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Extolling the Virtues of Customer Service

I have not been having very good 'Customer Service' year from many companies. Let me explain…

We purchased our house last year. One of the 'fun' things is transferring over your cable and other utilities. This is where the first nightmare comes in.

Incident Number 1: Comcast

Let me start off by stating, I love Comcast's twitter support, much thanks to @FrankEliason's work while he was at Comcast. He is not the only one on this team, but he was the first to really reach out to Comcast customers via twitter. Despite good twitter support, Comcast's installation guys can be useless.

My fiancé had her Comcast transferred over to our house when we moved in. We schedule the appointment, which was a Monday, and I took a half day off of work in order to wait for the guy to arrive.

When he arrived he began setting everything up. He hooked up the outside lines and made sure that was installed properly. He moved the outlet from one side of the room to the other (where there had been one previously, so it wasn't too difficult). This included heading down to the crawl space and restringing some wire, which went through the vent instead of through the house like it should have.

When I have a service person in the house, I tend to check on what they're doing and help as much as I can. So, Imagine my surprise when after 3 hours the tech was not able to get anything, not even internet working. He had to go and re-schedule it for another day because he didn't want to miss his next appointment instead of making sure that I was satisfied. I was miffed to say the least.

So the appointment was rescheduled for Friday. I have to take another day off in order to accommodate this change. It's not the end of the world, but just the idea.

So I wait for the next Comcast guy to arrive. Once he arrives, he started by looking at the connections outside the house. He finds that these are not fitted properly and have to be redone. This was the primary issue to the whole reason why the first guy couldn't get the Internet and Television working. This tech spent the next couple hours making sure everything was working, including the Tivo and a Cablecard installation. It took two calls to get the issue resolved. That's definitely one more than necessary given the inability for the first technician to fully do the job.

Incident Number 2: American Home Shield (AHS)

We purchased our house about a year ago, like I stated earlier. With a new home purchase comes a one year warranty. We've only used it twice. The first incident stems from this.

Our tub was leaking so we called the home warranty place and asked for service. When I talked to the customer service agent, Tony, he verified that it would be covered and we scheduled an appointment. I was informed that the tech would arrive between 8:00am and 12:00pm. Standard window of time for service calls, 4 hours. I figure ok, cool, I'll wait. I waited, and waited, and waited. After the tech did not arrive by 1pm I called the dispatch office, he's running late, he'll be there by 3. Annoyed, I waited some more.

He wasn't there by 3:00pm, I called back again inquiring where the technician was. I was told by 5:00pm and again he didn't arrive. I was absolutely furious by this point. I had waited for 9 hours for the tech to arrive. He finally arrived at 5:50pm.

Once he arrived, it took him a whole 10 minutes to diagnose and fix the issue. I paid the deductible and went on my way, still quite irritated with the lack of service and inability for the dispatch company to send out another tech to look into the issue, instead making me wait at home all day when I had other errands to run and attend to.

Incident Number 3: Friaco's Tacos

One day my fiancé and I wanted some Mexican tacos. Not having a La Mex or Pepe's readily available we went to a place called Friaco's. This has to be the absolute worst dining environment known to man. First off, we were seated right away, which was good, so far so good but that's where it ended.

It took our waitress 15 minutes to get to our table. During this wait we were brought our chips and salsa. Normally this is a good thing. Not this time. The food was alright, no qualms with that. The issue is that the salsa bowl, since they're individual, had a layer of white gunk on the bottom. Needless to say we didn't use that one.

Once she did get to our table, it took her 10 minutes to get our drinks to us, and another 20 minutes to get our food. She swung by once and asked if we needed anything, naturally I needed a refill on my sprite. She never came back with my refill.

The restaurant wasn't busy, there were maybe 15 tables occupied with 3 waiters and waitresses. So there is no excuse as to why our service was so lousy. She did not receive a very big tip, maybe $0.36 if that, whatever rounded it up to the next dollar was her tip. Irregardless we have not been back to this restaurant since and have no plans on returning. Vote with your dollar people.

Incident Number 4: American Home Shield (AHS) again

After our first incident with American Home Shield I was not left with a very good feeling regarding them, but we had a leak in our tub that was dripping down to our kitchen.

