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Posted on August 25, 2010 at 1:28 pm by Andrew Arnott

Three Mobile and the worst call centres known to man

three will make you do this

Today, I had the misfortune of spending 25 minutes on the phone trying to leave Three Mobile.

I wouldn’t normally post personal rants on this blog, but in this instance, I think there are some serious lessons that businesses can learn from the mismatch in Three’s brand message and the farcical experience of speaking to their doggedly persistent and dishonest call centre monkeys.

My 18-month contract with Three had recently expired and I wanted to get away for one main reason: I had little or no reception anywhere in my house.  I rang Three to get a PAC number and to give notice to leave.  You’d think that would be a simple task, but you’d be very wrong indeed!

Once through to the We’ll try anything to stop you leaving call centre team, I spoke to an Indian gentleman hell-bent on selling me another contract – Lance Armstrong’s recovery from cancer does a disservice to the word “persistence” compared to this fellow’s dogged determination not to let me leave Three.

It’s amazing how much negative feeling can be built up by this sort of tactic.  Before this encounter, I would say I was fairly neutral towards Three’s brand.  After it, I wouldn’t touch them with a mobile phone mast.  I was actually offered (around 8 times) a good deal, but that was never my issue.  The key point is that it doesn’t matter how good a deal is if you don’t listen to your customer’s needs, or worse still, try to bully them into something they don’t want.  Not only was this persistent and linguistically-challenged fellow not listening, he was frequently telling outrageous lies and trying every possible trick to avoid carrying out my request.

‘Lie’ is a strong word isn’t it?  How about these for lies…

Lie 1) “Three has just made an agreement to use Orange as a backup network.  I can activate this for you if you extend your contract so you will have great reception”.  Yes, there is that roaming agreement but it happened around 2 years ago, not recently.  But worst of all, it doesn’t need to be ‘activated’ – it happens seamlessly and automatically, so has been active (and making no difference) on my phone all along.

Lie 2) “The signal where you live is one of the strongest in the country – you have excellent reception”.  No, I don’t!  I told you that. That’s why I’m leaving!  Inside and out, there is barely ever a signal.  The power of persuasion will not change this fact.

Lie 3) “The signal is bad because the phone or the SIM is old”.  How about NO!  So, how would you explain the signal being non-existent from the start with a brand new phone and SIM? And why do I get perfect reception in other areas?

Lying to your customers is not good practice!

What could they do instead that wouldn’t impact overheads?  Well, Three use a great tone of voice on their website.  Plus as a customer, you get access to MyThree which allows you to view/do a bunch of things online.  So, how about allowing you to give notice online?  “You can’t make it easy for people to leave”, I can hear the senior executives saying, but they’re absolutely wrong.  Three should be pro-actively contacting customers by email or text before their contract is up, inviting them to their site to be offered a personalised upgrade or new deal.  And if a customer wants to cancel online, they could be asked the reason online and presented with an appropriate offer to try to tempt them into staying.

The trick is to personalise the offer and, just as importantly, to present it in a tone of voice consistent with the brand’s message.  You’d create a positive experience for people who still choose to leave (so increasing the likelihood of them being advocates or returning in the future) and you would no doubt win back many customers when presenting them with fantastic deals in a no-pressure environment.

So my message to Three: don’t use appallingly trained and no doubt appallingly paid phone monkeys to bully people into staying with you.  Where they succeed, customers will feel bad about the experience and resentful of your brand even if they’ve got a cheaper deal.  And those customers who do leave, will be so glad they managed to escape, they’ll encourage everyone else to steer well clear, just as I am now.

In the end, this old-school approach to sales just doesn’t add up in today’s connected world.  Match your actions to your brand message or you’ll be found out soon enough.

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