Monday, January 14, 2008

Hello, Can I Help You?

There seem to be two main reasons why companies--mostly big-name ones--provide some of the worst customer service imaginable. One is just sheer arrogance on the part of the company. It's the same kind of scenario you find on a small scale on the high school dating scene. You've got the hot guy or the hot girl that everyone at least finds attractive, and when you conjure up a vision of him or her in your head, arrogance tops the list of non-physical attributes. Similarly, you get a big company that has lots of customers and provides lots of services, and the "big head" phenomenon isn't too far behind.

The other reason is our fault--the consumer. Too often, we're willing to let them charge us all kinds of ridiculous fees for their services, we let their problems become our inconveniences, and we just say "oh, well" without thinking for a second how amazingly ridiculous the concept is.

Case in point:

Date: Today
Company: Verizon

Last week, I ordered Verizon TV, Internet, and phone service online. I sent them all the information and got the confirmation e-mail right away. However, the next morning, I got an additional e-mail informing me that I would have to call the "Welcome Center" at such-and-such a number to confirm the order. Ok, not a problem. I did. The operator explained to me that their credit check system had not been working properly when I placed my order, that she had confirmed the information with me by phone, that I would get an e-mail in the next 24 hours regarding the service installation, and that everything was all set for the date I had selected.

Ok. No problems there. Yet.

By Monday, no e-mail had come. Odd. So, I called Verizon again to see whether they forgot to e-mail me or something got lost in translation.

I called the Welcome Center again. The operator told me that the credit check had not yet been processed (so much for the accuracy of the first operator). He told me that he sent the order out through the proper channels, but if I wanted to confirm they received it, I would have to call them myself. So, apparently unable to transfer me over the phone, I had to make another call.

I made the call. Five times. The line was busy for a full 45 minutes before I got a free line and sat on hold for 20 minutes listening to a loop of repeating elevator music. Finally, after I had lost all hope that I would be helped, an operator came on the line. I gave her a confirmation number that she got wrong, of course, but after that was worked out, I explained to her what the other operator had told me.

I was put on hold. Hold time: 3 minutes.

Apparently, the credit check was in the exact same state it had been since the beginning. I explained to her that the other operator had sent over the new information in order to speed up the process and ensure that I could get my service installed tomorrow, as was originally planned.

I was put on hold. Hold time: 2 minutes, 33 seconds.

Well, no, it couldn't work that way. It was seemingly as if the whole order had not been placed at all as the computer system told the story. I asked her why two other operators had told me differently in my previous conversations.

Her answer was to put me on hold a third time. For four minutes.

When she returned, she wanted to redo the whole order. She also explained that I couldn't have the services installed the next day because the credit check takes a full day to process. The best she could do was give me the 17th. I asked her why their computer problems were ultimately inconveniencing me even though I took every step they had required of me correctly. I also asked her why her company seemed to think that the average person who works Monday through Friday from 9 to 5 every week could clear his or her schedule on the fly to wait eight hours for their technician to come. Her reply was to label these legitimate complaints as "venting" and tell me "she would do what she could."

And then....she put me on hold. For what seemed like ten minutes.

Well, needless to say, she had no new information when she came back. The best she could do was still Thursday. I told her that Thursday was out. I asked for the 21st--Martin Luther King Day. No, she didn't have any time that day. I told her that this was completely ridiculous. Verizon first expected me to do all the work myself to get my credit checked properly, which isn't any of my concern, thought I could be home any day of the regular working week for all of regular working hours, and figured that could be done any day they had available regardless of customer convenience and schedule. I said that I had an installation date for the 15th, and given the amount of trouble I had been through already, I expected Verizon to find a way to do it--oh, God forbid--on my time, not theirs.

The operator apparently found this absolutely shocking. She explained she would have her supervisor call me and asked me for my number, which I gladly gave to her. Then, I ended the phone call.

Ten minutes later, I thought: why not see what Comcast can do for you? Comcast had similar rates, similar services, and a similar price range. I figured it couldn't hurt to give them a quick call. Perhaps appealing to them, referencing my unsuccessful call to Verizon may help things out a bit as well. I placed a call, and it was picked up in about thirty seconds by a Comcast operator. I explained what I wanted to order, he put the order in the computer and waived the installation fees. I asked him if they installed on the weekend, and he set me up with an installation on Saturday. He also gave me a four hour, as opposed to an eight hour, window for service. Then, came the credit check. When he asked for my social security number, I thought that the game was up. Ten seconds later, the check was done and everything was fine. Before I ended the call, I had to thank him for providing great service, and I told him that I was happy to be a Comcast customer.

Oh, and did that mysterious supervisor call? I think not.


M@ said...

I had to pay a bill by credit card because I was behind financially. So they charge a service fee. Fine.

But do they REALLY have to call it a "convenience fee?"


gagknee said...

Yeesh. I've had issues with Verizon lately, but I can't in my wildest dreams imagine Comcast coming through, as they are usually pretty stupid too.

Oh well, it worked out for you. Good luck.

It's Me! said...

That's infuriating! I once spent 2hours 45 minutes on hold with Telus (in BC) before the battery on my phone died and I had to try again at at later date. Nothing like TOTALLY wasting your time and not getting anywhere at all.

Good call on moving to the competition...that's why we as consumers ultimately have the power; we can chose where to spend our money (even if they do put kitchy little titles to the fees).

Jean-Luc Picard said...

That's true. The larger the company, the smaller the customer looks.

Mike said...

It's a rare year (not a rare day) that we elect to change phone, cable, internet service, etc.

I have no patience for an "8 hour window"....Muzak....or reps that address me as Michelle and not least pretend you care, pretend your dedicated to costumer service...humor me.

The only time I don't mind being placed on hold is when calling the doctor office. Whether for myself or the kids...I need the doctor...I have to see the doctor...while the hold time is generally less than 30 seconds...I would gladly wait up to 15 minutes for an appointment time.

Anonymous said...

I used to work in a service business, and as such, am hyper aware of the service that I am given by others. I'm always noting how friendly they are, how willing they are to truly help me find a solution, how easy (or hard) they are to work with.
And when I have an experience with someone wonderful - I make sure to let them know, in the hopes that encouraging them will only fuel their desire to continue great customer service.