The State of Customer Service In America
Let me first start out by saying that I really didn’t want to write this, but do to a series of matters that have affected me and two of my closest and dearest friends I found myself honor bound to do so.
As a member of the press, yes, the media, I know that I have to be sensitive in overplaying that hand, and while both the KenRadio World Technology Roundup and this blog go out uncensored, I have to keep in check when I’m a consumer, and when I’m press. And that’s what forms the crux of this posting.
A few months back one of my closest friends, a retired former very senior executive from Wall Street said to me over coffee that he was having problems with his new H-P Windows Media Center Laptop. The issue was his inability to access a certain financial web site using Internet Explorer. He lamented to me that he had spent four hours on the phone with someone from H-P support and got nowhere. As a matter of fact he was farther behind than he was when he first called them. I told him I could fix the problem and went to his house and in five minutes, he was looking at the site he wanted and logged in. I downloaded Firefox. You see, at no point did the H-P tech seek to solve the problem. They just read their support screens because they are not taught how to be logical, only to be helpful in the way someone has programmed a decision support system to work in a customer service environment.
Anyway, being they had him make all kinds of changes to his PC, he needed to get it back to normal. He spent 8 hours on the phone with them and at the end, the computer was less functional than when he started the process. I had him call an inside support person I know in what is called the “Executive Support Team” or something like it inside the President’s office of HP. Their solution. They are buying the PC back from my friend. It just isn’t worth it to either of them, and my friend is buying a laptop from PortableOne, the guys who support and know and relate and fix the first time out of box. They get it.
Another dear friend signed her company up with T-Mobile at my suggestion. I love T-Mobile, and though I’ve had my share of difficulties around the XDA PDA phones in the past, I’ve gotten past that. Maybe it’s because when the crap hits, I go to the PR person and get results fast. That doesn’t mean T-Mobile is always perfect. They’re not. The problem lies with the fact that their voice, data and high speed service teams are in three different groups and you have to go from one rung to another rung, and in some cases one person speaks out of turn. In my friend's case, she bought five phones, five numbers and things were all screwed up. It took her five days, five different phone calls to five different people to fix it.
And there in lies the problem with customer service today. Lack of account ownership. The people dealing with the customer figure, this is the one time I deal with them. They don’t know my name, where I am, what town I live in or any of that. Just try and get those details. Ask for their last name…see/hear what happens.
Let me digress…I remember a great real estate sales guy in Denver. His name was Steve. He sold my boss a great house back when I worked with the Nuggets. He was all about customer service. He even would ask me if I wanted to buy, or what I though one day I would want to buy even before I was in the market for a house back in 1988. You know what, for a few years I still got Christmas cards from him, even though I didn’t live in Denver
This past week I had two issues that required my going the “press card” route to fix problems. First was with Vonage. Before leaving for Europe in September I had purchased a new Linksys ATA which meant establishing a new Vonage number.
I didn’t want to, but to test the device it meant I had to. At least back then it did.
There have been reports on some bullentin boards of Vonage customers having difficulties switching devices and number, as well as being charged cancellation fees.
All I wanted to do was dump my old Cisco ATA and use the newer, smaller and better Linksys device.
During a conversation two weeks back with a support person at Vonage related to a call forwarding issue I asked that it be done. He never followed up. So rather than wasting time, I asked their ace PR guy Mitch “Mad Dog” Slepian—he’s aggressive, but in a nice way, to fix it. He escalated it to Warren in their Executive Support Team and with 24 hours the old line had the new Linksys box, and the new number was history, and all unnecessary charges waived or reversed.
Warren even took the care to migrate my number in the UK over to the old line and then followed up with a call and email to make sure everything was done correctly. His email, documented everything that he did, or what he was going to do. It was perfect.
Let me compare this to my still ongoing Gateway monitor fiasco. Over two weeks ago I went to my Gateway Windows Media Center that is all of five months old or so. The monitor was blank. It would blink, then die out. I called Gateway that night, got a nice chap in their Canada call center and he had me run some tests. One test would take an hour so and he assigned me a case number and told me to call back in the morning. I did. On that call I gave the new tech the results that with my back up monitor from another PC, that all was fine with the video card. Tech number two then processed a replacement order and said that within five days I would have a new monitor. On day six, I called Gateway and asked, “Where is it?”
