Saturday, October 31, 2009

IMHO: Change of “Hearth”

We made a provider change last week.

We really hadn’t been focused on making a change, though the subject had come up from time to time. In fact, considering how long we had been thinking about making a change without actually doing anything about it, the change itself felt almost accidental in its suddenness. So sudden, in fact, that, in hindsight, I found myself wondering if we were “hasty”—perhaps too hasty.

Make no mistake—we had been happy enough with our current provider, certainly at first. In fact, we had been with them for a number of years and had, over time, expanded that relationship to include a fully bundled package of services. That made certain aspects simpler, of course—though we discovered pretty quickly that the “bundle” presented more seamlessly than it actually was delivered. Still, net/net, we were ahead of the game financially, and certainly no worse on the delivery side; we were just a bit disappointed in the disconnect between the sale and the service levels.

And all was fine for a while—or so it seemed. Looking back, there were signs of trouble that we could have seen—if we had been looking. There were unexpected charges on the invoices, and services that we were sure had been described as being part of the bundle that turned out not to be. There was the monitoring service that was supposed to be in place that we found out wasn’t—quite by accident, and months later. Over time we cut back on the services included, but the prices just kept going up. We were, quite simply, getting less and paying more, and getting less than we thought we were paying for. And it grated on us.

In hindsight, I wish we had been more vocal about our discontent. That we had called up and questioned those invoice charges. But, in the overall scheme of things, the charges weren’t large, just not what we expected. We figured that perhaps we had been the ones to misunderstand—and didn’t want to look “stupid” by calling to complain about a charge that some fine print in some document somewhere said was perfectly legitimate. Meaning always to go check that out sometime, the time to do so never materialized. Instead, we talked about how aggravating it was—and how we should do something about it…sometime.

Unfortunately, change is painful and time-consuming. The emotional and fiscal toll these changes took, while annoying, simply wasn’t enough to put change at the top of the to-do list. So, we talked about a change—and every so often asked friends and acquaintances about their experience(s). Of course, it was hard to find someone else who was in exactly the same situation—and a surprising number simply empathized with our plight, being stuck in much the same situation themselves. All of which conveyed—to us, anyway—a sense that, uncomfortable as we might be with the service package, we were probably about as well-positioned as we could be.

Then, one day, out of the blue, an opportunity presented itself. We weren’t looking for it, as I said earlier, but the months of frustration left us open to a casual message from an enterprising salesman—who not only knew his product, he clearly knew the problems that others like us had with the provider we were with. He did more than empathize with our situation. He did not pump me for information about what I was looking for, or what I didn’t like about my current situation. Rather, he was able to speak about the features/benefits that his firm offered…and, to my ears anyway, essentially ran through the list of concerns I had—but had not articulated—with our current situation. In fact, before our conversation was done, he had pointed out to me things that his firm offered as a matter of course that my current provider hadn’t even mentioned to me in all the years we had been associated—things I had assumed we couldn’t get, or couldn’t get without paying a lot more.

We made the change this past weekend—and while it’s early yet, I’m thrilled with the results.

Now, I realize I never gave my current provider the option of retaining my business. Moreover, I know that, had I simply made a call to tell them about the package/price we were getting from the new provider, they would have matched, if not bettered, the deal. Ironically, both points were made—and made somewhat obnoxiously, IMHO—when we called to tell our former provider about their change in status (ironically, by being a jerk about the whole thing, it only served to affirm our decision).

Ultimately, our former provider set themselves up by taking our business for granted, for (apparently) caring more about attracting new customers than in attending to our concerns, and for (apparently) assuming that “quiet” meant satisfied.

Are YOU happy, content, and “quiet?” Or have you just quit complaining?

—Nevin E. Adams, JD

Editor’s Note: For the record, the provider change recounted above involves my cable company.

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