Customer “Service”

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.


Customer “Service” — 6 Comments

  1. “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.”

    This is so true! I would have to add Symantec (Norton software) and Paypal to the list. I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of time I’ve spent on the phone and trading e-mails back and forth with Paypal. Most of which could definitely have been avoided if the “CSR” had simply listened to my issue from the beginning. Instead, they spend numerous phone calls and e-mails giving me the solutions to problems that I don’t have!

    Great blog you’ve got going here. Always good to see fellow Kansans blogging. Do you have an RSS feed? I tried to subscribe to your feed via Bloglines and was unable to.

  2. Dana –

    Thanks a million for your kind comments! I’m sorry for not including Symantec. Their software has become so annoying (mainly Norton anti-virus) that I just forgot to include them in the list of bad customer service, a nearly unforgivable oversight. ;o) I have not yet had to deal with a CSR at Paypal. I now shudder to contemplate it.

    I’m sorry about the lack of an RSS feed. I started this blog at just about the same time that I started co-editing ‘zine, followed by having to change Web hosts. It has been just busy, busy, busy. It’s on my task list. I know that is no excuse; when I check it off, I’ll send you a note.


  3. No worries! I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Don’t know if you’re already planning on it or not, but I have started using Feedburner to set up the feeds on all my blogs, and I’ve found it to be a great option for WordPress (there’s a plugin!). Please do keep me updated. I’ve put checking out the rest of your posts on my to-do list.

    I think the reason those two came to mind was because I had an issue with Norton charging my Paypal Debit Card without the transaction going through (didn’t receive a license) twice. The charge authorizations did not drop off after the usual 2-5 days…10 days later I was stuck on the phone with Norton’s call center in India who kept telling me to talk to Paypal, and Paypal’s people in Omaha telling me it was Norton’s problem 🙂

  4. Your comment got me moving, Dana. I downloaded the plugin today, installed it on both my WordPress sites, and got set up with a Feedburner account while processing the other site. However, this one refuse to validate, for what appear to be very odd reasons. After beating my head against it, I posted the problem in the Feedburner forum, but my hopes are very slender that anyone will be willing to dive into that much oddness. ;o)

    We shall see!

  5. It is a theme problem. I changed temporarily to the default WordPress theme and Feedburner registration sped right through. I changed back, of course, and am watching for any technical problems reported by Feedburner. At any rate, Dana, thanks for lighting a fire under me about this!

  6. Hi Kermit,

    Sorry it took me awhile to get back here. Don’t you just love that WordPress stuff…it always seems like it’s the tiniest little thing and of course, the last that I change that makes all the difference in the world! Anyway, I just subscribed and all seems to be working great!

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