Customer service is one of the most important aspects of any successful business and I write about it a lot. This week, I wanted to share with you this post by my friend and colleague Dave Lieber. Dave is a Certified Speaking Professional and newspaper columnist. Be sure to visit his website – DaveLieber.org – to hear his TED talk on “The Power of Storytelling to Change the World.” Dave’s experiences with AT&T illustrate the impact of poor customer service and the importance of communicating well with your customers, even if you are one of the most powerful men in the world. Those who work in customer service have probably heard that a customer will share a good experience once, but will share a bad experience 10 times or more. And you never know, maybe one of your dissatisfied customers has his own newspaper column!
Meeting One of the Most Powerful Men in the World
By Dave Lieber
You could say I’m obsessed with customer service due to my job as The Watchdog investigative columnist at The Dallas Morning News.
As this character – The Watchdog – I serve to protect and defend the rights of Americans. I teach Americans how to be super-consumers. And I field thousands of story requests a year from readers.
I only write two columns a week, so I pick the best of the bunch to investigate. I seek to expose corruption and bad practices in business and government.
And that’s how I met one of the most powerful men in the world.
He didn’t like what I wrote about him. He summoned me to his office.
His name is Randall Stephenson, and he’s the CEO/Chairman/President/Big Kahuna of AT&T. You’ve probably heard of him lately because his AT&T is trying to buy Time Warner.
In the dozen years I’ve served as The Watchdog, I’ve received hundreds, if not several thousand complaints about AT&T. They pop up constantly via email on my AT&T cell phone. If I go into a movie on a Saturday night, there will be one. When I come out, there will be another. It never stops.
There is a common theme. AT&T staffers do not always keep their promises, or they drop the ball, or they show little ownership of customers’ individual problems to be solved.
One day earlier this year, in a newspaper column, I snapped. I had enough of the complaints. I wanted them to stop. I criticized Stephenson for not caring. I also launched a #shameATT campaign on Twitter.
Stephenson called me on my AT&T phone and asked me to come to his office.
Boy, was I ready.
I prepared a red binder with copies of each complaint I received about his company in the past 100 days. There were 119 in all. That works out to 1.2 complaints a day about his company for the past 100 days. No other company comes close.
At our meeting, Stephenson told me I was all wrong about him. He cares tremendously about customer service. He showed me his analytics.
But he listened to me. And he seemed interested in keeping a copy of my red binder that I brought for him.
At one point, when he emphasized how much he cares about customer service, I gulped and asked, “How does it feel to fail?”
I respect him for inviting me in, but I remain unconvinced that AT&T can clean up its extraordinary customer service mess.
Now it seems to matter more than ever. In a recent National Public Radio interview about Stephenson, I told the national audience that the AT&T purchase of Time Warner is troubling. The company is already too big. Listen or read that NPR interview here.
More than anything, I want to stop getting complaints about AT&T from its customers. But now I fear that if the purchase of Time Warner goes through, the complaints will increase, rather than decrease. And Time Warner properties will get infected with the stink of this almighty megacorp that’s already too big.