Thursday, April 26, 2012

Phone Number Transfers

Phone number transfers, or port-ins, were one of the biggest sources of problems for customers I've worked with. Whether it's confusion about the process, or the information needed, I've had more problems crop up for customers with porting, than with any other part of the sales process. I decided it was time to write a bit about how it works, and why it might be confusing.

If you ever have the misfortune of switching carriers, and you want to bring your phone number(s) with you, you have more preparation to do before you visit your local cell phone retailer. At the time that you set up your account, you'll need, in addition to all the other information you'd need to set up your account, The name and billing address of your former account, the account number, and the account password.

The account number is generally written on your cell phone bill, which should also have the billing address. I recommend taking your most recent bill into the store with you for the port-in. Beyond this information, you'll need the password. This is information a surprising number of customers I've helped don't know. Either they never set one up, or it's been so long they just can't remember. The next step is to call their customer service, and reset their password.

From my point of view, I prefer, unless I'm very busy, to make calls to customer service on behalf of my customers. This is because with experience comes efficiency, and knowing how to talk to the people at customer service to get the answers I want for my customer. Sometimes this requires a bit of creative truthing or selective omission to sneak through the system a little faster, or come out with a better deal for my customer. Resetting a password is something I cannot do for a customer, and I must relinquish the role of intermediary.

A good customer service rep will take advantage of this moment where he has the customer's ear, often going beyond the verification steps to start troubleshooting with the customer. This is usually fine, and often makes things easier for me. Occasionally though, while resetting a password, or getting an account number, my customer will coolly comment to the customer service rep that they're planning to take their account elsewhere.

I don't know why this happens, but it always lengthens the process a bit, as the customer service rep tries to talk my customer out of switching, which very rarely works. In any event, we eventually get the information we need, occasionally by hanging up and calling again. Only once did I ever have a customer service rep refuse to give us information because we were trying to leave. Only option was to try again with a different rep. I don't know if myself or the customer were more surprised.

With the information in hand, punching it into the system is easy enough. The only rub comes with the fact that in most systems I've tried, they don't alert you to an incorrect password. If you happen to guess wrong, or the agent types it in wrong, the only alert you will get to the fact that it didn't work is that 48 hours later, it still won't work.

If it hasn't worked, you have to call customer service, and ask for the port-in center, and they can then tell you why, and help you to fix it. They are usually very helpful once you get them on the phone, but it's the same process all over again.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Eventually, things will sort themselves out.

I've always hated port-ins, but they're a necessary evil if you want to take your number with you. At least they are for most people. There are ways to get around that, but I'll come back to that later.