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Thursday, April 2, 2009

CUSTOMER SERVICE


I was recently shopping for a new cable service. I find it is necessary to change cable operators every so often in order to keep the vendors competitive and to lower costs. In my area, I am fortunate to have three major vendors offering comparable service at competitive rates. In my case, I was looking for a bundled package offering basic cable service, ISP connectivity, and telephone support for the continental United States. I find the premium cable channels to be a waste of money as nobody in my household watched them when I had them years ago. Currently, I'm paying $129/month which I personally consider rather inflated. Nonetheless, I decided to check out the competition via the Internet and found all three vendors had, what I considered, horrible web pages describing their services. I therefore decided to contact them by telephone.

First, I called my current cable operator to see if they could offer me a better rate. Unfortunately, they had an elaborate Voice Mail system for customers to traverse. I patiently listened to several menus and options, none of which answered my questions properly and failed to connect me to a human being. In a way, it reminded me of an old episode of TV's "Married, with Children" whereby the lead character, Al Bundy, was trying to check on the status of a part he had ordered for his Dodge Dart; after dutifully following the company's Voice Mail menus for a few hours, Al was told, "And if you pressed 2, you must be Al Bundy, and No Al, we still do not have your part in stock."

Voice Mail may be an efficient way to record messages, but it's also an effective way to frustrate customers and drive them away.

Next, I tried to telephone my operator's chief competitor. The telephone system was much better and I was able to talk to a human being right away, except his name was "Bob" and he possessed a heavy Indian accent which I had trouble understanding, and I suspect vice versa. "Bob" thought he understood my problem and proudly said he had the perfect package for me at just $145/month. "So, should I go ahead and place the order for you?" Bob asked.

I said, "No, Bob, I don't think you are comprehending the situation here; I don't want to pay MORE for my cable service, I want to pay LESS!"

"So, should I place the order?"

Good-bye, "Bob." Click, bzzzzzz...

Finally, I came to the third vendor who promptly answered the phone when I called and had no problem letting me speak to a human being who spoke my language and knew the area. Actually, the representative was quite articulate and knew his subject well. The price for his service was $11 cheaper than my current service, which might not sound like a lot, but adds up after awhile.

So, guess which vendor I selected?

I guess what bothers me though is the general disregard for the customer. Even when you penetrate Voice Mail jail, or talk to someone intelligible in India, there is a general lack of empathy for the problems and concerns of the customer. For example, I have a Sales Manager friend who markets industrial supplies to local manufacturing companies. One of the things he tries to teach his young salesmen and customer service personnel is to listen carefully to the customer, and don't let them down from a service perspective. The assumption is that a happy customer will not only continue to buy from you, but will recommend you to others. But for some reason, this simple lesson is lost on his young staff, and, consequently, my friend has to keep a close watch on customer service.

Even when you threaten to cancel your account with a company, customer service representatives appear unfazed... "Okay, should we go ahead and close it now?" (Not, "Oh I'm sorry, what do we have to do to keep your business?")

I guess it bothers me that customers are taken for granted. As for me, I'll support anyone who offers the best customer service. If not, I'll pick up my marbles and go elsewhere. And I think we need more people to do likewise.


Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For a listing of Tim's Pet Peeves, click HERE.

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.