When technology runs headlong into common sense, customer service

Technology is touted for its customer relationship management enhancement. Using advanced techniques, marketers can mine much information about prospects and customers, ranging from how they want to be communicated with to buying habits. But, there’s a decided dark side to technology run amok—or not running at all. When it complicates or confuses the buying process, the end result can be a customer service hit to the organization.

Two recent experiences highlight my ongoing frustration with technology-driven customer service protocols. One involved a favorite company, Southwest Airlines. The other tied to an appliance delivery company contracted by my perennial favorite company, Costco.

I called Southwest to cancel the outbound leg of a round-trip reservation. Because there was a 26-minute hold time, I decided to see if I could do it online. (Memory served that I couldn’t because of previous experiences, but functionality keeps advancing so I gave it a shot.)

After directing me to the cancellation screen and giving me the opportunity to highlight the outbound trip only (or so I thought), I deleted it. It ended up deleting the entire reservation that I had made four months earlier at a very low price.

When the reservations rep finally answered, I explained my predicament. Fortunately, she was able to restore the reservation at the rate received at the time of the original booking. While I was very appreciative of her efforts, I was exasperated. I asked why there wasn’t a simple disclaimer at the top of the page stating that partial reservation cancellations must be handled by phone.

She didn’t have an answer. My supposition is that the website content developer didn’t use basic common sense. One simple change likely would prevent many people from experiencing a similar frustrating and time-consuming process.

Another tech shortcoming involved J.B. Hunt, a company handling appliance delivery and installation for Costco. I ordered a new dishwasher but needed to delay delivery a couple weeks. When I initially talked with their rep, she explained that they would have to cancel the original delivery order and issue a new one—which sounded fine.

Then, I got a cancellation notice from Costco about the order. I called them and learned that J.B. Hunt had cancelled delivery without any new delivery instructions. So, I called J.B. Hunt and was told that everything was fine, that the cancellation notice had been automatically generated and that it could be ignored. A few days later, I got a new email then a call about scheduling a new delivery date that was too early. Exasperated, I stated that either they needed to get their communications act together or I would cancel the entire order.

Presumably, I’m now on target to get my new appliance in a week. But their technology needs to be upgraded either to stop sending auto-cancellation notices, or explain how to interpret them if additional arrangements have been made.

Both incidents highlight a major technology faux pas: Lack of common-sense communication. This lack of communication has negatively impacted my customer service experience with both companies. While I will continue to fly Southwest, my rating of their customer service has dropped. As for J.B. Hunt, I just hope the quality of their actual delivery is better than their scheduling protocols.

To those dwelling in technology “ivory towers,” I can see the shrugging of shoulders and a “so what” attitude. That’s the problem. It’s in these seemingly small corners of technology that much of a company’s reputation is made—or broken.

It’s time to pay attention to these “little things” so that they don’t become big customer-service black marks.

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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. So glad you address this type of situation that happens to all of us. It is frustrating and most of us just muddle through it. I hope by addressing these issues with providers, they will take the necessary, and in many instances, steps to correct these service flaws. Thanks, and keep up the good work!

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