A customer service rant

I know many of my readers may find this hard to believe, although I think the people that (really) know me won’t – but I have a hard time expressing myself in some situations.

That’s part of the reason I started this blog. From ranting at Microsoft when Vista bombed on me to ranting at Time-Warner when they fail me – I have a hard time being mean to their customer service people. So instead I take it out in my blog, against the company, instead of arguing with an employee.

There is little percentage in arguing, or even getting frustrated at, a tech support person. I have no doubt at all that they are all going to do as much as they are allowed to do.

I ran support for a long time – I know it’s hard. It is hard to NOT please a customer. But often you just cannot. It’s beyond your ability as a tech support person to make the person on the other end of the phone happy.

And this is where I see companies failing – they aren’t proactively enabling their customer support people to TELL YOU who to talk to next. It’s like they don’t want the customer to know – and that’s a failure. YOU WANT YOUR CUSTOMERS TO KNOW WHERE TO FIND A LISTENING EAR (preferably before they blog about it).

Yes, I ran into this with Time-Warner – here’s a link, just for my new friend, so she find this post :).

I ran into this with Microsoft. Eventually you just seem to hit a dead end in your quest to get things done. Nobody seems to be able to help you any more. You don’t have any recourse that you know of. You get irritated. You post blog entries that might include “I’m pissed off” provoked profanity. You are just really totally frustrated and feel that the company you are trying to deal with has painted you into a corner, and that you have no options. You feel as if they just don’t care. You feel like a number.

When I managed tech support all of my employees knew they could give the customer my number, my email address. My Instant Messaging address. My home phone number. My blood type. Nothing was off limits, and no customer was insignificant. I existed to make try and make customers happy. My goal was to prevent any of them from ever having to talk to my boss. I made sure my bosses knew this – so they would give me the leeway to make customers happy with discounts, freebies, whatever. I worked 80 hours a week trying to make sure none of my customers ever had to talk to my bosses about something I could affect

Freebies rarely made a customer happy though… what they really want is as simple as getting what they paid for. Often that can’t be done though – at least not at the moment. So in lieu of that, what do customers want? They want to know that someone feels their pain. They want to know that someone is listening. They want to know that the company cares.

So let’s take Time-Warner as an example here – you can search my blog (upper right corner) for Time Warner to get some history if you need it. But let’s see how they could have adjusted my attitude early in the process…

Suppose after my third or fourth call, when I still wasn’t satisfied – suppose the tech support staff was trained to OFFER me the name and number to the Executive Response Team? Suppose they encouraged me to call a higher authority? Might I have used the number? Probably. Would I have felt better about Time-Warner – certainly – I would have felt then and there that they cared. The CSR would have had the authority to tell me who to talk to within the corporation – someone “higher up”. It would have made me feel at least as if they cared about me as a customer.

Better yet, suppose Time-Warner had an automated system where the “Executive Response Team” could come into the office every day and decide, based on customer call-ins, WHO they were going to contact that day? Not IF they would be contacting a customer, but which customers they would contact. What if Time-Warner were so pro-active with my account that I never blogged badly about them because, no matter how good the actual service was (did my TV work), the perceived service (they called me when I had ongoing problems, THEY escalated things up the chain), Time-Warner just made me “feel good” about spending my money with them.

What if Microsoft (see a previous post about Vista dying on me for details) had NOT blocked me from their forums. What if they instead CALLED me? Would me and Microsoft be happier? I think so.

I think the bottom line here is that:

a) Your customer support people need an “out”. They need someone to send people like me to – I shouldn’t have to beg for the number.

b) Support should be proactive. If it is not, then you are failing your shareholders.

c) Management needs to be much more involved with the end customer than they currently are. Blogging is definitely a first step. But so is going “into the field” now and then and finding one pissed off customer – and talking to them. And fixing things. You are a manager – you have the authority to make something happen. Do you care enough for your customer to ensure that something does happen?

Finally, I know a lot of companies measure customer satisfaction based on how much they are spending on “satisfying customers”. What you spend in dollars is insignificant – unless you back those dollars up with measurable increases in customer satisfaction. It’s that easy. If you are spending 2 times more this year then last year, and you have just as many pissed off customers then you are wasting shareholder dollars.

Your customers WANT to be happy. Really, we do. But sometimes things go badly – and when they do, and especially if it is you fault, we expect you to not only fix the problems, but to make us feel like you think we deserve to have the problem fixed.



  1. Tad – VERY cool of your neighbor (and I assume new best friend!)

    Time Warner’s problems aren’t with their people, in my experience. I’ve generally dealt with really nice folks (and I am glad one of them lives by your new house!)


  2. Here’s a pleasant experience I recently had with a Time Warner employee.

    As you know I recently moved into a new house. TWC customer service told me it would take 2 weeks for them to hook up the cable at my new house. Friday while I was moving in one of my neighbors came by to introduce himself. He asked about my cable and if I had scheduled it. Yes, but it’ll take 2 weeks I replied. He then informed me he was a TWC Installer and that he would see if he could get it sped up for me. The next evening he stopped by to tell me that they ok’d him to run the cable for me.
    So on Sunday morning, (his day off) he came by and ran my cable. Then came in and checked everything to ensure it was working properly.
    Nice neighbor or good TWC employee? Either way if more of their employees had his attitude they would probably have alot more ‘happy’customers. Thanks Abraham!

  3. Heh – yeah – that would be nice – it would also drive the price of Capri Sun through the roof!

    I remember a few years ago Ihad a reletively new refrigerator – it was about 8 months old. A can of biscuits exploded in it and caused a four inch hole in the plastic refrigerator wall – right in the front shelf.

    Pillsbury offered me $300, and if it had been an old ‘fridge, that would have been a pretty good deal. But since it was a new $1400 ‘fridge, the $300 wasn’t that appealing.

    They bought me a new refrigerator, and I donated the old one to a local private school. I still get free biscuit coupons every month now.

    Some details – I send them pictures of the damage, the exploded can, and it included an expiration date – which wasn’t close to being met.

    Hard for them to plead no foul when it was evident their product was responsible. But I love the way they responded, and I love their biscuits – so I am still a loyal customer.


  4. I don’t know, Freebies might make me happy if they were substantial enough. If I received a “Yes, Yes, we realize your Capri Sun exploded all over your 2 year old and caused a major tantrum in the grocery store. Yes, we realize you’re upset, so to make up for it we’ll send you and your family to Tahiti for a month”. I would be quite happy then … that’s what I call customer service.


  5. BTW – just to be clear – both Microsoft and Time-Warner called me after my blog posts. In the case of Microsoft, it was several days after I had been locked out of their support forums.

    Time-Warner called theday after I posted about them, thanks to some pro-active work on their part when it comes to Public Relations (and watching blogs). Now let’s see them put the same effort into Customer Care.