The (Missing) Face of Customer Service

Businesses take note: A satisfied customer is your cheapest and best marketing tool. A disgruntled one is your worst enemy.

I spent a good part of my day today trying to reach the customer service departments of several companies in order to cancel subscriptions, insurance, and a few other things. It should have taken me, at most, 15 minutes to do this. But no – that was not to be. I was at it for a little over two hours. Now I do understand that my time may be less valuable than theirs – after all I’m the one spending the money and they are the ones making it. But I could have gotten a lot of other projects accomplished in that two hours, and I consider my time very valuable.

Allow me to elaborate on my experiences today. First I tried to cancel my son’s renters insurance because he moved out of his apartment nearly a year ago and the premium payments were automatically renewed using my credit card (mistake # 1). First I called the company and waited (waded) through a good two minutes of voice menus only to be directed to their website where I could do what I needed to do online. I got online and registered for an account and got logged in and navigated all the way to the page for canceling your policy. It directed me to CALL another number to “discuss the cancellation”. Let me explain this. There is nothing to discuss. The kid moved out, there’s no need for insurance. Cancel the policy and give me my money back. End of discussion. But I called again and waded again through the minutes of menus and then got transferred to wait again. Then the line went dead. The third time was the charm – a real person – but she wouldn’t allow me to cancel because even though the policy was billed to me and I had all the info she needed, it was in his name and he had to make the call (“privacy issues”). I asked if he could write a letter to request the cancellation and send the needed “proof of the date he left the apt”. She said “He has to call”. Three times she refused to give me permission to mail a cancellation request. I got the feeling they wanted to “discuss the cancellation” with him, too – as if our discussion wasn’t enlightening enough. I did finally ask to speak to a manager who said, “sure he can send a written request”. Oh really? That’s not what your customer service representative just told me FOUR times! But even the manager wouldn’t give me the address to send the letter to, saying my son needed to call her first and she’d give the info to him. Geez…

Next I tried to go online to cancel two magazine subscriptions. In both cases I found the links to cancel easily on the magazines websites. In both cases, however, they said I’d gotten my subscription through a third-party service. One magazine stated I’d have to call the third-party service to cancel. Oh boy – another voice menu of options that led me in circles for about 5 minutes but I did finally get that one canceled. The second magazine website had me excited, though. I simply  logged in with my account, clicked please cancel. Clicked why cancel, and then it said “to do this you need to call customer service”.  But do you think there was a customer service phone number anywhere on that page – or on the website at all? None. Nada. Zip. No way to make that call easily.

Now I understand that companies don’t want to lose business and want to make it difficult to cancel and ask for refunds. Maybe a lot of people would give up and just keep on paying for things they don’t need or want anymore. But these kinds of experiences make for lousy customer loyalty and do nothing for their reputations. The face of customer service felt more like  a brick wall. I will never recommend these companies to anyone.

It would only have taken a few simple changes to make these experiences pleasant and productive. Design your websites so that customers can easily determine the steps needed to manage their accounts. Use fewer phone options – get me to a human sooner. And make that human ready and able to assist rather than block action. Life is too short to spend time getting the run-around.

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