People Are Most Important

Posted by Corey Smith on Nov 30, 2023 6:42:00 AM

Pink Princess Phone

When I first graduated from high school, I worked for AT&T. I worked in the leased telephone division. One of my jobs was to convince people that leasing a telephone made sense. I was supposed to help them keep contracts on telephone equipment whether they needed it or not (sound like AOL?).

To set it up a little, when MaBell broke up in 1984, AT&T maintained the leased phone division. So, by the time I was talking to these customers, almost nine years had passed.

Picture the conversation, “Yes, ma’am. That pink princess phone that you sold in a garage sale seven years ago is a leased telephone and you’ve been paying $4.25 per month for it ever since. But don’t worry, there’s good news. I can send you another one, free of charge, as long as you continue to lease.”

It was 1993. Picture that price point for a rotary phone, because that's what it was. The product and service sucked.

My process was first to offer them a refund for a month of service. I could then offer them 90 days or a year. You know that it was a scam of a product purely by the fact that I could offer them a refund dating back to 1984 without a manager's approval. They just had to complain to me enough.

Excellent Customer Service Is a Game?

One of the marketing initiatives being pushed was that we could say 94% of our customers indicated that we had “excellent” customer service. We had a brilliant (sense the sarcasm?) team of consultants that figured if we used the word “excellent” on our calls then, when the surveyors called, they would be more likely to say we had “excellent” customer service.

As a result, I was required to say, “I hope that I provided you ‘excellent’ customer service today.” It was especially frustrating to have to say this when I knew the client wasn’t happy with us and there was nothing I could do. They had been suckered into paying for a product for years that they didn’t use. I had to encourage them to think our customer service was excellent. Basically, we baited the customer.

So, what is the difference between excellent, super, great, or outstanding? Or, what is the difference between excellent, good, or pretty darn acceptable? It all depends on the way the consumer thinks. However, we were able to grow our “excellent” rating to 96%. We were able to achieve that rating just before they closed the division for "failure to meet revenue and profit targets." (Not to mention a big fat lawsuit.)

Our improvement in rating didn’t make a bit of difference when it came down to revenue or chances of success, because the product we offered wasn’t a product that made sense for our clients.

Excellent Customer Service is a Focus on People

I am, without a doubt, a capitalist. To provide the best value to shareholders and customers alike, I believe that it’s critical that the customer is taken care of. I believe that when you care for your customers, your profits will soar. You can read more about that belief in my post titled Profits Over Customer Happiness = A Recipe for Disaster. We will always fail when we try to take advantage of people and don't do what is in their best interest.

The Fall of AT&T's Leased Phones

AT&T’s business model (as explained above) and their downfall as a result is a perfect example of how failing to take care of your customers comes at a price. In 2002, AT&T and Lucent Technologies settled a class-action lawsuit of $350 million that alleged the phone companies overcharged consumers for phone leases. In 2012, there was a very interesting article over at DeseretNews on Seniors Paying Thousands to Lease Home Phones.

After the lawsuit, another company took over the leasing of telephone equipment. If you think that leasing a telephone is right for you and don’t want to buy a simple phone at Walmart for $10, you can lease a rotary wall phone at QLT for $4.45 per month. I wish you the best of luck there.

As of 2019 (Wikipedia), they still had over 100,000 customers. So, sometimes, poor customer service isn’t enough to drive everyone away (but you’d think they could at least afford a decent website).

Customer service is very important to focus on, and even though some people won’t be dissuaded or are gluttons for punishment, too often we don’t realize that it’s only a part of the picture. If you focus on trying to fool people into thinking that your product is great and your service makes up for the failures of who you are and what you do, they’ll catch on and you’ll lose. If you focus on providing them with a real product with real value and truly try to take care of them, then customer satisfaction will have a sustained impact on your company.

Corey Smith

Written by Corey Smith

Corey Smith is the founder of Tribute Media and serves as the Managing Director for Tribute Media. He is also the VP of Web & Creative for Hawke Media.