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The high cost of cheap customer service

A couple days ago I called Northwest Airlines to change a flight. I had already paid for an expensive ticket, and was fully prepared to endure the often stunning additional charges the airlines levy for making the most minor of alterations to your travel schedule (funny, but the airlines never compensate me when they change my schedule by being five or six hours late).

After navigating my way through the difficult and often incomprehensible automated phone menus, I finally arrived at what I hoped would result in contact with a live person. I was stunned when a recorded voice said “Due to high call volumes, we cannot take your call at this time. Please call back later.” Northwest then hung up on me. No offer to hold, no place to leave a message for a call back, just a basic “screw you for calling.”

I fly a lot, and I have never been a big fan of Northwest Airlines, but even for them this was particularly heinous customer service. But unfortunately Northwest is not the only company exhibiting complete disregard for their customers via their bad customer service policies. While I certainly understand that having live bodies talk to customers is an expensive proposition, and in some cases automated phone lines can actually be a good thing, increasingly companies are opting to save money by flipping the finger at their best clients.

I am in the process of canceling a Bank of America credit card I have held for over 10 years because calling them to report THEIR error took almost an hour. After being taken through a Rubik’s Cube phone menu, I was flipped through three different “customer service agents” before reaching one that spoke reasonable English. Despite the fact that I have spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars with the company over the last decade, I was essentially told the following:

  • Credit card companies do not make mistakes—and even if they do it is still my fault.

Since I pay my bill on time and do not normally incur interest charges, I am not a particularly important client for them, even though I charge up a butt-load of money. Though I tried to maintain a professional demeanor through the conversation, I finally had to resort to silly threats and elevated voices to get them to credit for the mistake they made. And after the experience, I decided it was time to find a new credit card company.

While automated phone lines, cheap off-shore customer service people and online assistance as a replacement for live help might look appealing to the number-crunchers, in the long run it might be devastating to many companies’ bottom lines. The technologies that make cheap customer service possible also allow customers to complain about cheap customer service. In this Web 2.0 age, consumers increasingly have the upper hand. Once voice can reach hundreds or even hundreds of thousands when they encounter a company that just doesn’t care.

And by the way, hey Verizon, quit padding my bill with stuff I didn’t order.

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One Response to The high cost of cheap customer service

  1. Shawn says:

    Pretty interesting story. A story on our blog may add some insight to it.

    http://www.nbrii.com/blog/SomethingSpecialInTheAir.aspx

    thanks,

    Shawn

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