Why Customer Services Sucks Ass and ways to improve

August 16, 2007 - Get free updates of new posts here

I had to call customer service for a problem today and it sucked. I am sure you knew that. Here are some sucky things and ways to improve.

1- Don’t ask to put me on hold. I always say I don’t want to be on hold but you do it cause you planned anyways. Solution: Just say I am going to put you on hold to help you faster.
2- Don’t play shitty music. Solution: Let me choose between a few options. Even better, add in a jokes section or daily news. Make me interested in listening to your crappy songs.
3- Answer after 1 ring. Solution: Do it.
4- Don’t say you are going to record the conversation. I have heard that crappy saying and my calls to you never get better. Solution: Make it funny. We are going to record your call and if you have a great voice we will listen to it every night to put us to sleep.
5- Don’t advertise. It already sucks that I have to call you about a problem I am having. Solution: Don’t advertise your other services since I am already pissed about you calling for a service I am dealing with. PS. Don’t Fing tell me to go do it online. Online sucks and I want a real person to fix it in “real” time.
6- Don’t ask me about my day. I know you don’t really care that I am feeling sad or that my dog died. Solution: Be sincere and just say I hope your day is going swell.

What else am I missing?

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37 responses to “Why Customer Services Sucks Ass and ways to improve

  1. Tyler Reply

    I think your suggestions are funny…and they apply to main stream customer care departments. ie. dell, HP, Verizon, ATT, etc. But what about the small fish companies that have the small budget, lack of resources, and smaller workforce. This isn’t always possible for them?

  2. Will Reply

    In the case of the bad music, perhaps add the up sell option for $1.99 a minute, you can talk to someone with a sultry voice while waiting, that would make the time go by quicker.

    Will

  3. Noah Kagan Reply

    I think for the smaller ones its about being very very nice and making customer service one of your selling features. You can hardly ever compete on price with the big guys but you can

    a) do extremely thoughtful customer service
    b) offer products they wouldn’t consider adding
    c) focus on retention in genuine ways and not just through some CRM tool.

  4. Noah Reply

    I think the lack of humor comes from the lack of sense-of-humor that the majority of this nation has. Which is a shame really, because applied properly it really makes you feel like people there (wherever) love their job, which can only make you feel more confident in their product or service.

  5. atish Reply

    I hate having to navigate through 5 menus to get to a human. Sometimes pressing 0 or a whole bunch of random numbers doesn’t take me straight to the operator either.

    Also typing in information via touch-tone then having the operator verbally ask me for the same information. Why did you have me type in the information in the first place?

  6. Gerrit Reply

    One more: Don’t pass me from person to person. You know in the beginning what I want cause I told you. If you cannot help, then forward it to the RIGHT person. And don’t have me repeat my problem over and over to different person. If you forward me to another person, pass along my name and my problem, so I don’t have to repeat it over and over

  7. Eric S. Mueller Reply

    Here’s one from this morning: If the call system puts me on hold, don’t have a recording repeating over and over and over again “All of our operators are busy assisting other customers. Your call is very important to us. Please remain on the line…” Seriously, it’s 2007. I know when I call an answering machine to leave my message after the beep, and I know when I’m placed on hold it means that your business can’t hire enough call center representatives to handle all of the complaints about your crappy service. You don’t have to keep repeating the reason why I’m on hold.

  8. shoo Reply

    atish, I assume you’ve call Dell Support before?

    5. I’ve heard advertisements for the exact same phone conference line that I was waiting on.

    I think it would be great if they could give you a status. “You’re phone call 15/29 calls with 8 operators standing by, we will try to promptly answer your call.”

  9. Ross at HatchThat Reply

    Great suggestions there, but they don’t NEED to do it so they won’t. Sure, it’d be nice… but we all know it’s not going to happen.

    I know a business that used to play a local radio station as ‘on hold’ music, but they had to stop because it is apparently illegal (at least downunder) because of copyright restrictions. That was really good because it was always something new, and if you had a bad song at least it wasn’t as bad as the normal rubbish 🙂

  10. Service Untitled - Douglas Reply

    Hi Noah,

    Judging from the things you are complaining about, the experience you had was actually better than most. However, here are my thoughts about your suggestions for improvement among customer service departments.

    1. A representative asking to put you on hold is really just a courtesy. Sure, no one likes to be put on hold, but it is a lot nicer than just saying “hold please” and not giving you a chance to mutter a question.

