The best and worst in customer service

The best and worst in customer service

Two weeks ago, I slammed a certain unnamed wireless provider for shoddy
e-mail-based customer support. I was overseas, and the phone service
did not work as promised. When I wrote the company it took three days
to reply, which, under the circumstances, was unacceptable.

Since that time, the situation has been resolved, more or less.
Along the way, I have found that some companies actually know how to
respond electronically. And those who do so might not be the ones you
would expect.

My standard strategy in dealing with errant customer service is to
go straight to the top. This worked for a while, but CEOs no longer
publish their e-mail addresses (and the once-lively billg@microsoft.com
is presumably read by a committee). The "talk to the supervisor"
strategy then works only on the phone.

My cellular company didn’t even allow me that satisfaction. Asking
for a supervisor only got me someone who didn’t listen as well. I felt
like someone who had taken a hostage, talking to a person trained in
negotiating techniques: "Just set everyone free and we’ll get you what
you want."

So I called back and asked to speak to the head of customer service.

There was no e-mail or even a direct line; instead I was given a
street address and a fax number. I sent along an angry fax asking for
two months’ free service and the deletion of any overseas phone
charges. (Admittedly the requests were over the top, but these people
really made me angry).

No response in three days, so I re-sent the fax. I shouldn’t have
bothered. A week or so later I received a letter (remember those?)
saying they "cannot" forgive my monthly charges but would delete the
call charges "as a one time courtesy credit." If I had any questions,
the representative said, I could contact them at the address below.

Remember, this is a technology company. Presumably, it has the
ability to communicate with its customers electronically. The inability
to do so makes them either unintelligent or inconsiderate. Given the
choice I guess the latter is preferable. Do I switch out of anger?

Unfortunately, all companies follow similar strategies, and you
never know their shortcomings until they fail. I do not have the
resources to set up another trip to Europe to test them out.

As I was fuming, a friend called to say that her new Shop-Vac had
broken down. Before launching into another anti-customer-service
tirade, she said she had left a message on the company’s site, and the
folks there posted an almost immediate response.

A replacement, the note said, was in the mail. "When something
becomes defective we replace the entire power unit," it said, promising
a new part within seven to 10 business days. And the message included a
direct customer-support number.

Determining who has the most responsive customer-service e-mail
structure is a major research project, so I can’t provide an accurate
evaluation of individual response times.

We have, however, examples of the best and worst. Ironically, this
round finds a consumer-level garage appliance beating the pants off a
major cellular provider.

A lot of what we buy is on impulse, loading the latest bright shiny
object into the shopping cart. But in the cases when we comparison shop
it makes sense to send the product’s service department a test message.

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