Is Customer Service Dead?

By Melinda VanLone | Thoughts

Jan 23

As I go about my consumerism I’m struck by the service, or lack thereof, which I receive for my hard-earned money. When it’s particularly bad I find myself shaking my head thinking customer service has died and we, the consumer, let it happen. We are at the funeral looking at the dead body and shaking our head. “Wasn’t he wonderful? I’ll miss him.”

We should not be settling for substandard performance from anyone. It should not come as a shock when we are treated well. But everyone has experienced this from time to time. Some examples of customer service I’ve experienced lately:

The Bad Guys

Monitronics and the lock-you-in-for-life contract from hell.

They installed the system for “free”, but they insist you sign a 3 year contract. 3 years. Who knows what they will be doing 3 years from  now? I certainly didn’t. 6 months after we signed up my husband got transferred and we had to sell the house. What happens to the monitoring then? You either pay out the contract (the entire thing, no matter how long you have left), or you talk the next home owner into taking over your existing contract. It’s about $50/month for the service. 3 years. Do the math.

They will also offer to install for “free” in your new home and continue your contract in the new place. By continue they mean they’ll add 3 years onto whatever was left of the previous contract. If you did this a few times you could end up owing them for the rest of your life.

I called “customer service.” I told them the situation, I cried, I begged. I did not have a home yet in our new city so I could not transfer the service. Could I have some sort of pause? No. The “customer service” person wasn’t interested in helping me.  They have a script, and it says pay up. Period. No deviations, no flexibility, nothing. It is worse than a loan shark. Yes, I signed the contract, so I do take some responsibility for that. But I wasn’t asking for the moon, I was asking for a little human understanding. I’d have signed up eventually in our new home, whenever that purchase happened to be. Now? Forget it. Next time I need home monitoring I’ll get a dog. And maybe a shotgun.

Home Warranty companies (all of them)

When we were a first time home buyer, we insisted the seller include a home warranty. We were young. Naive. Foolish. We thought having that warranty meant if something broke there would be a hero around to fix it. A plus considering the all thumbs approach to home maintenance we employ.

Fast-forward to one of the hottest summers on record. When the temps hit 115 outside of course the AC broke. I dutifully called the warranty company. They dutifully sent someone out, 8 hours later (all day, 115 outside which meant it was 300 inside). There I am, dripping in sweat. The man looks at my 20 year old air conditioner and says it is “working as intended”. Um, no. No, I should not be sweating with the AC running non stop. I argued. I cried. I screamed. I’m not a nice person when I’m hot, let me just tell you. He charged me $35 for the service call, and went on his way.

The same scenario repeated for the garbage disposal, the washing machine, and the hot water heater. Apparently the hot water heater is not busted until it spews water all over the floor. Until then, suck it up. Even if the water is tepid.

Fact is, they are not selling repair services. They are selling so called “peace of mind” which is not worth the paper it’s printed on. Take the money you would have spent on them and put it in savings. You’ll then have the money when you need to pay a good handyman to come and actually fix the problem.

Macy’s and the customer service call from hell. 

I bought a cookware set as a gift for my brother for Christmas. When he unpacked the box, he discovered one of the lids had shattered. I undertook the call to Macy’s to see about getting the lid replaced. After navigating a phone tree from hell, I ended up with someone who obviously didn’t speak English as their native language.  We spent 30 minutes trying to understand each other.

He killed me with kindness. He wasn’t rude, he was tripping over himself to be nice. Tripping being the operative word. I would swear he was on crack. He couldn’t stay focused on the issue at hand and kept asking me how my holiday was. I asked him why that was relevant. He didn’t understand the word.

Even though he said it all in a very nice way, the upshot was he had only one way to solve my problem…box it all back up and take it back to the store for an entire new set. This seemed a ridiculous expense and waste of time considering I only needed a lid. A lid I was willing to wait for, heck even pay for, if they’d just ship one to me. This does have a happy ending, although not on the part of Macy’s. See Analon under “The Good Guys”.

The Good Guys

Analon

As a continuation of our saga, I hung up on the Macy’s customer service guy (I did tell him I was going to, first. I’m not totally rude). I went to the Analon website (the brand of cookware I’d purchased) and found a customer service number. After all, they do say “limited lifetime warranty” on the box. They even give you a fancy certificate. This should include shattered lids, yes?

I got a warm, friendly, wonderful lady on the phone who said “how can I help you?” (in very good English, a bonus). I explained the situation. She said “I can send him out a replacement lid if that would be all right.” Why yes, yes that would be perfectly fine. More than fine. I would be forever your friend and praise your name if you would send a replacement lid! Then she offered to ship directly to my brother so I didn’t have to. Really? You went an extra step? For me? Not once in this conversation did she ask for a receipt, or proof of purchase of any sort, or for us to ship back the defective part. Not once did she even demand to know who had sold it to us. She simply offered to fix my problem. I wanted to cry.

Just so you know, the cookware is fantastic. I can’t recommend it enough for the home cook who wants non-stick that won’t leech into your food.

Zappos

I may never buy shoes anywhere else. Yes, I have to ship back quite a few when they don’t fit. But this company pays the shipping, BOTH WAYS. I try on the shoes in my living room. If they don’t fit, back in the box they go, label on the outside..done. And their selection can’t be beat. I also love how they have videos demonstrating their items so you can see how it looks on real feet. If you haven’t shopped there, give them a try.

Kuerig

Can I just say heaven, every morning, in a cup? I was having trouble locating the exact type of coffee I wanted in the store, so I checked out their website. A happy notice informed me if I simply register my machine they will give me 2 free boxes of coffee. They saved me money when they really didn’t have to. I’m a happy addict, as I now have almond mocha coffee in my cup. Yes it costs a bit more than some other machines, but it’s worth it.

It all boils down to that really. I am so desperate for good customer service that I will pay extra to get it. I will buy from the place that makes me feel wanted, appreciated, and above all solves my problem. Is that so much to ask?

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