Is Quality Customer Service Dying?

This article last updated: February 5, 2015

Customer Service - Dilbert
Customer Service - Dilbert

Frustration goes nuclear with some companies

What do these companies (and many others) have in common about customer service?

  • Bank of America (any issue)
  • Time Warner Cable (billing issues)
  • Verizon Wireless (billing issues)

Speaking only from my personal experience, their common thread is this:

  1. If you have a 3 minute issue to resolve, you must actually schedule an entire morning.
  2. The promised resolution will not actually happen.
  3. Multiple phone calls are required just to get one promise fulfilled. Each one requiring a minimum of an hour on the phone, often much more.
  4. The company accepts no responsibility for all your time that they wasted, even when the loss is extraordinary.

Does the above sound familiar?

It drives me nuts that this type of experience is so consistent. Worse, most people have great difficulty with conflict, so the usual result is the company taking advantage of you. Worst of all, item 4 means that even if a person tackles the issue on principle, there is still a very large loss to you.

Can social media shine a stronger public light on offenders, resulting in positive change?

Is it all the company's fault?

Customer Service

One of my sons works at a call center. I hear, in general, about some of the challenges he and his colleagues face. Fortunately, he works for a quality company in an environment that attracts high caliber customers. Still, I am sensitive to all the grief that customer service people have to put up with from the public. It is intense, often ridiculous. I imagine that customer service people can quickly become jaded as they take difficult calls every day. So this is very much a two-way issue. I am also more aware now of the performance analytics against which customer service people are graded. So at times I find myself apologizing for the long length of a call even though the time it is taking is not my fault, is excessive, and between the two of us, only one is getting paid for that time.

Unfortunately, some companies deserve unhappy customers. And that's not even counting the abuse inflicted upon us from the hold music.

Responsibility and Trust—is it still alive anywhere?

Definitely. Let's recognize a few of them.

Time Warner (technical support)

I am sensitive to all the grief that customer service people have to put up with from the public. It is intense, often ridiculous.

While Time Warner customer service can be excruciatingly exasperating, I have high regard for their technical support department and, in particular,their National CableCARD Support Desk. They are reasonably easy to reach though the hold time can sometimes be long. But in the last year they have really gotten to know their business in the world of home theater PCs as well as technical details about the commonly used third party equipment. Their help has been expert and solutions are the result. You'll see in my HTPC article information about such help I received from Barbara Jordan.

But quality service can vary within the same company. See Time Warner (billing) below.

Hewlett Packard (HP)

My interactions with HP for the last couple of years have been centered around their EX490 MediaSmart Server with Microsoft Windows Home Server.

A happy note: I also use an HP laser printer and have for decades. As long as you keep a long pole between you and HP's horrendously poorly coded printer software...an issue that seems to be universal among all brands of printers...the hardware never breaks, never stops working. So I never have reason to call HP on that product.

I purchased several HP MediaSmart servers and have been amazed at their reliability and quality. I've run them for two years now and they just work. Talk about low friction factor! When I do run into some issue, normally a software question related to the Microsoft Windows Home Server that is this server's software engine, I know I can count on HP's help. After getting past the usual press this press that jungle, an HP support tech who is expert with MediaSmart servers almost always comes on the line within seconds (not minutes). This is even more amazing when you consider that HP dropped the MediaSmart Server line over a year ago (to my huge disappointment). The HP support folks know their stuff. They have guided me right to the needed solutions.

Another happy note: Long ago and far away in electrical engineering school, long before laptops, right after scientific calculators replaced the slide rule, we had two camps in the engineering calculator world. HP users and TI (Texas Instrument) users. Squarely in the HP camp, I was one who ragged on TI users for all the extra keystrokes they required as compared to HP's Reverse Polish Notation. The TI users would razz us about having to understand RPN (what's the problem with that?) and that our calculators cost twice what they paid for theirs. During one of these friendly "mine's better than yours" sessions, a friend of mine threw his HP into a brick wall, picked it up and kept going with his work. Looking up with a smile, he invited the TI antagonist to do the same.

