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Barely Holding On

Richard Quinn

AS THE SAYING GOES, you get what you pay for. Does that mean a higher price equals better service and quality? When I purchase something, I assume customer service is built into the cost. But maybe I’m wrong.

One of my current life goals is to be one of those “other customers” who are currently being assisted while I’m on hold. When I call a helpline, I’m thinking my call is not that important to them. Otherwise, why would I be on hold?

I’m also not amused with the hold music. My hopes rise when there’s a slight pause, only to have those hopes dashed. I’m told I’m 65th in line—but my “call is important, please stay on the line.” I wonder if the 66th person is as important?

Sometimes, you can request a call back and get out of the queue. It’s a relief not to have a phone glued to your ear listening to music—or, worse, to ads trying to sell you more of the company’s quality product.

What is it that’s causing all the “extraordinary call volume”? I’m thinking it may be poor customer service, bad products or the business trying to cut corners. Could it be there just aren’t enough customer service reps—in Romania or India or maybe Utah?

There’s another possibility, too. Those reps working from home have put down their headsets to change a diaper or walk the dog. Yeah, I’ve heard the barking dog and the crying baby on occasion.

You can avoid all this waiting by using the company’s website—at least that’s what we’re told. But the website’s section devoted to frequently asked questions has limited value if your question isn’t one that’s frequently asked.

Then there’s the chat function. I like using chat—unless you start and discover it’s only a programmed set of responses, none of which applies to your inquiry. Frankly, I’d rather wait for the dog to be walked.

Within this world of questionable service, there are exceptions. I recently had a three-year-old beach umbrella suddenly malfunction and stop closing. I sent a note to the company through its website. The next day, I received a call from someone who sounded like he was in charge. In more detail than I could understand, he explained the problem and said he would send me a new umbrella. And he did, in four days.

About that same time, my family was working on a 1,500-piece jigsaw puzzle. We found upon completion that two pieces were missing. An extensive search never turned them up, so I emailed the company and again received a call. The company didn’t offer to replace the two pieces. But we could select any puzzle the company made and it would be mailed to us. We did—and the puzzle arrived three days later.

The lesson: If you’re in the market for a beach umbrella or a jigsaw puzzle, it appears possible to be that important customer who gets help. What if you’re calling about your refund from a canceled cruise? Not so much.

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david gladis
david gladis
2 months ago

Its not just the long wait times that presents a problem. I’ve found that there is only about a 50/50 chance that a callback will be received when I choose that option. I recently started calling customer support before I purchase a product or service. If the presale experience is terrible I wont buy. Recently a rep for an online bank I was considering told me Id need to go into a local branch to designate beneficiaries as it couldn’t be done through the web site. This made no sense as it was an ONLINE bank. The bank had no physical branches in my state nor did the agent ask what state I was in. I don’t mind if someone tells me that they don’t know an answer to a question, but will investigate and get back to me, vs just giving inaccurate information. Don’t get me started on the terrible chat and even worse bot support that companies are moving to

rick peenstra
rick peenstra
2 months ago

Dick,
I love your “mildly curmudgeonly” stories, appropriate for these “lean service times”. My Sears dishwasher recently had a problem; 30 days for a service call since they aren’t in business anymore and contracted service out to another company who now has one serviceperson for 300K households. If you need parts, it is another two months. I don’t actually want to live in my house for the next 60 days without a dishwasher. Looks like I have been promoted.

Philip Stein
Philip Stein
2 months ago

I’m a person with hearing difficulty, so speaking to someone on the phone can be a challenge when the other party speaks too quickly, or allows their voice to trail off at the end of a sentence, or speaks with a heavy accent, or has a tendency to turn their head away from the phone while speaking.

I’ve faced all these problems when I call customer support (and eventually get through). I get the impression that customer support representatives aren’t trained to speak clearly on the phone before they are allowed to take customer calls. This surprises me since speaking to a customer support person is the principle way most people communicate with a company. Given the option, I’ll choose chat with a real person every time.

I also don’t find much value in the Frequently Asked Questions option on most web sites. It seems that my question is never among those frequently asked. I have to wonder if FAQs are really frequently asked, or assembled by marketing people who just try to imagine what customers might ask about.

ishabaka
ishabaka
2 months ago

Customer service is so awful today that companies that actually provide it will crush the competition. That’s one of the reasons why Vanguard has over one trillion dollars in assets under management – they actually answer the phone.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
2 months ago

We recently had an area-wide internet outage. There were technicians working on the network to solve a noise issue, and replacing equipment on the telephone poles in our alley. When the internet came back, our’s did not. I tried all the usual things – power cycling modems and our mesh network. No success. I signed on and followed the directions to meet the network remotely – no success. the online diagnostic recommended we schedule an appointment with a technician – which I did for the following afternoon. Over the next 24 hours I was contacted twice by the company and encouraged to go through a series of diagnostic procedures – the same ones I had done myself and then repeated using their online directions – in an attempt to fix the problem without the need of a tech. The final service person was very pleasant and tried, but she did the exact same things I had done multiple times already – she concluded there was something wrong that required a tech visit. The tech came later that afternoon, and after about 20 minutes of investigation found the problem. The technicians the previous day had replaced a network splitter on a telephone pole a few houses down. after they replaced the board, they had to reconnect the individual feeds to each house. For some reason they connected each house except ours. The tech said our feed was just lying in the bottom of the protective box. Reconnecting it did the trick.

The tech was a great young man. He tested our internet and didn’t like the performance, so he replaced some of the 20 year old splitters and connections. We now have blazing fast internet. All’s well that ends well, but I wonder if we should request a refund for 24 hours of pre-paid internet service that we did not recieve.

johny
johny
2 months ago

It used to be those calls going to India call centers that were frustrating and sometimes useless. Now days it’s these on-screen and phone chat bots that drive you nuts.

Last edited 2 months ago by johny
Chris2600
Chris2600
2 months ago

The chat bots most companies use are worthless and a waste of time for providing answers. Vanguard got rid of their ‘secure message’ function for most clients. That probably contributed to their call volumes going up and ridiculously long hold times….

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