Call Center Customer Care

by PrepaidWirelessGuy

I've seen an increasing number of inquiries and general discussion

about very poor call center customer care experiences in prepaid
wireless, and I felt compelled to post this here.  There's
absolutely no doubt that customer service quality has been lacking for
both prepaid and postpaid.  However, with the greater price
sensitivity of the prepaid business, there's been a long deterioration
of quality service that certainly hasn't gone unnoticed.

What's The Root Problem?

Fortunately, though sadly, this is easy to answer.  For years
carriers, and even companies across industries, have been moving their
customer care call centers offshore, whether it be the Philippines,
India, and even Mexico, for the simple objective of saving costs.
 The spirit of the solution is simple.  The cost of
labor in these countries is cheaper, and in a lot of cases, the
education level is even similar to what you'd find for similar
positions in North America.  So why has it been failing so

One major pain point has been that even for knowledgeable customer care
reps, there has been a language or accent barrier.  Meaning
that they either don't understand us very well, or we have difficulty
understanding them.  Some may find this comment to be
prejudice, however, it's a simple fact.  For call center
customer care quality to be where it needs to be, both parties need to
understand one another.  The simple fact is that thick accents
can severely impact our ability to communicate.  Given enough
time, most people can adapt to different accents, however, we don't
tend to call enough to make that adjustment.

The Challenge

Carriers have continued to struggle with the age old question of how to
keep costs low.  Managing call centers is a major cost,
usually second only to the cost of topup margins and compensation.
 For even modest prepaid wireless providers, we're talking
about tens of millions of dollars PER MONTH.  So even small
cost reductions can have a major impact.  And let's be real
here, we all want the lowest possible plan prices, phones, etc. If asked,
I bet most of us would say we'd rather have a lower cost phone or plan,
than have carriers spend that money on better customer care.
 Though therein lies the paradox.  When we do have to
call customer care, we bitch and complain about how bad it is!
 In other words, we hate it, but we don't want to pay for it.

Some Solutions

Carriers have tried different things over the years, including
implementing call center speech and accent training, which is common
for these outsourced call center companies to provide, changed
countries (ex. from India to the Philippines or Mexico) where language
barriers have been generally felt to be less extreme, and even paying
more for supposedly better
quality.  The outcome on these
changes hasn't been impressive to say the least.

Other Considerations

It's not just about the cost of labor, but also the
performance metrics that carriers implement in these call centers.
 For example, they must answer the phone within a certain
number of seconds (ex. 80% of call must be answered within 30 seconds),
and the call duration must be no greater a defined amount of time (ex.
1.5 minutes).  These types of metrics result in rushed calls,
where customer service reps are more concerned with ending the call on
time than actually helping the customer.  They'd rather you
call back and talk to someone else, than stay on the phone with them
for five minutes.

To combat this, carriers implemented more thoughtful metrics like
"first call resolution," which means that customers' problems must be
solved on the first call, with less emphasis on the duration of the
call.  Unfortunately, this type of more meaningful metric is
much harder to analyze to know whether it's actually being done.

The Current Approach

Carriers have begun moving call centers back to North America where
wages are higher, but overall quality of call center customer care is
better.  They've often implemented less center hours to help
control costs, and some have even implemented fees (ex. $1-$3) to
actually talk to a live rep.  In conjunction with this
strategy, carriers have implemented and improved their self-service
channels (i.e. Phone, Web, On Device) to encourage customers to solve
their problems in these much lower cost automated channels.

It's clear that some providers have done a better job at this than
others.  For example, Virgin Mobile is famous for their
automated phone system that calls itself "Alex".  If you've
ever tried to navigate Alex's menu system to get what you need, you
probably also have damage on your walls, and bruises on your head from
beating it against the wall, particularly if you actually want or need
to talk to a live rep!


Ultimately, some of these newer strategies are actually quite wise.
 However, carriers need to ensure that live call center
customer care reps can be reached when needed.  I don't
 think most of us mind self-service if it's easy to do,
however, when we need to talk with someone, it needs to be easy and
painless.  A poor experience with these front line staff can
motivate us to change carriers, which ultimately can kill a wireless
business.  Lastly, as the entire prepaid industry shifts
towards smartphones, the complexity of troubleshooting has vastly
increased.  It's thus understandable that training needs to be
better, and the overall quality and education of customer care jobs
needs to evolve.

Please feel free to share your thoughts, experiences, and
frustrations by adding your comments below!