UPDATE May 5, 2012: GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT IN HEWLETT-PACKARD REVERSES THE GOOD EXPERIENCES REPORTED ABOVE

The problems began on 2/28/2012 when I discovered that backups to my HP EX490 MediaSmart Windows Home Server were failing and I was unable to connect to the server. I called support and reached Paul, the support supervisor. I was able to make an Explorer connection to the server and, with Paul's guidance, connected via Windows Explorer to the server as "administrator" where Paul had me browse to C:\Windows\System32\LogFiles\W3SVC1 and W3SVC2. There we discovered 488 log files which, for WHS is way too many. We deleted those two folders with all their log files. He said that this problem can be caused by a mismatch of the connector software on the server with that on the client computers; however, that was not the case on my network. We checked Event Viewer and found iaStor and VolSnap errors. Paul said these may indicate that the system drive is failing (which would not have surprised me since I've not seen a Seagate drive last very long). We did a chkdsk to detect and repair any bad sectors and the backups started working again normally.

A couple of weeks later I found that I needed my HP Windows Home Server for its intended purpose, to restore an image to one of my PCs. Just as I tried to do so, Murphy stepped in and my client computer connections to the server started failing again. On 3/15/2012 I called HP support again and connected with Shawn. He advised me to uninstall and reinstall the WHS Connector software on my computers. But that was not possible because I could not connect to the server. Worse, the server would not do a soft shutdown, so we had to do a cold shutdown. Shawn suspected a bad drive and advised me to run the Seatools test on it with a "long DST test." I pulled the system drive and put it in an external drive slot, ran the full Seatest, and the drive passed. But it still would not boot consistently and when it did it would fail again after a short time. He had me pull the data drives to see if it would boot. No joy.

Life got in the way and it was 3/20/2012 when I got back with HP Support. This time I got Hamdeh. This was a very frustrating call. Hamdeh seemed unable to listen and was very unclear in his instructions, making many assumptions. Nevertheless, I struggled through what turned out to be many hours of test this, try that, poke this, repeat this step eight times, each time taking over twenty minutes... hours and hours of pain, accomplishing exactly nothing. I kept a record of the steps we performed.

  • Disable antivirus on my client computer (turn off real-time protection)
  • Uninstall Window Home Server Connector HP Windows Home Update 3.0 on PC and other WHS related software
  • Connect PC directly to server
  • Ipconfig to verify 169.254.*
  • Insert recovery disk into PC and follow the wizard
  • Failed on step 3 of 4; common issue per Hamdeh, just cancel and restart wizard
  • Failed again on step 2 of 4. He had me switch to a laptop to retry all of these steps from a different computer.
  • Failed on my laptop, too. Retried with all disks removed (test if there is a bad drive; this does not, of course, actually recover the server).
  • Now must wait a couple of hours before Hamdeh can arrange for someone to send me a patch for the server. Apparently there are a lot of steps involved in installing it. Then what?
  • Later… Now Hamdeh says he cannot send me the patch today. I'll have to wait until tomorrow. A compete afternoon totally blown and still out of the water.
  • An hour later… Hamdeh called to try something else. Set network adapter to a fixed IP and slower speed.
  • Delete the folder ..\AppData\Local\Temp\PXE
  • Run recovery wizard, on third step use paper clip to put the server into recovery mode
  • Failed twice
  • Boot to Safe Mode with network drivers, failed twice more. An entire afternoon of my own critical work lost on a series of repetitive failed experiments.

Hamdeh promised he would call the next day to arrange for the "patch" to be sent to me.

Two days later… still no patch or call from Hamdeh.

3/23/12: escalated to Paul who apologized and assured me that the "patch" would absolutely positively be sent to me at 7pm tonight. It did not happen. Not even a courtesy call.

3/24/12, 7:30pm: The patch arrived and Hamdeh called. Installed the patch and tried another recovery. Failed again. And again.

The only thing to do now is to send the server in for repair with the possibility, according to Hamdeh, of it costing more than I paid for the server to repair it. Early the next week I tried to call Paul. It took days to reach him. When I did I pointed out the extraordinary cost this experience had already been for me. Would HP take any responsibility for it? No. No escalation options. Flat no. He said the repair cost would not likely go as much as I'd paid for the server but he couldn't guarantee it. He did say that the cost for what they would likely do would be around $150. I asked if I should return the system drive with the server and he said it was up to me (ditto for the data drives), but that whatever I sent would be tested to ensure it works.

