How do YOU treat YOUR trapped customers?

Since I set up in business on my own, I’ve had an office at my photographic studio. When I moved in, there was no phone or internet service, so I scouted around. In short, I went with Comcast, they had a deal on, $21 for six months and $45 thereafter (more on THAT later), which was much better than paying for a phone line plus DSL.

We had some installation issues (the installer turned up with no ladder – it wasn’t clear how they thought they would reach the existing wires on the poles to make the connection – but I laughed) and eventually the service was installed. A couple of glitches – isn’t it interesting how we have such low expectations that a couple of glitches are expected – and I’m working.

Lately though – at the one year anniversary interestingly, I’ve been getting drop outs and no internet. One day I had had no connection for over an hour. I called Comcast. No system problems they said. I still couldn’t connect, whilst talking to the support rep. ‘I can ‘see’ your device’ she said. ‘Nope, I can’t get anything’. They insisted there was no problem, but I couldn’t get out. They suggested that I swap the cable from the wall to the modem ‘end for end’. I asked how that could possibly help – no answer.

I was getting frustrated, and asked what the options were. ‘We can send out a technician.’ Progress! Friday morning or afternoon (this is Tuesday). We established that really was the earliest – three days is very poor in my view. And I was due to be in Yosemite making pictures, so Monday it would have to be. We book for a 9-11AM slot.

I’m in a very happy frame of mind on Monday (Yosemite in winter is absolutely stunning), arrive at 8 to make sure that I have everything covered. I connect – the internet is working! I work away whilst waiting for the tech. I’ve cancelled my lunch appointment just in case.

By 12:30 no one has arrived. I call Comcast. I wend my way through the voicemail (the one that insists on requiring the phone number we do not posses as an identifier) and get to a technician. I enquire where the technician is. ‘What are the last 4 of your social?’ ‘Why do you need that?’ I ask. ‘I can’t release any account information without it’. ‘I don’t want any account information, I just want to know where the tech is that should have been here between 9-11.’

We go on with nonsensical security questions (not that security is nonsensical, but that it’s needed for such a query). We get through that (by this time I have been on the phone for over 10 minutes), to be told that the call was cancelled. I asked ‘By whom’. You, I’m told.

I bit my tongue and didn’t point out that I’d hardly be calling if I had cancelled the visit. I can hear Barbara ‘breeeeeath.’ I ask what the options are, ‘Is your internet connection working?’ I advise that it is. ‘Then there is no problem.’ I point out that I’m having consistent intermittent problems, which is why the etch was coming in the first place. I can send a tech, but you will be charged if he can’t find a problem.

By now ‘m fuming, no apology, no sign of sympathy. Just ‘it’s working now and if someone comes out we want money.’ More money – it turns out the $45 price tag is only available if you also take cable TV service. There is no way to get the advertised $45 service alone. But i gritted my teeth and stuck with it.

And here’s the point, I’m sure Comcast have me in that ‘satisfied customer’ column on the tick sheet – after all I’m still a customer am I not? I am, but not because I’m delighted. Because the switching costs and alternatives are too hard, or expensive, or both. Or maybe I just know, deep down, that going to AT&T would not be any different. How sad.

Market pressure, you say. True. Sorta. I have Comcast at home and am resisting the HD upgrade (a jump I HAVE to make next year, the analogue services go away), but Copmcast want an additional $25 just to be able to receive HD (about a 22% increase on the monthly bill). So, I’m actively looking at going with satellite when we do move. So Comcast, you might have a tick in your customer column, but I won’t upgrade my TV service, I won’t take internet services from you at home, and, and……

To my learning point for you, dear reader. How many of your customers are with you because they are delighted? And how many of them are trapped because the alternatives are few and poor?
You may say you don’t care, you still have them. And I would argue two things: One, you WANT delighted customers talking about you, your products and services, that’s what builds sustainable business. Two, what happens when a viable, or just a little more attractive alternative comes along? They (customers) bolt, that’s what happens and you will NEVER get them back.

Which category are you in? Which do you want to be in?