Archive for Thursday, November 20, 2008

Customer service a hollow phrase

November 20, 2008

One factor in the success of a business’ operation is how its personnel treat customers. Sometimes, I think that the old saw “the customer is always right” has been buried along with many other common courtesies.

It feels like our world has been fast-forwarded just as we do an unwanted commercial. In the hurry-up and get-it-over-with atmosphere of today’s commercial operation, the fine details of pleasing and treating the customer well has gone the way of the dinosaur. As companies grow larger and larger with small businesses being swallowed up in chains, there seems to be less and less accountability for the person answering the phone or taking care of the long chain of customers waiting.

I hope that the recent economic crisis has made businesses rethink how they do business, but I have doubts. Too few paying customers makes one think that he or she will be welcomed with open arms if he or she approaches any kind of paying establishment with dollars to exchange for goods or services.

I haven’t found it so. Lately, I haven’t been too sure that anybody really wants my patronage — at any price I can afford to pay.

My rising tide of anger began almost a year ago when I went through my budget looking for services and goods I could cut back on to save money. I had been carrying a service for my cell phone from a well-known phone company that employs many people in this area. Although I was paying the minimum per month, I didn’t come close to using up the time for which I was paying. I decided to change my service to one for which I just paid for the actual minutes I used.

I figured changing would not be difficult. All I had to do was call the phone company I was using and cancel my present plan. When I called, a rather angry-sounding man demanded to know why I was canceling. I began to make excuses, but decided it wasn’t really any of his business.

“I just want to do so and it’s my decision,” I told him as I wondered if he was going to offer me a better deal.

He didn’t. He just informed me that I had been a customer since 1999, as if that were a reason to continue. I countered by telling him that I wanted to drop the service because I didn’t use it enough to justify its cost. He still didn’t offer a better deal, but he did angrily inform me that I was in the middle of a two-year contract and would have to pay a penalty of $200 for dropping. I couldn’t remember having agreed to such a plan and argued about it. Finally, he told me I just had to pay it or the company would sue me. I didn’t agree, and called another person from that same company. I don’t know if the second man was sympathetic or not because I couldn’t understand anything he said. His heavily accented English was unintelligible to me. I finally gave up and paid the penalty. I still saved money over the long haul.

This weekend the mail brought me a check from that phone company — a check which was unencumbered with conditions or explanations —for most of the $200 penalty I had paid under protest. At least, I presume it was money reimbursing me. There was no letter of explanation. It was too little, too late. I won’t go back because there are too many other options.

I would hope that in this era of economic crisis that companies would take a second look at the people who answer their phones. First, they should be able to speak a clear version of English. If another language is needed, then the company representative should be fluent in that language that is offered as a choice.

Secondly, the person answering the phone for the company should be a person who does not become angry or accusatory. Even if the answer is no, the language should be polite and respectful.

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