Scott Paton  |  10/03/2008

Customer Service?

An open letter to Corporate America’s customer service departments

If you’re like me, you probably call the customer service department at several major companies a few times a month. Even though I have the ominous title of “Quality Curmudgeon,” I don’t really complain as much as you might expect. My calls to customer service are usually related to updating an address or fixing a minor problem. For example, Anthem Blue Cross of California simply refused to acknowledge that my daughter, Bronwyn, is a female. This caused problems when trying to get her prescriptions filled, and it required several phone calls over a period of two years.

Also if you’re like me, you’ve probably had enough of the average customer service experience. In desperation, I drafted the letter below to the customer service managers of Corporate America. Please feel free to pass it along.

Dear Customer Service Manager:
I just wanted to write you a note to tell you of my recent experience with your organization. First of all, thank you for taking the time to record my recent telephone conversation with your customer service representative. Your automated attendant assured me that my call would be “recorded for quality and training purposes.” I’m happy to know that you care enough about your customers to record all of their conversations.

Second, although I’m certain that your organization has invested significantly in its automated telephone system, perhaps having an option that actually allows me to speak to one of your customer service representatives without having to listen to five completely different menus would be more efficient.

Third, I applaud your efforts to make your customer service department accessible to your Spanish-speaking customers. (“ Para Español, oprimo ocho.”) I would appreciate a similar option for English, preferably spoken by a U.S. citizen based somewhere in the United States. (“For English, press one.”)

Fourth, I realize that you need my account number to assist me, but why does it have to be 18 digits long? Do you really have that many customers? I also appreciate the confirmation number you gave me in case I need to call back, but why was it 24 digits long? Just how many customer service cases are you dealing with? What does that say about your organization?

Fifth, I understand your need to ensure my privacy and the security of my account, but do you really need to have me repeat my account number, Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, phone number, blood type, eye color, and religious preference to each one of your representatives every time my call is transferred?

Sixth, I want to thank you for repeatedly reminding me that I probably could have found the answer to my question online at your incredibly complex and difficult-to-navigate web site. (I know this because, as any rational person would do, I checked your web site before calling.) In fact, during the 30 minutes I was on hold waiting to speak to your customer service representative, I am sure that your automated system told me that at least 7,000 times. Once would have been sufficient, as would the apologetic reminder that you value my business and you’re sorry to keep me waiting. And, I hate to be picky, but I believe playing Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City” over and over and over is classified by the United Nations as a violation of basic human rights.

Seventh, although I am certain that you were tickled pink to get a call from me detailing the problem I was having with your organization’s product, you don’t have to keep sending me surveys about it. Really, one survey is enough. If I wanted to tell you how I felt about the experience, I would’ve sent your survey back the first time. By the way, I probably would have sent your survey back had you asked me questions that were relevant to my experience and given me space to write my comments.

Finally, I appreciate the vast amount of money, time, and effort that went into building and maintaining your incredibly complex customer service department: the web site, the automated phone system, the hundreds of representatives scattered across the globe, and the countless hours of training. It really was very kind of your organization to go to all of that trouble just to resolve the problem I had with your product. I’d also like to remind you that you could’ve saved your organization a hell of a lot of money if you’d have just gotten the product right from the start.

Sincerely yours,
Scott M. Paton
The Quality Curmudgeon

What are you doing to ensure that your customers won’t be sending you a copy of this letter? How would you rate the quality of your customer service department? Are your customers demoralized or delighted? Exasperated or exhilarated? How do you know? If you don’t know, you’re in serious trouble. Post your thoughts at www.qualitycurmudgeon.com.

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About The Author

Scott Paton’s picture

Scott Paton

Scott Paton is Quality Digest’s editor at large and president of Paton Professional, a provider of books, videos, webinars, and other resources for quality professionals.