Monday, February 21, 2011

On "customer service" and how the recession is a ridiculous liberal myth

Is there really a recession on?

When I moved to the US back in 1998, I was staggered at the quality of customer service. While in Britain I was made to feel like a criminal just returning something that didn't work to the store. Conversely, for the most part, with some exceptions, pressure selling was rare. In America, it was almost as if people wanted your business, as if their jobs depended on it.

And yet all that seems to have gone to crap. Here's some of my experiences of the last few months:
  1. I attempted to buy a laptop for my business. I needed it within a week so I paid for two day shipping, and selected a laptop that they had in stock. Five days later, nobody in the warehouse had bothered to walk over to where the laptop was, stuck a shipping label on it, and handed it to FedEx. I attempted to cancel the order, so that I could pick up an alternative from a local store. This simple request was refused over and over again, and in the end I had to contact the company's COO (yes, the COO - and yes, I had to guess his email address) to get someone to even address the issue and play fair.
  2. My wife and I wanted to buy a house. Apparently there's a shortage of buyers at the moment, which would make you think we'd have no problem assuming our credit was good, right? Nope - we did get the house in the end, but not without bizarre arguments between the banks selling and mortgaging the house, over who would fix the odd cosmetic issue with the house and when.
  3. My wife ordered an anniversary present for me two weeks before our anniversary. It's a week after, and she's finally had to cancel the order. She can't get anyone human to talk to around 90% of the time, she's calling every number, emailing every email address, using their online chat, and she's gotten hang-ups and unfulfilled promises of call backs. She finally did get them to promise to cancel the order on Friday - only to get an email today saying it was shipping anyway and if she sent it back she'd be charged a restocking fee.
Much of the issue appears to be a decision to dumb down customer service so they don't have the flexibility to deal with the issues. In the cases of both (1) and (3), the companies concerned have policies in place that severely restrict what an agent can do, and that includes not being allowed to even involve people who can deal with issues. In the case of (2), which appears at first glance to be unrelated, it's more or less the same issue. I had to deal with "my mortgage guy" and two realtors, none of whom were actually making the decisions required. The only reason we got to move forward was timing - the selling bank "blinked" after realizing it was getting close to the end of the year, as it wanted to include this sale in its figures.

Nuts. Oh, I'm sure some companies think that delays and cancellations are no big deal, and even a way to make money (charge the restocking fees up the wazoo), but most of us stick to buying from companies we trust. And likewise, we complain about the companies we don't trust.

Why am I not naming names in this blog? Good question, but the blog is about the point, not the companies involved. There is no recession. In a recession, everyone is desperate for your business. Nobody's interested in selling a damned thing right now.

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