Once upon-a-time I was a happy customer of my favourite Home Broadband provider. For over five years I was happy enough to spend roughly £100 per month on broadband, TV and phone services. I had no intention to cancel their service. However in just thirty minutes they turned me into a very unhappy customer. I’ve protected this brand’s name to save their blushes but unfortunately this is an all-too familiar story: The tale of the disappointed telecommunications customer.

One day I did need to temporarily suspend their service for a few months while our home is being renovated (read building site, we won’t be living there). I didn’t think this was the most unusual request in the world. I didn’t want to cancel, I just didn’t want to pay £100 per month for a service we wouldn’t use on an empty building site. Anyone would think I’d invented the concept of a home renovation project in central London. In just 30 minutes I went from being a happy to a very unhappy customer.

Like a lot of unhappy customers, I feel the need to share. To want to vent is a fairly typical emotional response, as Thunderhead’s Engagement 3.0 research study found: disappointed customers will more readily criticise businesses in public over poor customer experiences and lack of ability to engage. Over one third (41%) will share a bad experience online, on the phone or in person and detractors will share their negative experience with an average of 18 people.

This means if my Home Broadband provider have got around 5 million customers, if only 1% of those customers has a bad experience (which is 50,000 people), this means those bad experiences will be shared approximately 369,000 times. It’s not exactly sharing the love.

My Steps To Being a Disappointed Customer

Background: We’ve been using our Home Broadband provider for our TV, broadband and phone for the past five years.  At least once a month during that time my husband has received a massive direct mail pack from the same company offering him special offers to sign up and become a customer. It must cost this brand at least £2 per pack. There’s nothing like a big company making you feel loved and special when they’ve no idea you’re even a customer. Their spray-and-pray approach to direct mail suggests they feel they’ve got so much cash to play with they can waste it on this grand scale. Their broken view of their customer is costing them dearly, in more ways than one.

Step 1: Preparing to move out of our property for building works, I rang our broadband provider’s customer service to ask them to put a temporary hold on the account while we’re not using their services. The first person I spoke to in a call centre said they did provide a temporary account suspension service (good…) but they needed to forward me on to someone else to help me…

….I was put on hold and transferred to someone else.

Step 2: The next person I spoke to, in their Movers Team, asked me for my account number, my name and asked me to give my password over the phone. I never give out any passwords over the phone so was unpleasantly surprised I was being asked for mine. They asked me security questions to access my account. They took my new temporary address. This was tricky, they got very confused when I said the house didn’t have a street number only a name. After five minutes of taking all of this information from me they said they couldn’t provide a temporary account suspension service after all. Instead they said I needed to reduce my package to a monthly minimum. However, they couldn’t tell me what this was so…

…they put me on hold for five minutes and then transferred me to someone else.

Step 3: The next person I spoke to also asked me for my account number, my name and asked me to give my password and asked me security questions. They took my new temporary address (again). After another five minutes of making me repeat myself they said I’d need to reduce our account package but would have to upgrade our ‘non-recording box to a special box’ and we’d still have to pay £45 per month. For services to an empty property which is a building site, for at least 6 months, £270 down the drain didn’t sound like much of an offer to me. They said they couldn’t offer me anything better. I was incredulous.

Step 4: I asked to cancel the service completely. The person on the other end of the phone couldn’t cancel me. So…

…I was put on hold for another five minutes while I was transferred to the Cancellation Team.

Step 5: The next person apologised for their previous colleagues “Sorry, they’re useless.” I felt a gleam of hope as this person told me that they could set up a temporary suspension on the account no problem at all. They just needed to check a few things, so…

…I was put on hold for ten minutes. Then the voice I next heard wasn’t the same person, I’d been transferred again…

Step 6: The fifth person I spoke to started the conversation by explaining they were in The Movers Team (again – see Step 2) then asked me (again) for my account number, my name, my password, and asked me more security questions (again). They took my new temporary address (again). GroundHog Day? They also apologised and said there was some technical fault with their systems today. The poor person on the end of the phone was clearly feeling my pain and kept apologising – apparently their system wasn’t the same as the people before had been using. This person said it was no problem at all to place a Time Out Package on the account, suspending it for £5 per month for up to 9 months. For a terrifying minute they also put me on hold, but then finally the job was done.

Step 7: I’ve since received an email to say they’ve changed their pricing so our £5 per month has now increased to over £7. I’m more than miffed I’ve still got to pay £7 per month to continue to suspend my service to a brand who clearly doesn’t care about me.

Step 8: As we’ve had our mail temporarily redirected we’re also still receiving those bumper direct mail packs every month, asking us to sign up as customers.

Summary

After all this, when the dust has settled and we move back into our renovated flat, we’re far more likely to cancel them completely and switch to the nearest competitor.  What’s stopping us cancelling right now? We can only cancel if we return their special set-top box to them. If we don’t return that we pay a fine for losing ‘their property’. This box is in a box at the bottom of a lot of other boxes in a storage depot. When we eventually do dig it out we’ll be looking forward to returning it.

As Thunderhead’s Engagement 3.0 research study found, it takes nearly a quarter of customers (24%) more than a year to re-establish trust with a company after a mistake or error. A similar number (23%) say they’ll never trust the company again. The cost of disappointing customers is enormous.

#EngagementFail

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