Inattention plagues customer service

Talk about weak links! How many times recently have you emailed a series of questions to a customer support address, and received incomplete answers? Even worse, it’s now commonplace for one or more of the questions not to be addressed at all. I’ve had it take three tries before getting simple feedback that should have required only one outreach.

Then, there are those phone conversations where the rep appears not to understand plain English, even when the call center is US-based. You ask one question, and get an answer to another. Sometimes, it’s poor listening. Other times, you’re getting scripted, party-line answers that don’t fill the bill for your situation.

How about the customer support snafu where someone is supposed to “get back to you” and never does? After one or more attempts, many customers give up in disgust. Being ignored is being disrespected. What’s okay about that?

Finally, there’s the “right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.” Telecomm companies are famous for this malaise. You tell your story to one person, presuming that notes are being taken to record the exact circumstances of the call. Then, you continue having to tell the same story to multiple people in an effort to get resolution.

In medicine, this request to repeat makes sense. They’re checking you out to make sure your story is consistent and complete. But, in a customer call situation, this is absurd and a needless waste of everyone’s time.

Perhaps part of the modus operandi is to frustrate the customer to the point where he/she will give up. We talked about this last week, citing a Harvard Business Review article stating that large companies use frustration tactics to get people to give up—so that they don’t have to refund money or provide other reasonable resolution.

It’s infuriating. It’s insulting. And it’s incompetent.

Yet, many companies continue these tactics, all while touting their customer service in fancy marketing campaigns. Can you say “United Airlines?” How about “Comcast?” And, oh yes, the health insurance industry as a whole gets low marks. It’s enough to make people want to go screaming into the hills and become recluses to avoid this type of fruitless, frustrating experience.

Fortunately, there are beacons of customer service hope that remind us that there are still competent companies dedicated to taking care of their customers. I keep citing Costco and Amazon as two stellar examples. Southwest Airlines is another. And, so far at least, my Medicare Supplement program with Mutual of Omaha has been a breath of fresh air. Their reps are knowledgeable, insightful and responsive. I almost enjoy making the call. Generally, when I have a frustrating problem, these folks make it better right away.

So, what’s an angry consumer to do? If you’re unwilling or unable to follow the protocol I’ve suggested previously to circumvent the normal customer service loop, consider looking hard for other companies to replace the ones you don’t like. This isn’t always feasible or easy, but put some effort into finding customer service-oriented providers.

Get clear on what will pass muster. Vet them ahead of time by checking reviews, social media reports and forums (e.g., asking questions on Nextdoor), and calling others you know and trust who already are customers. Also conduct online searches for mainstream media articles addressing customer service successes…and failures. For example, I’d likely use Chewy pet food company if I had any pets, in large part because of multiple positive articles about their customer-obsessed culture.

Investigations that have proved fruitful for me include:

  • My Direct Primary Care Doc, Stephanie Kraft. She is the antithesis of assembly-line, institutional uncaring healthcare so prevalent in the US today.
  • My computer guru, Michael Powers. In an industry known all too well for obtuse tekkies, Michael tunes right in to my needs and goes the extra mile to achieve success.
  • Centurylink. Yeah, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. However, the reason I feel this way is because of a strong connection to an executive-level specialist who has provided top-notch, competent assistance every time I’ve asked for it. This is a prime example of the need to go beyond the normal customer service loop—I have little patience or respect for Centurylink’s mainline customer service department.
  • T-Mobile. After more than a year of trying to get Verizon to solve ongoing problems when I moved to my new place 2 ½ years ago, I took a chance. Two previous short-lived forays many years ago disgusted me and I swore I would never use T-Mobile. Well, a year into it, I find myself pleasantly surprised. Customer support has been spot-on and responsive, service is generally good—and I’m paying about half what Verizon was charging.

I could go on and on. The point is to take charge of strengthening customer service relationships when you encounter weak links. Whether or not it’s trying to resolve an issue with a current company or finding a new one that will do the job, making positive strides can lead to considerable stress relief…and a whole bunch of “found” hours to be productive in other areas.

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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 thought

  1. Glad to see you have addressed this frustrating issue. I once asked at the beginning of a phone call if the CS agent is opening a file so it would only be necessary to relate the problem one time. I was told the first person merely screens the call in order to decide where to forward to the next level. I asked why the screener didn’t open a record so that I didn’t have to repeat it several times. I was told that was a “good idea” and then passed on where the “repeat” sequence started all over again. Grrrr!!!!

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