    2. I think the choices is a good idea. Some companies let you pick whether you want to hold with music or not. Being able to pick a choice is not a bad idea. I’m not sure about news or jokes as that could depend on the person. I would not want to listen to Fox News, but some people may.

    3. Every company should do this.

    4. They are required by law to say it (depends on the state). I am sure it can be made a bit more entertaining, but the essential message has to stay there if they are recording the calls.

    5. I couldn’t say it better myself.

    6. Like number one, this is just an attempt at being nice. I generally don’t advocate asking how someone is for the reasons that you listed, but the intentions are usually good (see this post that I wrote).

    Looking at some of the comments as well:

    1. Closing with “Is there anything else I can do to help you?” is a representative just trying to be helpful (or at least following procedures). It is better than being rushed off the phone.

    2. Navigating through long phone menus (IVRs) and then repeating information you’ve already given to a representative once you get someone is incredibly frustrating. It also shows the company’s IVR engineers are rather incompetent.

    3. Getting passed from person to person (I call it the hot potato transfers) is so annoying. Usually, a representative shouldn’t have to transfer you more than once. If you end up in the wrong department from pushing all the buttons on the menus, then they can transfer you, but after that, you should get the right person.

    Good thoughts and suggestions!

  11. Jon Speer Reply

    Here, here! I recently moved and needed to transfer my phone service. What a pain! I got the calm automated voice recording that responds to my voice commands. I finally figured out how to get to a live person after 10 minutes of answering questions. And then, while the person is waiting for my problem to be fixed, he starts asking about the weather.

    Have you ever called customer service and the recording prompts you to enter your phone number or some other information using the key pad? I have and once I get a live person, what is the first thing they ask for? The same damn information I just punched in.

    Customer service (generally speaking) is VERY broke these days.

  12. Jason Reply

    Okay, I had an experience lately that ticked me off. My family and I were camping deep in the mountains. No cell service, so my dad bought a phone card to call back to our respective businesses and check in. I will say this now, I hate WalMart. Anyways, that is where he purchased it. I needed to add extra minutes to it since I was using my dads minutes. Their over the phone option with no CSR help was broken so I was transferred to a CSR for help. I added the minutes come to find out they are charging me a $1.50 convenience fee to SPEND MORE MONEY with them. Not only that, but I wasted a crapload of minutes that they deducted from my card minutes to talk to a CSR to refill because their other system was broken. I was pissed. Then, it takes forever to make a call because you have to sit through 5 minutes of WalCrap ads to have them finally dial your number. Screw that.

    On a side note: calling cards are rips off. They deduct an insane amount just to use it with a pay phone. Someone should class action lawsuit those monkeys.

    /rant off

  13. Eric Poulin Reply

    Another thing that really sucks….
    I enter in my 10 digit account code, yet when I get to a person the first thing they ask for is my 10 digit account code… Dang – I JUST entered that!
    Solution: Ask for it once, pull up my info and verify that you have the right person with the lookup data.

  14. Luzi Reply

    I like your suggestions, noah!

    I was granted an extremely positive surprise once when I called a support center and they actually told you something like “you are caller #, and your estimated wait time is XX” – plus it was even pretty accurate, too! (similar to what shoo suggests, btw)

    This made the whole difference!

    I’d recommend this to every call center!

  15. Chris Moxley Reply

    I very much agree with #5. Along those same lines, do your best not to mix happy and angry customers. If I’m calling because something is broken, I need to be treated differently than someone who’s just calling to activate service or change their mailing address. Even if you need to get two phone numbers that both ring to the same phone, you’re going to want to know if I’m angry before you pick up my call.

  16. Dan Reply

    Thanks, Noah.
    I’d also like to add:
    –If the computer asks me for my phone number or account number to be entered to “serve me better”, then why does the human operator ask for it again?
    –also, instead of putting me on hold for long periods of time, if it’s going to be more than 30 seconds, call me back.
    I’ve written more at http://eratica.blogspot.com/search/label/business

  17. Martin Reply

    Give me the option to be called back!

    If the expected waiting time is more than a few minutes, it often better for both you and me if you offer to call me back. I don’t have to hang on the line for a long time, and you get to stay busy in the time that might otherwise be quiet.

  18. Frank Reply

    if they do have to forward me to another department, i appreciate it when they do “the hand-off”, where the original csr will sit with me through the transfer and when the new csr picks up, it’s like a three way call. then, the original csr describes the problem to the new csr and makes sure everything is okay before exiting. its nice not having to repeat myself to the new person and knowing they put in the extra effort and helps make up for the fact i got misdirected. even if it wasn’t their fault i ended up in the wrong department, it’s just good service to go that extra mile.

