Living Work

10 rants about the lost art of Customer Service

The lost art of customer service

I keep having the same torturous conversations with customer service departments. It can be a lost password, a failed delivery, being charged twice or just an enquiry. Whatever the problem it seems to me that customer service are not really very interested. If you’ve ever been trapped in the Kafkaesque phone system of a giant corporation, endlessly repeating your details to operator after operator, you will recognise my frustration.

In the design world customer service has been replaced with User Experience. Designers are paid handsomely to make the consumer’s interaction with technology seamless. Whether its buying online, downloading tickets or checking bank accounts – someone, somewhere has designed that process to be foolproof. Therein lies the problem. Computers are not like people. Technology doesn’t change its mind, mix up pin numbers, swap credit cards or burst into tears. A very clever twenty-something designs systems they think are intuitive but put them in front of a person four times their age and you might as well be speaking a different language.

Ten customer service gripes

The biggest companies seem to have hit on the perfect solution to maximise profit out of minimum effort. Just get the customer to do everything themselves. Energy suppliers are a typical example. First the consumer is expected to dig around for the best deal. This mega-deal is not offered up to loyal customers but hidden away in a time-consuming process of comparison shopping. With each comparison we are asked to share our precious data so that we will be chased about next year’s contract forever more. Eventually you will find someone who can renew your existing contract at a cheaper price. The very same supplier at a significantly cheaper rate. How does that work? Finally, once back under contract, the customer reads and submits their own meter readings and logs-in to get bills. We do everything and incredibly the suppliers charge us more for doing it.

When something goes wrong and you call a customer service department the call begins with a long message about how much information you can find on the website. No-one calls customer services lightly, you do it with a deep sigh and a heavy heart. It costs an arm and a leg. If the answer was on the website you would not be ringing would you?

We all know that sketch from Little Britain where the computer returns a negative response. Well I hate it when customer service is replaced with poor technology. Twice this week I’ve been sent pdf tickets to download with barcodes on them. My printer will not recognise these documents or print them. I have to take a screengrab and then print that. It’s just rude.

Who remembers two direct debits, the last transaction on your account, who you sat next to at school and what you had for breakfast? Seriously as soon as they mention security questions I know I’m doomed. The pin number that I use almost daily flies out of my head or rearranges itself into a new combination. I can already hear them saying ‘I’m afraid you’ve failed security’. I used to have one short password for everything and that was fine. Now each new account wants a different length password, a four, five or six digit pin as well as the name of your mother before she met your dad!

When a well-known online shopping brand decided not to recognise my password I asked for a link to change it. They sent me an automatic link, many times, but they never arrived. It wasn’t in junk, it NEVER ARRIVED. Try as I might I couldn’t get someone to simply email me the temporary password. It took 24 hours, many emails and several phone calls before I finally got to a customer service manager who could override the system.

Sometimes the person on the other end offers their own creative and frankly bonkers solution. In the middle of trying to retrieve the said password (Autopilot above) one operator suggested I open a second account. Just think about this. The logistics of a second account, needing a second email address and receiving two lots of catalogues and junk mail from Johnny Boden.

You start with a recorded message and press the appropriate menu number. A voice explains that there is now another choice so you press another number. You hear, ‘you are fifth in the queue, someone will be with you soon’. ‘You are fourth, third, second in the queue’. Finally, after twenty minutes and the third rendition of Greensleeves you hear a ringing tone and then THE PHONE GOES DEAD.

Is customer service a lost art?

I’ve been trying to get my business mail held at the sorting office at the weekends when, you know, the office is closed. It is normal practise when there will be no-one here to sign-for or receive it. Royal mail cannot send me the correct form to fill in, I have to go to the sorting office in person. This office is several miles away. There is another sorting office just round the corner but they don’t have the form. When I asked if the form could be emailed or even ‘posted’ to me I was told it was not company policy.

This is the one when customer service tell you that you cannot change your train ticket because it’s a print-at-home ticket. Some bit of you remembers reading ‘ticket can be changed for a fee’ at the time of booking. A further rummage through your online account and sure enough you are able to change your ticket for a £10 fee instead of buying a new one for £70.

Some companies now provide a little online chat box that pops up offering help. I first encountered it with my website host who provide technical support this way. That works well. Since then the technology has been rolled out and you regularly find yourself typing into the ether waiting for a response. I can only presume that the person on the other end is juggling too many ‘chats’ to keep up. Sometimes you wait so long for the reply to animate itself across the screen that you forget all about it. I’ve been distracted by a new email, clicked away to read it and come back later to find there’s still no conversation.

That’s it – rants over. You have my permission to fill the comments box below with your own customer service rants. It does you good to get it off your chest.

Just one final note of thanks though to all those people who do go the extra mile and do sort things out. It might take some time but when you find ‘the one’ it’s like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Avril x

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10 Rants about customer service