So, I went through the routine of calling them, explaining the situation and awaiting a call back to schedule an appointment. All of this is standard. I did receive a call within the next couple of days, an appointment was scheduled and the tech arrived on time, by 8:15am, as scheduled.

He diagnosed the issue as the bathtub needing re-caulking, which isn't covered by our warranty, so I paid the deductible and went out to get caulk. In order to full test everything the gentleman had to remove a square of tile in order to verify the leak. Upon leaving he mentioned that he would call it in and report that it needed to be patched and that I would be receive a call within a few days. I was thinking, good, service has been good. That was not the case.

I never did receive a call back from anybody to patch the hole. So it sat there until after our trip overseas when I called back to complain that it had not been taken care of. Once I did hear back from the person who was going to patch the hole we set an appointment, he arrived right on time and it was taken care of. Again, it took two calls to get something done that should have been taken care of in one.

Incident Number 5: Juniper Networks

Just over two years ago we switched from Cisco Routers and Switches to Juniper products, why? Cost. Cisco charges exorbitant prices for both their hardware and support. For a bit more than what we would have paid for the Cisco SmartNET renewal that year, we purchased Juniper Switches and got support for two years.

Ah, support. In case you haven't figured it out yet, there's a theme to this post. So back in July we switched from T1s to a Fiber connection for our Internet access. We are still using the same ISP, but we thought 12Mbps would be faster than 3Mbps, so we opted to go this route.

Previously we had an old Cisco router handling the Point-to-Point connections and that router was handling the routing. Well with the fiber some networking changes needed to be made and I was unsure of how to rectify this so I called up Juniper Support.

I explain the situation, the gentleman on the phone, who is hard to understand, tries a few things and consults with his colleague. We spent an hour and a half on the phone when he stated that he had to get back to me the next day because it was the end of his work day.

I explained to him that at that moment we did not have access to our most vital resources, like Online databases, because the IP address was being incorrectly identified. And he said he could pass it off or he could get back to me tomorrow. I didn't have a choice, I told him to get back to me and so I did the only thing I know how. I fixed it my damn self.

I had to be the one to find the answer to the problem, I had to be the one to fix it and verify that the fix worked. I had to be the one to do the job of the support person.

This is not what you tell customers. You do not tell them that you have to stop helping them because it's the end of your shift. You explain that you have to go and you will get another engineer to assist you further. You do not push them off into a corner and expect the problem to go away.

After I fixed the issue, I called their help line back and asked them to close the ticket due to their engineer being unable to assist me and I had to fix the issue myself.

Guess which company I refuse to by any personal products from in the future. That's right, both Cisco and Juniper due to the lack of support. Guess I'll vote with my money, as you should.

Incident Number 6: Ensenda (Amazon Shipper)

I love Amazon and their customer service is awesome. However, their local shipping partners are far from it.

I, like many, have been eagerly awaiting Mafia II's release. I mean, it's only been 10 years since the original. So I decided I wanted to go with two-day shipping in order to get it sooner rather than later and with no tax, it was still cheaper than going out and buying the game locally. I figured, it's Amazon, it'll arrive in two days. Boy, was I wrong.

One of Amazon's shipping Partners, Ensenda, delivers in the Indiana and Illinois area. Being in Illinois it only makes sense that it would arrive on release day. It didn't. So I called Amazon the day it didn't arrive. I spoke to a customer service agent and explained the situation. They refunded me my two-day shipping and had me call the shipper directly. Which I did, and the shipper called their facility and inquired and said it would be delivered the next day. Again, it wasn't. So I called them back and they said that they could no locate the package.

I called Amazon back. Amazon immediately sent out another order at no charge with two-day shipping again. This time it did arrive on time.

How can a shipper 'lose' a package, I mean seriously, this does not make any sense what-so-ever. That's your job, to track packages and deliver them.

Incident Number 7: Ensenda (Amazon Shipper) Again

As stated in Incident Number 5, I love Amazon. And I'm not too found of Ensenda. But I needed something from Amazon again. This time it was a replacement air filter for an air purifier we have. I, dumbly, tried two-day shipping again. And again Ensenda was the courier. And again they failed to deliver.

The 'excuse' this time was due to the package being damaged in shipment. Let me reiterate my earlier point. A courier's job it to take a package and deliver it. How can you ruin something in a gigantic box? It's not even a heavy object, it is a rather light object at that. This doesn't make any sense either.

