Leadership investigate

Why bad customer service can make me hate your company with a white hot passion

Terrible customer service will taint people's minds against a company and even a product, no matter how extraordinary it is.

As I write this article, my head is threatening to blow up and scatter brain matter all over the place. Gross? Yes, but that’s what happens when you’re angry and have no outlet for the anger.  This is what happens when you deal with the cable company.

I recently moved into a new house. With a move comes the requisite red tape—doing an address change with the PO, canceling your old utilities and starting new ones—but nothing prepares you for the special hell of dealing with the cable company. Or at least the one I was dealing with.

I’ll spare you the goriest details but the process of getting cable installed in the new place involved being on hold for a total of five hours (including waiting in a chat room for a customer rep), cable being strung incorrectly around the perimeter of my house and not buried (the techs never came back), the final installation not even being what I’d ordered, etc.

Basically, if this cable company were a person, I’d punch it right in the stomach. Since it’s not, I will share my displeasure through social media, where I will name names and warn everyone I know to stay away from the place.

So my question is why a company would have an average hold time of 45 minutes for any call—whether it’s someone ordering or someone complaining about a service. Is it a matter of cheapness, just an unwillingness to hire enough people to deal effectively with clientele? Or did this cable company just happen to find all of its employees from a low IQ pool?

And why doesn’t this company have some kind of quality control measures in place for their installer contractors? Is the long hold time a way to make sure they never hear any complaints?

It’s unexplainable and unacceptable. The only experience I have had that’s even come close to is the wait lines at my cell phone service provider. (Is it me, or do those reps stare at their screens an inordinately long period of time when setting anything up?)

I don’t care if you offer your end-users computing speed that is so fast it’s almost time travel, if you can’t work with the customer in a satisfactory manner, then you are losing more than you think. Once your company gets a bad reputation, it’s very, very hard to undo it.



About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

17 comments
insidereye
insidereye

I have a picture of Tennant company "customer service", using a post it to block incoming calls from customers!

Of course when u get a hold of them you are already pissed. Very unprofessional.


Staevart
Staevart

Given that the major telecoms in the US have monopolies in their "exclusive areas", I'm not surprised at the way you were treated. Read "Captive Audience" by Prof. Susan Crawford. It'll open your eyes at how the vaunted American free enterprise system has been thoroughly corrupted by corporate America

Scott Chapman
Scott Chapman

It basic psychology, bad experience are more likely to imprint on people than positive ones. Its sad but true.

inertman
inertman

must be your location. while i have regular issues w/ comcast, and am usually pretty het up when i call them, i never wait more than 7 mins on hold and usually get them to cut my bill in half by the end of my issue.  my bigger cs complaints revolve around tech, specifically, asus and gigabyte, but there are many like ocz, transcend and even sprint. the worst thing they do is not read my email/chat and request that i perform every last thing i specified i already tried, sending me a form letter/email. wtf?!

askprao
askprao

There is a great line in the move Outsourced - 2006:

Call Centre Rep: Please understand that all American's are upset about outsourcing... so we have located American made version of all our products. If you have a pen, I will give you the website of an American company that makes an eagle statue very similar to ours. same size, same material. Only theirs are made 100 percent in America.

Customer: Well, thanks, I appreciate it. But is the price the same?

Call Centre Rep: No, sir, there’s $212 more.

I have a need for exceptional customer service (could be the OCD in me).  I attempt to deliver it in all my business dealings (most of the time I believe I am successful, my Customer knows better).  I have learned to accept "good enough" customer service as the closest I can get.  A 45 minutes wait time is not good enough.

Question - Are we driving the price of products and services down to commodity levels and expecting exceptional customer service?  Maybe it is too expensive to have volumes of people managing the call centre to provide even a reasonable service (forget exceptional)?  Unfortunately, if the company doesn't realize that a "good enough" customer service is needed and they aren't providing even that, they are going to loose business, then they should loose you as a customer.

f-John_Bartley
f-John_Bartley

If a company cares about their customers, they don't outsource. Simple as that.

An outsourced rep has no way to communicate with the company about problems. The outsourced rep is isolated from the company if a problem doesn't fit in the box, so there's no out-of-the-box solution possible.

Outsourced reps have productivity quotas and the measures of customer satisfaction are subordinate to that.

Let's not even talk about overseas call centers. If you want to buy something and you care about customer service, call their support line. If you land in the Phillipines, fuggedaboutit.

Old Rockin' Dave
Old Rockin' Dave

I feel the same way about LG. When my phone was lost/stolen, I activated a slightly older LG phone we had and weren't using. When I took out the battery to record the serial number, a tiny spring fell out and got lost and the battery cover wouldn't stay on. It looked like the kind of item the factory would buy by the kilogram instead of by the piece. I asked LG customer service if I could get a replacement - nothing doing. I offered to buy one postage paid. I asked if they could give me the specs so I could find one elsewhere. The only thing they offered was to have me ship the phone to them for service that would cost me between $40 and $100, shipping and insurance not included. The "extra value" that would supposedly make it worth it was that they would clean it as well as replace the spring. It would take 4-6 weeks to get my phone back, not counting time in transit. I wrote to the president of LG and explained that I would no longer permit any LG products into my house, down to an LG pencil or paperclip, if there are such things. I got no response. It's been about two years now, and I stand true to my word. LG will never pass my door again.

info
info

They stare at their screens for so long because they've all been sold on a Remote Access solution that is supposed to be close to the same performance of a local desktop. Guess what? It never is, when the system's under load. Which is why I stop listening when salespeople praise brand new internet-based technologies as 'fully proven', 'guaranteed', and 'it's covered by an SLA. What could go wrong?!?'