So I reconnect with Hamdeh and order the repair service with an initial charge of $65. I wait over a week for a box to arrive to ship it (with system drive) to their repair depot. Another week goes by and I get a call from the repair depot that they will need to replace the motherboard for another $145. A couple of weeks later I get the server, plug it in, turn it on, and...sigh...it fails to boot. I absolutely could not believe it.

I called HP and reached Carl. He assured me that HP would not send me a unit that they had not repaired. Uh...ok. He was getting ready to start anew all the try this/try that tests to diagnose the problem. I was a very unhappy camper. Why, I wanted to know, after all of this, did HP return a non-working server to me? No answer. I asked him to have Paul call me the next business day. He said he could not promise that Paul would call (no surprise there since the track record for return calls had been 100% broken promises to date), but Carl said that he absolutely positively would call with an update if Paul refused to return the call. It has now been a week and...yep...no call. I am a wee bit ticked off at HP.

My hardware investment turned into a doorstop. My computers haven't been image backed up in many weeks. The experience has cost me a huge number of hours of totally (unnecessarily) wasted time, I am out the repair expense that has apparently gone into the toilet, and after all of this there has been zero progress.

The HP EX490 has turned out to be extremely fragile. And the wonderful HP technical support has, when it was really needed, turned out to be an unbelievably frustrating experience in wasted time. During all of those wasted hours only one of the people on each call was getting paid.

Exacerbating the whole thing, almost every time I called customer support the call would not go through the first time. HP's speech recognition system for their automated attendant could not get me to the right extension. There is a step at which tech support had instructed me to say "a MediaSmart" but the system never understood it. (It turns out, after all this, that what I should have been told to say was "a mediavault".) So the frustration which was already at a nuclear level became hotter every time I was transferred and left on terminal hold only to be answered by the wrong person who would transfer me to another wrong person and I would have to start over. This process, repeated three times for every attempt to call customer support ate up its own extraordinary amount of wasted time and certainly an increasingly higher loss of goodwill.

At the end of the day, what responsibility has HP taken? Zip. Customer left holding the bag after being directed to first throw more money into the toilet.

Does ANYBODY at Hewlett-Packard even care?

5/7/12 Lou called in response to my letter to the CEO. He guided me to do a recovery on the server with no drives, it failed (again) on step 3 of 4. I asked why HP repair didn't test the drive before they returned it as Paul promised they would. He answered that they only do a hardware test. I'd already tested the hardware. What good was that? They were supposed to make sure I had a system drive at factory settings that would boot. Sigh. So now I get to spend more hours of my life on this fragile piece of HP junk. Continuing on that path, I rebooted to Safe mode with network, then repeated the recovery with all four drives installed per Lou. It failed on step 4 of 4. So Lou then had me pull the Seagate system drive, put it in an external USB drive chassis, and run Seatools to do a full erase the drive which will take a couple of hours. Now that that has started, an hour later I am contemplating his instruction to do the whole recovery steps again after the system drive erase is completed. And when that fails and I've lost several more hours, then what? Aargh!

Later... it's worse. The full erase failed. How is it not possible for Seatools to erase a drive that it determined previously to pass its test?

2014: My computer crashed. I needed a backup from the HP home server restored. As I started to do so the HP EX490 failed...permanently. I threw it away, having lost an unbelievable amount of time and investment in HP from this purchase. I replaced it (my son did) with a FreeNAS server. It is rock solid. My son tested it by pulling a hot drive during a backup, then pulled another. He powered off in the middle of a backup. And other stress tests. It just kept on ticking. FreeNAS also protects against file corruption from flipped bits.

Logitech

I fell in love with Logitech universal remotes when I purchased a Harmony 880. For years prior I'd messed with the kind of universal remotes like the one provided by Time Warner that have you entering equipment codes until you find one for each device that works...sort of...some of the time. With my Harmony I was able to go online, enter the equipment in my home theater system, plug the Harmony into a USB port on my PC, and program it to work with all of my equipment, even many of the special functions, turning on and off the equipment according to what is needed. As wonderful as that experience was, it still wasn't perfect. Some tweaking was required to get it to do exactly what I wanted in all cases. And the online app to accomplish this required insider knowledge for some of the desired tweaks. No problem. I called Logitech and quickly got to a support person who listened to what I wanted to accomplish, adjusted the settings in my online configuration for me, and pushed the changes to my Harmony when I plugged it back into a USB port. Now that's customer service.

