Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hello, My Name is Debbie Barth ... And I Am Current Customer

A few weeks ago, I became aware of just how clueless I was about the policies and procedures of cell phone companies. I was with Sprint for seven years, and then recently changed over to AT&T. It was my practice to get the least expensive phone that had the one quality I needed at the time .... that was to place and to receive calls, which hopefully would not be dropped during conversations. Yes, I am guilty of purchasing "dumb phones". I don't even want to think about the side effects of using "dumb phones."

I changed carriers nine months ago, and of course purchased an inexpensive "dumb phone". However, as it happens with most of us that get up in the morning and vigorously pursue our goals and aspirations, my life/work style changed. It had become increasingly important to upgrade to a "smart phone". And this is the part where I found out how clueless I am ( a side effect of the "dumb phone", maybe? I'm just saying ....)

I called my local company that uses AT&T (I am cool enough to bundle services) to make sure I was able to upgrade. The representative seemed elated that I had stepped out of the "dumb ages" and directed me to a local store. I guess she was so happy for my "awakening" that she misread my contract by one year. ( I found this out later)

I go to the store and talk with a really super sales guy, who gently took my hand and led me through the possibilities of the living in the "smart ages". I began to feel confident that I was ready to embrace my new life as a "smart phone" user. (Yes, it is the smart phone of all smart phones that I am talking about ..... you know ... an apple a day ....)

The sun broke through the clouds, birds started singing, butterflys were hovering over flowers. I am standing there with my debit card in hand, and ready to pay the $199.00 for the upgrade as quoted .... when .... the sales guy says ... "uh oh" .... looks at me with disdain, and says .... "I should have seen this earlier. You are a .....current customer."

A black cloud appears and the room goes silent. He then says ... "the phone will cost YOU $499.00" In an instant my phone went up $300.00. Funny though, because it looked just like the very same phone. He was sympathetic, and did tell me to come back 6 months before my two-year contract ended, and I could get the phone at the price that was originally quoted. Apparently, the quoted price was/is a promotional price quoted to lure new people in, and to bribe existing customers, otherwise unhappy with the service, to stay. I on the other hand, was simply a lowly current customer, who did not meet their requirments, and therefore unworthy.

In all fairness to AT&T and the sales person (who is really a great person and representative), the requirements are placed upon them (according to AT&T) by Apple, and they have no "wiggle room" to accommodate customers who do not fall into the category of the elite few. I also have never had a problem, thus far, with the actual service provided by AT&T. I also know this is a common practice of cell phone carriers, and I mention the above because it deals with my own personal experience.

For Apple, I would suggest this. I signed a two-year contact with the company supplying your smart phone to their customers, and I personally feel obligated to fulfill that contract. I'm a customer for two years, and if the service continues to be good, and I feel that I'm appreciated as a customer, I will renew without having to be bribed. My suggestion would be to replace the requirements in place now with a more flexible contract .... a "lifestyle change" contract ... if you will. This contract revision would allow current customers, without regard of how long they have been a customer, the right to upgrade at the promotion price one time during the current contract. This, in respect for the fact that customers do go through life/workstyle changes, and their customers' requirements change.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems that big companies today are more concerned with the "front-end" and "back-end" of customer procurement and retention. My philosophy of "customer retention 101" is simple .... keep current customer's happy by providing great customer service during the contact, and they will remain a customer and will probably tell others about the great service.

But what do I know ... I'm Debbie Barth .... and I am a current customer.

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