How far do you have to climb to get to authentic customer service in a company? Shouldn’t it just be a given with the first person you speak to after going through the robotic voice menu of endless services that provide no value? One would think so.
However, there are times when asking to speak to a supervisor does some good. Typically, they are senior call center managers who have been around the block, heard every complaint known to man, and know more about back door satisfaction. I call it back door satisfaction because coming in the front door (i.e. the first person you spoke with at the call center) has not worked. So you have to go around them via the ‘back door’. Most companies see this tactic of having a front line of defense as just a smart business decision. Many customers will accept the rhetoric doled out by the first person they speak to on the other end of the 800 number. The customer goes about their lives and chalks up the unfortunate scenario as just another inconvenience in life. This in turn allows the company to save some money because the only resource expended is the $8/hr salary of the call service rep.
Why wouldn’t they use this strategy? Better question, why shouldn’t they use this strategy? Because of customers like me, who will blog about it to my small population of readers in hopes that someone will hear my tale of woe and become a ‘back door’ satisfaction seeking customer. But I also write this with a loftier goal in mind. My hope is for the viral wave to carry this story far enough for just one company to hear and rethink their strategy on customer service. If that happens, then I have been successful.
With that said, Saturday morning I had a friend’s technically inclined husband come over to check my furnace because the heat wasn’t working. Everything was working properly. But apparently there was no gas coming through. So I called gas company I had used for over 15 years.
LEVEL 1 CUSTOMER SERVICE: As it turns out my last two payments were applied to a closed account for my previous address because I had used the wrong account number when paying online. Each customer has a unique customer number, but every address has a unique account number. I corrected my online bill pay immediately. They transferred the monies to the correct account and set up a reconnect. All is fine, except they want $300 as a security deposit to turn it back on. Here’s the kicker. They admitted they waive the deposit if it’s their clerical error, but punish (my word) their customers for the same error. Applying it to a closed account didn’t seem to raise any eyebrows. Still it wasn’t their mistake, it was mine. I heard this same line at least 20 times.
LEVEL 2 CUSTOMER SERVICE: I explained the situation to the customer service supervisor. She cut me off a time or two as if my rambling was an irritation. When I asked for a little more clarification on the how my money was applied to a closed account, I was immediately corrected. Yet another mistake on my part was not being aware of the fact that accounts are never closed just inactive. Money can be applied to them even if they are inactive and have no balance due. This seems very logical to the supervisor speaking to me and apparently I am an idiot sent to annoy her before lunch.
LEVEL 3 CUSTOMER SERVICE: I explain my situation for the third time to someone who is willing to listen. When I receive the same retort 45 minutes in to this call, I feel fairly helpless. But I have one more card to play. Very politely I tell her I’m sorry to have inconvenienced their accounting system. I will be changing my service over to another company, so as not to inconvenience them anymore. Out of curiosity I ask what happened to the payments I made since September. She researches it and discovers they were internally moving them from the inactive account to the active account up until January when for some reason it stopped. Thus, the disconnect. “I’m really sorry for all of your trouble, I am waiving the security deposit.” Thank you.
Customer service is not always a given. It’s just a shame that some companies make the customer work so hard for it.
LIFE PHOTOS: March 1952, Photographer: Robert W. Kelley