The person I spoke to was clueless. First she said my case number belonged to someone else. Then she said they had no record of my call. I asked what the case number referred to and she described back to me the exact problem I was having, but it had someone elses name and address on it. I said, no big deal, being that I live just forty five minutes or so from Gateway’s headquarters I ‘d be willing to drive up to get the replacement. She said that was impossible and that I’d have to start the process over again with support . I asked for her manager and she said that would be a 27 minute wait.
I called P.R. at Gateway. Rather emotionally, I explained to the PR contact what had transpired, and that all I wanted was a working monitor, not to have to spend another few hours dealing with this. He agreed, and escalated this to their Executive Support Team. That was on Thursday November 4.
On Monday I received a call from Ashley at Gateway. She reviewed all my information and had asked that I call her. We ended up speaking but being I was at a wine trade tasting I just said, let’s talk on Tuesday. Which we did.
All went well, and she said the monitor would be shipped out. On Wednesday she called to confirm my address and again told me the monitor was going out, and that I should see it by Friday.
Then the crap hit the fan.
On Thursday Ashley called and said that someone in corporate office in Irvine was holding up the shipment because they didn’t have proof of purchase, something up until that day no one had asked for. What’s even more bizarre is Costco transfers that data to them, but somehow on my particular bundle they lacked the right level of detail. What does that have to do with my broken monitor that I registered with Gateway when I first bought the combo back in June?
Then to add insult to injury, this person in corporate could not be spoken to, was not reachable other than by email by Ashley and even after I found the sales receipt and read Ashley all the details she requested, she still could not get permission to ship unless I faxed in the receipt, something that is difficult as I don’t have a fax machine and I really didn’t want to go to the UPS store again, that I had just returned from only an hour earlier. As much as I’ve been on the move, I really need to spend time working on the computer, not working to get the computers working.
I called the PR guy and he was not happy. Not with me, but with the situation.
The next morning, Friday, I got an email from the VP of Client Services, Bob Cote, inside Gateway. He asked that I explain the problem from my perspective. By noon he and I were talking. By the end of the conversation, I was assured I would have my monitor, and that he was going to look into why the problem even happened. By two PM I had a tracking number. I should have my monitor on Monday. Bob even offered to have it delivered on Saturday, but being I was traveling, I said to have it arrive on Monday, as there was no sense in wasting his money. If I wanted to be a jerk I would have said yes, but let's face it, do I need something that I've waited this long for and can't wait until 1030 AM on Monday? I didn't think it would be the right thing to do.
Oh yes, I also had an issue with CallVantage, but it got resolved, with professional follow up by someone in Kansas City. I didn't have to call their ace PR guy Gary Morgenstern to get it fixed. I didn't have to play the media card. They just fixed it.
Yesterday, Saturday, I spent the morning updating content on a client's web site. It could have been done by their staff on Monday. But, the client, who is also a friend, needed it done and was busy with other matters. I took an hour and did it. Why? I value my clients and treat their needs as my own. The day before my client asked that the programmer do something that was not part of the bid. I paid for it and will not bill my client. Why? It’s about getting the job done right.
A few weeks ago I missed a typo on a printing job for another client. I paid to have the job rerun. Now I have put in systems to prevent this from happening. I hired a copy editor and a proofreader. Will those steps completely stop things like that from ever happening again? No. But as I was taught, “we eat our mistakes” and “the client comes first.” Sadly that’s not the way things are these days in the tech customer support area until you get high enough. That's sad.
If companies will empower their employees to solve the problem the customer has and then find out what happened, we’d all save time, and be happier. More importantly if they would just replace what's broken at retail when possible, none of this would happen. It just would be like the old days when the "customer was always right."
What this all means is that customer service in America is really screwed up. Sure, some get it right, but more don't, and that's a real reason for concern.
Thanks for reading.