"Can You Hear Me Now?" The Secret Service Shopper Tries-on Verizon


I really hate going to the cellular phone store. Really hate it.

I’m always frustrated with my customer service experience because the sales people always try to sell me gadgets, not solutions. No, I do not need a camera phone. No, I do not need an MP3 player phone. No, I do not need text messaging to compete with my already overused Blackberry! No, I do not need the “cell-phone-that-does-it-all” generation telling me the features and functionality I need in to do my job! What I need is for salespeople who can hear me now store associates who actually:
  • Listen first,
  • Solve second, and
  • Sell third.

Every Verizon store experience I’ve ever had across the country has been mediocre at best and bad at worst.

As you might guess, I wasn’t looking forward to my recent visit to the Verizon store in Brea, California. It was rainy in a region not known for rain… was it a sign from the cellular gods?

The store was well lit, inviting, clean and organized. I opened the door and before it shut I heard behind me, “Welcome to Verizon, how can I help you?” It was a woman named Amber, who looked at me and once again politely asked how she could help. I told her I was a Verizon customer looking to upgrade a phone and my calling plan. She said, “You will want to speak to Torrey Studebaker.” She came out from behind her podium and directed me to Torrey. She introduced us, told him why I was there, then excused herself by saying that I was in good hands. She returned to her front-of-the-house podium just in time to greet more new customers in the same professional, welcoming manner.

(Dambit Gumby, don’t confuse me with a good sales experience!)

Torrey was an experienced professional knowledgeable, well-trained, empowered, and courteous. He asked, “What can I do for you today?” Clearly he was making sure he understood why I was there and how he could best help me.

He listened first (gasp!).

I gave him my cell number and within seconds he had my account history in front of him, as well as my wife’s. He confirmed my expectations of what I wanted - an upgraded phone and a calling plan.

Torrey then employed conversational analysis mode to keep me involved in the conversations at all times. He:
  • Looked at our current plan
  • Reviewed at the history of both cell phones for the last three months
  • Walked me through our usage of both phones over the last three months.
  • Scrutinized our previous bills to see if a new plan would eliminate any extra charges mysteriously accumulate.
  • Asked me key questions about how my wife and I use our phones, especially in terms of business and pleasure travel.
  • Outlined a variety of new plans and explained how these plans compared to my current one.
  • Recommended a plan that better fit our needs based on usage, features, and flexibility, and saved us $20 a month. We got more of everything we wanted and none of what we don’t need at a significant savings.

Torrey solved second.

Next, he showed me a variety of phones that met our needs at the price we wanted to pay. I bought my wife a new phone devoid of any features/functions she didn’t want or need.

He sold third.

I was going to get out of there in under 20 minutes and for less than a $100 bucks. I was feeling great about my experience which, to my surprise, didn’t end there.

As Torrey wrapped up the sale, he delivered comeback service and value. He took the phone out of the box, put on the cover my wife wanted, and voluntarily transferred her phone book to the new phone. All the while he trained me on what features the new phone and plan came with, how they were different from the old, and how she could use them efficiently. After making sure I knew how to process the rebate, he excused himself as an emergency phone call came in for him.

As I was leaving, I wondered to myself - Given years of poor shopping experiences, did I just get lucky? So I took a few minutes to observe other salespeople assisting customers. They, too, appeared to be helpful, knowledgeable, professional, and conversational. Above all, they seemed to genuinely like their jobs.

How did this Verizon store deliver great customer service where all the others I’ve visited failed to do so? They:

  1. Defined the outcome of the customer experience from the customer perspective
  2. Planned what that experience looked and felt like at each step of the interaction
  3. Hired people who, first and foremost, liked people
  4. Thoroughly trained their sales associates to execute the plan with enthusiasm and respect - from initial greeting and handoff to listening first, solving second, and selling third.

What a concept. What a store. What a changed perception I have. And what a great learning opportunity this is for Verizon - no need to do a benchmarking survey on industry best practices… just walk into the Brea store.

Can you hear me now?


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