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Verizon’s pleasant surprise

Waiting For an Important Call
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

Thursday was the first day of retail, walk-in Verizon iPhone sales in the U.S.

Normally a visit to our VZW store is guaranteed to consume 60-90 min, even here in rural Montana. They’re usually busy, so you sign in on a screen and they call your name in the order you arrive.

If you set your expectations at that 60-90 min, you’re not so annoyed when you finally get to leave.

Fast forward to the end of Thursday. My wife comes home, saying she wants to go get her phone.

I’m thinking “Oh man, its the first day. Its gonna be nuts.” Based on past history, I expect at least 2 hours.

The Surprise

We walk in and they are hammered. Even so, they still have 3-4 people standing around freed up, waiting for wanna-be hipsters.

We get someone right away. We pay, the Verizon guy moves her contacts from her Blackberry to the iPhone 4. The phone activates in 27 seconds and we leave in a total of 10 minutes.

TEN MINUTES. Someone put some logistics work into this rollout.

I’m FLOORED that we got in and out of their store with a phone switch in 10 minutes on the first day of retail sales, especially given that a normal day takes an hour on most occasions.

I talk to someone later and find out that after several hours in line, a guy in Seattle called to say he was still 8 blocks from the store.

10 minutes = Montana fringe benefits.

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King for a Day: Verizon

Waiting For an Important Call
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

I‘d like to introduce a new series called “King for a Day“. For the acronym-challenged, you might see me refer to it as KFAD now and then, so don’t assume I’m talking about a local radio station.

King for a Day is a series that will discuss some steps I’d take or issues I’d address if I was to become what else… “King (of a particular business) for a Day”.

The idea is to use big companies that many are familiar with and allow you to extrapolate from there to your business – whether its a good or bad thing they’re doing.

You should expect the discussion to center around the consumer for what I hope are obvious reasons.

If you’d like to nominate a business, add a comment and I’ll add your suggestion to the list.

I’ll be publishing KFAD on the first Friday of the month, so stay tuned for future episodes. Because these posts might get a little long, I will also podcast them. You might find a little bonus content in the podcast, so subscribe via iTunes, Google Reader or whatever you use to listen online.

One last thing to repeat before we start this exercise. This is not really about the companies that we discuss. All of this is just another way to get a point across that it’s about you, your company and most importantly, your clientele.

When reading the stories in KFAD, you should expect to:

  • Search for parallels in your business
  • Identify takeaways.
  • Implement change for the good of your clientele – which will bring good things to you.

So let’s get started …

Focusing on the wrong thing

While it would be easy to start this out by being the King of the Airlines, I’ll mellow on that just long enough to give Verizon the treatment. The reality is that most of my comments would fit any cellular carrier, but Verizon is the one I’ve used for the last 5-7 years and thus am most familiar with.

Negative consequences

When I find a business in trouble, or simply annoying the heck out of me, it almost always seems to come down to them focusing on the wrong things.

For example, Verizon recently announced they would double their termination fee. How does this help their customers? Is it about punishing the customer? That simply won’t work.

Focusing on negative consequences completely ignores the customers who stay – and aren’t they the really important ones?

In fact, it marginalizes these customers because you’re clearly focusing on things they aren’t even doing. You’re focused on things you don’t want to happen instead of the things you *do* want to happen.

So not only do you tick them off, but your business is focused on the wrong, wrong, wrong thing – which doesn’t serve your customers.

Engage me in a Cinnabon-inspired lovefest

If I’ve made up my mind to leave you for an iPhone, a $300 termination fee isn’t going to stop me. In fact, it’s likely to tick me off and incentivize me to ramp up the goodness that I plan to milk from my new strategic communications device (no, it’s not just a phone).

Think about it: If *I’m* willing to put up with AT&T, I must have a *really* good reason to do so.

Instead of threatening me with doubled cancellation fees, you should be giving me a reason to stay. Give me lots of compelling ones, in fact. Give me things that make me want to write long, lilting caramel-covered blog posts about you that are as sickeningly sweet as a slightly under-cooked airport Cinnabon with extra frosting.  Hint: A good start would be to make it possible for me to buy a Verizon-compatible iPhone.

Focus on making changes that make your service so valuable that I *cannot* leave you. Don’t focus on things that cause you to waste management and technology resources – such as new ways to punish people who are likely leaving you anyway.

A man’s got to know his limitations

I have a 400 minute call plan. Rarely do I go over, but over the last 2 months, I’ve gone way over. I didn’t find out that little tidbit until the $400 bill arrived.

Any cell company that was interested in keeping their clients happy would tell me before that happened.

Any cell company that really cares would do what is reasonable (or do MORE than is reasonable) to see that their customers don’t make mistakes using their product. Common sense says that providing good customer care includes telling your clients when they are approaching an overage. Even banks do that.

Need a revenue source focus for this conversation? It’s a great opportunity to ask someone to upgrade their plan, even if only temporarily. Imagine that, getting paid for taking proper care of your customers.

Perhaps you might have a 3 day/week/month “Bump” plan that gives you an extra 100 minutes a week for when you’re out of town unexpectedly. Perhaps you could turn it on by dialing “*bump” and then go about your business.

When you do this, Verizon would automatically add the charge and 100 minutes per week (month, whatever) to your plan. Likewise, it would automatically terminate it after the 3 weeks/month/days or whatever.

No doubt, someone might say “we don’t have the ability to upgrade your plan, or sell temporary “bumps”, because our systems don’t allow for that”. I say – that’s an easily solvable problem in your billing system.

Same idea for text and data plans that near overage points.  (apologies to Clint for the heading)

Data plans (required)

Recently I took my 17 year old to the Verizon store to get him a new phone. His last one met with an unfortunate end of life scenario and this time, he was buying the phone himself.

Unfortunately, out of 20-30-40 phones (however many they had), only TWO could be activated without a data plan.

Now tell me, what 17 year old really *needs* a data plan? Can you justify $30 0r $60 a month additional for that? The salesperson’s line is that they aren’t allowed to sell the phone without a data plan.

For an iPhone, I get that. For a smart phone that is designed to be totally integrated with email such as a Blackberry, I get that. For a regular old cell phone, whether it has lame web capabilities or not, the customer should have the ability to get service without requiring an additional $400-$700 a year data plan – particularly for a teenager.

The iPhone (the official line vs reality)

Every time I go into the local corporate Verizon store, I ask when they are getting the iPhone.

I do it mostly to see what kind of response I get. Clearly they’ve been indoctrinated by corporate, because I get the same response every time. It’s something along the lines of “We don’t want the iPhone. It’s putting AT&T out of business and making their network too busy. Have you seen AT&T’s stock lately?

Yeah, whatever. Have you seen AT&T’s churn rate lately? It isn’t because they offer the best service and customer care in the business.

Advice to whoever is training these folks: Get over yourself. You *want* your network to be hammered. Sure, you want it responsive, but you want more, more, more demand. You want the problem AT&T has, ie: “How much capacity can I build this year?” The more demand, the less likely you’ll ever lose them.

The source of the “Why would we want the iPhone?” attitude might be Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg himself. In 2008, Seidenberg’s childish response to iPhone question included calling the iPhone’s success a “conspiracy”.

Late in October 2009, it seems that 2 billion app store downloads and a 1% AT&T churn rate might have tempered Seidenberg’s attitude a little, as he responded to questions about Verizon selling the iPhone by noting that they were certainly interested and that it was “exclusively up to Apple“.

Disabled GPS chips

With the exception of the Storm and the (new) Droid, Verizon disables API (programming) access to the GPS chips in phones – *except* for their extra services/products. For example, you can’t use certain Google’s Mobile Maps features because Google can’t get to the GPS chip to say “Hey, where am I?”  How is that customer friendly?

It isn’t. You should be.

You get the idea by now I hope: It isn’t about you, your products or your services. It’s about all the things those products and services can do to benefit your customers.

Update: Karmically enough, the same day I post this, Apple Insider reports that a Verizon iPhone is on the way. That would keep me on Verizon.

Update: More on the topic from Digital Daily, including a reaction from Verizon.