My house is in a post-war expansion neighborhood, so it’s too old to have cable outlets in the walls. And it’s just a 2-bed/1-bath, so it flips every so many years. As a result, every owner has drilled holes through the floor to re-route the cable lines wherever they feel like putting a TV. During our first winter, I had to chop up a bunch of wine corks and hammer them into the holes in the hardwood to stop the cold air from seeping in.
We’ve been using Charter Communications‘ bundled services for a few years. We switched from BellSouth because of the savings when we got a laptop and needed to add WIFI. We really don’t need a home phone line, but I’m a little nostalgic for my rotary phone. As we added services, the Charter people kept adding splitters and wires behind my entertainment center. Everything worked fine fine until the beginning of this year.
Around January, we noticed that the phone and internet signals were becoming intermittent. As service became less reliable, we became more irritated. We bought a new cordless phone system and that didn’t help. Before I dropped $150 for a new wireless router, I did some research to see if an external factor was causing the problems. Apparently, something had changed with Charter’s signal around the beginning of the year, or so I read. I was ready to walk away from their service entirely out of sheer frustration, but I thought I’d give them one more chance to win my business.
Coincidentally, some friends and I had a conversation about second chances over the weekend. I told them that I don’t really hold grudges. What I meant was that I don’t feel a need to bad-mouth a person, product, restaurant, etc. What’s the point? The truth will out. However, I do make a point to reward excellence whenever I come across it. As a marketing professional, I know how fast bad news can travel, especially in this new, global, “viral” marketplace. I try to go out of my way to praise good products and services with the vehemence that’s usually reserved for dissatisfied customers.
After hearing an earful from the wife, I called and complained to Charter on Monday night. They arranged for a tech to come out the next afternoon between 5:00 and 7:00 pm. You can imagine my mood when the tech didn’t show up until 7:15 pm and I had to abort our dinner plans. After an hour of looking at the spaghetti-style confluence of wires behind my entertainment center, the tech sighed and said, “this is all wrong.” It was pouring rain outside. He gave me the most heart-broken look as he glared out the dark, wet window and lamented, “I’m going to be here all night.”
I told him he was welcome to come back the next morning when the weather had cleared up. I stressed that it was more important to me that the work be done right than to have it done now.
He said he started his shift at 10:00 am the next day. If no one from Charter was at my house by then, I should call his cell phone. When no one had contacted me by 11:30 am the next morning, I called and left him a voicemail. When I still hadn’t heard anything from anyone at Charter by 2:00 pm, I accepted the fact that I would soon have an unsightly satellite dish attached to some part of my house.
At 3:00 pm, I was in the backyard when I heard someone calling my name. I turned and there were a half-dozen Charter employees in my driveway. They were as polite and apologetic as could be. I walked the supervisor through my house and he informed me that they were there to run new wiring from the telephone pole to a new junction box and to each room in my house. My wiring was simply too inefficient and out-of-date to handle the load. Best of all, it was to be done at no cost to me. A little while later, a third truck showed up with even more crew members and they finished the job in record time.
To say I was satisfied is an understatement. The tech from the prior night even returned to my house to make sure I had been taken care of.
Charter seems to understand that core product quality and adept customer service are the keys to success. You can throw all kinds of advertising dollars into our cluttered marketplace and media environment, but it’s no substitute for actual brand value. And it’s the customers who perceive and determine brand value, not the service providers.
I listened to one of The Dale Carnegie Association’s books called The Leader In You on last week’s fateful trip to Tuscaloosa, AL. Dale Carnegie was the original self-help guru. His most famous book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, is still prescient nearly 80 years later. The book included an anecdote about an employee of Cox Communications, a Charter competitor.
According to the book, the employee was visiting a Home Depot store on his vacation. While waiting for some lumber to be cut, he overheard a customer complaining about Cox cable to anyone who would listen. Instead of writing off the man as an unreasonable consumer, the employee explained that he worked for Cox, he talked with the customer to immediately assess the problem, and he had a crew sent directly to his house to fix the problem. Most importantly, someone from Cox followed up with the customer and credited his account for the down-time. This act probably only took the Cox employee a few minutes, but it likely earned the company a lifetime of positive word-of-mouth advertisement from the customer.
That kind of professional commitment, and the customer loyalty it engenders, is priceless.
Charter seems to have taken a similar approach to allaying customer dissatisfaction at any time and in any venue. The night I first complained to Charter about the problem, I also tweeted about my frustration with their phone and internet services. Charter has a team in place called Umatter2Charter that continually monitors social media and engages customers. Their web-based communication with me was very effective insofar as it put a virtual face to the corporation. Their rapid replies got me to focus my negative energy on getting the problem fixed. After the work was finished, I even got a couple of tweets from Charter’s social media crew making sure that everything was working fine.
Whereas the anecdote about Cox shows that their best employees take advantage of chances to improve the customer’s experience, Charter is proactively employing people to seek out dissatisfied customers and to do whatever it takes to convert them to satisfied brand ambassadors.
This is a case study in customer service excellence.
In an age where it’s routine for customers like me get to lost in Automated Response Hell (“para Español, marque el numero dos”), it was a welcome departure to deal with several real, live human beings who seemed to actually care about my situation. As a result, Charter has earned not only my continued business, but also my confidence and trust