2014: I upgraded to a Logitech Harmony Touch. I like it for all the same reasons. But there is one thing that drives me crazy about the Touch. No matter how careful I try to be, I am regularly accidentally palming the help button or some other button on the touch screen with unpredictable results. I wish there was a way to deactivate some functions until they are really needed.

SiliconDust

You can read about my very positive experience with SiliconDust's HDHomeRun Prime TV tuner box for my home theater PC system. Click here to go to that article. Their tech support people are terrific. They provided expert help on a problem that wasn't even caused by their product. And thanks to diagnostic tools that they provide with their product, I was able to solve a problem that had been lingering for many months and an army of Time Warner techs through my home.

SiliconDust provided this help fast and efficiently, not wasting any of my time, and followed up with me via email to make sure all was well.

More companies that deserve superlatives in front of "customer service"

Many companies provide a product or service with a price point that cannot support a telephone based support staff. So they depend upon email and forums for customer service. In a lot of cases that is equivalent to "you're on your own bud; sorry about the bugs that are wiping out hours of your life." But there are great exceptions like SiliconDust.

"Profile Scheduler" from Wetpalm: I recently purchased my first Android smartphone. Immediately I started looking for apps that I've come to depend on. One I really needed was a profile scheduler that would allow me to set my phone's volume down low at night and off at church, along with other automatically scheduled settings changes. I evaluated several in the Android Market, had a bad experience with one, and decided to go with "Profile Scheduler" (a very clever name) from a company oddly named Wetpalm. This free app (now a plus version that costs a whole buck) is developed by Kay Win. I ran into a few issues related to the new ICS version of Android's operating system. I emailed my questions and received incredibly prompt responses from Kay. Not only that, but he listened to my problems and suggestions and made fixes right away. At times he responds so quickly that it seems he's just waiting for me to write to him.

"mSecure" from mSeven: mSecure is my happily chosen solution for encrypting sensitive data on my phone and PC. It works great and mSecure customer service is prompt to reply to any question. Their help is even...helpful.

"CompanionLink" and "DejaOffice" from CompanionLink Software: I use these products to painlessly keep my Outlook contacts and calendar synced with their DejaOffice counterparts on my Android. Not only are they prompt in responding to customer support questions, they even call me to help when that is better than an email response.

"Deep Freeze" from Faronics: I volunteer as a director for a small family history library. Patrons using the computers can often be "helpful," installing their preferred browsers, reconfiguring software, moving desktop icons around, etc. I installed Deep Freeze on the library's computers so that no matter what changes anybody makes, it reboots to exactly the way it was before. I first tried Returnil as a solution but the friction factor was far too high. With Deep Freeze it has been not only very low friction to set up and run, working just as hoped, but the customer service folks at Faronics have been quickly responsive and helpful.

Many deserve wall of honor recognition: As a prime purpose of this website, I strive to identify companies, products, and services that excel in making our lives better and reduce friction for us. We already have no lack of sources of friction, so it is nice to have some aspects of our lives slide smoothly.

Many, unfortunately, deserve wall of shame recognition. So it is also a service to shine lighthouse warnings where there are life-friction shoals. Not all is well in the world of customer service.

Now a Word (or two) on Some Problem Children

Please note that even during the difficult experiences I've had with problem companies, the customer service people involved are almost always patient, professional, and generally nice during the calls. Given what they have to put up with during the course of their work day, that is an achievement for them and for company policies that demand civility of their customer service people. Now if only the service provided didn't hurt those who are deserving of quality help.

You have got to keep your eye on these companies. They will constantly strive to add charges for services not requested or that are not valid. They will promise a correction and then not actually do it, hoping presumably that the customer will forget about it and let it slide.

A Typical Customer Service Experience with Bank of America

I wish this were exaggerated for humor. Well, it is not quite accurate with regards to the "eights." Sometimes the number is much higher.

So now you repeat the entire story upon which time the new person says, “Why did they transfer you to the roadside construction department? Don’t worry. I’ll transfer you to the right person and I’ll stay on the line to make sure.” You hear horrendous background music for several minutes and then “click.” They’re gone.

