Customer service lessons from AT&T that apply to everyone

I have been an AT&T wireless customer for more than 10 years. I have stayed a loyal customer because generally, the service was good, the price was reasonable, and my concerns addressed when they arose. 

Lately, I've been having some issues. I work remotely often, which means I rely heavily on my cell phone. In the past several months, my service has gone down significantly, and my frustration level up. So, I called AT&T and expressed my concern. They offered some mild condolences, but no solutions. I went into the store and suggested I am seriously considering changing carriers because my bill is too high and the coverage not sufficient. I was offered a bit of a consolation, but it still didn't solve the problem. And my bill didn't go down - it went up. I finally went to their competitor, who offers things like unlimited data plans and better coverage, and switched carriers. I called AT&T to inform them of it. No one asked me any questions. No one bothered to pull up my account to see I had been a customer for more than 10 years. And no one bothered to try to keep me as a customer. 

So what does this have to do with you? I see this kind of thing in the residential contracting world all the time. A customer complains, it gets ignored, and you lose a customer. Or, a customer complains, you mitigate but don't solve the problem, and the customer leaves anyway. And guess what? I'm telling all of my friends - all of you - about my frustration. Perhaps that will make you think twice when considering the service I'm reporting on. Learn from AT&T:

Validate your customer's concern: We know our customers have likely had a bad experience with a contractor. If you acknowledge the concern, the customer is likely to keep listening for solutions, rather than allowing that concern to be the objection to the sale.

When the problem is your fault, solve it: Even if it takes you a couple of trips to the house to solve the problem, it's worth it in the long run. That customer will tell more people about how committed to quality and performance - and her happiness - you are, and you're much more likely to get referrals from her. And referrals are free leads! 

If a customer says "no thanks" or stops using your services, ask why: You'll never get a more candid response than from a customer who's leaving you. It's great insight for how to do better next time. And if you're not able to solve the customer's problem, do something for them that leaves a better impression - like a gift card to a local restaurant, or movie tickets. Give them something positive to say about you, rather than walking away and slamming the door. 

Keep asking your existing customers what you can do better. Call your long time customers and thank them. Give them cool things like movie tickets too. They're your best ally in the long run.

Bonus: Check out Mike Rogers' blog post on customer service. It's best to address service BEFORE there's a problem!