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Designed disservice drives many customer service policies

Of the many weak links in customer service policies, deliberate disservice to make a buck is one of the weakest. A recent Harvard Business Review article asks, “Why Is Customer Service So Bad? Because It’s Profitable.”

The article notes,

“It’s a familiar scenario: A service provider fails to live up to your expectations and you feel some restitution may be in order. Yet, when you call customer service to voice a complaint, you’re faced with an automated voice menu, put on hold, or told that the agent is not authorized to refund your money…a third of complaining customers must make two or more calls to resolve their complaint…over three quarters of complaining consumers were less than satisfied with their experience with the given company’s customer service department.”

United we fall
Even worse than adopting a “profits first” customer service program is the hypocrisy of touting good customer service and not delivering. According to Harvard Business Review,

“These accounts seem at odds with the pledges by many companies that they are committed to great customer service. Consider United Airlines, among the lowest ranked of major airlines on customer service, which claims to offer a ‘level of service to our customers that makes [United] a leader in the airline industry’. This is in line with surveys over time that indicate that consumers consistently perceive that customer service is generally bad and even possibly becoming worse. Despite promises companies make to treat people well, customers don’t seem to be buying it.”

Big market share=little caring
The article points out that

“some companies may actually find it profitable to create hassles for complaining customers…by forcing customers to jump through hoops, the organization helps curb its redress payouts…Some companies have little regard for their reputation, especially those who control a large market share…Unfortunately, this means companies with few competitors may find it worthwhile to alienate angry customers in order to save on redress costs.”

So, what to do?
If you want to resolve the issue with the current provider, you’re probably going to need to use some elbow grease. As detailed previously, my resolution process requires being proactive and persistent. To summarize the process:

This is really a case of getting satisfaction by finding a way to circumvent “designed disservice” policies. While your success may not change behemoth bad behavior overnight, there are always exceptions. And those exceptions can be exceedingly empowering. For example:

  • As I wrote recently about finding a partner leverage point: “ I once did this with Costco, through whom I had contacted Lending Tree for a loan. When the lender they referred was causing problems, I reached out to the Costco liaison who worked with Lending Tree. Not only was the loan offered without their usual conditions, they lowered the interest rate. I later learned that the bank’s entire home equity department had been audited because of my actions.”
  • Years ago, after having numerous problems with Comcast over a two-year period, I turned into a Tasmanian Devil one Friday afternoon, finding and complaining to multiple executives. Among other choice words, I explained that I lived in a complex with 147 units and that I would dedicate myself to getting as many of them as possible to unsubscribe unless our building’s ongoing problems were finally fixed. The next morning, a bunch of Comcast technicians showed up and solved the problem once and for all.

Think about it. Then, go act on it. Your outcomes can be surprisingly satisfying.


Mark Lusky is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience.

Author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage,  Mark (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm.

One reply on “Designed disservice drives many customer service policies”

Your morph into a Tasmanian Devil made me smile-particularly as Comcast is a prime example of a poor customer service behemoth. Your articles are always informative, interesting, and fun.

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