It takes a long time and many press this, press that actions to get through their automated attendant, and after all of that, there is no option to get to customer service. I learned that you can say "associate" at any point to get connected to a person. So what does BofA do instead of connecting you to an associate? "First we'll need information about your debit card." What does my debit card number have to do with anything? I've already given my account number. So while getting nagged by the auto-attendant I look up the debit card number and enter it. After a terminal hold period someone comes on and...what does (s)he do? Asks for my account number. Sigh.

After the person who answers repeats themselves eight times (there must be a call center standard at some companies for the customer service person to repeat everything they say eight times and to say good bye in nine different ways)—suddenly they say they need to pull in someone else who can help with this particular issue. You may think this means that they are staying on the line and will conference in someone else after explaining the issue, right? Really, though, it is code for "I don't care any more, so I'm passing this on to some random extension." A new person eventually answers with "may I help you?" not having a clue what the call is about, and the previous "helper" is gone. So now you repeat the entire story upon which time the new person says, "Why did they transfer you to the roadside construction department? Don't worry. I'll transfer you to the right person and I'll stay on the line to make sure." You hear horrendous background music for several minutes and then "click." They're gone.

Repeat all of this three times and if the moon is in the right phase and you are wearing mismatched socks, you'll get connected to the person at the right department. That person won't help but she'll listen attentively for 24 minutes, repeating your problem incorrectly in several different ways, never approaching anything resembling actual help. At which point you say "escalate this call please" and she says ok eight times in eight different ways and then transfers you to someone on the far side of the earth who you can't understand but who very pleasantly listens to the issue eight times, says goodbye eight times, and then very pleasantly transfers you to someone on a far off island who will very politely be of no help.

When the auto-attendant reports that calls are recorded in order to improve our service...is it the evil dog on Dilbert who's reviewing the recordings? Over the years I've certainly not detected any improvement of the service.

A Specific Customer Service Experience with Bank of America

There are so many interesting experiences to choose from... Ok, let's just go with the most recent.

Making a full production out of a one-act play

I open a new business account and order a debit card. Wait three weeks. It has not arrived, so I call to check. One is ordered. It arrives. It has a security code of 000. That seems too odd. I call to inquire about it and am told that it is not valid. They'll send a replacement. Wait three weeks. It has not arrived, so I call to check. Another one is ordered with a promise to send it to me overnight. A week later it arrives. On the next bank statement I discover that I was charged $20 for the rush delivery of a debit card. Uh huh. I call and explain that not only was it not "rushed" but the replacement was ordered because of a BofA error. The fee is refunded...hopefully that is true. Meanwhile, as all this was going on I also ordered a debit card for my wife. It is a business account so a special form must be completed. I get a copy of the form and take it to the bank. Wait three weeks. No debit card. I call about it. I am told that there is no record of my request. They'll check on it and call me back. Three days. No call. I call the branch manager where I turned in the form. She'll mail a new form to me and after they get it back, she will have the debit card sent to me overnight. A week later I get the form. I complete it again and mail it back the same day. Ten days later, no card. I go to the branch to inquire, speaking with the assistant manager because the branch manager is out that day. Besides, she is the one to whom I gave the original form that was never posted. She is very sorry, evidently sincerely. And, looking in her drawer she sees that, alors!, the form arrived on that very day! I had mailed it ten days earlier from a neighboring community. A statement on our postal service? She'll see to it that the debit card is sent to me overnight. I relate all the above that has happened, all the hours of my time on the phone, fuel cost for unnecessary trips...what will the bank do to, at least in a token manner, make up for all of this? She assured me that she would call me back that afternoon with an answer. No call. The next day, no call. I call her. Says she "The branch manager said she would call you." Says I "But you were the one who made the promise to me. And the manager did not call." A few days later the debit card finally arrives. Later I call the branch manager and ask her what will be done to compensate for all the excessively unnecessary grief. Says she "Nothing" in eight different ways. After all, I got both cards, so all was resolved. What more should they be expected to do?

The above experience is small potatoes to the grief that came from an interest-reducing home mortgage refinancing. After that enormously costly experience I abandoned the attempt to go through BofA. Instead I went through LendingTree for a painless experience with Dennis Giakos, dennis.giakos@lendingtree.com, Executive Mortgage Banker, 1.888.866.1212 x4186.

