Customer service: The good, the bad and the ugly

  • By Sven Mogelgaard Tech Talk
  • Wednesday, December 19, 2012 4:12pm

As we kick off the new year, I’d like to address an issue that’s near and dear to my heart: customer service. It’s not exactly technology, but there is a technology component to customer service these days. And the issues I’m covering here are issues I’ve encountered with technology companies. If they’re making me crazy, I’m sure some of you are going nuts, too.

My No. 1 issue is calling a business with a question. It seems many businesses — especially big businesses — are doing their best to make sure connecting you with a live person is as difficult as possible. You have to go through so many levels of “press this” or “say that” to get an answer that even the most patient person will be tearing their hair out before getting any answer.

Twenty years ago, I was programming these systems for airlines, banks and cruise lines. They were designed: A) to provide customers with the option to handle transactions on their own if they wanted to; or B) route them to the appropriate department to get the answer they needed. It was understood there was always an option to speak to a live person. Today, while looking up information or between prompts, you’re often referred to the company’s website or self-service phone option. What makes this even more frustrating is that many of us have already searched the company’s website or the Internet for answers.

To make matters worse, more and more companies are using voice recognition systems. You know they ones. The lady asks you to tell her about your problem: “You can say anything…” but she usually says she didn’t understand what you said. Next thing you know, you’re yelling at a computer.

If and when you connect with a live person, or even when you use email support, you find yourself subjected to false empathy. You know what I mean. “Hi, my name is and I’m here to provide exceptional support today! Please provide me with all the information you just gave to the computer.” Then, once you explain your issue, you get “Well, , I understand how that can cause frustration and blah, blah, blah.”

Obviously these companies paid some consultant tons of money to convince their support staff that this “empathy” will mean a lot to the caller. To me it’s patronizing and irritating, especially if I’ve spent a few minutes listening to a recording telling me every 30 seconds how important my call is.

Once you get past all this and start explaining your problem, it often becomes clear the person you’re talking to is either reading from a script or going through the same FAQs you just read. Computer-assisted troubleshooting can be very effective, but if your customer service rep is simply repeating what you’ve already done, then it’s just a waste of everyone’s time.

The bottom of the barrel is the company that only provides email support, especially if it’s a large international corporation. You can be pretty sure the first response to your support request will be full of questions and links to FAQs you’ve already read. The back-and-forth can go on for hours. Or days.

Some companies do provide outstanding electronic support. One example is Apple. While I have had a recent rant about their support (see my blog at, the concept is a good one. You visit their support site and are walked through a very straight-forward troubleshooting script. If you don’t find your answer you can have them call you at your convenience or send them an email.

Another great example is Square ( While they don’t offer phone support, their “contact us” support form presents you with links to potentially helpful articles based on the information you enter into the form. If you don’t see anything that looks helpful, you simply submit your question. On a Sunday night, I got a response that resolved my issue within an hour.

The bottom line: No matter how large or small your business is, more often than not it’s customer service that will keep or lose your customers.

Using technology to screen callers in any way, shape or form is simply wrong. Technology should be used to empower customers. The only screening should be to ensure your customer gets to the proper department. Don’t patronize your customers. Treat them with respect at all times. If you record calls “for quality and training purposes,” listen to them. And definitely test your support services. Have someone call in (or log in) and try to get a question answered. Ask easy and hard questions. And finally, look at your support services from the customer’s point of view, not the bookkeeper’s. Because if your customers aren’t happy, your bookkeeper won’t be either.

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