Comments for Call Center Customer Care

Click here to add your own comments

Oct 30, 2013
No One Wants To Pay More!
by: Anonymous

As others have said, if you bring call centers back to North America, it's going to increase costs...period. Do any of us really want to pay more for our service to accommodate for this increase in! We all whine and complain, however, at the end of the day we don't want to pay more. They just need better training and better accent management classes; it's as simple as that.

May 15, 2013
Keep The Jobs Here!
by: Anonymous

Absolutely, they should keep the jobs in America. I can't believe the cost is really that much more. After all, I end up calling multiple times for the same issue when the person either can't resolve my problem, or can't understand me (or me them).

If there were more people employed here, they would be paying taxes, which would result in the government not having to increase my taxes. When my taxes increase that means I can't afford to buy more stuff, which means retailers lose out and lay off employees, and the cycle continues. Please keep the money in our country!

May 09, 2013
Do We Really Want To Go Domestic?
by: Anonymous

I know this is going to sound un-American, however, do we really want carriers to bring call centers back from overseas? No doubt that will result in increased costs. As value conscious people, are we really willing to pay for it? I suspect even though a lot of us are constantly complaining about customer service, if we're asked to pay higher prices for prepaid plans for North American centers, will we be happy about that?

If carriers focus on great self-service options, and fix large service related issues, we won't need to call in. I'd rather have a lower priced plan, and deal with calling customer care once in a blue moon, and having some difficulty communicating and getting my problem solved, than paying more each month to support such service.

I'm sure there are ways for those international call centers to improve. I think even domestic reps will have trouble solving problems because of the complexity of smartphones and systems these days, so at the end of the day, we may not see that large of a difference in quality customer care either way.

Mar 15, 2013
To PrepaidWirelessGuy
by: Doug

Yes, the eBay re-sellers are not happy! Most are offering perfectly good Virgin Mobile phones at a great price they picked up at bulk auctions. Some are forced to list the phones now as "Bad ESN" or "Can Not Be Activated" due to negative feedback and returns according to eBay policy.

Whether or not the problem is caused by the recent system migration, update, or upgrade, the problem is there and people need to be aware of it.

If Virgin Mobile would just inform its customers that there is a problem which will be resolved and give us a reasonable time to wait, most of us would be perfectly happy. Instead, the company puts us on hold and transfers us until we just give up or they disconnect the call.

The support staff for Virgin Mobile in the Philippines and South America now have the stigma of being complete idiots due to misinformation provided to customers on a daily basis. We would be perfectly content dealing with overseas support staff and language barriers if we got results and not put on hold or transferred for hours.

I currently tell all my friends that before buying an expensive Virgin Mobile Android phone to call customer care and see what they are in store for if they have a problem. Half of them choose another carrier.

For those of us who upgrade our phones with the latest and greatest, and wish to give our old phones to friends and relatives instead of trashing them, it is a losing battle.

I am not an expert in the field, and all this comes from having upgraded my phone and trying to activate the old one for a friend. I also purchased several great Virgin Mobile phones on eBay to give as gifts to friends and relatives.
In fact, several months ago I had no idea what ESN/MEID, MSID, and CDMA was short for. I have Virgin Mobile to thank for making my introduction to wireless phone technology a completely miserable event.

Mar 15, 2013
Very Lame!
by: PrepaidWirelessGuy

For lack of a better term, that's so lame! Thank you for sharing your experience. It sounds like there's a systematic issue with their process. Moving MEIDs to a white list is child's play in the IT world.

Even worse is that they have a Pass It On link, which I didn't know existed; and that process doesn't work from what you're saying.

For phones that haven't been lost or stolen, it's really to Virgin's benefit to allow it to be activated, as it saves them any phone subsidy or dealer compensation to sell that customer a new phone. And, obviously, they would get more activations from people who otherwise wouldn't even buy a new Virgin phone.

In addition, those bulk re-sellers must be kicking and screaming from customer complaints selling phones that people can't use. It really does sound like unintended issues, as opposed to an actual company policy; they really need to fix this issue!

Mar 14, 2013
eBay and Craigslist Virgin Mobile Phones
by: Anonymous

Most of the Virgin Mobile phones sold on eBay and Craigslist are not able to be activated for the following reasons:

The item was a store return and sold at bulk auctions such as TechLiquidators who sell Best Buy's returned, damaged, and salvaged merchandise.

Individuals buy a large quantity (bulk) of the items cheap from the auctions and resell them one at a time or in small quantities on eBay.

