Yesterday I bought a shiny new Apple iPhone, to replace my falling-apart Treo 650. I have to congratulate Apple on managing to do what has been heretofore impossible: building a mobile phone which doesn't suck.
The phone and the interface are, of course, beautiful. I have to admit some trepidation about the AT&T mobile phone service, though.
I run a company which measures call center and IVR quality through customer surveys, and last year about half our business was for clients in the mobile phone industry. We've been tracking call centers at the big four (formerly big five) carriers for over three years, and we're regularly brought in to help evaluate new IVR systems for the major mobile carriers.
So I know a thing or two about good customer service, especially in the mobile phone business. The industry as a whole has a poor reputation, and Cingular/AT&T--despite substantial improvement in the past couple years--has not been at the top of the heap.
My fear was about what would happen when I needed to talk to someone about my beautiful new iPhone. Would I be forced to endure the indignity of bad customer service which is so common today? Would I be treated as a cost to be minimized, rather than a customer and partner in your success?
As it happens, I did encounter a problem with my new iPhone: 18 hours after I set up my phone, my phone number had not transferred from my old phone on a different carrier. The industry standard is that mobile numbers should be transferred within three hours, so I knew there was something wrong.
This morning I followed my usual routine when I have to call tech support: I cleared a block of time from my calendar, loaded today's newspaper in my web browser, and sat at my desk with the speakerphone prepared to wait for the next available agent. Imagine my surprise when my call was transferred directly to a customer service representative, with only the briefest stop for a "this call may be recorded" message. No menus, no demands that I enter my account number, no attempts to sidetrack me into an irrelevant self-service option. I didn't even have time to scan the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
The representative was polite, efficient, and had my phone working within five minutes. She even called me on my iPhone to verify that I could now receive calls.
I was impressed. Suspicious, I asked the agent about the service I was getting, and she told me that iPhone customers get their own customer service phone number, which goes straight to a group of specially-trained agents. Perhaps I would have had to wait longer if I'd called over the weekend during the crush of initial sales, but by this morning I could get the premium level of service appropriate for a customer who just bought an expensive new phone and committed to two years of service.
I don't know how you convinced a large mobile phone company to take such a customer-friendly approach, but it happened.
I think that you understand the key principle of customer service which most companies have a hard time grasping: Customer service is just as much a part of the product as the battery, display, and buttons. Premium service, like premium design, commands a premium price.
My iPhone is not perfect, but I am impressed with the product and the experience so far. Thank you, Mr. Jobs, for finally bringing a mobile phone company to treat me as a customer and not a nuisance.