Many of the companies we rely on for our internet service, our cable, cell phone service, or our bank accounts are notoriously bad when it comes to customer service. Americans hate calling companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Wells Fargo, and Dish Network, and companies like Comcast are notorious for implementing policies and pricing schemes that are actually intended to annoy their customers. Even worse? When customers call for help or to make a complaint, many big companies are ill-equipped to offer anything other than bad customer service.
According to Consumer Reports, almost everyone has to deal with customer service at some point. A recent survey conducted by the group found that 88% of respondents had called or otherwise contacted customer service in the past to question a bill, to request a repair, to return merchandise, or to complete another task. Many of those respondents had a problem with customer service. Half of them reported leaving a store without making an intended purchase because of poor customer service, and 57% were so upset that they hung up the phone with customer service without a resolution.
Consumer Reports researchers explain that “we live in a world of instant connection, where owners of Amazon Kindle Fire tablets can instantly summon a tech adviser live onscreen by tapping a “Mayday” button, for example, and Neiman Marcus customers snap photos of shoes in magazines to automatically search for them in the store’s inventory. So the group wonders, “why are we still so frustrated?”
The real problem behind bad customer service
The real problem behind bad customer service is that technology can’t unilaterally fix it, even when companies and consumers think it can. Scott Broetzmann, president of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, told Consumer Reports, “Many companies today are simply awful at resolving customer problems, despite investments in whiz-bang technologies and considerable advertising about their customer focus. Customers spend valuable time and invest considerable effort — and get little in return.” That explains why you can spend the better part of an hour on the phone (or corresponding with a representative on Twitter or Facebook Messenger) and come away without a solution to your problem.
According to recent research from Arizona State University, satisfaction with customer service is no higher than it was in the 1970s, and that’s despite the many major ways in which consumer technology has changed in the intervening decades. 800-numbers with complex automated response menus, customer service agents with limited decision-making authority, and understaffed call centers frustrate consumers and contribute to bad customer service experiences.
Bad customer service has led to an increase in the number of Americans who yell or even curse at unhelpful customer service representatives. But just as some consumers get angry, others decide that complaining isn’t a worthwhile use of their time or effort. Additionally, Consumer Reports notes that some speculate that younger consumers, especially millennials, have never experienced top-of-the-line customer service and therefore “don’t know what they’re missing.” And other experts posit that some consumers are less bothered by bad customer service because they’re growing used to the idea of serving themselves, whether at the grocery store’s self checkout line or via their bank’s app.
Technology doesn’t keep consumers from needing to contact companies
It’s certainly a positive thing that some companies are making it easier for consumers to use simple solutions, and some of those efforts are facilitated by technology like the features of an app or the frequently asked questions section of a website. Some companies even create online videos, stepping customers through common problems or otherwise enabling them to get the information they need quickly, without wading through dense documentation or waiting on hold for a customer service representative.
Nonetheless, most of us have been in a situation where we need to contact the company directly, and there are still plenty of reasons to be annoyed with bad customer service experiences. Some of the top complaints cited by respondents to the Consumer Reports survey include being unable to get a live person on the phone, or speaking with a customer service representative who is rude or condescending.
Other complaints include getting disconnected, getting disconnected and being unable to reach the same representative, or being transferred to a representative who can’t help or offers incorrect information. Additionally, some consumers complain that companies don’t provide or hide their customer service number, that they have to wait on hold for a long time, that there are too many phone menu steps, that they have to repeatedly ask for the same information, or that the proposed solution doesn’t work.
The fact that technology can’t fix bad customer service is often glossed over when companies talk to consumers. Even if functionality is integrated into an app or an answer is available on a website, consumers will always have reason to call customer service and ask for help, seek answers, or change their service. Technology alone can’t improve the customer service experience if the company doesn’t listen to consumer complaints and doesn’t fix what’s wrong with its policies and practices — a dilemma that’s well-documented.
Social media and other technology can’t fix bad customer service on their own
Kavi Guppta reports for Forbes, for instance, that social media can’t fix bad customer service because even social media doesn’t force companies to “take responsibility for the lack in commitment they give to how customers are treated.” Though consumers turn to social media as another place to file a complaint or request assistance, social community managers are typically poorly equipped to respond to those requests.
That’s because companies’ social media accounts are typically managed by employees in marketing, who often aren’t trained to handle customer service issues. So when customers who are frustrated by the slow response they get via other channels turn to a brand’s social media accounts, they often get canned responses that direct them to another channel or online form and extend the time it takes to get an answer or a resolution. Additionally, social media doesn’t change the things that consumers want out of a customer service experience — including the resolution of the problem and short response time — and even the slickest social media profiles can’t make up for bad customer service.
Ultimately, customer service is about making sure that the people who are buying your product or your service are satisfied with their experience. Poor communication conducted via the most cutting-edge channels isn’t good customer service. Expensive apps that don’t give consumers the answers they need, and don’t make it easier for them to contact someone for answers, aren’t good customer service. Bad customer service is a big problem for many companies and many consumers, and it isn’t getting fixed because too many corporations are more concerned about the tech that enables them to offer bad customer service than they are about changing their underlying strategy to offer better communication and quicker solutions.