Don’t call us

It’s become clear that many companies have no interest in hearing from us. The difficulties we have to go through to reach a live person at a company to help us seems worse than ever. They have no hesitation to contact us, even flood us with messages, but when we have to contact them, they make it difficult or just impossible. They’ll try to send us to the web to use their chat function or fill out a form. But try and call? Not easy.

If we’re persistent enough we might be lucky and find the phone number that’s buried or only provided after we answer a series of questions. Then once we get through, past a long wait on hold, we’ll often get someone with good intentions but can’t understand. In other cases, there is no number, but a chat option. With few exceptions, chat is inefficient and the chat agent often has little knowledge or authority. Often there’s a long latency between messages because they’re handling multiple conversations at once. In some cases it’s even outsourced to operators handling multiple companies.

Why does this happen? Companies do it because they think it saves them money. They want us to use their website to read a list of answers to common issues. Or a company’s executives think they have a good enough system, but never have had to use it and really don’t know how bad it is. Every CEO should be required to use their own call in service and sit on hold listing to a repeating message about how valuable a customer we are and call volumes are higher than normal. Companies make the mistake of seeing customer service as a cost center and not the benefit it can be to satisfy and retain customers. Or once a sale is made they have no interest in that buyer any longer.

These issues are even worse with companies that also have bad websites. Last week I needed to update an expired credit card with Fedex. I went on the the website, signed into my account with no problem, but I couldn’t find the option to change, add or delete a credit card. I knew it had to be somewhere, under personal profile, account information, or somewhere. But after 10 minutes I concluded there was no way to update my card. I called Fedex and it took me 15 minutes to get an agent and be sent to the correct department to give them my number. Yes, you need to call them to do this.

My friend Larry told me he had a similar issue with Spirit Airlines. When he went to the site the first time and entered his phone number, his country was set to Turkey and his airport was set to Philadelphia, even though he lives near Newark. Neither of those fields were editable. He tried calling Spirit. Those who know Spirit know how difficult they are to reach.

Yesterday I had to contact my bank, Citibank, because I was unable to sign in to my business account. On this occasion it asked me for a token, created with a small device they sent me years ago. This time the device didn’t work; the battery was dead. So I called to see if they could issue a temporary token to allow me to log on. I got right through to an agent, but she needed to get a supervisor to do it and it took 90 minutes to finally reach that person!

I’m not alone. We all can share similar stories, I’m sure. But it shouldn’t be this way. We shouldn’t have to take it. These are multimillion, even multibillion companies, and they need to stop underfunding their customer support. Don’t these executives know how good an opportunity it can be to engage with a customer and provide satisfaction by solving a problem? To do it right requires well trained agents, not just people that read from scripts that are so obvious. The agents need to speak clear English and be easy to understand. I have no problem reaching someone elsewhere in the world, but often their accent is so strong it’s impossible to communicate. These agents also need to be able to support their web pages. Often they’re unfamiliar with them.

I’ve reached a point where I will no longer do business with a company that treats me like this. I don’t want to put aside half a morning to make a call to solve a problem. And after 20 years with Citibank, I’m looking to moving to Chase, one company that we’ve had much better success with their customer support and with an excellent website.

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Since I had the most wonderful experience, totally opposite to what you wrote about, I felt I had to relate it to you.
I bought a pair of shoes at Zappos. Upon receipt and trying on, they were too big.  But I noticed printed in big letters on the box the shoes came in, “If you want to exchange, please call us.”  So I thought I’d try.  I called the 888 number and a human answered right away!!  I told her my problem, and she fixed it in about 2 minutes, including ordering me the correct size, and emailing me immediately a fedex label to send my original pair of shoes back to Zappos.  The whole exchange took 5 minutes at the most, and all done with a totally pleasant real live person. How’s that for efficient,simple and inexpensive customer service?? An example that  other retail companies should emulate.
LS -Chicago

by Phil Baker