It seems that the term “Customer Service” is becoming less descriptive of the actual service rendered with every passing day. Especially with larger companies, the experience has become all about the corporation and not about the customer at all. The first and foremost corporate customer service law has become “Thou shalt not admit to any error on behalf of the company, ever.” Since the reason that prompted you to call or write Customer Service was usually a product or service problem, this law makes it extremely difficult for even specialists to actually render Customer Support.
First, a brief tour through what is left of my mind. I often operate in images rather than words. This images are sort of like single panel cartoons without captions. For several years, the phrase “Customer Service” has brought to my mind an image of a fellow in a suit, lying face down on one of those hoists they use in garages to work on cars. He is up in the air on the hoist and underneath him are several Customer Service Technicians in white coats, looking up at him and holding tools which you can’t quite identify.
This image is at the heart of the Customer Service enigma. The technicians are attempting to repair the customer. What if it is not the customer that is broken, but rather the company’s product? In order to fix a problem like that, the company must agree that there is a problem. It is a little like the first step that needs to be taken by an alcoholic: to recognize that there is a problem.
In order to recognize the problem, one must be able to admit to seeing a problem. Apparently, some large corporations hire liability attorneys to advise them on matters such as this, and the end result of this exercise is to train the Customer Service Representative (CSR) to never admit error. For a demonstration of this phenomenon, try to complain to Amazon that the product that they said would ship in two days has not yet shipped, although it has been six days since you placed your order.
The Amazon CSR will refer you to innumerable boring FAQs until you are very tired of reading things that do not relate to your problem, and which you probably read anyway before finding the one tiny spot on their huge Website that allows you to ask a question about your order. They will then send you emails full of boilerplate phrases, probably approved by their attorneys, that nibble at the edges of your problem. But they will not talk about the actual problem, ever. When your two-day product ships on the eighth day, they will say, “See? Everything is all right now!” Amazon is horrible about this, as is Microsoft.
They are hardly alone, though. It is a disease that many companies catch when they get large enough to hire attorneys to tell them what to do. The advice seems to be, “Never admit that there is a problem and never apologize.” That puts the CSR at cross-purposes with her job. She can never really render service, and the official boilerplate comes across as snide, so what they actually do is drive off customers who are smart enough to know that they are being made sport of. After having spent over $5,000 at Amazon in two years, I got so tired of their attitude that I went elsewhere. I have not yet replaced Microsoft, but I continue to try.
After a frustrating experience with a company with rules like that, my cartoon image changes just a little. I can start to see the tools that the Customer Service people are holding as they look up at the helpless customer on the rack. They look suspiciously like sharp sticks and lit blowtorches.