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Ryan E. Day

Customer Care

Reflections on Customer Experience in the 21st Century

Do you want someone to bite one of your employees? Because…

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 13:03

Is it just me, or does it seem like businesses are actually trying to outdo each other in poor customer experience? Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood, so let me be as clear as I can.

I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill poor customer service like big box stores running skeleton crews as standard operating procedure, or chain stores hiring clueless youngsters and not training them (not the fault of the youngsters, btw). Although that is quite prevalent and has become a fairly routine model for many consumer-oriented businesses, it is almost benign compared to the fiendish efforts of communications conglomerates today. Yes, them.

Phone and internet service providers seem to be in competition to see which company can inflict the most, longest lasting, and cleverly contorted pain upon their customers as possible. Unfortunately, they are very good at being very bad. I can remember actually lauding my provider in 2011, but I moved to a different area, and they did not have internet service available for that particular location. So began the search for a new ISP provider.

 My search for the ISP and the debacle that ensued brings to mind lyrics from the Led Zeppelin tune, “Battle of Evermore”:
“The pain of war cannot exceed the woe of aftermath....”

First, the malicious machinations of searching for a service provider that force potential customers through a labyrinthine online journey that inflicts layer upon layer of frustration at every turn.

Day 1—On the phone:
“Can I sign up for internet service with you?”
“Sure. We can give you a great deal on an internet/TV package with 23 premium movie channels!”
“I don’t watch TV. Can I sign up for just internet?”
“Sure. We can send out a tech within the week.”

Day 2—My email inbox:
“Please take our quick customer service survey.”

Two weeks later—On the phone:
“So... your tech never came out.”
“No problem. We can have a tech come out tomorrow, and we can give you a great deal on 210 premium movie channels!”
“I’ll stick with just internet, thank you.”

Two days after two weeks later—Tech at my house, on the roof:
“Sorry, we can’t provide service here unless we put up a 30-foot-tall antenna with guide wires anchored in the ground.”
“But, we’re in the middle of town.”
“Yeah, but it won’t happen unless we put up the antennae. Then you can get a bazillion...”
“...Premium movie channels. Yes, I know. Never mind. Please come down from the roof.”

Further investigation reveals that, despite robust antitrust laws and antitrust litigation in the news, there’s apparently only two choices for internet service in the known universe, and one of them can’t help without reconstructing the Eiffel Tower on my roof. But I was able to sign up with choice No. 2. Thus began the “woe of aftermath” because actually signing up for service is merely the first step in discovering concealed landmines of vexation that lay armed and waiting.

Day 1—My email inbox:
“Ryan, your order is confirmed! Welcome to XXXXXXX! Now it’s time to create your online account so you can make the most of your new service. It only takes a few minutes, and then you’ll be able to access hundreds of premium movie channels!”

Provider’s website response to my attempt to create online account:
“We are sorry, but you have entered an invalid email.”

Day 2—My email inbox:
“Dear RYAN, Welcome to XXXXXXX services! We hope that you are enjoying everything XXXXXXX has to offer. To enhance your experience even further, we have created a personalized XXXXXXX video bill to make it easy to understand your bill.”

Day 3—On the phone with a customer service rep:
“I received a bill for my service. How do I pay it?”
“No problem sir, all you have to do is create an online account!”
“But your website doesn’t recognize my email except to send a bill.”
“Let me check on that for you sir... OK, so it looks like your order hasn’t been confirmed yet, so you aren’t in the system yet.”
“But I received an invitation to create an account, and a bill, both in my email, but I’m not in the system?”
“That is correct sir. I’m sorry about the confusion, but it takes about a week to go through. Once you’re in the system, you can upgrade to receive 864 premium movie channels!”

Day 4—My email inbox:
“Please take our quick survey of XXXXXX services.”

I suppose one beating is not enough for me because in an unwise attempt to streamline my bills, I chose to follow up the internet debacle with a change in phone service. Unbelievably, internet service providers are amateur sadists compared with the demon phone service companies.

