Thursday, December 4, 2008

Breaking Out of the Script

I just learned something very powerful and useful, something that I know others will benefit from. I'm sharing it here with the hope that you'll find it as useful as I do.

If you're like me, you dread calling companies to cancel service. The cable company, phone company, whoever, they're going to debate with you about canceling. They'll offer up discounted or free service. They'll want to try to talk you out of it. If you want to keep the service, that's great. If you're just looking for a better deal, we all know that what you do is, you call up and threaten to cancel. But for me, by the time I've decided to call customer service, I've made up my mind. I'm done. I want out.

How can I break out of that script when I call to cancel, I wondered to myself. What if I just stopped cooperating, and simply, politely, declined to cooperate. Stop answering their questions. Just pretend they didn't even ask them. Do something, anything, so that I don't have to refute the posited merits of keeping my account active when I've already made up my mind.

So that's what I decided to do. No more aruging. No more verbally exploring possible alternatives to canceling. And, in two short days, Kate and I have used this three times. It has worked great, each time.

It started thusly. Yesterday, I called and canceled my XM Radio service. I sold my car, and since XM Radio sucks nowadays, so I have no intent of keeping my home receiver subscribed. I called up XM Radio, and let them know that I wanted to cancel my service. Why would you want to do that, the front line representative asked me? I decline to answer that, I say. In response, I hear back nothing but a few seconds of silence. I've stymied the rep! I pulled him off the script! There's nothing for him to latch on to, to try to convince me to stay with XM Radio. Okay, he responds, and he transfers me over to the retention department. (As I am aware is the standard process, from reading various blogs.) The retention representative tells me how sorry he is to hear that I wish to cancel my service. Can I tell him why I wish to cancel? I'm sorry, I reply, I cannot. Do I have a favorite channel, or do I miss a particular channel? I'm sorry, I decline to answer that. I simply wish to cancel service. Ohhhhhhhhhhkay, responds the rep. Your account is paid up through December 20th. Service will cease on that day. Have a good one.

SCORE! No debate, no trying to talk me out of it, no having to listen to them struggle with the big words they'll find in the script specific to whatever reason I give them. I'm done. I'm out. On the phone for six minutes total, and that includes talking to two reps, and a bit of hold time. Done and done.

Today, I took the day off of work, and Kate and I went downtown to do some shopping. She's been thinking of switching to T-Mobile for a while now, and wants to get a phone like mine. (I have a T-Mobile G1.) She decides to pull the trigger, so after lunch, we stop in to the T-Mobile Store at Water Tower Place. We start the process, and the T-Mobile salesperson says she needs to know Kate's Sprint account number. Kate doesn't have that, so she dials 611 on her Sprint phone to get it. The sales rep warns Kate not to mention that she's canceling, and I smile to myself when I hear that, because it's good advice, and Kate and I had already had a similar discussion a couple hours prior. (As I told her then, and you could consider this the moral of this entire story: Stop tipping your hat to big business, because all you get for offering up your opinion is an entry-level English-challenged idiot trying to debate you out of your choice via a script.) Kate reaches a Sprint rep, and has to repeat her phone number two or three times, as she does every time she calls them (I've witnessed it), because they can't hear her or don't understand her. After she's convinced them she's who she says she is, she asks for her Sprint account number. "Do you mind if I ask why you would like that info?" asks the rep. "Yes, actually, I do mind," replies Kate. That shuts the rep down, and elicits an apology. Kate says it's fine, no worries, you're just doing your job, but I'm just declining to give a reason. OK, no problems, Kate gets her account number, and away we go.

Just a few minutes ago, I decide to finally follow through on my plan to cancel a credit card. One that I hadn't used in many months, one that has a painfully low limit, such that I've long since replaced it in my wallet with a better card from a better bank. I work my way through the phone tree, and reach a representative. I wish to cancel, I explain. May I ask why, she asks? No, I reply, I do not wish to give a reason. The rep tries twice more, finally apologizing and saying that for the bank to be able to give better customer service, she would like to know what I can tell her to put down as the reason for cancellation. I understand, I reply. Please go ahead and write down, "Customer declines to provide a reason." I say that a bit forcefully, as I'm tired of playing, and she needs to stop trying to drag me back to the script. That does the trick. She understands that I'm not playing the game. The account is closed, lots of schpiel follows about how they thank me for my patronage, and hope I'll consider them again, etc., etc., etc. Thanks and have a nice day.

Total time on the phone? Two minutes and fifty five seconds. To cancel a credit card. I've never had that take less than ten to fifteen minutes before. I'm a rock star.

So, my advice to you is this: Don't give the company a reason for canceling, if you've already made up your mind and want to cancel your service. When Kate and I were discussing Sprint earlier, she mentioned that she thought it would be wise to let Sprint know that she was jumping to T-Mobile because Sprint doesn't have an Android phone. In response to that, I pointed out a couple of things. First, Sprint's CEO is on the record as mouthing off about how Android sucks. He's just trying to make his company seem less foolish for not more openly embracing the Android bandwagon, even while Sprint is probably secretly working on their own Android phone as we speak. And also, do you really think Sprint's CEO gives a shit what you think? Let them figure it out by the number of phone numbers ported to T-Mobile. Sure, the cancellation reason data collected by telephone customer service representative probably does trickle up to management, eventually. But, clearly, the primary purpose of that information is to for customer retention. It's to talk you out of canceling. And Sprint is not paying you for that time or for your insight. My time is valuable to me. Isn't yours? Yet Sprint or XM Radio, they want to spend that time freely, engaging you into a script-driven negotation over whether or not you really want them to do what you called up to have done in the first place.

If they really cared what you thought, they'd send you a survey in the postal mail, or have a survey firm call you a few days down the line, and keep the process completely separate from customer retention. And if they want me to respond, they can staple a five dollar bill to it.

3 comments:

The North Coast said...

Al, it's interesting that you are using Tmobile, which I currently use.

You had mentioned previously that you were using Sprint's wireless internet, and I am very interested in switching to their all-in-one wireless internet & phone package that has unlimited wireless phone and net. I was wondering if you had that and how you were doing with it. I'm comparing it to the alternative, which is to get internet from American Wireless here in Chicago and keep my phone with Tmobile.

I'd be interested to hear what your experience has been and what you think of these services, as you seem to have a lot of knowledge in this area.

Al Iverson said...

Yeah, I still have my Sprint wireless modem. It is good for travel but it's not that great for use at my office; it drops out too often, deep within the building that houses Sunny's convenience store, across from Ennui.

I'm generally happy with T-Mobile cell service. They don't have a fast enough network to use them for internet service, but the phone works well, so I've got no plans to switch away from T-Mo.

I will do my best to blog on this a bit more in the future, otherwise feel free to email me and perhaps meet my girlfriend and I over at Morseland some day, and bring your laptop, and you can try out the Sprint card and see how it works, if you like.

The North Coast said...

It would be great to meet you and your girlfriend, Al, so I'll absolutely take you up on your offer. I'd like to experience the service before I sign on for two years.

The trouble with Tmobile's wireless internet is that it doesn't stand alone. You either have to be at a "hot spot", like Starbuck's or someplace, or it has to ride your existing cable or DSL at home. What's the use of paying for it if I still have to maintain my RCN connection? I want a STAND ALONE wireless connection that I can use anywhere- at home, on the Amtrak, or sitting on Riverside Plaza downtown, and that will be mostly reliable and secure for paying bills and other financial transactions.

In my dreams, I see a citywide wireless network that will enable anyone to get reliable wireless internet for $20 a month or so. It would be a good emergency provision.