’m actually convinced that he would have adapted his strategy according to my reactions. The exact opposite of “cookie cutter solutions.” Customized, personalized, tailored service. As if we were doing business in a small store.
Naysayers will say that my experience was positive because I was actually ordering a service. It will surely go downhill from there. That’s quite possible but, if it does, we will just switch our services to some other company. Not having a term commitment is very valuable, in this case. Besides, I will likely not have to do business with them directly very frequently, unless the services stop working. And the prices are low enough that our stakes in the matter are also quite low.
One reason I’m thinking so much about this is that I have done phone surveys about CSRs in the past. In fact, the surveys were about a phone company. When I completed the order and ended my call to customer service, I was thinking about my answers to survey questions (if I ever get asked). What is sad about surveys is that it’s impossible to give anyone any insight as to what, to me, constitutes excellent customer service. Sure, the ethnographer in me has to say this. But I think it goes beyond the differences in research methodology.
I just wish more people were to understand needs of different people.