How to lose a customer

My husband and I switched to T-Mobile last summer. We’ve been such fans of the plans and service they offer, I’ve convinced several friends to make the switch, as well, and at dinner parties and in conversations I’ve frequently praised the company’s efforts to revolutionize the way cell phone service is sold here in the US.

This is a breakdown of how T-Mobile lost my trust, but also taught me about how to improve my own customer service. (It IS what I do for a living, after all).

I recently purchased a Google Nexus 5 phone from T-Mobile. The technical details of the issue aren’t entirely relevant to this post, but suffice it to say, in many locations—including my home and some of the places I frequent—I’m unable to get cell service on the phone when wifi is enabled. I’m left deciding whether I want to use wifi on my phone or whether I’d like to be able to take or make calls. It’s an understatement to say that this is a suboptimal experience.

I was out of the country for about a week right after I bought the phone, so the issues only really came to light  when I returned home, about 20 days into owning the phone. Turns out, that’s just beyond T-Mobile’s “buyer’s remorse” period, so I’m unable to return the phone.

Here are some of the customer service lessons I learned while trying to return the phone:

1. “Anchoring” has a much stronger effect than I’d realized. 

First, I was told by customer service that I had 30 days to return the phone, then only 14, then 20. Although it appears now the official policy is 14 days, since I was initially told 30, the feeling I have is that something promised has been taken away.

2. Don’t force the customer to jump through hoops, then not follow through on your end. 

Early on, I was told that if I went through the warranty process and received 2 replacement handsets that didn’t work, we could see about a refund. Once I ordered, tested, and returned 2 replacements, I was told it was actually 3. Then another employee told me it wouldn’t matter how many replacements I went through, there’s nothing they can do. Two weeks of my life wasted for no reason.

3. When no one takes ownership, the issue takes far longer to resolve. 

Essentially everyone I spoke to tried to pass the buck on the issue. I went to one store, which sent me to another. That store had me call customer service. Customer service made me go back to a store, who sent me to technical support. Technical support gave up and had me call Google, who gave up and sent me back to T-Mobile. As a customer, I don’t care who’s to blame for the problem, I just want someone to handle it. You sold me the product, you take responsibility for it.

4. Putting the customer on hold to read up on the issue > asking the customer to summarize.

Over the course of my returns process, I’ve spoken with nearly 20 or so different support representatives. I no longer want to explain the issue. They’ve got the notes. Take a few minutes to read them!

I realize now that I’m guilty of this in my job when jumping in to help users. I frequently ask the customer to summarize what’s going on, since I don’t want to make them wait while I read through the support history. I’m going to switch to reading first, then clarifying things I don’t understand.

5. Trying to up-sell the user who wants to return a product is insulting.

I’ve had a couple of employees suggest that I purchase a signal booster for my home to resolve the issue, despite knowing that the issue also occurs outside of my home and I have no signal issues with any other devices IN my home. I don’t feel like spending more money to compensate for their sub-par product, and when I’m trying to return something, it feels like extortion to be told paying more money is “the only option we haven’t tried.”

6. Don’t blame the customer for past decisions made.

The number of times I’ve been told, “Well, if you’d purchased insurance, this wouldn’t be an issue,” is appalling. It’s not something I can change now, so why try to make me feel bad about it?

7. Stock responses sound like… stock responses.

Almost everyone I spoke with at the company has used the phrase “we want to see you happy.” I’m guessing it’s in an employee manual somewhere. When everyone says it, but no one actually means it, it’s worse than not saying it in the first place.

Out of about 20 employees I dealt with, there were only two (!) who seemed genuine in their desire to help me out (Maria and DaLette at this T-Mobile store, if you’re wondering). I would have canceled my T-Mobile service a week ago if it wasn’t for them.

8. Don’t make the customer look like an asshole.

Here’s the biggest issue I have with the whole experience: I’ve been backed into a corner. At this point, there’s no way for me to recoup more than half the cost of the phone I’ve had (but not been able to use) for a few weeks. Not only does that suck majorly, I look like an asshole if I tell my friends about my terrible experience and then stay with the company.

The thing is, I don’t *want* to leave T-Mobile. Up until this point, I was thrilled with their service. I’m now the proud (cough, cough) owner of a $400 phone that doesn’t work as a phone. I’ve not only wasted money on the phone, I’ve paid for a month and a half of service I can’t use, and I’ve spent 10+ hours on the phone and in their stores trying to resolve the issue… all so I can pay T-Mobile more money in the future. It’s become a bit of an abusive relationship.

UPDATE: Since posting this, I’ve been in touch with T-Mobile, and we were able to resolve the issue (with about 30 more emails). I’ve got a new phone that I love, and I’m sticking with T-Mobile for the foreseeable future.