Again I called Amazon, they refunded my shipping, like usual. The Amazon representative I talked to emailed me a form to fill out regarding the shipper. You can guess I was quite pleasant regarding my disdain regarding Ensenda.

When Amazon got the package back, they instantly sent out another filter this time with One-day shipping. And delivery date: Saturday. Yes, Amazon does know what they are doing. And it was delivered on Saturday while we were out shopping.

Incident Number 8: AT&T Wireless

We went on an overseas trip in August and I wanted to add the international calling (which was a waste) just in case we made any phone calls while we were over there. So, I waited for 45 minutes to be helped, yes I waited in the store. When I finally was assisted I asked the service agent, who happened to be the store manager if I would be able to keep these. He said it wouldn't be a problem, it would be a manual process and they might disappear for a few days. So I thought, sweet, I'll be able to keep my minutes that I've already paid for but haven't expired. (that's a whole other rant…) So I waited until my billing cycle had gone through. The change was set to go into effect during the next cycle.

I saw my bill for September and noticed I didn't have any of my rollover minutes, so I called AT&T on October 3rd and wanted this issue resolved. After getting lectured to like I was a 2 year old by AT&T's customer service agent I asked, rather tersely and had to basically yell, to talk to this agent's manager. After explaining the situation to the manager I was informed that she couldn't put back that many minutes and an Area manager would have to do so. I requested that they send an email when this was accomplished.

I waited, and waited, with no change. So after I got October's bill, I called back again today. Today was a different story, instead of a hostile agent I got a very polite lady who was adamant about getting this issue resolved today. I received a text message saying that a vast majority, 5000, of my 8118 rollover minutes have been restored to my account. My guess is that 5000 was the limit the manager could do. This is a good customer service experience, today's not overall. The agent went out of her way to make sure it was taken care of. I do not consider the issue fully resolved yet, not until they re-appear in my account.

Incident Number 9: Twitter

I have been an avid Twitter user since February of 2007, yes over 3 1/2 years. I've been using Twitter longer than I have known my fiancé, and guess which one hasn't let me down yet, no, not Twitter.

One of the most famous aspects of Twitter is the 'Fail Whale'. It's now so well known that a general fail on anything is a fail whale. This is generally quite apparent during SXSW and any Apple announcement. Well, last week I started experiencing the fail whale to the point where I couldn't see my timeline of posts by those I follow. I thought, oh, it's just Twitter, they're having issues I'll try tomorrow. Tomorrow came, same issue, so I submitted a help request. No response after day one, I figure ok, I'll look again tomorrow (being Friday), no response, same thing Saturday and Sunday and most of Monday.

Now, throughout this whole time I was tweeting my lack of response and updating the post giving information that it was 48, 96, 120 hours with no change. I was quite irritated, not just that the timeline was broken but also the lack of response from Twitter regarding the ticket.

So I took the offensive and starting mentioning it, sending reply messages to support, and I included @DickC and @Ev to see if I could illicit a response and I think that is what finally got me my response. Now, I'm beginning to think that the response was just to shut me up. Here is what they had to say

This issue has been assigned internally and we are actively working on it. Once we fix it, your account should be affected automatically, so there's no need for you to check back. While we are closing this ticket, we have not forgotten about your issue and hope to have a fix out in the next few weeks. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience.
NEXT FEW WEEKS

Excuse me... few weeks, that is completely unacceptable. First off, it takes you five days to respond to a support request, take some of the $40 million you receive in your last round of funding and hire some more help personnel. And now the fix isn't occurring for a few weeks, how in the world do you expect anybody to deal with not being able to use the biggest aspect of twitter, those you follow, for a few weeks. This is just not allowed. The whole point of your service is to be social, how can I be social if I'm not hearing the conversation. If Facebook were down for a few weeks half a billion people would let them know about it and it would get fixed rather quickly.

Here is what I added as a comment to the problem...