Since the phones have been activated and returned, the phone is already associated with an account. As Virgin Mobile makes it almost impossible to cancel an account, the serial number of the phone is black listed when the phone plan is suspended due to nonpayment or use of a top off card.

Even if an individual manages to cancel their account with Virgin Mobile the serial number on the phone remains blacklisted and can not be activated. The 90 day period they claim you have to wait after a plan has been suspended or cancelled is false.

I purchased a new Virgin Mobile phone and gave the old one to a friend who is unable to activate it. In transferring my phone number and account to the new phone the service was deactivated on the old one. Virgin Mobile has been "processing" the cancellation for over a month now and refused to activate the phone for my friend. The new phone works fine with my service transferred. With my friend and I on the phone with Virgin Mobile providing all the account information, Pin Number, MSID, ESN/MEID, S/W Version, PRL Version and getting nowhere, how do you expect to get a phone activated that you purchased from a stranger?

The "Pass It On" link for reuse of Virgin Mobile phones is a sham and directs you to call customer care which is absolutely useless.

When you purchase a new phone from Virgin Mobile or a retailer like Target, Radio Shack, Best Buy or Walmart, you should have no problems if:
The phone never malfunctions.
You have no questions or problems operating the phone.
You keep the plan paid or topped off with no interruption.
You are able to use the Virgin Mobile website to totally manage your account.
You intend to chunk your old Virgin Mobile phone when you upgrade or your phone is damaged.

Mar 14, 2013
Charged Me After Cancellation!
by: Anonymous

So I bought a Virgin Mobile iPhone 4 late last year. Although I activated the account and paid for the first month, I never even opened the plastic wrap on the phone box. I had signed up for autopay the day I activated the phone.

I then returned the unused phone a couple of weeks later (massive hassle!). I didn't expect to get a refund for the first month's service, but I didn't expect to have my card charged the next month as I had already cancelled service.

So I had to call them to dispute the charge. It took some time. A couple of calls (after they hung up on me), and a few transfers. Once I got to the right person, they credited the money back to my card, and properly cancelled the account (whatever that means).

I don't understand why a used (un-activated) Virgin Mobile phone (ex. purchased on eBay) can't be activated again? Although I haven't tried it, I think it should work so long as it hasn't been reported stolen.

Mar 14, 2013
Virgin Mobile-The Worst Customer Service
by: Anonymous

Welcome to Virgin Mobile, the worst customer service on the planet!

In a perfect world where cell phones never malfunctioned, were never lost or stolen, and credit cards never expired, Virgin Mobile would be number one. Unfortunately, this is the real world where problems happen and people have questions.

Virgin Mobile is set up to sell phones, prepaid and postpaid plans, and nothing more. If you have a problem, you will regret the day you ever purchased a Virgin Mobile phone.

If you decide to cancel your service with Virgin Mobile, you are required to call them. There is no option on their website or by email to cancel. You will be placed on hold for hours and transferred many times until you just give up. If you have recurring payments set up with your credit/debit card, you are better off cancelling the card and requesting a new one so they will not charge you each month for a plan you tried to cancel and do not use.

If you are thinking of buying a Virgin Mobile phone off craigslist or eBay, think again. Virgin Mobile phones are sold only on their website and at authorized retailers such as Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and Radio Shack. The phones are returns that people purchased and decided not to keep and are sold at auction by liquidators in bulk because they are essentially worthless and can not be activated.

The others are sold by individuals who exceeded the time to return the phone, have activated it, and wrapped it back in the original packaging so it looks new. Since it is almost impossible to cancel service with Virgin Mobile, you will be unable to reactivate the phone after service has been cut off due to nonpayment.

Mar 06, 2013
I Hate Alex!
by: Anonymous

I hear you about how horrible Virgin's Alex system is! It's amazing how truly annoying "he" is, and how hard it is to get through to an actual live person. I don't know why they feel the need to make it so darn difficult. I actually prefer to use the system (or the Web), but when I call, it's for a reason, because I can't find what I need anywhere else. Please just let me talk to live agent, get my question answered or issue taken care of, and let me get back to my life. With all of the issues people report dealing with Alex, it blows my mind that they still haven't gotten rid of that system. Go figure...

Mar 05, 2013
Contract Carrier Support Sucks Too
by: Josh

I used to be with Verizon (10 years) and used to use their customer service as an excuse for staying with them. The last couple years their supposedly superb support has slid. My attitude now is that if I'm going to get crummy service from anyone I choose, then I may as well pay nearly nothing for the crummy service.

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