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Departments: First Word

  

Don’t Call Us!

The pin drop heard ‘round the world

by Dirk Dusharme

 

If you haven’t already heard, Sprint unceremoniously booted 1,000 to 1,200 mobile subscribers out of their contracts because… wait for it… they called customer service too many times. You can read more about it in this month’s News Digest story on page 11, or you can simply Google it: "Sprint disconnects customers." Sprint claims that the customers were disconnected for calling too often or asking for information that shouldn’t be given to them. The group as a whole called an average of 40,000 times per month, or about 40 calls per person/per month. Sprint claims that this excessive number of calls was keeping them from providing good service to the remainder of their 53 million customers. Fuzzy math, anyone?

We could argue up, down, and sideways as to whether a company should give the boot to a pesky customer, but there’s a much bigger question: Why would more than 1,000 customers feel a need to call Sprint 40 times a month? As the infrastructure guy at Quality Digest, I make a half-dozen calls each month to various service, software, and product-support reps, and I can give you one probable answer -- poor customer service.

There are two excellent articles this month that deal with customer-relations management and customer service -- "Quality Partnerships With Your Customers," starting on page 44, and "Five Steps to Stellar Customer Service," starting on page 49. Although they approach the topic from different angles, they both have one key element: Walk a mile in your customer’s shoes. Shop your stores. Buy your own products online. Place a call and ask a question of your overseas, outsourced, heavily accented, undertrained, first-level customer-support personnel. Try even reaching a customer-support human being without going through a 26-level phone tree, and don’t even get me started on how some perverse companies have eliminated the "Press 0 to be connected to an associate" option, thus ramming your face headlong into a phone tree whose roots extend to the very depths of Beelzebub’s colon. (Breathe in… breathe out.)

In an effort to make life easier or cheaper for themselves, too many companies give their customers the short end of the stick when it comes to telephone customer service, and then expect those customers to take it with a smile. But it’s hard to smile when you can’t reach a customer-service person who at least pretends to care about solving your problem or gives you a good reason for why he or she can’t or won’t direct you to a person who can.

I haven’t dealt with Sprint, but I recently called Capital One six times in one week. The account managers had trouble answering two basic questions about my account balance and wouldn’t forward me to someone who could. By the sixth call I knew my account had been flagged. "Oooohhh, Mister Dushaaaarme." Yuh-huh.

What’s in my wallet? Guess what isn’t.

On the other hand, God bless ’em, for as many problems as we’ve had with our SBC (now AT&T) service at times, they had to be the nicest customer service people on the planet. I never got angry with them because every SBC service rep I ever dealt with tried to either solve my problem or hand me over to someone who could.

I don’t believe that customers should be given carte blanche to abuse customer-service reps, and there are times when you have to fire a customer. But before you do that, you’d better be sure that the reason your customers are ready to rip off your head isn’t because their customer-service experience has turned them into psychopaths.