Tag Archives: customer care


Sorry about the length of today’s screed, but the tale is a doozy and requires some explaining. I’ve been a customer of XM radio (now SiriusXM) since 2005. I love the clear sound and diversity of channels, and the fact that several of my favorite artists have dedicated channels keeps me paying those subscription fees without remorse. I’ve also found that on the few occasions I’ve needed something from customer service they’ve been helpful and efficient. That changed yesterday and it can serve as a lesson for any business.

I dropped an old XM radio a couple of weeks ago and it refused to turn on. I reached out to Sirius customer service and they offered me a new radio at a very attractive price. Unbeknownst to me, they also attached a new subscription to the radio, even though I already had a subscription (which I had just renewed) attached to the now deceased radio. In other words, 3 subscriptions and 2 radios.

I reached out to Sirius yesterday to cancel one of the radio subscriptions. The experience was like finding out that your kindly old aunt is really an ax murderer who flies into a killing rage at the mention of a secret word. In Sirius’ case, the word was CANCEL. The lovely customer service agent understood why I wanted to cancel and transferred me to what I guess is the department assigned to customer retention. I explained the situation – 3 subs, 2 radios – and was immediately offered a third radio. I politely declined – I only have 1 car and 1 house and there are radios in each. I was then told there would be a $50 early termination fee. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well and I reminded this agent (less politely, I’ll admit) that I didn’t create this problem: the agent who added a new subscription to the new radio rather than just transferring the old one over did (you don’t suppose they’re paid commissions on new subscription sales, do you?).

I was transferred to a manager.  After she began reading me a script (“when you first got the service, what did you like about it?”), I interrupted her and said she needn’t go through a retention script because I was not dropping the service – I just wanted to drop an unnecessary subscription.  After then having basically the same chat I’d had with the other agent, I was transferred to the department supervisor.  By now I’d been on the phone with them for well over 30 minutes and I was beginning to get angry.  The same chat ensues except it ends with I can send you a new radio and then we can cancel without a termination fee.  WTF?  I reminded her that her actions would cost her company money (the cost of the radio, shipping, etc.) as well as cost me the time it would take to call them back after I get the new radio to cancel.  I will spare you several other details, but the situation was resolved when I realized that they were trying to cancel the “new” subscription and not the subscription assigned do the broken radio, even though I had read them the ID of the radio I was trying to cancel.  Once I was very specific – cancel the subscription assigned to radio XXXX, we were done in about a minute.  Total time on phone: 53 minutes.

In no particular order:

  • Service” implies helping the customer reach his or her goal for the interaction.  In this case, Sirius threw up barrier after barrier.
  • At no point did any of the 5 people with whom I spoke offer to apply the money from the third subscription to extend the others.  Big missed opportunity.
  • I realize that the cost of a radio is tiny compared to the lifetime value of a subscriber, but Sirius was not losing a subscriber and was sending the radio fully knowing that the subscription would be canceled anyway.  What COULD cost them a subscriber was the ill will generated by obfuscation and delay not to mention the time it took when I should have been working.

I also realize that nearly every subscription business – cable, magazines, etc. – employs the same tactics so I’m using Sirius as an example.  I really was considering canceling all my subscriptions at one point – streaming music in the car is pretty easy these days – but that seemed self-defeating.  Still, none of us can afford to alienate our best customers, let alone the marginal ones, can we?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

Socially Devoted To You

The folks at Socialbakers do a quarterly study on how well companies respond to consumers via social media.  Here is how they put it:

Socially Devoted brands understand the shifting paradigm of customer care. They know that the most responsive and dynamic audiences are on social and those people want responses to their questions and issues.

If your brand responds to at least 65% of audience questions on Facebook and/or Twitter, you qualify as Socially Devoted. The benefits of Social Devotion are clear – Socially Devoted brands get 3.5 times more Interactions than their less-responsive counterparts.

Needless to say, some brands are really good at this but many are not.  Sadly, US companies ranked near last globally in responding to customer inquiries on social.  What I found surprising was that it wasn’t the business sectors or brands – airlines and telecommunications to name names – that were at the bottom of the responsiveness heap.  Actually, they ranked near the top.  Instead, e-commerce – the last sector one would think would ignore the social space – was down towards the bottom.

What do they mean when they say the US ranked near last?

The US ranked 33rd out of the 37 countries, with US brands responding to only 18% of customer questions. Compare this to the average global Question Response Rate (QRR) of 30%…Of course, some US brands are providing great customer care on Twitter. A couple of examples are T-Mobile, whose @TMobileHelp handle received nearly 11,000 questions and responded to 75% of them, and Nike’s local branches (@NikeSF, @NikeBoston, @NikeSeattle, etc.), which maintained QRRs anywhere between 76% and 84%. But many major companies, like Domino’s Pizza (@Dominos) and Walmart (@Walmart), had low QRRs on Twitter: only 13%, and 18% respectively.

The US ranked 23rd out of the 24 countries — beating only India in our rankings. US brands had a response rate of 59%, compared to the average of 74% for all brands globally. US brands on Facebook with poor customer care included Nationwide Insurance, Wendy’s, and Samsung Mobile USA with response rates of 7%, 20%, and 18% respectively. Brands on Facebook with great customer care included many telecom companies — like Sprint with a QRR of 84% , T-Mobile (87%), AT&T (68%), and Verizon Wireless (72%).

You can see if your company has been included in their rankings here.  It might be easy to blame the poor response rate on short staff but clearly when one company can handle 8,000+ questions in 90 days (meaning they answer 91 out of 122 questions every day), it’s not an impossible task.  So why isn’t every company doing that?  My guess is that it’s a matter of priorities and customer-centric thinking.  Maybe it’s also that they still see social channels as megaphones and not telephones.  What’s yours?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Too Big To Care

More bad publicity for the folks at United Airlines over the weekend.  This time, a mechanical issue in-flight resulted in a plane full of passengers having to spend the night in a military barracks.  Obviously there was no issue with the need to land the plane – who wants to be 6 miles up with a mechanical issue?  But what happened next is yet another black eye on United’s record of customer care.

English: United Airlines Boeing B747-400 at Be...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What company needs this headline:

Hundreds Of United Airlines Customers ‘Abandoned’ In Remote Canadian Barracks Without Heat, Little Food

I won’t reiterate the list of stories that portray United as a company that hates its customers and instead I want us to have a think about a bigger question.  Only four airlines—United, American, Southwest and Delta—now control 85% of domestic air travel due to mergers and acquisitions. I think we’ve all seen higher fares and worse customer service pretty much across the board. According to the Department of Transportation, airline-related complaints increased by 26% in 2014.  This same sort of routine – a business sector becoming more consolidated and customer service declining while prices rise – has played out elsewhere.  Banking, cable TV and broadband providers and insurance are just a few areas where we’ve all seen this play out.

My thinking is this.  Companies become too focused on improving systems without focusing on how those improvements affect customers.  United, for example, may focus on improving financial performance by increasing baggage and other fees while angering their customers.  Maybe their attitude is “If everyone does it, what choice will the customers have anyway?” and that has, for the most part, been true.  What’s also true, however, that the many of the quality metrics – are declining along with their costs.

Smart companies improve the bottom line but not at the customers’ expense.  They maintain the small company mentality even as they become quite large.  Customer satisfaction is always a front and center metric, and product improvements are made to benefit the customer, not always the bottom line.

All of which makes me wonder if “economies of scale” generated through dynamic growth can actually not mean “too big to care”.  Do you have any thinking on that?

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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud