Illusion Series – Episode IV: We are sooo sorry….again

So I sit in my hotel room in Shanghai a few weeks ago and guess what, my iPhone® dies. It became a brick, relegated to become a paper weight. Well, after using our family’s floater phone (yes, there is such a thing) for a few weeks, I make it to the store of a very large US wireless operator to get myself the new iPhone 6s® as I wanted to avoid getting the 5s on its last leg.


When will mobile operators finally get it right?
When will mobile operators finally get it right?

Now this post is not about if buying the 6s is actually worth it given its new feature set. It is about the concept of “Doing it right the first time” because the process of configuring , ordering and activating wireless services for any smart phone should be pretty routine by now – you would think.

So here is the setup. I wanted to get on wife’s unlimited data plan with my new device as the call center told her that this was possible. Great, I thought, and since I was near the operator’s store, I went inside to get this over with.

First surprise, I was told by the clerk that I could only add my voice plan to my wife’s plan, which not only had no financial benefit but contradicted the call center.

Then I share with my old phone number and my international travel with him, which he finds in the system but ultimately ignores for any follow on actions. He offered to forward my old number to my new number for free for a month. Great, I took that.

In terms of plan, I ordered a standard unlimited voice and texting line item with a 3GB data plan, a hardware item monthly fee (iPhone 6s 64GB in gold), one or two discount line items, an international long distance package and a global calling plan with 100 monthly minutes for voice, 10 MB data and 100 text limit (when I am overseas).

Ultimately, I walked out of the store with a $100 monthly price tag, which was 40% my old plan. I was stoked!

So far so good but then my wife noted a few days later that when I called our home from my new number, the caller ID showed another person’s name, presumably the previous owner of my new number.

This prompted me to call the operator’s service center again and there I found out that

  • In the activation process the call ID field update was not updated. (standard number portability task)
  • I was not set up for a global calling plan
  • I was set up for an extended warranty with all bells and whistles
  • After 45 minutes on the phone with support level 1 and 2, I was back at the same monthly price tag

What went wrong here?

  • There was no automated transfer of my past configuration based on some suggested mapping. If that works for restaurants in Sydney, why not here?
  • Standard processes with presumably mandatory validations were not executed
  • False information was given (due to training or more sinister motivations)
  • If I would not have called in with my caller ID issue, I would have experienced bill shock on my first bill
  • At no point were any of my lifestyle considerations (travel, family) integrated into any offers

Why did it go wrong?

  • Mandatory field updates or validations are not enforced in the application used (order mgmt)
  • Product/Service information appears to be different by channel (product catalog sync)
  • Reference mappings on services are not available
  • The CRM application used in store did not facilitate any life-style based offer suggestions
  • The clerk seems to have been able to manually walk through the order configuration with little real-time validation, work around any potential violations or conflicts (workflow, reference data)
  • At no point did the operator reach out to me because of my lack of voice, text or data usage activity on my old phone number, the fact that my UDID has not connected to the network for quite some time, an unusually low invoice this month or the sudden spike in usage on a phone in my household (network usage & billing account data integration)

Why is it so important to get this right the first time? Eva Ascarza et al of Harvard Business School looked at the right and wrong way to reduce churn. The wrong way is to oversize the offering for the customer need and then offer a way to downsize it later.  The alerting of customers to an overspend is more likely to increase defection by 10% after 3 months of service, compared to 6.4% of non-contacted clients.  To avoid this situation, set up the client for the right offer the first time around via micro targeting, which should be especially easy when he represents a renewal and is physically in the store.

We can all agree that there are training issues and compensation structures driving such issues as well but consider that in 2011 Gartner’s “Measuring the Business Value of Data Quality” stated 20% of cost of quality results from flaws in data. This makes data quality the limiting factor in process quality.This results in 12-20% charge errors on corporate accounts of which 85% are in the carrier’s favor. Imagine the residential picture here.

I also have to admit that I should have dissected the in-store order form because a wireless service plan is apparently similar to signing up for life insurance, mortgage or car payments.  On a side note, if you are out of your contract and on a monthly basis, ask them to downgrade your plan to the bare knuckles if you are forwarding your old phone to your new phone number.  Why pay for 10GB data and global call plans if all the number does it forward it to another number.  Lesson learnt.

The larger pathos of the story is that to this day and after multiple smartphone generations being marketed, the initial setup is still error prone and nobody seems to mind this lack of productivity. The only thing all touch points have internalized is the mantra-like illusion that “I am soooo sorry for this” will make the problem go away. However, I am not a toddler with an object permanence problem. I will not forget this. And I am sure somebody in finance would care about the fact that the first month’s AMPU just became zero given the in-store and call center activities I generated.

How did you recent smartphone upgrade work out? Have a similar horror story?

Previous episodes:

Episode I

Episode II

Episode III