Every year, T-Mobile gathers a few hundred people, hands out noisemakers and fires up a video stream to announce what it hopes will be the next big thing in the wireless industry.
Far from its headquarters in Washington state — on a stage at a call center in North Charleston — the company’s outspoken chief executive, John Legere, said its new idea is bigger than any it has tried in the past 15 years.
It’s putting someone on the phone when you call.
That strategy, announced Wednesday, runs through the Lowcountry, where T-Mobile now runs its largest call center. Its facility on Rivers Avenue is expected to have some 1,200 employees once it’s fully staffed up. The larger center, which opened in March, is part of a plan to reset the way customer service works.
The idea, which has been in testing for the last few years, is simple enough: When a customer calls in, they’ll get the same team every time, instead of bouncing between departments.
So if you call T-Mobile from South Carolina, you’ll get someone in North Charleston, whether you need to file a claim or figure out a billing issue. Each team — they're called a "team of experts" — has representatives from all the traditional departments, and each one is assigned to customers in a certain place.
That’s why the North Charleston call center is decked with the names of cities across the East Coast, like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Raleigh. Over by the Philadelphia group, logos for the Eagles, Phillies and 76ers are painted on the wall.
The strategy is a bet that an upfront investment in customer service — hiring more representatives, for instance — will yield better results. The company says that because it doesn’t bounce customers between as many people, its model is actually saving money, about 13 percent in the second quarter.
The efficiency plan includes scheduled service calls if representatives aren’t available, and it includes a texting feature through its mobile app.
T-Mobile is also betting that the model will help retain employees by easing pressure to move through calls as fast as possible, and it has reduced the volume of calls coming in by working out issues the first time, said Matt Staneff, the company’s chief commercial officer. Its worker turnover has been cut nearly in half in testing.
"We've found time and time again that when we make a bold move like that and it's the right thing for customers, the business results follow very rapidly," Staneff said at Wednesday's event.
T-Mobile — the nation’s third-largest wireless carrier — announced its plan in a broadside against the automated phone trees used by its chief competitors, AT&T and Verizon Wireless. And as the company prepares to jump into the video-streaming market, it railed against the cable giants Comcast and Charter Communications, too.
"They all suck, really bad," Legere said.
But in a show of reconciliation — or maybe a taunt — Callie Field, the company’s top customer service executive, said T-Mobile would open its call centers to the competition and give them their patents to the system.