This article first appeared in TheCustomer. In the couple of days since it published, I’ve received lots of feedback that it struck a nerve. T-Mobile is not the only company that fails to live up to a customer’s expectation – most brands fail at some point. What seems to have registered is that T-Mobile raised the stakes, but then failed to live up to the expectations they had raised.
I was a T-Mobile customer for more than ten years. I was also a huge brand advocate. I lauded their “un-carrier” strategy on keynote stages around the world. We reached out to John Legere, T-Mobile’s very vocal CEO, for an interview when writing “Marketing to the Entitled Consumer” and quoted him in our book. As they rolled out their un-carrier strategy, I loved that T-Mobile didn’t charge me for data when I travelled overseas. I was fascinated by how they led the mobile industry in eliminating early termination fees and introduced innovative approaches to ensuring that streaming for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and others wouldn’t eat into to your data plan. So, it might be surprising to hear that even though T-Mobile still offers all of these benefits, I recently switched providers.
What was it that was so egregious that turned a brand ambassador into a lapsed customer? They simply stopped living up to my expectations. I’ve written before in these pages about the “transference of entitlement” – the idea that consumers’ expectations continuously rise based on their positive experiences. T-Mobile failed to keep pace with the expectations that they themselves had set.
I paid for an unlimited data plan for our entire family. Yet, on more than one occasion they slowed my data down to such a low pace that it rendered it useless. On the second occasion, I had used a couple of megabytes of data more than they included in their unlimited plan. I had less than 36 hours before my data clock would be reset for the next month, but T-Mobile wanted to charge me $15 to provide access to faster data. Across our family plan, we still had hundreds of gigabytes of unused data, but, the way T-Mobile saw it, they were on someone else’s plan.
Across our family plan, we still had hundreds of gigabytes of unused data, but, the way T-Mobile saw it, they were on someone else’s plan.
I probably would have continued to put up with this level of service until I filled in a customer satisfaction questionnaire. I was honest in my feedback. I heard nothing. In my mind, the un-carrier had become just another carrier. So, when Apple released its most recent stable of phones, and all of the carriers rolled out their offers to try to attract new customers, I surveyed the market and switched providers.
Despite spending thousands of dollars a year for more than a decade, nobody made any attempt to understand why I left or whether they could get me back. Which simply confirmed to me that I had made the right choice. T-Mobile was no longer capable of meeting my expectations — ones that they had helped to set — and so I took my business elsewhere.
Why do companies struggle to meet customer expectations? Most of the time, it’s because they make no real effort to understand them. Executives and marketing teams focus on which customers to target with an offer, rather than understanding their customers’ attitudes and values and aligning to meet — or exceed — them. Once upon a time, T-Mobile was a company that I pointed to as an example of a firm doing it right. Now, they can’t even meet their own expectations.
Dave Frankland is co-author of Marketing to the Entitled Consumer. Dave helps brands turn unreasonable consumer expectations into lasting relationships. As a Principal at Atlaas and MD at Winterberry Group, he has helped hundreds of companies to develop business, customer, and organizational strategies. In previous roles, he served as Chief Strategy officer of Selligent Marketing Cloud, co-founded and led Forrester’s Customer Intelligence research practice, and has held various strategy and communication roles at brands and agencies.