I do not want this post to be seen as a screed against Windstream.  It is not an attempt at some type of “payback.”  Rather, it is a brief case study on how to take a perfectly loyal customer and turn them into something else.  In the parlance of some, I became a “customer assassin.”

For a number of years, Windstream has provided our phone and internet services as well as other related services. Aside from a few billing hiccups, the service was reliable and when there was a problem, the company responded.  When the time came to renew/upgrade our service, we compared the offering from Windstream against another competitor and found only a marginal difference in price.  We decided Windstream was a good choice because of their past service and the new, fully digital system that would improve quality and reduce costs.  We signed the agreement in November of 2014 with an understanding that the system would be operational by February/March of 2015.  The system finally became operational last evening, July 15, 2015.

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I will not recount all of the problems we encountered; rather I want to discuss how the Windstream team mishandled a customer relationship and turned a loyal customer in the opposite direction.

No sense of urgency.

Throughout all the months, no one at Windstream seemed especially concerned about getting the new system installed.  For our business, having a high quality and reliable network is essential.  There are impacts to us when a data services vendor fails to perform (see blog on the hidden impact of poor service).  Windstream was not concerned about how their failure could impact our daily business operations.

No project ownership.

Inevitably, when you deal with data systems there are multiple companies involved.  In this case, it was Windstream, AT&T and Time Warner Cable.  Windstream was the “general contractor” we hired to do the work.  For the most part, Windstream just pointed the finger at their subs and said “it is their fault.”  A much better approach is to acknowledge ownership and get something done about it.

Ineffective communication.

Other than a handful of phone calls from one manager, most of the communication was via email.  While I am certain that some of the people did not wish to speak to me because they knew the conversation would not be pleasant, more non-electronic communication would have been helpful and more effective.  What it signaled to me is that people were making certain they had their tracks covered and they did not wish to talk with a very unhappy customer.

Inevitably, we all have customers who are not as happy with us as we would like, no matter how hard we try.  If you are in customer recovery mode, there are three important things to keep in mind:

Show active and meaningful urgency.

Nothing upsets a customer more than to sense a lack of urgency.  Demonstrate that you care about your customer’s business.  After all, you may not know what other impacts your product or service may have on the customer’s business.

Own the problem and take full responsibility.

Do not pass it off on someone else or make excuses.  It really infuriates a customer more.

Speak directly to the customer!

Sometimes the conversations are not pleasant but they are necessary.  Speaking with the customer gives the person the opportunity to share concerns and at least feel like they are being truly heard by you.  Emails are great for confirming what you plan to do to solve the problem.  Email is a terrible medium when emotions are involved.  Get on the phone or, better still, visit the customer.

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Let me know what you think.  What do you do when you practice service recovery?


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