As for customer service, I remember when the objective was to satisfy the client at almost all costs (because some people you just can't satisfy, and others are just trying to waste your time). I have had several banks and other manufacturers on my 'ban' list for over a decade, and as the list increases I'm starting to realize I'll soon have NO options for certain products or services. I'm pretty easy-going and forgiving as well, so I don't demand immediate gratification. I've been told by people inside business circles that the new rule is, 'if your customer is not upset, then you're losing money and doing something wrong'. The new goal is to over-promise and under-deliver, saving themselves money (via cost-cutting), and keeping you JUST AT THE POINT where you're not upset enough to jump to the competition or cancel the service. On the other hand, I figure for every customer they lose, they gain one that is coming from a similar experience with the competition.

One of the companies on my list is a certain auto manufacturer that is now owned by an Italian company. They were willing to take me to small claims court, and have a big-firm lawyer represent them against me, to defend their product's complete failure. They told their employees to lie, defamed their OWN product, and used a few other tricks in court to get out of paying for the damages. Later on, I was told by an ex-company rep that this was standard procedure, and only scratched the surface of certain unethical practices this company practiced. I remember my father being completely outraged, and swearing he would never look at that company again for as long as he lived. Not five years later he was looking at a new car. Guess which brand he was considering as his first choice? People have short memories.

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

It really does boggle the mind how some companies don't grok customer service. In town, I can think of five bicycle sales & repair shops that I've tried. Only two have provided what I'd even begin to call a welcoming customer service experience, and of those two, one of them barely spoke English and didn't even sell new bikes, as far as I could tell. Considering how much word of mouth means in today's economy, especially for local specialty shops trying to distinguish themselves in an overserved market that also competes with Internet sales, I'm bemused why they don't get it.

lkarnis
lkarnis

Completely, absolutely, 110% agree. All you can do with such situations is vote with your feet. Went through my own cable hell recently. I have learned to document everything. I get the person to repeat my instructions at least twice. I get them to confirm my instructions are in their system and I take copious notes including date/time, rep., instructions, etc. These notes have saved me many times when the cable customer 'care' person initially denies they ever promised to do something for me. They are often still incompetent, ignorant, uncaring drones, but at least they can't hide behind their bureaucracy.

mckinnej
mckinnej

Toni, your situation is similar to mine and AT&T. I wouldn't care if they were giving away phones and service, I would never do business with that company again. I had a simple international calling plan on my land line. It worked fine for months then suddenly I started getting messages that said I wasn't authorized to make calls from this number. Sounded like some simple error had slipped in and should be simple to fix...if I could just talk to someone...which never happened.

The only customer service [ha!] number sent me to automated hell. There was no option that addressed my issue and no option to talk to a person. All the tricks to get to an operator did not work. Their website was useless too. There was just no way to communicate with AT&T. After much frustration it became clear to me that they did not want my money, so I canceled my account and swore never to do business with them again. I had been burned by them years earlier as well, so the "fool me twice" rule went into effect and they are on my personal ban list.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

People are always shocked when they finally realize the significance that half the population has an IQ of less than 100.

sissy sue
sissy sue

It comes as no surprise that companies attempt to save money on the backs of their customers and employees.  If there is a power outage, for example, I can now count on spending hours, maybe even days, waiting for service.  A couple of decades ago, an outage would last 2 hours, tops.  An employee of my electric utility indicated that there are far less linemen available to do the work that many more had done in the past.  This is just one example of how many  businesses are run these days, and I am sure most of us can produce even more horror stories of what now passes for typical customer service.  And yes, if I can go to a competitor and get better service, I do it. 

twhipkey
twhipkey

I feel your pain.  I tried to add phone service to my internet/tv package.  After missing 12 hours of work on 3 no show/no call appointments, I was able to talk to a vice president who set an actual appointment time instead of a range.  Once again no show/no call.  The next day the competition knocked on the door and I switched providers.  The old provider would have to offer me a much better deal than their $99 triple play offer for me to consider using them again. 

jsargent
jsargent

Cabling: there are government standards that govern how your cabling is installed and also there is a contract. You should seek legal advice if the cabling is not installed correctly and the service is not what you ordered. I would also contact your national ombudsman. There is difference between bad service and illegal practices. To me it looks like a legal matter and not a matter for bitching off on social media etc

Lim Cheng Wei
Lim Cheng Wei

EA Games.The games would not launch. After i did some troubleshooting on my own and tell them it is related to a exception thrown by a dll file in SysWow64 folder, they immediately blame this to be OS problem and not related to their games! Case closed, and nothing more they can do! I am just curious, they develop a games to run on the OS, or the other way around??

inertman
inertman

@jeb.hoge sad bro. the bike shop i worked in was a ski shop chain where there was a bike shop on every corner. if you wanted business, you did everything, especially take care of other business' customers!