Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Customer Service on the Internet

First we're going halfway back to the dark ages, as regards the internet.

In the 1990s I had cable TV and its associated internet access. I'd love to tell you what company it was, but I just don't remember. What I seem to remember is that whatever company it was has since been acquired and no longer operates under the same name.¹

In any event, I found their customer service somewhat schizophrenic in nature. If you had a problem during the day and called for help, you got first class help in the form of a person who would not rest until your problem was solved, and was quite capable of solving it.

However, if your problem occurred at night, during the hours that live help was not available, and you used the customer service email address, you would think that you were dealing with  jackasses  another company entirely. The only two times that I exercised this option that I can recall were:
  1. I got home one evening and turned my PC on, which automatically put me at my home page on the internet, a page created by my ISP. Now this page contained, among other things, the local weather (for the Chicago suburb in which I lived), and I noted that the brief description included the words, "Winds from the NW at 235 mph."

    Right, says I to me, I'll bet they'd like to know about this. I sent their customer service department an email telling them that my home page weather claimed that I had 235 mph winds.

    In the morning I had an email response. It thanked me for contacting them and informed me that they needed more information about the nature of the problem. I let the matter drop because either

    • This was an automated response, and the thought that they would do that to someone who might need help with their wretched service was loathsome, or

    • A real live person had responded, in which case there was not enough information on earth to make him understand the problem, and if there had been then he certainly wouldn't have been able to fix it.

    By the way, I would not have been upset by an automated response that thanked me for the contact and promised to look into my problem, only by one that pretended that someone had tried to solve my problem but needed more information. The latter is a dishonest stall.

  2. In those days many ISPs wouldn't let you access your screen name from anywhere but your home computer, where their software was installed. Delighted I was, then, when I was just a few days shy of beginning a week long trip to New Mexico and my ISP announced that it was providing a new capability - that of accessing my email from anywhere (or perhaps just anywhere in the country, but in this case it was all the same to me). All I had to do was follow an "easy" ten-step process before I left.

    The process involved a number of steps long forgotten by me, but the result was supposed to be a floppy diskette which I could carry along with me and use to access my email wherever I was and whatever computer I was on.

    I got up to about step eight and hit a brick wall. I don't remember the complaint registered by the software, but I do recall that my first thought was Liar! It complained about something that was manifestly untrue.

    Oh well, I still had several days before the trip. Perhaps "they" could get me through this in time. I emailed customer service, saying something along the line of "I was going through your ten step process to create a diskette that would allow me to access my email from anywhere, when I ran into the following problem: Yada yada yada."

    The next day I received an email from a real human being, or at least what passed for one in their customer service area, telling me that he needed more information about what ten step process I was following.

    I replied, asking "How many ten step processes do you have that create diskettes to allow your customers to access their email from anywhere?"

    I received no reply and there the matter has rested for more than a decade.
The differences in attitude and quality of service between those two shifts - daytime and nighttime - provide an object lesson in the difference between good management and bad management.

¹ February 17, 2009 - It was Media One.

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