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Goodbye, and no I won't be back

Date
“I-JUST-WANT-MY-ACCOUNT-NUMBER!”.

“I-JUST-WANT-MY-ACCOUNT-NUMBER!”.

I recently changed from Vodafone Australia to another carrier for my mobile phone. To do so I needed the account number, so I called Vodafone and after being on hold and listening to a seemingly endless number of prompts, finally spoke to an operator.

“Can I ask why you want your account number?” she said. Even though I thought it was none of her business, I politely replied that the shop assistant needed it to port my number across to a new carrier (more fool me for not having a paper or electronic bill handy).

She asked why I was leaving Vodafone, informed me I was eligible for a phone upgrade and rattled off other useless information. I said no, no, no and no again to her questions and politely asked: “Can I have my account number now please?”

Amazingly, she could not access it and put me through to the billing department. Not for a moment do I believe that a call-centre operator who can call up information about your phone plan cannot access your account number.

The billing officer’s first question was: ‘Can I ask why you want your account number?’ He too said I could get a new phone and rattled off other information. Again, more time was wasted.

What started as a pleasant conversation ended up a bit heated. Unlike many, I never had a big problem with Vodafone, certainly not enough to swap carriers, and had used it for years. If anything, I thought they had improved noticably in the past year. I only swapped carriers because of poor coverage at my parent’s house in country Queensland. It’s fine everywhere else for me.

The experience was an interesting insight into how companies incinerate the remaining shreds of a customer’s goodwill when they leave. And why companies need to get much better at managing “exits”, to ensure a customer is not lost for life and the brand is not trashed in online forums such as this one.

What’s your view?

  • Do you think too many companies make it unfairly hard to move to a competitor?
  • Which companies are the worst at making it impossible to close an account?
  • What’s your worst experience when trying to switch between phone or utility companies?

I’m sure the two Vodafone people I spoke to were only doing their job and following a script, and I feel sorry for them having to deal with irate customers.

I also get why companies make it hard for customers to leave through “high switching costs”. They want “sticky” products and services: in my case, it took a few hours to change carriers and reconfigure the phone.

There has to be a point where a company realises that nothing it can do will change the customer’s mind and the next step should be to limit the damage.

In Vodafone’s case, it could have asked me to answer a questionnaire about why I chose to leave, and provided a small incentive. It could have thanked me for being a customer and asked if it could call in six months to see how I was getting on with my new carrier. Maybe it does do this with departing customers; I heard nothing.

Most of all, it could have tried to end the conversation on a positive note, for example: “We’re sorry to see you go and hope we can serve you again in the future”. But the conversation ended abruptly.

In the end, I had to raise my voice and say: “I-JUST-WANT-MY-ACCOUNT-NUMBER!”, after asking for it a few times already.

It’s a good lesson for other businesses. What does your business do when it knows a customer closes their account and joins a competitor? Do you have a procedure to deal with departing customers? Do you take steps to mitigate damage from bad reviews or comments via Twitter or other social media?

How do you manage over-zealous staff who go too far to keep customers? And how do you win back lapsed customers? Do you just send them an occasional e-newsletter and hope they will rejoin, or have a more sophisticated approach?

As customers increasingly have less loyalty towards service providers, and as more social media provides an avenue to vent instant frustration, managing customer exits and bad reviews will become an even bigger issue.

Business won’t only be about winning customers, but how you lose them too (when nothing else can be done to keep them), so a departing customer may one day use your service again and not trash the brand along the way.

36 comments so far

  • I logged into Vodafone and found my account number in under 20 seconds. I had no problem :)

    Commenter
    John
    Location
    Panania
    Date and time
    June 18, 2012, 3:14PM
    • I also had a problem with Optus but the thing that bugged me the most was that a telephone company make it impossible to actually call them.

      Commenter
      Franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 18, 2012, 4:48PM
    • It's not just phone companies.

      Having been unemployed for a while now, I recently applied for a job, through an agency*. I got contacted, and the first question asked was 'Wonderful opportunity... where were you last employed? When?
      ...Why aren't you employed now?'

      Relevance? Like, I'm *really* enjoying being an idle dole bludger! Right? (I'm not actually drawing benefits at present) And you've *clearly* read the resume I sent in. Not!

      I suppose I can't really blame a broken little cog in a coin-operated body shop. Still, my interrogator seemed mildly taken aback by my response to that last question.

      *As a rule, I no longer apply through agencies: most epitomise all that can be bad about 'middle men'. I notice a growing number of employers are avoiding them as well.

      Commenter
      arf
      Date and time
      June 19, 2012, 10:12AM
    • If you want to be heard..just say the word....
      I heard this so often from OPTUS while on hold I changed carriers!

      Commenter
      vote with $$$ in the new democracy
      Date and time
      June 19, 2012, 1:56PM
  • I had a similar sort of thing happen to me but with Optus. My contract was about to expire, and you would expect them to be very courteous and helpful, but instead they were arrogant and condescending. They kept trying to push a new phone and 2 year contract on me, even had the CSO laugh at me because I was using the "old" iphone 3GS and not the 4S they were trying to push on me even after I had explained that I was not interested in upgrading.

    So I sent a letter of compliant via the online complaints system, their response was completely unsatisfactory and may have well as been generated by a robot. So I took my optus account, my wifes and my sons and went to Amaysim.

    Best thing I ever did.

    Commenter
    8ball
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    June 18, 2012, 3:24PM
    • The Optus complaints process is atrocious, you get nowhere. I am leaving them as soon as my contract is up. I have been with them since 1997 but they have made it abundantly clear they do not value my custom, goodwill or my ability to pass on my bad experiences with them to others. It's a shame because they started out so well in '91 as vialble alternative to Telstra but have ended up being a mini Telstra. To be fair, from what I hear, Telstra has improved immeasurably.

      Commenter
      eyeroll
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 19, 2012, 11:40AM
    • Telstra's coverage and customer service has been very good of late. Only thing - make sure you put a reminder in your phone for when the contract is going to expire because they will not proactively inform you and hence you'll end up paying for the service + phone subsidy even after the contract expires.

      Commenter
      Andy!
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 19, 2012, 1:53PM
    • a lot of its biased i will say,

      even on this website, you cant reply on the positive telstra comments where ive had a terrible experience.

      only on the bad ones about optus and voda

      Commenter
      Horizon01
      Location
      brisbane
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 8:37AM
  • I've been a Vodafone customer for more than 10 years and never had any major issues with their service until I upgraded to a smart phone a few years ago. While they are continually assuring customers that their service has improved and will continue to improve, I think it's actually getting worse, not better. I live in the inner city and work in the city. There's really no excuse for such patchy reception.

    But I just can't be bothered with the hassle of trying to switch to another carrier before the end of my current contract. I'm just going to wait it out. Five months to go.

    Commenter
    WHD
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    June 18, 2012, 4:22PM
    • Have also been with Vodafone for about 10 years. My only complaint is lack of reception in many areas.
      Other issue with all phone companies is trying to talk to a "real" person. Sick of the "if you want this hit 3" "if you want that hit 4" etc. End up hanging up in disguist

      Commenter
      nodrog
      Date and time
      June 19, 2012, 8:07PM

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