When people talk about “marketing,” they are usually referring to finding, engaging, and converting prospects. Unfortunately, when it comes to actual customers, many companies display the same cavalier behavior as your typical playboy. Instead of cultivating meaningful, long-term relationships, these conquest-based companies put notches in the headboard and then – hardly pausing to say “thank you” – head back out to revel in the thrill of the chase.

So not cool.

The Marrying Kind
I know AT&T is not known for their service. I have personally had to bite my tongue to avoid cursing in front of my Kindergartner as my beloved iPhone dropped yet another call because of AT&T’s swiss cheese coverage. The thing is, when I was in need, AT&T was there for me.

I was in the middle of a less-than-amicable divorce and had just moved myself and my daughter to new digs. Having no landline, but lots of phone calls to make, I racked up a $2700 cell phone bill in 30 days. Ouch. Here’s where the romance starts – I called AT&T and they actually helped me with my problem. Not only did they offer me a payment plan, they ate more than half of the charges.

The One-Night Stand
While paying a recent internet/landline/cable bill, I noticed it seemed a bit high. After clicking a few levels deeper into my online statement pages, I discovered a $30 charge for a movie package I’d never ordered. After a phone call to customer “service,” I learned that those charges had been on my bill for a year. A YEAR. That’s $360 worth of premium channels that I didn’t even know I had. Shame on me for not going over my bill with a fine tooth comb, but the bottom line was that I’d been billed for services I’d never ordered.

I didn’t waste time discussing the issue with Verizon’s first line of defense: Mr. That’s-Out-Of-My-Jurisdiction. Instead, I asked to speak to his manager. After a twenty-minute wait, Mr. That’s-Out-Of-My-Jurisdiction suggested that he have the manager call me back. Brilliant. So, Ms. That’s-Our-Policy calls me back a few hours later (on the wrong phone number, incidentally) and proceeds to accuse me of stealing these services. She holds that they would never have activated them if I hadn’t asked for them. She then says that she could refund my money if these services hadn’t been “regularly accessed” during the year they’d been active. Interestingly, she cannot come up with any documentation for either my order or my presumed “access.”

In the end, Ms. That’s-Our-Policy’s manager, Ms. Good Cop, called me back and we were able to resolve the issue. Verizon comped me half of the total charges, which I felt was fair. Ms. Good Cop apologized for the treatment I’d received at the hands of Ms. That’s-Our-Policy and thanked me for being a customer. Yadda-yadda-yadda.

What AT&T Did Right

  • They didn’t look at my situation as an ad hoc event. They looked at it in the context of our long-term relationship.
  • By doing this, they acknowledged my value to them as a customer.
  • They didn’t rely on “company policy” to save themselves a few bucks. Instead, they listened and treated me like a real person with a real problem.
  • They didn’t make me grovel in front of a dozen people in order to find a solution. In fact, they didn’t make me grovel at all.
  • They handled things in a timely and courteous manner.
  • They surprised me – in a good way! – with excellent service and customer care.

What do they get for all this?

  • A loyal customer who doesn’t even consider switching carriers
  • A brand evangelist who tells this amazing story over and over to anyone who will listen
  • A “free pass” – should they screw up something down the road, they’ve got some extra wiggle room with me because of the good will between us.

What Verizon Did Wrong

  • They handled my situation as an isolated case – focused only on the immediate sales loss, ignoring the potential value of our larger relationship.
  • They subjected me to what must be one of the world’s worst automated attendants. (I cringe every time I have to call that blasted machine!)
  • They made me chase down the people who could address my issue.
  • They made me do battle with three lines of defense as I fought my way up the chain of command to someone who could actually help me.
  • They used “company policy” as a scape goat for their inability to provide actual customer service.
  • They failed to provide appropriate training for their customer service managers – leaving me to get into an argument with the person who was supposed to be providing service.
  • In addition, their online billing system doesn’t seem able to accommodate the real-world adjustments that have been made, so now my online statement says that my payments are overdue. I’m going to have to make yet another phone call.


What do they get for all this?

  • A reluctant customer who is already shopping for another solution
  • A loud-mouth blogger who is willing and able to share her horror story with anyone who wants to read it
  • A trip out onto thin ice because I’ll be watching them like a hawk now – looking at them as an adversary instead of a partner

The Moral of the Story
When you’re thinking about your company’s Customer Service policies, try not to think like the playboy. Try to think like the marrying kind. Remember that every relationship is built on respect, trust, and a certain amount of give and take. Instead of seeing notches in the headboard, look at your customers as friends and family, as people you want to serve and support. It’s not always about the immediate sale – sometimes it’s about romance. Sometimes, it’s about showing your customer how much you care through actions instead of spouting empty promises.

If you behave like a playboy, you are making it easy for your customers to walk out on you the first chance they get. But, if you still respect your customers in the morning, if you keep building that trust and respect; they’ll stick with you even if you screw up once in a while.