A tale of two cable companies

Recently, my family and I moved — not a big move but one city down the road.

Before we left our old place, we called and canceled the high-speed internet service (easy enough). Once we got settled in to the new place, we decided to shop internet providers looking for the best deal. We came across a company (we’ll call them Company 1) we had never gotten service from in the past and decided to give them a try.

Big mistake.

From day one, it was nothing but problems. First, the modem didn’t work. We had it properly plugged in — all cables, wires, cords, and power supplies connected — but no internet.

After not one, not two, but three calls to tech support taking over two hours in all, the company finally sent someone out to assess the problem. As it turns out they had to flip some switch. Mind you, this was an issue with the company, not the property (I know, because they didn’t charge us for the visit).

After two weeks of paying for service but not actually being able to use the internet, we finally were able to connect. Voila!

Well, actually not. Turns out, after all that, that this particular company’s “high speed” internet service wasn’t even fast enough to stream music, much less video (a critical need in our home).

So after nearly a month of dealing with this company, we had had enough — we canceled service and tried a different company, Company 2 (which just so happens to be the largest ISP in America).

To say the difference was night and day is being a bit too kind to Company 1 (which wasn’t worthy of shining Company 2’s shoes).

From the beginning, Company 2 was proactive, responsive, and prompt. The salesperson on the phone (Company 2’s first-impression) was friendly and amiable (even laughing at my corny jokes). He scheduled installation as close to the current date as possible. He offered specials and discounts without me having to turn the screws. He offered advice on reducing our next month’s bill, going so far as suggesting we call the billing department to get a negotiable fee waived.

The gentleman who came to install our service was friendly and professional. Before entering our house, he slipped covers over his shoes to avoid tracking in any debris (it’s worth noting that Company 1’s technician left dirty footprints on our hardwood — just like in the movies!). He replaced worn out cable along the outside of our house for free. He installed a speed-boosting device at no additional cost.

Within a couple days of first contacting Company 2, we had high-speed internet zooming into and out of our home at sixteen times the rate Company 1 could manage.

Both my wife and I were exceptionally pleased and got on with our music- and video-streaming lives. But the story doesn’t end there.

Yesterday, about two weeks after the initial installation, my wife got a knock at the door. It was a service technician from Company 2. Just so happened to be in the neighborhood, noticed we had recently started service with them, and thought she’d stop by and see how everything was going. Are we getting all the speed we paid for? Are we satisfied with the service so far? How was the technician who install service? Was he kind and professional? Is there anything else they could do for us at this time?

As my wife retold this story to me, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor (actually, I asked her if this was Bizarro-World where companies care about their customers before there is a problem). Not only had Company 2 exceeded our expectations on the front-end, they engaged in proactive customer service before there was any need for damage control. Refreshingly, they didn’t try to “upsell” us on any additional services during this follow-up check-in.

A couple lessons I gleaned from all this:

  • Often, a company is the market leader for a reason (proactive customer service comes to mind). Anyone can react to a customer complaint. Not just any company can keep that complaint from arising in the first place.
  • Sometimes companies require contracts because, if they didn’t, most customers wouldn’t stick around for more than a few weeks (to be fair, this is not always the case). But if a company is confident enough to say, “We won’t force you to stay any longer than you want to,” it’s worth standing up and taking notice.
  • It really is the little things. The shoe covers probably cost Company 2 all of 12 cents, but created a lasting impression that said, “I respect your home and your efforts to keep it clean” (Company 1 lost out on creating warm-fuzzies, probably because some analyst on the 51st floor at Corporate said, “Hey, we can save $200,000 bucks a year if we get rid of these stupid, overpriced slipper thingies.”).
  • Customer-focused follow-up is worth ten times in goodwill what it costs in time. The vast majority of companies do not follow up after a sale. This is shocking. Think of your last purchase over $50. Did the company accepting your hard-earned money follow up after the sale?  A good portion of the companies that do, lead with a self-serving sales pitch (“You know, most of our Anvil Product customers also buy Anvil Protection for only $19.95 a month!”). It is a surprisingly rare company that follows up simply to ensure the customer is happy.

It’s this new way of doing business (well, a traditional way, in many respects) that I believe will characterize successful companies in the present and future. Consumers simply have too many choices and too much information for companies to succeed by doing the minimum and making excuses.  Sure, all those penny-wise, pound-foolish policies will allow behemoths to survive with single-digit profit margins. But proactive customer service, responsiveness, professionalism, and yes, even humor, carry the day and win the lion’s share of the business.

What changes could your company make to improve your customer experience?

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