More Tips on Getting Better Customer Service

If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you’ll know that customer service is one of my pet peeves – and praises, when somebody actually gets it right.

For my upcoming US trip, I need a cellphone. Actually, three, for the three of us going to Las Vegas for CES, so we can keep track of each other during the show. Though we all have tri-band phones that will work in the US, roaming charges from Italy are ridiculous.

I was astonished to find that there seems to be no way to simply buy a SIM card for whatever service and pop it into the phone I already have, as I did in India. Every US carrier wants me to buy an entirely new phone. This is annoying, since I am used to my own phone and have all my numbers on it. But there appears to be no way around it. US consumers sure put up with a lot of rubbish from their cellphone providers.

I consulted with my group of online experts, who concurred in recommending TracFone, and one even sent me a special free minutes offer. So I went straight to the TracFone site and ordered three cheap cellphones. Or tried to.

As I had been expecting – because it happens so often on US sites – it wouldn’t take my foreign-billed credit card. I could buy the phones from Amazon with any credit card, but that would cost a bit more, as would buying them in a shop.

Stubborn creature that I am, I decided to write to TracFone’s customer service about this. What do I have to lose?

But I knew pretty much what to expect from a low-level customer service rep. So I used an old trick (previously mentioned on my site – see below – and sometimes used on me in my Adaptec/Roxio days). I did a search for “Tracfone CEO” and found out his name. (I also saw, from the press releases mentioning him, that TracFone does a lot of socially-conscious stuff. That made a good impression.)

Now I had to figure out his email address. The address I had, customerservice@tracfone-ild.com, did not look like a corporate HQ adress – some sort of service center. CEO not likely to have email there. I sniffed around some more, found a press release with the email address of a company spokeswoman. Her address was formatted first initial-middle initial-lastname@tracfone.com From that, I could guess the format of the CEO’s email. So I copied my email to customer service to a couple of likely addresses for him. I was polite, and pointed out that they were missing potential business from travellers like myself, coming to the US with a need for a phone.

That was about 11:30 yesterday morning. At 1:20, I received an email from the CEO to someone named Steve, cc’d to me, instructing him to assist me in my purchase. I immediately thanked the CEO and said I was sure I would enjoy doing business with his company.

At 4:30 the same afternoon, I received the expected reply from customer service: “It was managements decision to only accept US based Credit Cards for security and business reasons.”

I’ll give them credit for swiftness of response, though a zero on punctuation (and, of course, helpfulness).

I’m now waiting to see whether Steve manages to pull this off for me. Even if he doesn’t, at least the attitude at the top is the correct one. Who knows, maybe they’ll change their credit card policy and find themselves with a whole new income stream.

later – Steve couldn’t come up with a payment method fast enough to solve the problem, so I’ll just have to buy from a store. He did tell me which were likely to have the largest selection of phones, and that the refill cards I want are also available there. That’s enough of a good-faith effort for TracFone to get my business.

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