So, as you might recall, I have a new job in NJ. I work for one of the big cell phone companies. My new job is to audit/coach/develop the Executive Relations team.
I had worked for this company for 6ish years before getting this job, and had never even heard of the Executive Relations team. If anything, I had heard rumors of their aloof existence. To most people on the field, Executive Relations is super secretive and mysterious. Now I know all about them.
Basically, if a customer calls, writes, emails, or faxes one of our executives (regional presidents, area presidents, company vice presidents or higher), that correspondence gets routed to the Executive Relations team. How do customers find these phone numbers/mailing addresses/email addresses? Google. Wikipedia. LinkedIn. Blogs.
For being such a large company (175,000+ employees), the Executive Relations team is surprisingly small. Only about 120 or so–and there are maybe 40ish executives they represent. They get slammed with about 7000 cases per month. They are an incredibly hard working team.
What I’ve learned is that they have the utmost power to resolve whatever the customer’s issue may be. They are instructed to do whatever is necessary to make the customer happy, and repair our relationship with the customer.
The first call I listened in on, this woman was crying. She had gone to a store to get an upgrade, and only some of her pictures were transferred from her old phone to the new one. She was very upset, and the Executive Relations person explained that if the pictures were no longer on the old phone, and if they hadn’t been backed up anywhere, they were probably gone. But, in order to repair the relationship, and as a gesture of goodwill, she was going to give this lady 3 months of free service. That amounted to a credit of over $900. My jaw dropped. The lady sniffled and accepted.
Examples of other complaints I hear our Executive Relations team deal with:
- I didn’t know I had to pay for this iPad. No one told me.
- I was assured my contract wouldn’t be extended when I upgraded.
- I need more time to pay my bill.
- I don’t like that you use animals in your commercials. That’s cruel.
- The store rep/customer service rep was rude.
- The wait time was too long.
- I didn’t know that I would have to pay extra for using my phone abroad.
- I lost my phone and I don’t have insurance and I don’t have an upgrade and I don’t want to pay for a new phone. That’s not fair.
- You should put a cell tower by my house.
Not every single one of these is handled with courtesy credits. The point of the interaction should be to repair the relationship, and regain the customer’s trust. The Executive Relations team is entrusted to use their best judgement. They take into consideration the customer’s tenure, how much they spend with us monthly, and how often they call in to Executive Relations when they decide how to best handle the situation. Sometimes the solution is a matter of changing a contract end date; sometimes it’s discounted equipment; sometimes it’s really just an apology, and a promise that we’ll coach back to the field so that won’t happen again. But, these are almost always accompanied with a “goodwill gesture” of bill credits.
Now, let me be clear. I am utterly torn here. On the one hand, sure. This is a Fortune 15 company with money out the wazzoo… What’s $900 when it comes to keeping a loyal and profitable customer? Sure. I’m with you. But on the other hand, man… Just because this lady found the magical phone number to call, she got almost $1000 credited to her. I assure you if she had just called normal Customer Service, they would have told her, sorry, but there’s nothing we can do. Why are we treating these customers so differently–just because they googled around and found a good phone number to call or email address to write to?
I still don’t have a good answer. But I wanted to tell you. You know the little old ladies who say, “I’m going to write to the president about this!”? Well, if they do, in fact, write to the president, they’ve basically hit the jackpot.
And so I got to thinking–as a consumer, why wouldn’t I go straight to Executive Relations when I have an issue with some other big company? Chances are, they’re equally powerful. I had been mulling this over in my mind, whether or not it was the right thing to do… And then I got the chance to really do it.
My mom booked tickets to come visit me, but instead of booking NOLA to Newark, she accidentally booked it backwards, Newark to NOLA. She was devastated when she learned of her mistake. United Airlines charges $200 to change flight reservations, in addition to whatever difference in cost from one flight to another.
I had paid for her tickets, and quite frankly didn’t want to spend $200 more just because of a simple error. I decided to email one of the United executives. I googled around, and an email address was very easy to find. In my email, I included all the key words/phrases that companies love/hate to hear. “My mother is a senior citizen and disabled.” “We’ve been long-time loyal customers.” “This was a simple mistake that happened only a day ago.” “We know some of your competitors don’t charge change fees.” “Please restore my faith in your company.”
Within 2 hours I got a call from their Executive Relations team. A nice lady booked my mom on the correct flights, waived the $200 change fee, waived the $75 difference in price, upgraded her to first class, and thanked me for being a loyal customer. LIKE MAGIC.
It was amazing. And so I had to share this with you. Is it abusive? I don’t think so. Companies have budget money allocated for the lucky people who find the magic number, so… why not be one of those lucky people?
I certainly don’t plan to call companies’ Executive Relations teams every time I book a flight, or have to pay for something expensive. In fact, I rarely ever call anyone’s customer service to complain about anything. I’m really not a complainer at all. But, if something has really gone wrong, especially if I know it’s going to be costly to fix, I don’t see what harm there is in contacting the office that has the authority to help more than anyone.
What do you think? Is this wrong or somehow immoral to do? Have you ever contacted a company’s Executive Relations team? What happened?