  19. Damon Billian Reply

    Since I actually have background in customer service, let me explain a few things:

    1. A lot of calls are scripted (which I hate).
    2. Some services, such as telephone providers, are actually regulated by state agencies to ask certain questions during the course of a phone call.
    3. The disclaimer about recording has to be given because of privacy laws in a variety of states.
    4. Advertising other services: this is a call center requirement for many orgs. If the rep doesn’t offer a service/solution, the rep will probably be written up if they are monitored. However, my personal belief is that it should depend on what you see in the account records (if I see someone spending more on a mobile plan than they should, then I should make an offer.)

    The key problem with customer service is that reps aren’t empowered to do what’s right per phone call/email.

  20. Eric S. Mueller Reply

    Damon, call center rep scripts are crazy, and often a violation of reality. I once signed up for a credit monitoring service. Shortly after Sears Card called and offered a credit monitoring service. I didn’t at the time understand how partner marketing worked and Sears made it sound like a benefit of their card. When I got the kit in the mail, I found out it was the exact same service I had already joined, but I was paying for it twice. I called Sears to cancel, and the reprsentative kept reading the same script over and over and over again no matter what I said “Mr. , this service is very important and can help you guard against…”

    ” I know that, but I’m already paying for this exact same service!”

    “Mr. , this service is very important…” I had to ask for a manager to cancel.

  21. Jonathan Reply

    Wow, i love this post! I get pissed off every time i punch through the menus and then either get sent to another phone number or told to go online for help. I also hate it when they stick in Ads while i’m waiting because it makes me think i am finally going to get some help just to realize that i’ve been fooled a second later.

  22. Karen Hartline Reply

    My gosh, this is a hot topic! 25 comments in just over a day? Is that a record…

    I waited to long to respond and am now having to echo others. Noah M. gets bonus points for hitting on the “lack of sense of humor is a problem” point. Even when I’m the most stressed–I have to laugh about it or I wouldn’t make it. If only those who love customer service were answering our calls, it would be a much more plesant experience for everyone! And yes, there are people who love providing Customer Service–I’m one of them (though am too talented to answer any of your calls!) I enjoy helping others and finding solutions. (Sounds like I’m interviewing for a job or something….maybe I am!)

    Chris Moxley also got it right with having a different ring/phone line/whatever for those calling because they ‘hate your service’. Actually, promote those who love customer service to answer these calls.

    Eric Mueller is also right, as it’s 2007, which in turn means you should leave your message after the beep on someone’s VOICE MAIL–not answering machine (that’s so 1995). Ask Noah–he knows! 😉

  23. Todd Earwood Reply

    Good tips, I love the part about we’ll record your voice and sleep to it. I don’t care as much about being told I need to hold (as if I had a choice), but I can’t stand, “please pay close attention as our menus have recently changed”… when you know it was the same 6 months ago when you called before!

  24. Mike Sabat Reply

    First, customer service is supposed to suck. The service just wants you to hang up and pay your bill.

    Thats said, in my experience here is what would help the most. when I call Verizon, I would like my call routed to the same rep, or at least the same “team”.

    1. By the fourth time I call about the same exact problem the person may remember a few details and I told have to tell the complete story and service history AGAIN.

    2. This brings accountability to the agent. Several times I have wasted an hour, finally talked to the manager and he told me he would take care of the problem. And then a month later I till have the problem. When you call back you have to start all over and say “last month Scott told me the problem would be fixed.”

    The rep always says, “I don’t know Scott, but it says in the computer…”

    “Well can I talk to Scott?”

    “I’m sorry I don’t have the authority to XXXX”

    And that’s when I start yelling and swearing.

  25. BRIAN TANNEBAUM Reply

    After I tell you what the problem is, don’t tell me “I’m sorry your having this problem.” I know you aren’t, and are just saying that to kill time while you look for the answer that won’t help me in your database. You know, that answer that is a list of things I’ve already done prior to calling you? The one that causes you to repeat “It should be working” 4 times?

  26. Jason Reply

    How I went from a Verizon FAN to no longer being a customer.

    So, I went and checked out the iphone. Wow. That this is pretty damn cool. There are a few things about it that irk me. Like the battery, No Outlook syncing (I know I suck since I use a PC still right?), no third party applications except on web and a few others. But, what really blew me away were the service plans for the iphone. They kick ass. I want data, but I am not willing to pay $50 more for it with Verizon.

    I have been a Verizon FAN for 5 years now. By Fan, I mean that I would tell people how much I love their cell phone service and that customer support has always been good to me.

