Monday, June 23, 2008

Verizon's designs on me

My cell phone died. I could place and receive calls; the display worked fine; but I could not hear anyone and no one could hear me. Kaput. No point asking about repair, because repair consists of tossing in the scrap pile and replacing with a new phone. Except phone models are obsolete about five minutes after they’re introduced, so replace means upgrade. Lamentable as this state of affairs may be, it is not news and it is not what this post is about.

No, this post is about the design of Verizon stores and the design of their entire customer-facing operation.

Let’s start with the stores
I purchased my now-defunct phone nineteen months ago and the store has been remodeled since then. So I assume my local store is up to date in terms of Verizon’s corporate design standard. Understand that I’m over sixty and a very light telephone user, not the heart of Verizon’s target market. Nonetheless, cell phones are pretty much a necessity these days, and I think a company of Verizon’s size ought to be able to serve a broad market, not just twenty-three-year-olds.

Here’s how I experienced the store. Initially I felt as if I were walking onto the set of a dystopian futuristic movie. Cold. Black. Evil. A small display opposite the front door invited me to put my own name on a waiting list. However, my eye went first to a human face behind what appeared to be a service counter, and I did not notice the check-in stand until later. The young man I spoke with, to his credit, put my name into the queue rather than telling me to go back to the entrance and type it in myself. He then told me I’d be called from the technical service counter at the back of the store.

The store is vast, with a large amount of open floor space. I assume that on weekends, the place fills up with customers waiting (futilely, for the most part) for service. On a weekday morning, it’s suitable for getting some exercise running laps. The people who think this is a good idea are mostly under five, and they quickly find that there are numerous gadgets within easy reach, leading to a lot of yelling by parents to “leave that alone” and “put that back.” Between the shouting, the elevator music a tad too loud, and the constant ringing of phones, all bouncing off hard surfaces, hearing a clerk call your name is a challenge.

Arrayed around the store are identical-looking displays that probably have different groups of products—or maybe not. It was hard to tell. Nothing told me how one item was different from another except as to price. And the posted prices seemed to have little to do with what one actually pays. It was all very confusing, to be sure. The other visual features consisted of signs listing services but pointing nowhere and counters with personnel sitting behind them, apparently engaged in something not involving customers at all.

So here are some design tips for Verizon, if they’re listening, which we all know they’re not:
  • Warm the place up (introduce some colors other black, gray, and red).
  • Quiet the place down (use softer, more sound-absorbent materials; lower the ceiling).
  • Use signs to direct people to what they need and to identify the different sections of the store. And put them where people can see them without craning their necks.
  • Kidproof the store.
  • Don’t seat employees behind what look like service counters if they’re not there to provide service.
Now about that customer service…
I have no inside information on how Verizon trains their customer-facing employees. I only know that as a customer I feel ill-treated, ill-informed, and disrespected. The friendly and extremely helpful technician who eventually called me over and looked at my phone was quite knowledgeable. But she was not empowered to complete a transaction with me; she had to send me back to the sales vultures at the front of the store. The technician explained to me, later, when I returned to her to upload my contact list to the new phone, that the technicians take pride in their personal integrity and try not to swindle customers, but the reason is that they don’t work on commission.

All I can say about the sales staff is that they do not smile, do not answer questions, do not explain the features or benefits of one model versus another, assume that the customer knows as much about the many choices on offer as they do, and withhold as much critical information as they legally can, in order to induce customers to make bad decisions. Whether they come by these traits naturally or have to be motivated to express them, I have to blame the company, not the individual salespeople, because my experience has been the same on every visit to the store, and I’ve never seen the same person twice.

Here are my customer service training tips for Verizon, again offered in full knowledge that nobody who can do anything about them is reading this blog:
  • When a customer walks into the store, someone should approach and say, “Welcome to the Verizon Wireless store. How may I assist you today?” They should be smiling, warm, and genuinely interested in hearing the answer to that question. They should then walk with the customer to the correct destination and hand the customer off to someone who can directly assist the person.
  • At no time—ever—should there be both an unassisted customer wandering the store and an employee visible behind a counter and not waiting on a customer. Employees should be trained to set aside what they are working on and offer assistance.
  • Employees should be cross-trained in store operations so that any employee can complete a transaction once it begins.
  • Deceiving customers or withholding information to get them to buy more than they asked for should be cause for dismissal on the spot. Bait and switch is illegal.
What’s it to you?
Design encompasses more than great graphics. And design matters. How do people of different ages experience your store? How well do your employees treat your customers?

1 comment:

Carolyn Haley said...

It's not just Verizon. A very small Unicel store in my community has the same style and layout, though the person who served us _was_ able to conduct the entire transaction, and answer almost all questions.