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Telecommunications Providers: The mini-Flash Mob Challenges Your Sales Strategy.

by Michael Maoz  |  November 17, 2008  |  2 Comments

When do you get satisfaction and dissatisfaction during the same process? Try telecommunications. Anyone looking at the telephone providers and the many hybrids in between (phone, television, internet services) can see that it is a fast changing and difficult business. It doesn’t help to have different types of employees incented to act inconsistently. Let’s look at a quick example: Since we are a family of five, we have a pricey ‘family’ plan with our wireless telephone provider. We also have wire line from them, but the ‘them’ in wireless is not the same ‘them’ as the other them (that is for another day’s conversation.

Here is the scenario: I receive a voucher from the provider for $50 that can be applied when we get a new mobile phone device and renew our two-year service contract. Very nice. One of my daughters became eligible for a new phone, and as she is 20 years old and pretty savvy, she sailed on into the phone store. The young salesman showed her the newest and coolest of phones, and tried to upsell her on features. She is a woman who knows what she wants, and knows her budget limits, too. So, she said thanks but no thanks: she’ll keep the same level of service, but buy the new device. With the voucher her total bill is just about zero.

Now the fun part: the salesman tells her that she can’t use the voucher unless it is to upgrade to a new level of service. “Really? I don’t think it said that,” says my daughter. But the salesman stands firm. Now, Generation Virtual people don’t stand on ceremony, they call their friends or parents on the spot. They also use their devices to look in real-time on the internet for the terms and conditions. While in the store with the salesman, my daughter was also on the phone with me, and I was on the phone with the company’s customer service department. The lovely service representative was informative and helpful, and insisted that there was no such thing as a requirement for an upsell. Then she said, “You know, these sales people are just going for the commission.” This made me laugh, and I put the service rep on mute and asked my daughter to put her phone on “Speaker.” Now I unmuted my phone and asked the service agent to repeat what she had said. There was an uncomfortable moment for my daughter, as the salesman mumbled about a policy change and maybe she did not have to upgrade after all.

But that was not the end of the story. The salesman asked my daughter to show him the credit voucher for $50. She didn’t have it with her. The salesman said that unless it was in her hand, there was nothing that he could do. Well…. You guessed: back on her cell phone she went, and rang me up and I rang up customer service. After another wait in queue I was connected with another very knowledgeable and helpful customer rep, and he was clear that the credit was associated with our account, and there was no need for a physical piece of paper. And yes, again we all went onto speaker phone and, yes, we did get the $50 credit, and yes, after an hour wasted to perform a 15 minute process of physical mobile phone upgrade, my daughter had her new device.

Does this sound like fun? (For me it is fine, as I get to use it in my research.) How much time was wasted? How much money was wasted? Did the salesperson lose a sale in the meantime? What was the overall customer experience? I bet they didn’t know that even a family can create its very own flash mob to rally around a cause in an instant, from anywhere, even harnessing a business’ resources for or against other parts of the same business. Talk about a business process management nightmare!

Net: When you set two teams toward the same destination (customer satisfaction and profit) but send them in different directions: one towards satisfaction, and the other towards profit, you might find that the customer experience is less than you might have hoped for.


Michael Maoz
VP Distinguished Analyst
13 years at Gartner
26 years IT industry

Michael Maoz is a research vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research. His research focuses on CRM and customer-centric Web strategies. Mr. Maoz is the research leader for both the customer service and support strategies area and customer-centric Web… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Telecommunications Providers: The mini-Flash Mob Challenges Your Sales Strategy.

  1. Jim Lundy says:

    Interesting story Michael. It has been repeated out here in Silicon Valley, when my Niece (in her 20s) went to one of the Cell Phone Stores to upgrade her phone. The Sales Rep did exactly the same thing (tried to up sell).

    So we can conclude that they are encouraging their store representatives to behave this way.

  2. i like your BL, but i would add that the problem here is a lack of experience management – else, this would have been a 15 minutes or less experience with the knowledge that the company wins in the long time due to increased satisfaction / loyalty from customer.

    yes, the salesperson left $10 in commission on the table (or less or more), but the company will keep the $X dollars every months without complains. if another one of this happens, who is to say you won’t switch? they can make $10 but lose thousands… all because they are not looking at this from the experience perspective.

    nicely done.

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