Now, I admit, I fully expected a fair amount of blowback in regards to shutting down one service (hell hath no fury like a provider scorned), but I was surprised at the hurdles left in my way as I began service with another. The details are too lurid for these pages, but l will say that during the three-day circus of getting my already-paid-for phone to sync with the new service, my usage of the Lord’s name was not in thanks. And as St. Paul said “...if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” Amen.

I suppose a certain level of bad customer journey may be inevitable due to poor training, bad economic decisions and the like, but I am convinced that this level is intentional due to the fact that it is just as painful to begin service as it is to terminate service.

Question for service providers: Do you want someone to shoot your front window or bite one of your employees on the nose? (Actually happened locally.) Because that’s how you drive customers to insanity. Of course violence is absolutely not acceptable; I’m just saying that poor customer service is largely avoidable with proper training and ongoing reviews of your customer’s journey.

I shall close on a positive note by encouraging managers everywhere to enjoin customer service training thusly: Provide employees with a certain sum of money and have each one choose a product online from Cabela’s, “The World’s Foremost Outfitter,” but order it by phone. Once they receive the product, have them send it back for a return or exchange. Engage in scrum as you go through the process. Discuss each step as a group. These guys are good and provide a model of customer service—and I don’t recall any news lines involving Cabela’s and dining on facial cartilage.


About The Author

Ryan E. Day’s picture

Ryan E. Day

Ryan E. Day is Quality Digest’s project manager and senior editor for solution-based reporting, which brings together those seeking business improvement solutions and solution providers. Day has spent the last decade researching and interviewing top business leaders and continuous improvement experts at companies like Sakor, Ford, Merchandize Liquidators, Olympus, 3D Systems, Hexagon, Intertek, InfinityQS, Johnson Controls, FARO, and Eckel Industries. Most of his reporting is done with the help of his 20 lb tabby cat at his side.


Don't get me started

I, too, have lived this nightmare. I won't go into details, let me just say that one of the two largest providers in the U. S. could not figure out how to connect my cellphone call from my Minnesota-purchased cell phone (with its 612 area code) to its call center in Virginia (where I am moving). Even when the rep in the St. Paul center tried to connect me directly with the Virginia call center, the call center's IVR saw my number and re-routed the call to another rep in St. Paul! At one point they thought I would have to wait until I moved to Virginia and call from a pay phone.

I really believe that this is the result of the Shareholder Primacy ideology. It used to be that companies needed to care about their customers to be profitable. Now it's about maximizing shareholder value, and if providing great customer service somehow fails to contribute to that goal, too bad... 

*bang head here*

I know this daytime nightmare ALL TO WELL.

I had a problem with a cell phone and I called the OOOHHHH so convenient customer service #. After 10 minutes of the rat maze, I (with pen and paper) MAPPED the automated system/redundant loop! Press 1 for technical problems, Boop* press 3 for further options. boop* MAIN MENUE… WHAT?!......boop…beep….MAIN MENUE……BOOP, beep, beep, boop, BEEP, .. MAIN MENUE. This went on for another 15 minutes each path ending at the beginning. It was on lap number 12 of the race to nowhere that I was struck by an amazing thought. “Press 4 to add another line”…BEEP*…almost instantly “How may we help you.”

I exploded “Your troubleshooting is a useless maze! But, the moment I indicate spending more MONEY you are Johnny on the spot to assist!” the voice on the other end was actually scolding me for calling them with a technical problem. (I was cutting into those sales bonuses) the conversation continued with me pointing out where the companies and this employees focus really was. It was neither customer service nor loyalty having been a customer for many years. Then the employee offered to connect me to support, but instead sent me back into the maze. I canceled with them that day and made them eat all the restrictions and jargon used to tether you to the service. I did this in person, I find it impossible for them to hang up when you are face to face.

This also taught me to throw it back at them ON SITE. When they refer to a phone number or “EASY TO USE WEBSITE” I have them navigate it for me. 9 times out of 10 it’s not so easy even for them.

You nailed it

We have exactly the same situation in Sweden. I have had numerous problems with the phone and ISP companies, my worst experience was when my ISP tried to increase my bill retroactively under a 2 year fixed contract.

There is a gerat business opportunity waiting for a the person who starts a ISP/phone company that run it's buisiness with a mediocre service, a good service is not neeeded, mediocre will be miles ahead of nearest competitor.