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Out of Our Minds
Thursday, May 20, 2004 7:38 PM
Why is This So Hard?
Anita Sharpe on Business

I've had a bad customer-service week.

I get annoyed when people use the media as a personal bully pulpit, so for now, I'll refrain from naming the offenders (although, if I have many more weeks like this, I may change my mind). Let's just call one, Large Internet Provider or LIP, and the other, Major Electronics Chain, or MEC.

At LIP, you have to call a customer service rep to cancel service. Sounds easy enough. The catch is, when you call in, there is no menu selection for discontinuing service and no one on any of the other call-in options has the authority to do so. So you are transferred to someone who, if this person actually exists, has that authority. Maybe the magic waiting time is 46 minutes and not 45, but after a month of trying, I never reached a human. You would think that someone who wants to cancel would get top priority, the smoothest salesperson offering all kinds of gambits to keep you. \n\nA web search turned up enough similar stories to affirm that I'm not the only one who fails see how this policy can do anything but foster lots of really bad word-of-mouth marketing.\n\nThe day I visited MEC to buy a $400 digital camera, the store had two registers open -- both busy processing lengthy returns. One worker, employed just a week, was trying to train herself to do the return. As the lines grew longer and the frustration more vocal, she teared up. After waiting 20 minutes (I was first in line), I found a management-type and said: 'You need to open another register or I think a lot of us are going to leave.' His response? 'You can leave if you want to.'\n\nCustomer service is viewed as a cost-center by most companies. Smart companies, such as Lexus, know better. Smart companies give even low-level employees enormous authority to make customers happy. \n\nAnd if you look at consistent sales growth and customer loyalty, it's easy to separate the smart companies from the LIPs and MECs.\n\n


Can - 6/9/2004 3:39:27 PM
I agree that the main problem is that there is no incentive program. Even the manager shouldn't have any incentive to make the customer happy. On the other hand, in a small shop, even he couldn't find anyone to open a new line, the manager, who also owns the shop, will handle the situation with intensive care. Probably he, himself, without being requested, would be dealing with customers in the third line.
MRKinLA - 5/23/2004 5:47:18 PM
Tom's right. Part of the reason customer service is so terrible anymore is, most companies don't provide incentives for the service to get better. Overworked, underpaid, and with no clear benefit to keeping you in that line, the MEC manager's rude retort is not altogether surprising.

Customers are partly to blame as well. As I get older -- and have a bit more disposable income -- I, like Tom, am willing to pay a premium for knowledgeable and friendly staff, quality merchandise, and a higher standard of customer service. That's not always the case across the country, as many local retailers have been put out of business because the Wal-Mart has Windex and men's underwear for 20 cents cheaper. Many of us are getting the customer service America's cheap bastards deserve.
Dave J. - 5/21/2004 12:38:26 PM
At the MEC, the manager was probably frustrated, too. He probably didn't have anyone else to put on. And, judging by the new cashier, has problems filling openings as it is.

Brent P. Newhall - 5/21/2004 12:03:10 PM
Because it involves changing your perspective. And that's hard, especially when every day everyone around you views customer service as a cost center.
Brent P. Newhall - 5/21/2004 12:00:50 PM
Because it involves changing your perspective. And that's hard, especially when every day everyone around you views customer service as a cost center.
anita - 5/21/2004 11:52:14 AM

This is why this topic puzzles me so much: the often-high-price vendors -- the Whole Foods store in my neighborhood is swamped with business -- are walking away with the customers.

Why don't all companies see that customer service generates revenue?
Tom - 5/21/2004 10:52:25 AM
'You can leave if you want to.'

I would have handed him the camera and walked out. Clearly, there was no incentive for him to have you spend money in his store, therefore there should be none for you.

I have to admit to buying a lot of things on the web, cost being the primary reason. I don't mind the lack of service because I know the reason why. But there are times when I do want that and I'm willing to pay a premium to talk to someone that knows and cares about they're selling.

Around me there's two big competing supermarket chains. One advertises low prices but has a consistently awful approach to customer service (to the extent I can tell by my wife's mood when she comes home where she's been) while the other puts customer service first. Guess which one is expanding?


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