Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Customer Service Experiences: Bad, Bad, Ugly and Great

By Victor J. Ward

In the post,"My Excellent Adventure Attempting To Get My Cell Phone Charger Port Replaced ), Bob accurately describes people on the left side of the customer service bell curve, and those on the right.

The post also shows that there is an easy way for many companies to increase revenue through repeat customers.

In my experience, customer service is getting worse and worse. This is not a surprise. As inflation increases, the cost of labor rises. A person who is great at customer service is going to cost more than someone who is an idiot.

Here are my tips for employees and managers dealing directly with customers.

#1 -- brought to you by a horrible experience at AT&T. I have AT&T as my cell phone provider. I have a credit balance of over $1000. So, when I leave AT&T, they will owe me money.

When the iphone 6 came out, I went to AT&T to see if I could get a deal. They were giving away $200 vouchers if you turned in an old iphone. I had an old iphone so I went to the store, ready to get my $200 voucher and apply it to the iphone 6.

When I got there, they told me that they had no iphone 6s in stock, and that I had to apply the $200 voucher to something in the store. I could either get another type of phone or I could apply the voucher to things like chargers and phone covers.

I didn't want a different phone, and I didn't need $200 worth of phone covers.

I told the employee that if I was not able to get a voucher to apply to my iphone, I would take my business elsewhere. I also warned him that if I left AT&T, they would have to pay me money.

He stared at me with vacant eyes. I realized that I was not going to get anywhere with this guy. I left and went to visit T-Moible and Verizon.

T-Mobile seemed competent, but they didn't have the deal that I wanted.

Next, I went to Verizon. I told them what I wanted to do, and then I asked them a question about what Verizon iphones could do versus AT&T iphones. They answered my question.

Unfortunately, they gave me the wrong answer. (I did not find out the truth until I went to the Apple store several months later.) They said that their phone COULD NOT do something that it could do. So, because of this wrong answer, I stayed with AT&T.

But, that relationship will only last until I decide to get another iphone. If I don't get the proper customer service, I will gladly leave, and take my money with me.

And, yes, I realize that Sprint sells the iphone now. Let me tell you about Sprint: I had a Sprint phone that came from the bowels of hell. When my wife gave me my first iphone for Christmas, it was like giving sight to a blind man. Oh my gosh -- what a difference.

I immediately canceled my Sprint service. The conversation to cancel my service went like this:

Me: I would like to cancel my service.

Sprint woman: I'm sorry to hear that. Why may I ask?

Me: I have a phone that does not work.

Sprint: Why didn't you take it into one of our stores for service?

Me: I did. Several times.

Sprint: What did they say?

Me: They told me that I needed a new phone.

Sprint: Why didn't you buy a phone from Sprint?

Me: Because Sprint has terrible customer service.

Sprint: We don't have terrible customer service. You didn't give us a chance.

Me, now ready to strangle the woman: I have had Sprint for over a decade. Every time I call you, someone infuriates me. This call is no different. Please stop talking to me and cancel my service. Thank you.

Several months later, Sprint sent me a bill for $2.00. I refused to pay it. Well, that's not true; I told them if they could show why I owed them the $2.00, I would be happy to pay it. They could not, so I didn't pay. They sent bills for the next several months, each time with a fine added to it. The final bill got to $32. Then it went to collections.

The collection agency called me, and I told them the same thing. Of course, it affected my credit, but I didn't care. (This whole escapade happened several years ago. The last time I checked my credit, which was a couple of months ago, my score was over 800, so Sprint can suck it. If I can help it, I will never, ever, ever step foot into a Sprint store.)

To all customer service employees and their managers: First, know what your product can do. Verizon lost a sale because they didn't understand their product.

Second, when the product you sell is similar (yea, identical) to the product other people sell, customer service is going to be a big deal. Sprint has lost me forever. AT&T is about to lose me forever. Customer service is important.

#2 -- brought to you by a horrible experience at the Cheesecake Factory (CF). My wife, my 2 year old son, and I went to the CF. We did not have reservations. We just showed-up, hoping to get a seat. The first three times, we had no luck. It wasn't a big deal, because the CF is in the mall and we were actually in the mall to shop.

