T-Mobile Big-5 Conference Denver, Colorado 28-31 January 2008
This week I got to participate in something I would have never guessed could have resulted from collecting a bunch of obsolete computers. It all started because T-Mobile had contacted Jeremy Mehrle to see if he would be interested in speaking to T-Mobile managers from the perspective of a product/company fanatic. You might remember Jeremy's name because of his amazing collection of Apple computers showcased in his basement. Since Jeremy now works for Apple, he is no longer just a fan of Apple and didn't meet T-Mobile's criteria. Jeremy suggested to them that I might be just the person for their event.
After a few e-mails, I eventually began a series of interviews over the phone with T-Mobile event organizers. They were curious about my Apple loyalty and the extents to which I have demonstrated this. I talked about my extensive Apple computer collection, the RetroMacCast, and my life-long love of Apple products beginning with the Apple //e. During the course of the interviews, I learned I would participate on a panel of other product loyalists and speak before an audience of close to 2000 attendees. While John and I were in San Francisco attending Macworld Expo, I received the offer to fly out to Denver and speak at T-Mobile's Big-5 Conference. It was fitting I got the word minutes after speaking on the Macworld stage after being named an "Extreme Mac Fan".
The Big-5 Conference is T-Mobile's annual meeting of managers and the "Big-5" refers to their top five initiatives for the coming year. I never learned what those initiatives were because I was there for a specific purpose: tell my story so that T-Mobile managers might learn more about consumer loyalty.
I was joined by two other guests of T-Mobile. Rasheed, a 20-year-old St John's University student, was selected to attend due to his extreme devotion to the Sidekick line of mobile phones. Rasheed gained fame by spending countless hours in lines waiting for the latest release of each Sidekick. He's not only an expert on Sidekicks, but he really knows all cellphones and the industry inside and out. Danger, the designers of the Sidekick, were well aware of Rasheed's love for their products, and they recommended him to T-Mobile. Rasheed's dirty little secret at the conference was that he was an iPhone owner too. Rasheed and I got along great and during our time together, and I convinced him to start saving for a new Mac.
The third member of our panel was Dave or "Pup" as he is known to friends. Pup is a Harley-Davidson enthusiast from Nashville. He doesn't have a huge fleet of Harleys -- I believe he owns two at the moment. What sets Pup apart is his attendance at Harley events. A lifetime member of HOG, the Harley Owners Group), Pup turns any Harley gathering into an epic event. He and his friends will go so far as to get a tractor-trailer to bring spare bikes and accessories to events. Whenever we saw him, every piece of clothing (visible to us anyway) bore the Harley Davidson logo.
There was to be a fourth member of our panel. She was going to represent Starbucks fanatics, but she wound up canceling at the last minute due to the demands of her job. This was a really horrible thing to do to the organizers since there was no time to get someone else, and a fourth person would have rounded out our group very nicely. It was her loss though because the three of us had a fantastic time.
Our panel was one of three panels to address the conference. The other two consisted of disgruntled customers. The first panel had customers from competing wireless customers who had bad experiences, and the second had disgruntled T-Mobile customers. We had the opportunity to watch each of these panels and hear their horror stories. For example, one woman told the story of how she had to go through 18 different phones in the span of about a year because each one had been defective. The common theme expressed was their poor experiences dealing with customer service. I'm sure their stories gave the T-Mobile audience much to think about as they look to improve their own customer service.
Watching the other panels gave us an idea of what we were to expect. That still didn't take the shock of receiving a standing ovation from 1300+ people while marching into the auditorium to high-energy music. Each time we entered or exited the auditorium, we received the same response. Our segment was divided into two halves. In the first half, we took turns talking about our product loyalty and then took questions from the president of T-Mobile USA, Sue Nokes. I spoke about my fascination with Apple since my childhood all the way to my new favorite gadget, the iPhone. After answering a few questions from Sue, we were excused so that the audience could generate questions for us. The auditorium was equipped so that tables could text message questions, which were displayed on gigantic screens. We returned, again to a standing ovation, and received the questions. I wish I had a picture of the slide projected on the 80-foot screens showing our pictures. Each of our pictures had the logo of our corresponding favorite company/product below them.
Participating on that panel was an amazing experience. Until I become the next American Idol, I'll probably never receive that kind of rock star treatment again. After the session and on into the evening, people kept coming up to us to thank us for participating. I was very impressed by the commitment the T-Mobile folks have toward improvement. It's easy to understand why T-Mobile continues to receive such high scores in customer service.
The evening capped off the day with a few surprises. The three of us were invited to attend a catered dinner at the Hyatt where we were staying. T-Mobile really knows how to throw a party! There were probably a dozen open bars that got things started before a fantastic five-course meal. Before dinner, we received the first of the evening's surprises. To present a record seventh consecutive J.D. Power award for customer service, Lance Armstrong took the stage! Lance posed for pictures with some of the top T-Mobile customer service staff before we sat down to dinner. Following the meal, again receiving VIP treatment, the three of us were invited by Sue Nokes to sit front and center in front of the stage to watch the entertainment for the evening. Sue introduced Dana Carvey to thunderous applause. Dana performed for about an hour and did an excellent job of integrating the audience and T-Mobile material into his routine. The night ended with karaoke with production values worthy of music videos.
I need to say a final word about the treatment we received. Teresa from T-Mobile took care of us the entire time. T-Mobile picked up all of our expenses and Teresa made all the arrangements. We truly received the royal treatment and Teresa executed it flawlessly and made sure we were having fun the entire time we were there. There are many factors in deciding a wireless provider, but if you measured your provider on energy and heart, you would be hard pressed to find another group of people that exhibited these qualities more than T-Mobile. Thank you T-Mobile for a memorable experience and I look forward to seeing what you've got in store for us this year.