Customer Service: An Oxymoron?

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I listened the other day to a phone conversation between a customer and a Comcast employee that has gone viral on YouTube. National Public Radio even did a short piece about it. A fellow is trying to cancel his service because he is switching providers. He recorded the last eight minutes of a 20-minute dialogue with the customer service rep.

Comcast is the country’s largest cable and Internet provider, and it hopes to buy Time-Warner, the second-largest provider of those services. This would be a merger of two of the most-despised companies when it comes to customer service, according to an annual survey done by the University of Michigan. Federal regulators are examining whether the deal should go through, or whether the merger would further stifle competition, increase rates and make customer service even worse.

Well, let’s see. Two companies that have what customers consider the worst service are going to merge — and service is going to get better? If you believe that, let’s talk about some oceanfront property I have for sale in the Panhandle.

On the YouTube call to Comcast, the rep berates the caller for trying to cancel his service. It is actually painful to listen to, as the caller politely tries to cancel his service while being essentially called an idiot for doing so. And it goes on forever. Comcast claims the employee’s actions are not representative of its policy, but he sounds like he is reading a script.

Anyone who has dealt with a large company by phone can empathize with the caller. Getting someone on the phone these days is at best a hit-or-miss proposition. The other night, I tried for 45 minutes to talk to someone at AT&T about our Internet service before finally giving up and going to bed. The recording kept giving me sage advice, such as rebooting the modem, which I had already done twice. Or I could go online and look up the trouble-shooting tips, which largely consisted of rebooting said modem and unplugging the DVD player — both of which I had already attempted.

The next evening I had to deal with the satellite dish provider. We had greatly reduced our service since we rarely watch it now that we have discovered the wonders of Netflix, which gives viewers the ability to watch a television series when we want to — instead of trying to catch it when it actually airs. I was proud of having cut the dish bill from $75 to $15 a month. But then I discovered the reduced service did not include ESPN, and the United States was going to play Portugal in just two hours — aired only on that channel. I called and asked what it would cost to go to the next tier so we could get ESPN. Just $10 more a month, the rep said, and flipped some magic switch to instantly add the channel.

Then I got the bill, and it was for $74.10 — $50 higher than promised. So once again I was on hold, waiting to talk to a customer service rep. This time I got through relatively quickly, where I was told that I was misinformed, that indeed the dish bill was $74.10. She threw in a bunch of gobbledygook about partial credits and charges.

Have you ever tried to read a satellite television bill? It’s nearly as complicated as the federal tax code.

I cut to the chase with the woman on the other end of the line. Either credit my account for $50 or I was going to disconnect service and rely solely on Netflix. I have been threatening to buy an over-the-air antenna anyway and cut the cord. Thirty minutes later, she gave in, reduced our service back to the lowest tier and credited us for $50.22. I had sacrificed nearly an hour of my life to get that 50 bucks back, but by gosh that is real money. Sure, it was a great soccer match but hardly worth $50. I could have gone to a pub, had a couple brews and watched it for maybe $10.

Our lives these days seem filled with such episodes, dealing with large companies who do everything they can to avoid human interaction. I would submit that the companies who are most successful are those that understand customers want to talk to a responsive human being when they have a problem.

That’s why we turned off the automated phone system here at the paper during the day, right after taking over. We want customers to talk to a person when they call and not have to punch buttons to get to someone who can help.

Meanwhile, guess I’ll try to get through to AT&T again.

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