Since I was thinking about the terrible customer service offered by most tech companies these days, I decided to compare the current “customer avoidance” dance that they perform with the tenets of a bygone era (the late 1980’s as best as I can determine based on mergers, company name changes, etc.). Here’s a link to the actual tenets of customer service as posted on the wall at a major company. (Portions of the image are redacted and the title removed so that the company remains unidentifiable). Let’s compare some of these tenets with the way customers are treated today.
A Customer is not an outsider to our business; he is a definite part of it. In today’s world, try to find contact information for a company that will take you anywhere except their marketing department. For example, spend time searching the Dell site for how to email in a service request. Try to search for how to actually use your warranty on HP’s site. It becomes obvious that we, as customers, are no longer a part of tech companies business. We are numbers and any interaction with us is too costly to imagine so they avoid us like the plague and relegate us to phone queues whose options have “recently changed” and whose operators (if you can get through to them) are powerless to actually help anyone.
A Customer brings us his wants. It is our job to handle them properly and profitably – both to him and to ourselves. In other words, not like this. I’d imagine it isn’t very profitable for either the company or the customer for the customer to have to call 5 different “customer service” representatives, all of whom either give different information or make different technical mistakes. It would probably be more profitable for both parties if the customer service people were trained to know when they can handle something or have to escalate (and soft transfer) to a higher level technician. It would definitely make folks like me have more customer loyalty if I knew the company actually cared enough to have decent customer service. I shouldn’t have to think, “ah, damn – I need to call support. Well let me clear my calendar for the next 8 hours and expect my service to be broken for 2 days.”
Retail companies deserve a call out here too as the news seems to be full of items like this where companies seem to be low-balling the pricing in their advertisements to get “chumps” or “marks” (how they must see us in order to act this way) into the store only so that they can push their overpriced “services”. Often times I have heard that although the companies themselves “don’t condone” deceptive sales practices, their quota systems mean sales folks either use deceptive practices like in the Consumerist article linked above or they get fired for not meeting quotas.
Many of these types of business will happily sell you a USB cable for $25.00 that you can get online for $2.00. Now obviously paying for retail space, having stock people, cashiers, and salespeople costs money so that $2.00 cable needs to be more than $2.00 in a retail outlet. The convenience of not having to wait for shipping does need to be worth some price difference. But 1250% markup of an already not wholesale internet price doesn’t seem to be a proper balance of profitability between customer and company.
A Customer is not someone to argue or match wits with. He deserves courteous, attentive treatment. It isn’t only the tech companies that violate this one. A few years ago, I went on a camping trip with my family. Unbeknownst to me, the prior day I had eaten some contaminated food. While on the trip, I got severe food poisoning and was losing fluids at an alarming rate. My wife got on the phone with the HMO’s advice line. She had to call twice only to be told rudely “he has INFLUENZA” and get hung up on. Now, since the normal symptoms of influenza (this is before bird-flu, swine-flu, or other “new flus”) don’t include intense diarrhea, crazy nausea, 5 minute variations from freezing cold to sweating, etc. we knew this was wrong and my family took me to a regional medical center. I was hospitalized, injected with anti-nausea drugs, put on a double saline drip and kept overnight. Oh, and by the time I was examined my temperature was down to 92 degrees and I could no longer move my fingers. Influenza, right.
A Customer is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. This seems like an easy statement to agree with. But the practical treatment of it today seems to be along the lines of “attract as many customers as possible, while doing little to nothing to keep them.” Well, other than doing things like doubling the early termination fees or other things to confuse the customer into staying.
My advice to companies? How about training your support folks and sales associates? Perhaps you could have clear contracts that don’t hide large fees in 20 page agreements that customers are pressured to sign without reading? Maybe rethink spending so much money on marketing, segmentation, and advertising and a bit more on actual customer retention. People shouldn’t have to complain about companies on blogs and twitter in order to get service. That’s right, several companies have staff paid to help get them better PR by going through Twitter and Blogs and resolving the customer’s issue – hoping that they will get better coverage in the blog press because of it when the real issue is that their normal channels such as phone, email, etc. refused to solve the problem in the first place. Think about it…