In an earlier post I mentioned a few of my family’s Christmas traditions. This week I was reminded of two more.
For the better part of two decades I’ve spent the 24th of December at the home of my sister and brother-in-law or more recently at the homes of one of their two children who are keeping alive a family tradition of fondue on Christmas Eve. Bowls of jumbo shrimp and cubed sirloin and chicken are set out on the dining room table, two 1970s-era fondue pots are fired up, and a dozen varieties of dipping sauces are arranged on a Lazy Susan. It’s the same thing every year – and that’s the best part. I really missed this bona fide tradition in 2014.
It also occurred to me this week that we have at least one more family tradition. After the fondue oil has cooled and the dishes have been cleared away, the women retreat to the kitchen, another bottle of wine is opened, and the men settle into a familiar routine of recounting their worst (best?) customer service horror stories from the past year.
The “women retreat to the kitchen” comment might sound sexist but I’m sure they’re sick of hearing what sound like the same old stories year after year and are probably glad to load the dishwasher instead. To the women, there’s not much difference between one man’s “Bell said they can’t…” and another guy’s “Rogers told me…” tale of woe.
Not being under contract to cable and cellular companies is one of the liberating aspects of life on the road. My 15-year relationship with Rogers is one that I was very, very happy to terminate. My only problem is that since arriving in Australia in mid-December I have been seeing a Rogers clone. The name is Vodafone.
On the morning of Saturday #27 I set out to find the main Vodafone store in Auckland, New Zealand. I figured that I’d stick with the sister company of the one I used in Australia even though I’m a free-agent on this side of the Tasman Sea. Perhaps there’d be one less form to fill out if I don’t move to the competition, I thought. If I’m lucky I won’t have to go back to the hostel to get my Passport just to buy Internet access, which was the case in Oz.
I stepped out the front door of Nomads Hostel and quickly spotted some red and white signage on a store about a block away. As I got closer it still wasn’t clear if this was a Rogers or a Vodafone store but everything about it screamed “Upselling Phones and Locking In Contracts R Us.”
Like Rogers in Canada, Vodafone’s Kiwi stores are large, airy and halogen-lit. The walls are painted white with red accents, birch tables are used for display purposes and large backlit posters adorn the walls. The stores are both sleek and gaudy at the same time. I think they’re going for the ‘Apple Meets Victorian Whorehouse’ look.
To be fair, I’ll admit that I was greeted within seconds of walking in the front door. The same staff member dealt with me from start to finish and 15 minutes later I left with a new SIM card installed in my iPhone and a pre-paid data plan to my name. So what’s the problem, you ask?
I won’t bore you with the details but it involves poorly trained staff, way too many options, and not enough data in their biggest pre-paid plan to stream more than a couple of movies. I want to believe that I managed to get the best deal possible but you never really know with cellular companies. Vodafone didn’t force me to do business with them but it certainly wasn’t love at first meeting either.
Shortly after leaving the store I received a text. It was a short survey in which they asked, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely would you be to recommend Vodafone to a friend?” I hit “1” and “send” and figured that would be the end of that.
Au contraire. On Monday morning I received my first incoming call.
“Hi, It’s Grant from Vodafone. I’m calling to follow up on your in-store experience,” said a polite young customer service agent. “I see that you entered ‘1’ on the survey. Can I ask what the problem was?”
I have plenty of time on my hands these days and with a cellular plan that allows for unlimited incoming calls it was as if Grant had just invited me to take the lead role in Rant-O-Mania 2015. He let me go on uninterrupted for at least two minutes. I stopped to catch my breath a few times but I didn’t let him get a word in until I was good and ready.
I don’t think I was too hard on Grant’s in-store colleague but I certainly made it clear that the whole experience was confusing and frustrating. Too many options, confusing pricing, an abundance of specials and top-ups and daily deals and weekly deals and you name it. I told him that I know Vodafone isn’t alone in this practice but that doesn’t excuse it. Why can’t they just tell me the price per megabyte, how many megabytes in each plan, and if there are any discounts for buying in bulk?
Grant asked if there was one particular complaint that he could pass up the line. I told him that in Australia I had purchased a 15gb data pack but here I was limited to 1gb with the option of one 500mb top-up before I’d have to return to the store. Why do I have to return to the store after a few days to purchase something that will be delivered to my smartphone. Isn’t that why we have smartphones?
This turned out to be a partly valid complaint. I can use an in-store kiosk to purchase more data, as the guy in the store explained, but I can also top up my account through a Vodafone app for iPhone or by registering a credit card and texting 777. After I went on for a few minutes about how the guy in the store didn’t seem to be aware of that and in fact had told me the opposite, Grant casually dropped this bombshell: “Sir, I was the person you dealt with in the store.”
There was an awkward silence. I decided not to back down just for the sake of civility. They were the ones asking me for feedback and I had feedback to offer. Grant didn’t sound like he was terribly insulted by my critique so we talked for a few more minutes. He admitted that he had neglected to explain all of their top-up options. He apologized. He made a few more excuses. I made a few more suggestions.
I said, “Perhaps a new customer’s first incoming text should be something like: ‘Welcome to Vodafone. We’ll send you a text when you’re about to reach the limit of you pre-paid data plan. You can top up your plan at any time by texting 777. If you have any questions, please call us toll-free 24 hours a day at ____ or visit us on the web at ____.’”
After using the plan for five days I have admit that it works reasonably well. I ran out of data on Wednesday morning but immediately received a text message that was almost identical to the one I had suggested to Grant. I was relieved to see we were on the same page on this one.
As someone who values good customer service, I was impressed that Vodafone actually contacts customers who have filed a complaint or given a low score on a survey. The policy of having ONE employee track down answers to a customer’s questions is so much better than forcing the customer to call various numbers, deal with multiple phone prompts, cluttered websites, PINs, passwords, and non-sympathetic customer service reps who are clearly located half a world away. It was a bit awkward speaking with someone who I had just slagged in a survey that his bosses will probably see, but in the end I got the info that I needed and Grant probably learned first hand how forgetting to mention some important information can leave a customer feeling confused from Day #1.
In the end I was left with one nagging doubt: Am I hyper sensitive to truly bad service or am I just getting old and crotchety and blowing this out of proportion? To help answer that question I’ve started to compile a list of 100 things that annoy me. I’ll post it in the next few days.
Since I won’t be home for Christmas 2015 either, I’m hoping that my brother-in-law and nephews can read through my Christmas Bitch List and keep this charming family tradition alive.