    Now, with my curiosity peeked from testing the iphone, I called Verizon to get a plan for my Pocket PC Phone that matched that of their competitors. I tell the first CSR that I have been a loyal FAN for 5 years with no billing troubles with me. She agrees to that. So, I tell her about ATT’s plans and how I was thinking about jumping ship. I asked her if Verizon could match or come down to the vicinity of the ATT plans. She said it would cost $50 for data on top of the $75 I pay already for 100 minutes less for equivalent iphone plan. So, I asked to speak to a manager. I told him I had been a fan of Verizon for 5 years, always paid my bills, and before I jumped ship, want to give them a chance to competitively match or come close to the ATT plan. I told him I wasn’t trying to ask for something ridiculous, but this was a competitor and this is what the market is asking. He tried to help and said the best he could do was add an extra 100 minutes and give me data for $45 a month. I told him that just wasn’t going to cut it. He offered me a free phone or a generous amount off a new Pocket PC phone. I told him that phone wasn’t really the issue and the extra 100 minutes were not either, but the data service was. He tried to use the iphone costs $600 dollars and is expensive route. I cleverly pointed out that they were charging me $50 more per month and 12 months X $50 = $600. Interesting. The iphone would easily pay for itself in a year. PLUS I could sell my current Pocket PC Phone and 10gb ipod for roughly $300 total (according to closed ebay auctions). Then, he offered me a free month service to stay. I again told him I don’t mind paying for my service, as long as it was competitively priced. He told me he couldn’t match Att’s plans, valued my business, and was truly sorry. I then asked if my contract was up and he stated that had been for close to two years. Again, I tried to show him I had been loyal to Verizon even though there was no contract binding me in place and I was giving the opportunity to keep my business by offering me a competitively fair (fair being the keyword) market price for their solutions. Again, no go. So I told him thank you and it was unfortunate to have leave their services and go to a competitor.

    As a service provider myself, if I had a loyal, good customer who was willing to let me keep their business, I would most definitely do it as long as it was fair and within the markets price range. If Verizon would have done this for me, I would have been a HUGE FAN telling everyone I know about the awesome service and support from Verizon. Instead they lost a customer of 5 years. Too bad. I think this is a good lesson to anyone starting a web service. Create fans and keep them. Try not to turn away customers who are willing to pay fair market prices and increase your brand equity by being a fan.

  27. otto Reply

    Here’s another one I always get from UPS (in Belgium):

    Did you know you can check the status of your shipment online?

    Well, I know the status, I checked that online. Now how about a solution to get my parcel to the customer?

    Then again, some people there do make a difference and try to get things solved, while others…are just answering the phone.

    Otto

  28. Jason Reply

    UPDATE to my long psot above.

    I happily switched to the iphone and att and now I am paying less than half of what Verizon was going to charge for a far SUPERIOR phone. Plus my finacee, all my family, and all 3 roommates are on att. So, I should save some minutes now 😉

  29. Jeremy Reply

    From conducting hundreds of customer satisfaction surveys I can tell you you pretty well nailed it on the head. The problem is people who are typically calling for customer service seem to have little room for humor in their lives at that point and take everything offensively. If people in general would just lighten up a little bit customer service issues could be a lot more enjoyable. Great post.

  30. Patti Reply

    I work at Timbuk2 (bag company in SF) and we recently changed the language in our order confirmation to be a bit less corporate and more the way we would actually talk to a customer. Almost immediately we started seeing the updated language reviewed in blogs and “thank you” emails to customer service:
    http://www.knowhr.com/blog/2007/08/13/hr-communication-lesson-speak-plainly/
    http://bwithers.wordpress.com/2007/08/11/timbuk2-has-a-sense-of-humor/

    Speaks to how much “corporate” language or language void of human eccentricities is the status quo.

  31. Nicole Price Reply

    What i hate is, when after the first ring the phone is answered not by a human but by a recorded message which goes on and on about services and products offered that you dont want to know about and could care less about. Then you have to go thru the menu rigmarole that is often so complicated as to dishearten the most tenacious of us.

  32. Kathleen Cole Reply

    Outsourcing to foreign countries sucks ass even more. Yes, you missed a couple of things: 1) don’t kiss my ass for a living — just do your job; 2) don’t ever say, “I understand.”; 3) get someone who speaks English to translate for you; 4) never send me a long set of instructions, however clear they may seem, by means of e-mail. This might cover a tiny fraction of what I experienced today with Qwest.