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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Backfire!

In a small enterprise, the leader can hand select each employee.  If she is a good judge of character, she will select wisely and the enterprise will prosper.    Being prosperous seems like a good thing, but like most good things, it comes at a price.  The price is loss of control.  Prosperity brings growth.  As any of my readers know, I am aware of the Small Giants phenomenon, but most enterprises choose to grow to whatever degree their prosperity will take them.

As long as the right people are selecting the right people, the only thing that prevents the organization from taking care of customers is lack of empowerment.  This leads me to a story of a complete breakdown of both, brought to you by our friends at DirectTV.

To start with, I’ve been a loyal DirecTV customer for many years.  Since I live out in the boonies, I don’t have much choice in the matter.  When it first started out, DirecTV was rough around the edges.  However, I noticed a significant improvement in performance over the years.  The frontline people seemed to have enough empowerment to satisfy a range of situations.

Behind the scenes, the management of the firm has decided to play a nasty little game with their value conscious clientele.  Here’s how it works:
  1. Customer calls disconnect group and says he’s quiting
  2. Customer service rep asks “will you stay if we give you $10 off?”
  3. “No.” says the customer.
  4. “How about $20/month?"
  5. “Throw in six months of Showtime and Skinimax and you got a deal."
  6. “Done,” says the rep.
Then, six months slip quietly by with only a $2.35/month rate hike.  BAM! The bill jumps up $20 per month.  So,  this process repeats until someone, in this case – me, gets fed up with the game and just wants the price drop “forever.”

Now, you have some grasp of my state of mind when I began my fateful call.  Oh, one more thing:  It seems that DirecTV really appreciated my patronage, because they not only sent me a postcard offering me a free movie, but they also posted the offer on their website.  The postcard apparently had some mysterious instructions on it, but frankly, when I saw the offer online, I threw the postcard out.  The instructions (condense to the essentials) were as follows:
  1. Select a movie from the designated channels
  2. Watch the movie
  3. Your account will automatically be credited
This seemed pretty straightforward to me, so I watched Invictus (pretty good movie).  Now, it just so happens, this all happened in the same month after the last six months had expired.  So, when I found the charge for the movie on the bill with the post-special deal rates bringing the damages to just under $90 (with no Internet service), I was ticked to say the least.

I start out going through the regular drill.  My objective is to bring my bill back down into the low $50’s.  We were just coming up to step #5, “Jane” offers me a different package that will get my rate where I want it.  

“I’m on the site now, tell me where I can see the channels,” I ask.

“It’s not on the site.  It is a special package for [customers who bitch up a storm],” I paraphrased Jane.

“How can I see what channels this package has,” I asked?

“What channels are you looking for,” she asked?

“Cooking?”
“No.”

“SciFi?”
“No.”

“Comedy Central?”
“No.”

“I want to cancel,” I proclaimed.

“You have a two year contract, so you will need to pay a prorated termination fee for the time between now and Nov. 1st.”

“Alright, I’ll take the crappy package! But, you need to take the $5.99 charge off my bill for the “free” movie you offered me.

“How did you hear about the movie?  Did you get a postcard, Jane asked?

“Yes.”

“Did you follow the instructions on the card?”

“I used the instructions from offer on your website, which I am looking at right now.  Let me read it to you.  It says watch the movie and you’ll AUTOMATICALLY credit my bill.  Where’s the credit?”

“Yeah, but if you got the postcard, you gotta follow those instructions.”

“Are you authorized to give me a credit?”

“No,” responded Jane.

“I want to speak with your supervisor”

“Sir, you cannot…”

“I’m not talking to you anymore.  Get me your supervisor.”

“I will need to put you on hold for 3-5 minutes.”

“Fine,” I said.  I said it again five minutes later and again five minutes after that.  At the end of the third five minutes, I’d had enough.

“The supervisor is still busy, do you want to wait some more?”

“What if I don’t?”

“You can call back later.  We’re real busy right now.”

“How is that my problem?  You should have enough people to staff your peak periods effectively.”  I don’t think she grasped this aspect call center design.  “Fine, just do what you’ve got to do.”  After I hung up, I immediately called my bank and restricted their access to my bank account, which they had been tapping monthly for many years.

So, this thing is not over, but they will need to call me to settle up.  My guess is, they will turn it over to a collection agency eventually.  They will call and threaten to report me to the credit bureau, but not before I make them leave several messages.  Only then will I negotiate a substantially reduced settlement, which I will have the satisfaction of knowing also cost DirecTV the cost of the collection agency’s fee as well.

If I were consulting with DirecTV, I would charge them $250 per hour to tell them how to avoid this situation.  As a customer, I offered it up for free, but alas, there’s nobody listening.  Well, if DirecTV loses customers one at a time, it will be awhile before they start faltering.  Online options continue to expand.  DirecTV’s failure in both the personnel and empowerment categories will continue to haunt it.  I will be haunting them for a little while longer.
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