Bad customer service? Try none at all

27 Sep 11 07:00AM EST
Post by Sam Butler

Poor customer service sucks. Dealing with rude, incompetent or unhelpful staff who refuse to abide by the “customer is always right” mantra can leave you feeling angry, dejected and utterly undervalued. But when it happens, you at least have some means of recourse. You can threaten to take your business elsewhere unless they lift their game, and follow through if they don’t. You can jump online to publicly shame them into listening to you. And should things get really nasty, you can get in touch with the relevant authority to intervene on your behalf.

But as I’ve been discovering lately, the only thing more frustrating than bad customer service is none at all – that is, when you get in touch with a company or organisation with a view to give them your business, yet they don’t even bother to follow through.

Recently I’ve been on the lookout for three products and services: someone to install a small air conditioning unit I’ve already bought, a personal trainer and a low-interest credit card to which to transfer my balance. For all three I made the relevant phone calls or online applications a while back to flag what I’m after.

Several weeks later, I’m still on the lookout for a personal trainer and a low-interest credit card. I’ve only now finally locked in an air conditioner installer, but he was the third guy I contacted. The first thought the job was too complicated (it involves complying with some admittedly convoluted strata specifications), while the second never even bothered to return the two phone messages I left for him.

Meanwhile, I get the occasional email update from the fitness company I got in contact with telling me they’re still trying to source a personal trainer. It feels a bit like going to a restaurant that doesn’t take bookings – they’re so busy and important that it’s actually an honour for you if they can manage to squeeze you in. I would’ve looked elsewhere by now, but this particular company is the only one insured to train clients within my apartment complex’s gym (the strata police strike again!). At this point I think I’ll bite the bullet and get my physical tough love from the boot camp instructor who drills clients into sweaty submission at dawn in the park across the street.

You’d assume that in the competitive world of low-interest balance transfer credit cards, companies would be falling over themselves to make switching your business to them as effortless as possible. This particular provider requires me to fill out an identity verification form that must be signed off by a post office staff member before being returned to them, which is fair enough. But having sent me out a form that didn’t specify my full name, the post office told me they could not verify the document and I’d have to request another with the correct details. Two very frustrating 20-minute phone calls and a couple weeks later, I’m still waiting for that elusive form to grace my mailbox.

Consumers in this situation are caught in a quandary. On the one hand, we really don’t want to do a business’ job for them, and we all have enough pride – or is it ego? – that we feel at least a little affronted when a company doesn’t seem interested in our business. On the other hand, we really want the things we want, and sometimes we can be pretty sure - as I am about this particular low-interest card - that we won’t be able to find a more suitable product or service even if we do give up and look elsewhere.

Perhaps it’s only in these sorts of cases, where businesses can sniff they have you over a barrel, that they drag the chain – because they know they can afford to. But have we really reached a point now where companies are so ambivalent towards customer service that they’re ignoring not only their existing customers, but also potential new ones?

Have you ever felt a business or company cooling its relationship with you before it’s even started?


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