February 22, 2012 UPDATE: I let BofA know about this article yesterday and today was pleased to get a call from an executive officer, a VP who reports to the CEO. We discussed some of the issues and he seemed sincere in his interest to tackle the problems. We both recognize the number of customers Bank of America has (at least for now) and the impossibility of his office dealing with every significant issue that comes along. It would ultimately be self-defeating to publish his phone number here. Obviously, solutions should come locally or, when calling a remote department like re-financing, issues should be resolved by that department. So my question to him was, what do I say to folks here whose legitimate problems are not resolved locally? What does a customer do who requests an escalation and is refused?

Michael said first that they have a policy that escalation is always an option. He repeated my suggestion below to get the name and location of the person you're working with so that, if it comes to it, they can review recorded calls and take corrective training action where that is called for. If all else fails, customers can write to the corporate office and they will get a response. The address is:

Brian Moynihan,CEO 100 North Tryon Street Charlotte, NC 28255

He suggested that customers first ask to speak with the local consumer market manager. Every area has one and that person is tasked with solving problems so they do not have to go all the way to corporate.

For my own recent grief, Michael is sending me a $100 Exxon gift card. He also gave me his direct number with an invitation to inform him of any future issues that are not fairly resolved locally.

Verizon Wireless (billing)

I have a love 'em hate 'em relationship with this 500 lb gorilla. It feels ridiculous the amount I spend on them every month. I have had a great many good experiences with Verizon Wireless. And then there are experiences with their billing folks. It's painful to contemplate. And the grief frequency is so high that the exposed quick never has a chance to heal.

Verizon Wireless is one of those companies that has to be watched with an eagle eye. Anything they can get away with on the billing side, they apparently go to great efforts to do so. For example:

Because of my "valued account status" (translation: Verizon Wireless gets a lot of money), I am offered an extra discount on my next phone upgrade. I call to take advantage of it, but the phone's release date has been delayed. A couple of months later, the phone is ready to be ordered but, surprise, there is no record of the promise that had been made to me. Fortunately, I was armed with the person's name, ID, date, and quote of the promise made. After a few levels of escalation a supervisor agrees to honor the promise. The phone is ordered, the next bill comes and the discount is MIA. I call back, escalate to a supervisor (an hour process) and am promised I'll get a call back within two days. No call. I call back, escalate to a supervisor...there is no record of the first or second promise. I have the previous two supervisor's names, IDs, call center location, dates, and promise quotes. I am told that the promised credit has now been applied and he is very sorry for all that I'd gone through to that point. A couple of weeks later, seeing that the credit has not been applied and confirming that by calling back and escalating to a supervisor. This time there was a note on my record that the credit should have been applied. I am assured that it will be done this time. Finally it is...partially. Sigh. I call back, escalate to a supervisor, get a promise for the missing amount to be credited. It is done and confirmed to have been done.

Now the law of diminishing returns indicated that I should have stopped trying after the first call. But I am keeping records of all these experiences, recording names, and am wondering at the most effective way to trigger an increase of integrity through a needle poke into Verizon Wireless' foot...the one I'd love to get off of me, but am trapped by the (effective) monopoly factor.

TruGreen

Last year I ordered a single spring weed/feed treatment (Greensboro, NC) to compare it with the results of my own weed/feed spring treatments of previous years. I'm not ready to take on the whole annual plan offered by TruGreen. As it turned out, the results were very good. I was pleased. Then they kept coming back to do the subsequent treatments even though I'd left it with "I'll call you when I'm ready." The following year, this spring, the calls and surprise visits began again. I asked for a cost for a specific set of services and was promised follow up. Instead I got another visit from someone ready to lay down lime that day. No, please first provide the information I requested. Another surprise visit, another reminder. The next thing I know, TruGreen is in my yard applying a treatment without authorization. A few days later I got a bill. I call the local office and ask for the GM. He's on a call. I leave my number but no call back. I call again a few days later. He's not available; he's on a call. And again no call back.

That is certainly an interesting way to get business. At this point I have no interest in TruGreen services and am wondering what will happen with the surprise bill.

February 21, 2012 after this article was published, UPDATE: I finally got a return call from the local general manager (who was told about this article by TruGreen HQ) who let me know the bill I received had been cancelled. No explanation on why it happened in the first place.

