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March 29, 2005

Customer Service – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

My worst customer service experiences lately have been with various Verizons – Verizon Wireless, Verizon DSL, and whichever Verizon provides local phone service in Vermont.  HP is pretty close behind.  Carrot Ink has won my loyalty with great support. 

Today is a rant about support.  Tomorrow I’ll post some lessons for CEOs based on these support stories and what I’ve already blogged about Vonage support.

Actually, the Verizon customer service reps I spoke to couldn’t have been nicer.  And, once I keyed my way through the hellish maze of audio prompts, I didn’t have to listen very long to how important every call is before I was speaking to a person.  The problem seems to be that the backoffice systems don’t support what these well-trained and well-mannered reps are trying to do.

The reason I called Verizon Wireless is that I broke the antenna off my Kyocera phone.  Of course, first I went to the Verizon Wireless website and looked for a replacement antenna.  It wasn’t there so I emailed support.  A robot immediately thanked me for emailing and said I’d “usually” get a reply within one business day.  Three days later I got an email thanking me for using e-support and telling me to look on the website for what I wanted and, if I couldn’t find it, to call for support.

So I called.  The rep looked at my account, did some searching, and said that she could take my order.  I volunteered to pay for FedEx since life without an antenna is tenuous.  I also explained that I am not spending the winter at the address my account is billed to.  A few minutes after the call, she called back.  She told me that the credit card my account is billed to expired in January.  It didn’t and, in fact they have been billing to it, but I gave her another card anyway.  So far so good.

But no antenna arrived.  Not the next day.  Not the day after that. I called again; different rep of course but very nice.  She told me that she could see that I ordered but couldn’t get the FedEx tracking number for me – only the original rep could do that.  To her credit, she tried to reach the original rep but couldn’t.  She told me that she left her voice mail and would send her email and would have her call my cell phone.  I explained that it would be better to call my landline than my antenna-less cell phone.  She gave me the number of the call center where the original rep works for good measure.

I didn’t hear from the original rep.  So I called the number the second rep gave me.  It was a fax machine.  I tried Verizon Wireless stores.  They don’t stock mundane items like antennas.  One of them gave me a number for surefire ordering from Verizon.  Calling it scores a fast busy.

I called the original support number again.  The third rep was even nicer than the other two.  She apologized and explained to me that the order wouldn’t have been charged to my credit card if it hadn’t been shipped.  When I told her that it had been charged to my credit card, she immediately offered to issue a credit (don’t know yet whether that happened).  Then she took all my information again and promised to send the order out FedEx for sure for delivery next day or perhaps the day after that.  You guessed it; nothing has come yet.

So I did what I should have done in the first place: I went on to the Kyocera website.  Within five minutes my order was complete.  The website sent me a confirming email with a FedEx tracking number.  The next day FedEx delivered my antenna straight from Kyocera.  Never got a chance to test Kyocera’s customer service since everything worked.

Won’t bore you with all the local Verizon service problem.  Has to do with trying to enroll in autopay which can be done in New Jersey with a credit card but not in Vermont – who knows why.  Direct debit got set up with the wrong account number and direct debits bounced without notice to me until I got a disconnect notice AND a notice that Verizon would not accept checks from me in payment of bills for this number.  Forget that I have been sending them checks for other numbers since they became Verizon and still are – they don’t want checks for the Vermont number.  Talked to many nice CSRs who told me to send checks anyway.  Took three months to get any of the bill paid and I’m still wondering when I’ll get the next disconnect notice.  Point is that, as with Wireless, the CSRs wanted to help, had the right attitude, and their backoffice systems defeated their every effort.

Now contrast all this with Carrot Ink.  Ordered some cartridges from them for my Epson printer.  Turns out the super-sized black cartridge doesn’t fit.  Went to their website, didn’t see anything in FAQs, but there is a chat window so I logged on.  A few minutes later I’m typing to a very nice CSR who asks me a few of the obvious questions (I’m fine with them starting there) and then, when the typing back and forth got complicated, messaged “do you mind if I call you?”

A few minutes later she does call.  Very patiently walks me through what should have worked for putting the cartridge in.  But it doesn’t. We decide that maybe Epson changed the carriage of the printer.  She realizes that I wouldn’t be trying to put the cartridge in unless I was out of black ink and offers to FedEx a replacement at their expense.  I tell her that actually I ordered this on my last two orders but am just getting around to using the black.  She doubles the size of the replacement order.  I ask her about mailing the old ones back and she says she’ll send me a prepaid mailer.

Then she asks me a favor, will I take a digital picture of the Epson ink carriage and email it to her; they’d like to debug it further.  Of course, I’m delighted to do this and even more impressed that they want to keep working on a permanent fix.  If anything, my high opinion of the CSR and Carrot Ink was raised further when she called back later to say that it was her mistake – actually, I think it was her script’s mistake – and she should have known the cartridge wasn’t going to work.  Carrot Ink has a very happy customer.

By the way, I used to buy HP printers.  One stopped printing colors. No relevant FAQs on their website or articles in their knowledgebase.  Website says that it can’t be used for tech support for this model but I should call.  I call; lots of audioprompts; at the end of them is a message saying they no longer support this printer but the website might help.  That’s when I bought the Epson.

Tomorrow some lessons for CEOs based on all this.

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