The fourth time was a charm. We got a seat.

To all those who wait on tables: When you see a family with young children, the parents are worried and concerned that their child might do something like throw food or break a glass or, just generally, act like a two-year old.

Therefore, take care of the child first. Don't ask what drinks we want, bring out the diet cokes first and then go back and get the milk. Bring the milk first.

Don't wait to bring out the child's meal with the adult meals. Bring out the child's meal as soon as possible.

What should you do if you don't like kids? Fake it. Interact with the child. Talk to the parents about the child. Ask the parents what they need -- extra napkins; more milk; plastic silverware. When the child makes a mess, tell the parents: No problem. We will take care of everything.

Back to the CF: We ordered an appetizer. It never came. That was ok, things happen. When we got the bill, however, we were charged for the appetizer.

We told the waiter, and he immediately blamed the kitchen. This was the second thing he had blamed on the kitchen -- the first being a delay in getting our son his meal.

If you are waiting on tables, don't blame the kitchen. I am not interacting with the kitchen, I am interacting with you. Blame-shifting is repulsive. Even if it is the kitchen's fault, just say that you are sorry and that you are going to take care of it.

Our waiter then went to get his manager.

When the manager got there, we expected to be comped for something. Instead, he told us that we could get a dessert on the house.

Well, we didn't want a dessert -- even one that was free. When you have children, there is a clock that is constantly ticking down. If it reaches zero --- BOOM! Trust me, no one wants that.

Furthermore, if we had wanted dessert, we would have gotten it. But we were ready to go, so why ask us to stay longer?

The only thing we got from the manager was, "I am sorry."

This was one bad experience, and we will probably go back to the CF. But, we haven't been back yet. In a world of competition, customer service can make or break you.

#3 -- a great experience at Costco. You must understand that I hate Costco. There are simply too many people in there trying to shop. And so many of them are rude. But, it's a good place to get stuff.

The last time I was in Costco was on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It was a crazy zoo. Crazy. Zoo.

We finally got all of our stuff and we finally made it to the front of the checkout line. When we got there, a man said: Don't worry about taking anything out of the cart. We'll do all of that for you.

That is par for the course at Costco.

I was there with my wife and son. The guy started to talk and joke around with my son. (He was still in the cart.)

The guy hustled. He was personable. He was also humble.

I asked him who his manager was, and he pointed to another Costco employee. I walked over to that employee and said, "This guy gave us excellent customer service, and I want to make note of that."

The manager was happy, and so was the employee.

Will I go back to Costco? Well, I still hate the store, but yes, I will go back. I appreciate a store that tries to make my experience a pleasant one.

The guy that helped us didn't have to do that much to put him into the excellent customer service category. He simply did his job with a little added effort.

One last note: I recently took my Mac laptop to the Apple Genius Bar. It was having something called a "Colonel Panic." Basically, it was unusable.

The lady at the Genius Bar ran a couple of tests. She dowloaded all of my stuff onto an external hard drive. (I had to buy the hard drive, but that was not a problem since I wanted one anyway.)

She told me that they needed the computer overnight and that they would call me later in the evening with an update.

Sure enough, they called me and also sent me a message via email saying that my computer was ready.

I came to pick it up. They ushered me to a table and brought my computer to me. They told me everything was good to go; they suggested that I routinely clean out my Trash folder; and then they handed me my computer.

The warranty had long since ended, so I thought that I would be paying something. I asked them how much I owed them.

Answer: Zero.

Excellent service; knowledgeable employees; better than expected results.

Victor J. Ward  first came across libertarianism by reading Murray Rothbard's Ronald Reagan: An Autopsy and Walter Block's Defending the Undefendable. He holds a law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and an MBA from Santa Clara University.


  1. It's "kernel panic". Colonel Panic is in the Coast Guard.

  2. If in the Coast Guard, wouldn't that be "Captain" Panic?

    1. Yeah, I thought of that after I hit the "Publish". I was trying to pick a service to mock, and the Coast Guard always comes to mind, but you're critique is correct.

  3. Sprint absolutely blows. We had them years ago and I'd sooner eat feces then have them.

  4. I too despise Costco and faithfully renew my hatred with regular weekly visits to their business.