In the last month since my move, I've been dealing with various companies in a number of capacities – job searches, account accessibility, billing, etc. The topic I wish to discuss has been hashed over time and again, but this last month, it's really started bothering me.
I'm talking about business etiquette. How businesses relate to their customers. I'd like to discuss five areas businesses, throughout the years, have grown to appreciate the customer less and less. Since this blog many times relates to writing, see if you can relate any of these problems to the writing industry and dealing with publishers/agents. I'll probably refer to them directly.
1. Phone Menus
This, I think has been the bane of many people and one of the major downfalls of customer service. I understand, with the growth in population and companies, that one or a group of secretaries cannot handle the influx of people calling. So, companies have instituted an automated menu system to help customers with the problem or to direct them to the appropriate party within the company.
However, menu systems, despite the friendly tone of the automated speaker, have tended to dehumanize the person calling. When I have to speak to a computer, I feel unimportant. And that I'll never be able to speak to a human being because I have to wade through so many choices. I have seen (years ago) a list of companies and the 'secret' numbers to push to be able to speak to a human. Normally, I just say 'operator' or push zero until the system gives up.
Another problem with menus is that normally, the concern I wish to discuss isn't listed in the choices or if it is, then I end up speaking with somebody and re-exlaining the situation anyway.
A third problem is one I recently encountered with a certain company that shall remained unnamed (unless you've read my Facebook entries). The automated system asked me for my cell phone number, then the last four digits of my social security number. When I was allowed to speak to a human being, the customer service representative asked me for the same two pieces of information. Then when the problem was upgraded to technical support, THAT person wanted the same information. Are you kidding me? Three times? How or why does the system or the people involved, not transfer the information? (Oh, by the way, the information regarding my situation also wasn't transferred to the next person.)
So, this brings up the second downfall of business...
2. Customer Service Representatives
I should probably put this in quotes to designate a cynical view of the title of the person. Many times, especially with-ahem-credit card companies, these people are not talking to you to provide service, but are acting as the first line of defense. It takes some finagling or insistence, to speak to a person who can actually make a decision rather than have the CSR automatically deny you a request. Even if you are sent to somebody else, then you may get that person's secretary.
The CSR problem with the aforementioned unnamed company was that I kept getting put on hold. Now, of all the problems I have with any business, waiting on hold is right near the top of things that bother me the most. One time, maybe (and that's if I'm in a good mood) twice on hold is enough. After the third or fourth time, I know the CSR doesn't know what is going on and/or does not know how to handle my problem. Fine, I understand this. I have situations in my job I can't handle. So, I call my supervisor. However, if the CSR constantly has to speak to someone else, then let ME speak to that person. It would save a bunch of time and my patience.
This holds true for the subset of this area, the Technical Service Representative. In my particular business, speaking to a computer techie is akin to rolling the dice and hoping for the best roll. Usually I end up with a bad combination. One person will know what to do and the next time another person will verbally scratch his head by leading me through countless steps because he can't define the problem the previous guy could handle right away. The solution may be different each time. One techie may take you through the solution in three steps, another in twelve. Weren't all these people trained similarly?
Next week, in Part II, I'll discuss more problems I've encountered with companies and how they have lost their way in the etiquette department.