Time Warner (billing)

The experiences are very familiar to those described above. In addition, there is the false advertising and trickery that goes on. When they advertise TV, Internet, and digital phone, you think the advertised fee is what you'll pay (plus first born child taxes), right? Somehow they fail to mention that there is a separate charge for the set top box or DVR and even that doesn't give you the expected service because there is yet another charge for "HD DVR service" that is separate from the HD DVR itself. Does anybody else think this is deceptive?

AT&T

May 28, 2012: My in-laws have AT&T home phone service. They lost dial tone. I went to AT&T's website, clicked on "Support", searching for some link or steps to report a problem. After what seemed like 47 screens later I am prompted for the phone number that is having trouble. Then, before letting me submit the trouble report, they are requiring me to open an online account. Are you kidding me? So I complete their form. They do not say what the fields requirements are until you submit the application. Then they report that I didn't meet this field's requirements. Then I'm told another unmarked field is required. Do you believe they require an email address? My in-laws don't have an email address. I used mine. But it continued to find validation errors and would not let me past to report the phone problem. Aargh. I give up on the automated report process. I Googled the repair phone number, called it, and followed the automated attendant to report the phone number with the problem. I get a recording that they're closed. That cannot be true. I call again, follow the exact same process and am interrupted when entering the phone number with the problem. This time it connects me to a person...an actual person!...who needs the phone number since the automated attendant didn't want to get it all. She reports that the line was cut and will be repaired in the next year or so (ok, by 7pm tomorrow). I feel like I've had my cardio workout for the day.

What Can You Do?

  1. Keep complete records. Have a notepad or computer editor ready when you make the call. I keep a reverse chronological history (most recent at the top) of customer service encounters in my Outlook contact notes field for each company, dated, with a running list of details during the call. Especially capture the name of the representative, their title, their employee ID or equivalent, and the location of his/her call center. Note the specific issue you're calling about and take note of all promised actions (or refusals of action).
  2. Be unfailingly polite and patient yourself. As difficult as it can be at times to keep your cool, far more will be accomplished. However, this does not mean that you cannot be firm. When someone says "no," there is no need to get upset with that person. It will just hurt you way more than it does the other person. There is also no reason to take that "no" as the answer.
  3. If you're not getting a fair outcome, then say "please escalate this call." When the rep continues to talk (remember, they are required to say good bye in at least eight different ways before actually doing so), simply say again "please escalate this call." Often the call will then be handed off laterally...not escalated to a supervisor or other person with higher authority. If this happens, simply make note of it and decide whether you want to try again with a different person (generally a further waste of time) or ask again without further discussion to "please escalate this call." Your tactic: escalate and be politely firm.
  4. Frequently when you ask for a call to be escalated you'll be told that someone will have to call you back. If someone actually does call you back it will be a miracle. Wait a few days and when the call does not come, add it to your notes history.
  5. Having an honest and accurate notes history is important. You may expect customer service to be keeping notes in your record that others can refer to later. If they do, their notes will, at some companies, be incomplete, inaccurate, and slanted. More often than not, the next person you speak with will not be able to find any history of your calls. So it puts power in your hands to have good (honest) notes.
  6. Generally, after two or three escalations you'll get to someone who has authority to actually do something. If you cannot be escalated to anyone who can or is willing to substantively help, you can find the corporate office phone number (which is often more difficult than you'd imagine to find) and ask for the office of the president. If you are persistent you may be connected with someone in "executive offices problem resolution" and will often be able to finally get a resolution to your issue.
  7. Make sure that promises made are kept. If it's payment related, keep an eye on your billing details to confirm that a promise was actually kept. With a company like Verizon Wireless you can almost count on them to not do as they promise the first or second or even the third time. Hold them accountable.
  8. Realistic expectations: if the issue is one of honest principle to get a fair outcome, "escalate and be politely firm" will often get the problem resolved. But it will not fully compensate you for your time. There is generally no good solution for this other than to take your business elsewhere. You can warn others via social media and if enough people respond to the detriment of the company, the company will either correct their customer service problem (and the problems causing the customer service issues) or they won't. If they won't, then efforts like this site will hopefully lead people to better companies and the poorly performing company can fail.

Can these companies be held accountable for their actions in a way that makes a positive difference? What about the nation crippling problems? Must we wait for an election to deal with someone who did not hold bank robbers (that is, banks who are robbers and the many corrupt others) accountable for their actions?

What are your thoughts?