Delighting your customers – a Charter experience

I sat today in a team meeting, where we talked about our long-term goal of delighting our customers.  It’s an easy thing to talk about, but it’s very hard to achieve.  There’s a reason people always come up with the same holy grails of customer delight (say, the iPad) … there aren’t that many of them!

I ended up speaking some with our senior director about a recent set of experiences I had with Charter Communications.  I recently upgraded my services with them, and have had several small nagging issues that I never thought to call them about.  Just little things that kept me from being delighted.

Somewhat recently, though, I had a problem where my Internet and phone access went out for an hour or so.  I ended up on the phone with customer service, and once my immediate problem was resolved, the technician on the phone asked a key question.  “Is everything else working as you’d expect?  Have you had any other problems?”

The conversation shifts here.  It’s no longer “did we solve your problem?” but becomes “are you happy with us overall?”.  So I told him about some intermittent problems I’ve had, and mentioned that though I was paying for 20 megabit speed I was only getting 8 (hey, 8 megabit is still blazing fast for this old school veteran of 300 baud modems, so I wasn’t complaining that loud).  So he explained that the only way to get 20 megabit speed was with a modem that supported something newer than DOCSIS 1, which was all my ancient modem could handle.  He respected my knowledge of the technical issues here, didn’t push me to lease (or even buy) a modem from them, just gave me some recommended models.  He also said that it might or might not address my intermittent issues, but it was the first step.

So I did some independent research and picked a modem, bought it online, and set it up myself (I’ll skip the part of the story where I have problems getting it set up due to neglecting to reset some DNS configuration when I switched back to DHCP…. ).  My speed improved drastically (I was getting up to 30 megabit speed — talk about a delighted customer!) but if anything my intermittent failures got worse.  Again, afraid of the customer service “phone tree” I just ignored it.  But a few weeks later I mentioned it in passing on twitter … and here things got interesting.

I immediately got a non-confrontational and polite inquiry from a Charter rep.  He told me he could check the logs on Charter’s side and determine if the intermittent failures were due to my own configuration or due to something on their side.  Wow.  Less than a minute later, he told me the signal levels looked bad, and that he’d send a tech.  Without me ever getting on the phone, he negotiated a time (within 24 hours!) and had a technician on the way.

The technician worked through the issues (my line had too many splits — blame the previous occupants of my home I guess) and got me up and running within an hour.

Am I posting this to say I’m delighted with Charter, no exceptions?  Not quite.  But I am saying that Charter has figured something out here — clearly the model I took advantage of here doesn’t scale to every single customer.  But it scales to the early adopters, the tech-savvy and vocal crowd on twitter.  They’ve recognized that while keeping every customer delighted is important, it’s worth spending extra money to hand-hold certain customers into that state.

There’s a lesson here for everyone who aspires to having delighted customers.  Sometimes you can’t rip the entire corporation apart to delight every customer.  Maybe instead you need to work on the exception cases, figure out how to minimize the damage.  And it all really does start with changing your question — “is your problem solved” versus “is there anything else we can help with”.  Change the tone of your interaction, and things will shift.