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A Letter From One of Your Exes

  |  June 9, 2003   |  Comments

Breaking up is hard to do. A 'Dear John' letter from a once-loyal customer.

John D. Zeglis
Chairman and CEO
AT&T Wireless

Dear John,

My wife, Julie, and I used to be really good AT&T Wireless customers. We used to spend $4,000 - 5,000 with your company every year. That is no longer the case. Because, as you're aware, losing good, profitable, loyal customers such as my wife and myself is never good for business, I want to share my story.

Toward the end of last year, my phone suddenly stopped working in some parts of the country. I first noticed it in Chicago, at the airport. I got off the plane, and the AT&T identifier appeared on my phone display. When I tried to make a call, however, I got an immediate busy signal. Didn't think much of it, and, as I was on a stopover, I soon forgot.

Then in Phoenix the same thing happened. Again, I was in a hurry and assumed the network must be busy. I traveled to Seattle, New York, and Los Angeles and just like in my hometown, San Francisco, everything worked fine. Next, I was in Washington, D.C., and the phone didn't work. Finally, when I arrived in Atlanta for several days of meetings and discovered I'm getting busy signals again, I called your customer support number from my hotel.

Two hours and many customer service representatives later (and very late for my dinner meeting) we established the following: My handset, a nice little Nokia phone, was no longer compatible with certain parts of your network. Furthermore, my handset was also no longer under warranty. Supposedly, the warranty was extended due to the incompatibility problem. But I was never notified.

I told the helpful customer service person I would like a new phone. She informed me she cannot help me with this, but she can transfer me to someone who can. At this point (two hours and 10 minutes into the call), I was getting worried my colleague would attempt to physically remove me from the room to at least make an appearance at our scheduled business dinner. I pleaded with him to wait (I thought I was making progress). Another 10 minutes. The next customer service person picked up. I explained the urgency of my situation and asked her if she can please call me back on my colleague's (AT&T Wireless) mobile phone so we can leave my hotel room. She called me back. We walk into the elevator in the hotel and lose our connection. That's the last I hear from her.

I gave up.

Several days later, I called your support line again. Although they have a transcript of my previous dealings, they didn't seem to know an engineer actually found my phone on your network in Atlanta and determined yes, indeed, this phone was not compatible. We got through that, and I made my request: I would like a new phone, one that works in accordance with my AT&T Digital One Rate plan.

After much back and forth (and escalation up the support hierarchy), I was told AT&T simply will not give me a replacement phone. It is your policy I could either pay somewhere north of $200 for a new phone or commit to a new, 12-month service contract and receive a free phone that works. I said this was unacceptable because I don't want a new phone, I have to get a new phone due to changes in AT&T's network. A new phone would be a hassle. I would have to program in all my 100-plus phone numbers. "Well, just commit for 12 more months, and we would be happy to ship you a 'free' phone," I was told. "But why should I have to commit for 12 months? I've been a customer for years and don't want to make that commitment."

This was going nowhere.

I spoke with more customer service people. I spoke with your "conflict resolution" people. I was told it was a Nokia problem because its phone had a manufacturing defect. I was given its toll-free number. Nokia told me I bought my phone from AT&T, so I'd have to resolve this with you.

I was told since I was originally with CellularOne (acquired by AT&T), it was not AT&T's responsibility to address my concern. I was also told someone in one of your retail stores might be able to help, so I trekked across town on a Saturday and spoke with the manager. She put me on the phone with someone in "conflict resolution"!

Most of the people I spoke with were friendly. Some even went the extra mile to try to help, recognizing I was a good customer and they "saw my point." Yet none had the authority to make the call to simply get me a replacement phone that worked.

Finally, I told the person I was speaking with either he issued me a new phone or I would terminate my service with AT&T Wireless. He would not comp me a new phone. So I terminated my service.

Perhaps your analysis tells you giving a new, $200 phone to a long-term, valuable customer with a net present value of tens of thousands of dollars is bad for business. In that case, I can understand why you wouldn't want to keep me. But I find that hard to believe. It flies in the face of all current thinking about the value of retaining your best customers.

I figure I spent 8 to 10 hours on the phone with your customer service representatives. I wasted a bunch of my time and lots of yours. This was an expensive ordeal all around. More important, our household won't be paying you $4,000 this year, nor the next, all because of a silly little $200 phone that stopped working.

Do you want to know how much it cost me to switch to my new provider? Almost $500. It wasn't about the money. It was about the principle. I would have stayed with AT&T Wireless if you had just given me a replacement phone that worked. All it would have taken was a service representative, in the first hour, to have identified me as a valuable customer, saying, "Mr. BrØndmo, this isn't our normal policy, but since you are such a long-term, loyal customer we would be happy to ship you a new phone overnight, free of charge. Would you like that shipped to your hotel in Atlanta or your home in San Francisco?" I was loyal then and would have been even more loyal afterwards. Think of all the money you would have saved.

Think of all the money you could be making.


A good ex-customer

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Hans-Peter Brøndmo

Hans Peter BrØndmo has spent his career at the intersection of technological innovation and consumer empowerment. He is a successful serial entrepreneur and a recognized thought leader. His latest company, Plum, is a consumer service with big plans to make the Web easier to use. In 1996, he founded pioneering e-mail marketing company Post Communications. His recent book, "The Engaged Customer," is a national bestseller and widely recognized as the bible of e-mail relationship marketing. As a sought-after keynote speaker, he has addressed more than 50 conferences in the past three years, is often featured in national media, and has been invited to testify at two U.S. Senate hearings and an FCC hearing on Internet privacy and spam. Hans Peter is on the board of the online privacy certification and seal program of TRUSTe and several companies. He performed his undergraduate and graduate studies at MIT.

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