Mission Impossible

After last year’s run-in with my broadband provider, here is an equally nonsensical situation encountered with my wireless provider. It highlights another core business issue.

My mobile phone (cell phone) broke, so I ordered a new one and it arrived the next day. Handed over the broken phone and started-up the new one. Hold on, where are the 5-years worth of telephone numbers I have accumulated!

Emergency call to customer services, seems I should have backed-up the information onto my PC. OK, so can I have my old phone back? No, our contract states that once the phone has been taken it can’t be returned. Yes, but I need it back, its been less than an hour since it was taken, the courier will still have it. No, it is impossible, the contract states that once taken it can’t be returned. And so it went on.

Emergency call to the account management team, explained situation and asked if they could intervene. No, it is impossible the phone has gone; it will be in a skip with hundreds of others by now. The contract states that once the phone has been taken……

So I call the courier business, can I get my phone back? No, it is impossible our contract is with the wireless provider we are not authorised to return phones. But it must be possible? No, our contract states that…….

This called for drastic measures. I call the courier business again and ask to be put through to the local depot. I get the job number for the delivery and eventually discover the phone will be delivered back to the local depot at 9am the next morning. After a number of calls I get agreement from both head-offices that I can retrieve the phone. Drive the 20 miles next morning and physically pull the phone out of the process. Have to replace it with the new working phone as they are contracted to return a phone to be scrapped else they have to pay a £200 charge!

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Order new phone and discuss with courier (during maximum of 4 minutes allowed for in contract). Seems this situation happens all the time, never known anyone who has managed to retrieve a phone before. Has had directors begging to get their phones back but the contract states…….

I imagine the team that designed this process with its strict polices & business service levels must feel very proud. It runs like clockwork. One phone delivered one phone returned, prid pro quo. All accounted for, none lost, perfect, possibly giving an extremely high sigma metric for the Big Y. Some imaginative poka-yoke included, its impossible to return a phone, no rework, simple message to customers, everyone complies.

It’s the unintended consequences that concern me here. The impact on the secondary process metrics and impact on the customer. I get the impression that the process is more important than the customer.

As you all know three data points makes a clear trend, so interested to see if telco’s get a third mention here.

Comments 7

  1. Dana


    Here’s my corollary. My phone wasn’t working properly so I took it in for repair. At the Sprint store, they thought a software update might fix the problem so they took it into the back room and told me to come back in a half hour. After a bite to eat, I returned and the agent told me they couldn’t fix the problem but would replace my phone for free. Sounds fine, right? I asked, innocently, whether they’d transferred all my saved numbers to the new phone. That’s when things turned ugly. They said they’d had a glitch and had lost all the numbers. Incredulous, I asked to talk to the manager. The manager apologized but said there really wasn’t anything they could do about it. I persisted and he said it really doesn’t happen very often "it’s been at least a couple of months since this has happened". I asked whether he thought that every two months was acceptable but he was clueless. I can’t wait for my contract to run out so I can switch to another provider. But of course, I don’t have high expectations because all the wireless providers sound equally incompetent.


  2. Mike Carnell

    Wireless providers aren’t going to care if you move. They have a thing called churn and as long as it stays below a certain percentage they won’t respond to anything.

    A plug for Minitab. At one point they gave a promotional device that backed up your SIM card. At this point I am sure Jeff has deleted me from his phone list but if they had it as a promotional item it must be available on the market someplace. If not bidding for my Minitab backup device begins at $500.

    Good luck.

  3. Mike Carnell


    Similar experience with UHaul rental trucks in the US. The truck had no reverse so I drove it back expecting to get another. I had to pay for a second truck because I didn’t call Roadside assistance and wait on the side of the road for someone to come out and fix it. Total rental time on both trucks 3 hours and I was going to wait to have it repaired – IT ISN"T MY TRUCK.

    Here is my solution to these types of issues. If you go online you can get the annual report. In the annual report you can get the name and location of the CEO. Call them during the day. There are people who have the job of dealing with the insane that call the CEO to complain and they get stuff done really quickly so you don’t call back. They also have some business sense other than reiterating company policy.

    The process has become more important than the customer. It is administered by people who cannot do anything about it lest they lose their jobs or be reprimanded by some supervisor who has forgotten why they are there. The stupidity has become so ingrained that it is impenetrable. I am sticking with the CEO deflection sheild as a work around.

    Try calling the CEO of Telco and see what happens. If you want the deflection sheild call during the day. If you want the CEO call about 19:00 – 50/50 they answer the phone themselves.

    Just my opinion.

  4. Robin Barnwell

    Dana, thanks for this it looks like we got a trend here. Strange that a store that specialises in this area can still get it wrong. Like me the value of the information on the phone became more important than the phone

    Mike, this is the abridged version, did manage to contact the Chief Executive Suite. Nice person took details but didn’t get back in contact. Didn’t have time to pursue further.

    I guess the margins here are so tight that providers have to have very simple and cost effective processes. As a consumer its accepting the process can sometimes work against us in return for low-cost service-levels.

  5. Mike Carnell

    If the information on your phone was valuable imagine losing your laptop.

    Even if you don’t lose it how about having the hard drive crash and you have no backup. The reliability on those things is about the worst of any component in the computer.


  6. sophos9

    Typical rendition of ’we know what’s best for our customer’ even in today’s environment a classic symptom of an introverted objective

    The age old trade summed by Johari Window, normally attributed to human interaction however the older I get, the more I can see businesses running at the mentality of the assumed leader. The business is both blind to itself and unknown to others, a dangerous combination? Well I’m sure Sainsbury’s would agree whilst Tesco are bathing in the sun.

    Whilst it’s true that CCR’s and CBR’s must meet and the eventual minor dispute over CTQ’s is sure to take place, why do we separate customer and business, ultimately we are one of the same? The business has its strategic direction, the rest is customer.

    As I learnt in manufacturing, when people go to work they lose all sense of common sense, thoughts and methods become random with waste built in

    Whilst my ramblings may have deviated, the message is still the same – to be proactive, efficient and service customers in business is merely an entry point, the minimum that you should be, to be word class is when you are getting good at your game

    I feel Robin, in your case, the entry point was somewhat lowered :-(

  7. Robin Barnwell

    Yes, I guess it’s either intentional as in this case or unintentional as in the current customer complaint issue at British Gas caused by the IT system being implemented:

    British Gas

    Just not much fun for the customer.

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