Customer Service Problems and Trends

What do the words Customer Service mean to you? Does it mean that if you have a problem or a question about a good or service, you can contact these people and they will help you? Or does it mean that if you have a problem or a question about a good or service you can call these people to get even more frustrated? More and more it is looking to be the latter of those two statements. Some places still have stellar customer service, but these places are becoming endangered species. All of this brings up a really good question: Are we really being served?

One common complaint with Customer Service Departments is that so many of them are outsourced to non English speaking countries. Outsourcing saves the company money, but it forces the customers to deal with people who may not speak English well (or in some cases at all). When you are already frustrated and upset, the last thing you want is to struggle to speak and understand the person trying to help you.

AOL is a major offender in this category. When you are having technical issues with your computer, and the guy on the other end of the phone is so unintelligible you have to ask him to repeat himself several times, this is not a good thing. Things are made worse when the tech rep gets angry with you for not being able to understand him, and then he suddenly turns rude.

Another issue that plagues companies with stateside Customer Service Departments is that they do not pay well. If you are barely paying an employee enough to keep them above the poverty line, you are not going to attract high quality personnel. Granted there are some very nice, very qualified, and under paid reps out there. However, usually even those people do not stay long. They stay until a better paying job comes along and then they are gone. Pretty soon the department becomes a rotating door of mixed quality employees.

Before ATA airlines outsourced much of their customer service department, they followed this model. I had the misfortune of booking a flight they later cancelled because of restructuring. All of the things that were supposed to happen to get me moved to another flight did not happen, so I ended up on the phone with them quite a bit before and after my trip. Sometimes you would get a person who was actually trying to help you. If they didn’t know the answer, they would find someone who did. Other times it didn’t work so well. I would spend almost two hours on hold, and then treated rudely by some one who was condescending and improperly trained. Most of the people I spoke with said they were “new there.” That would explain their lack of knowledge.

Even if the company has quality people in its Customer Service Department, if they are understaffed it makes little difference. They say it will take 24-48 hours to respond, and then a week later you still have no word. You spend hours on hold waiting for someone to take your call. When you do get a response the people are kind and helpful; however, it may be a little too late. Your patience may have already run out, or you needed an answer in a timely fashion.

Amtrak has this problem. The people who work in their Customer Service Department are all very nice and helpful. I have never had a bad experience with a person who works there. It is the waiting game that kills me. They tell you the preferred way of contact is through e-mail, but they are so understaffed that it takes them quite a while to respond. If you follow up with another e-mail they will usually tell you to call in. When you call in there isn’t even an option to speak to the department, but if you get transferred to booking they can usually get you there. The wait time usually isn’t too long, and they can usually help you with your problem rather quickly. It is just that the process is so long.

Sometimes, companies will try to get you “help” yourself. They set up these elaborate (and sometimes hard to follow) troubleshooting sites. These sites are supposed to walk you through your problem and show you how to fix it. Sometimes the “fix” doesn’t work for you, or your problem isn’t even listed on the page. They a little link that says if these do not help you, please contact us via this form. You fill out the form, and you wait. After 24-48 hours you get an automated reply that refers you to the troubleshooting page, and doesn’t answer you question at all. It may or may not let you reply to the message for further assistance.

This is another AOL violation. You can e-mail their customer service departments until the cows come home, and they can’t seem to actually read your e-mail. Sometimes, they just ignore you all together. You can tell them you have exhausted all the troubleshooting options, and they will still refer you back to the troubleshooting page. If they would just learn to actually read and treat their customers like people (like they claim on their commercials) it would alleviate a great deal of frustration.

Another frustration is trying to deal with reps who apparently get paid to half read e-mails and copy and paste scripts to send as replies. You take the time to write an e-mail with questions and concerns, in response you get an obviously canned response that may or may not touch on any of the subjects you covered. When you respond again asking for something unscripted, nine times out of ten, all you get is a scripted e-mail back. It is pathetic that these people can apparently not read, but it also appears they cannot think for themselves. If they do not and you ask to be directed to, or be given the contact information for a manager or supervisor who does know the question, good luck to you. That most likely will not happen.

Expedia has been know to do this from time to time. They screwed up my reservation, and when I e-mailed them about it and asked how something this could happen, all I ever received in return were scripted responses. When I asked to speak with a supervisor, I was told “they were all supervisors.” Okay you are all supervisors, but you can’t answer simple questions about your company.

Victoria’s Secret store’s Customer Service pulled a similar stunt. When I asked to speak to a supervisor or someone in that department who would know the answer, I was told that people in those positions do not deal with the public. Basically the reps are not trained very well, and the people who know the answers refuse to talk to people. How does that make my life easier?

In the end the question remains: Are we being served? We have so many companies following these trends. Not to mention the growing trend of the customer service reps will only speak with you while your warranty is good. After that point in time, you have to pay $60 just to TALK to a rep. (Dell follows this model) Why are companies setting themselves up to fail in these areas? Is saving the few extra dollars worth losing business because of poor service?

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