Thanks for the reply. A couple of things... First off, I understand technical issues and can fully relate the things taking a while to fully flush out and get to the bottom of in order to fully solve. However, 5 days to reply back to a support request is ludicrous. A simple acknowledgement saying 'Hey, we saw your request, we're super busy right now, but we will get back to it shortly' or something along those lines would go a long way to easing the angst and irritation of users who may never hear back nor reach out to those who matter in order to get their issues resolved. Secondly, Twitter is meant as a social network. Keyword, Social. If I am unable to utilize the service for it's primary purpose, what is the point of even being on the service? Twitter is about communication, meaning back and forth dialog between users who may never have interacted by any other means. How can one be part of this back and forth if they cannot see what news items are being commented on, or even just what information and ideas are being exchanged. Please forward these comments on to whomever may do the most good with them.

So that concludes my horrendous experiences, thus far, for the last year. Now, I haven't had entirely bad experiences with companies, quite the contrary. I have had some rather good experiences. The best one, no surprise, coming from Apple. The entire ordeal is documented at Macgasm.net. And obviously the support I got from Amazon was fantastic, and the AT&T customer service representative I dealt with on the phone, the second phone call (ugh), made it easy.

If you've made it this far, You're thinking, so what all companies have bad service experiences, you're not at these companies and you do not have to deal with support requests. Well, in a sense you would be correct, I'm not at these companies.

Only half correct, however. I do have to deal with support requests. I have two Applications in Apple's iOS App Store. When I get a support request, I try to reply, within an hour, to that person with an answer to their issue or in order to address their question. Granted, I do not have nearly as many customers nor support requests as many of these companies mentioned above but I value my customers more than these companies.

Why value somebody so much if you don't know that well and they may never buy your application? The answer is quite simple, trust. I plan on being around for quite a while yet and I plan on making applications for a while. If I can give a single customer a good experience they may start looking for any new applications that I create and decide to purchase them or at least keep them in mind for others to recommend to others. And hey maybe at some point they will have an issue and I'll respond and they'll explain to their friends how quickly I responded to their problem and was able to help them with it. And their friend buys my applications and the cycle repeats over and over. That is the hope anyway.

I have some ideas on how to mitigate the bad experiences explained above. Here what I am thinking:

One thing that companies need to do is invest heavily in your Customer service representative's well being. If they're not happy with something then they are going to reflect that towards the customers who will only think that much worse of your company.

In order to facilitate the dialog between your customer service representatives and customers you need to allow your customer service representatives to be open with management. Fostering an environment where the employee feels as though they will be chastised, belittled, or even disciplined for speaking their mind is not a positive way to gain the trust of your employees. Your employees are your number one asset to fostere a positive environment for your customers. If they leave, you're spending more time, effort and money training their replacements and losing valuable entities that know some of the

First, companies should put quality ahead of quantity, but demand both. By this I mean do not reward representatives who handle the most calls, reward those that have the least problems and requests to 'speak to a manager'. Make it a competition to create customer loyalty. Demand quantity out of your employees to accomplish quality work.

Second, Take the most problematic employees aside and determine why they're so problematic. Ask them if there is something that is not working within their job, or the company at large. I cannot stress the following two things enough. Truly listen to their concerns, take it to whichever management team or person who can possibly facilitate change and report back to the employee the findings, one way or another and give it to them in writing. If their suggestion is definitely not feasible, then say so, and do so with reasoning. They may not like it, but getting feedback and true reasoning, not some management bullshit, will go a long way to gaining the employee's trust. The employee may still be resentful if they begin to sabotage the entire environment, that is when you begin to either find a better fit for them, or remove them entirely.

Third, Be willing to adapt and change. Your customers are your driving force, they are the ones who truly determine where your project and company goes. They are the ones who will reap the biggest benefit with the companies' flexibility and willingness to take the customer's opinion and utilize it. By doing this you will only further strengthen the trust that your customers have with your company.

These are no by the only things that companies must do to foster the best environment possible and create the best customer service experiences for their customers. But it's a damn good start.

I implore every company to really look hard at their customer service workflows, policies and overall customer satisfaction and do everything that they can in order to gain their customer's trust. Gaining their trust will take time and hard work, but once you do this the customer can be your biggest asset in advertising your company and brand. However, once you give them a truly bad experience you may lose them as a customer and gaining their trust again will take twice as long due to their skepticism and remembering of their displeasure and dissatisfaction with your company.

If you have any of your own experiences or suggestions please add to the comments.

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