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Is it My Bad Luck, or Has Customer Service in the U.S. Really Gone to Hell?

I know one should extrapolate too much from limited experience, but I have consistently been receiving terrible customer service over the last couple of weeks, to wit:

(1) I've already blogged about my experience with Speakeasy.net, which led to several readers emailing me similar stories about that company;

(2) I purchased a ticket on the United Airlines website. I discovered that Orbitz was offering the same ticket for $15 less. I tried to take advantage of United.com's low fare guarantee. I emailed all the pertinent information, with a promised response within one business day. Two business days later, I received an email in the late afternoon demanding more information by fax by midnight. I duly sent that information. That was weeks ago, and I have not heard anything since, despite a followup email, to which I received a boilerplate response. And, it's nearly impossible to get to speak to a live human being, and even more difficult to speak to someone who speaks English in the American vernacular, if one calls United's "customer service" department.

(3) My moving company (which I won't name pending how it ulimately resolves the issue, which is currently "under investigation"), a respectable company affiliated with one of the national giants, promised at least three times that there would be "no charge" for a particular service. On moving day, I was told that there would be a $300 charge. A week later I was told that the charge would actually be $972.

(4) I called Comcast to set up cable installation. They sent a complete moron, who wanted to run a cable from the third floor to the first floor, by way of staircases and hallways. I called Comcast, and they offered to send a new technician two days later. No one showed up. I called Comcast, and was told the technician must be running late. He never showed. I called again, and was told that the previous two folks were wrong, that no one was coming to my house that day, that someone would call me that day to set up an appointment later in the week. Someone did. And then didn't show up for the appointment. I decided we can live without cable.

Is this a real trend, or have I just had bad luck?

UPDATE: I forgot about a fifth example: I learned last week that Alcon has recalled an eyedrop I use, "Systane Free", for safety reasons. Instead of offering a refund, the company is only offering an exchange for other versions of this drop; without boring you with the details, these other versions have different properties, and I don't want them. When I called Alcon's customer service, I was told they hired a third party to handle the recall, so I'd have to take it up with them!

Anderson (mail) (www):
Yes, customer service in the U.S. really has gone to hell.

"This has been another edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions."
1.12.2007 5:13pm
Waldensian (mail):
Neither. I don't know anything about Speakeasy.net. But in dealing with the airlines, a moving company, and (gasp) Comcast, you have chosen three of the worst possible customer service experiences available in this great land of ours. In other words, I think your sample may not be representative.
1.12.2007 5:14pm
Jeff Shultz (mail):
Sounds like you live in the big city. We try and do it better out in the sticks... (full disclosure: I work for a local cooperative phone company that also does internet (dsl/dialup) and DirectTV)
1.12.2007 5:15pm
doug (mail) (www):
You have better luck than most, I mean, you can only name four companies off the top of your head.

As for Comcast, they are a joke. They are probably sending a technician from Bangalore to your home, which is why he hasn't showed up yet. (maybe he's disputing a ticket charge with United? who knows...)
1.12.2007 5:18pm
Porkchop (mail):
The moving company moving day "add-on" is very common. They give you an estimate, and the they tell you that your load weighed more than anticipated. . . . And, they won't unload your stuff until you pay.

I take it you found a place in Arlington?
1.12.2007 5:21pm
ReVonna LaSchatze:
I'm not so sure about "service" but I do think in the past few years more people around here are trying to rip me off on little things. Is it a sign of the times? I hope it passes soon... it's a feeling of being taken advantage of, and it feels crude to me to have to argue back just for the bucks, but sometime you have to.
1.12.2007 5:21pm
donaldk2 (mail):
Global Warming may be responsible.
1.12.2007 5:22pm
Peter Shane (mail):
"Is this a trend?" Are you kidding?? Ask yourself how many businesses with which you deal actually provide a human being to answer the phone when you call. My favorite example, also involving Comcast, happened when I couldn't connect to their Internet service. I pressed 1 for English, and 2 for Internet service, and 1 (or 4 or who knows what) for inability to connect to the web, and got more or less the following message before a human answered: "You may be able to find the answer to your problem on our wonderful website, www.comcast-doesn't-know-the-meaning-of-irony.com." OK, I made up the web site name, but you get the idea.
1.12.2007 5:25pm
Enoch:
I have several service calls from contractors (heating, electricians) where I had to tell them how to do their damn jobs right. Terrifying.
1.12.2007 5:26pm
JonC:
Your experience pretty much tracks mine. Recently, I made the mistake of booking a flight through Expedia instead of directly through the airline. When I tried to change the flight so that I could leave from, and arrive in, a more convenient airport, it first took me at least 15 minutes on the phone before I actually spoke with a live person. I was then told that I could only switch to flights on the same airline that I had originally booked (United). This seemed fishy to me, so I asked the service rep to check on it. After about ten more minutes on hold, she returned, saying that I could change ONE leg of the flight to a different airline, but at least one leg would have to remain on United. I asked to speak to her supervisor. More violin music. The supervisor confirmed (eventually) the one-leg rule, and then informed me that if wanted to switch flights, I would have to pay a $30 fee (to Expedia) and a $130 fee (to United). Apparently, the "fee-waiver insurance" that I bought for $15 did not avail me, because I was not switching flights due to severe illness, hospitalization, or death. I will never, ever book anything through Expedia (or Orbitz, or Travelocity) again.
1.12.2007 5:31pm
Caliban Darklock (www):
I've had nothing but excellent experiences with Comcast. I don't know why; I certainly hear my share of horror stories, and I'm sure most of us have seen the YouTube video of the technician sleeping on the customer's couch. The only problem I ever had with them was when I cancelled my cable modem service.

When I called to cancel, they reluctantly agreed but didn't cancel the service. When I saw my next bill still had the cable modem service on it, I called, and they said the order to remove was on the account but it never got removed. They removed it. They amended my bill. They gave me a credit for my inconvenience.

Later, they tried to charge me $200 for the cable modem I had been issued; since a cable tech was coming out to install a new line anyway, we simply handed him the modem (along with all cables and connectors), and once again the bill was amended and a credit issued for the inconvenience.

I suppose I could complain about these two problems instead, painting it as an incompetent company trying to take my money, but that wouldn't be very honest. On each occasion, I made a phone call and they happily charged themselves $50 to fix their own mistake. Seems like a net win to me.

Of course, maybe it's because I have a $150 monthly bill before PPV. I don't just have cable, I have CABLE.
1.12.2007 5:33pm
gab:
You can't have "good" service and low prices. At least, not for the vast majority of goods and services. The two are mutually exclusive. Yet, that's what we all want.

Reconcile yourself to that fact, and then just bend over.
1.12.2007 5:35pm
Tyrel (mail):
The travel services are great but if you want flexibility you should stick with one particular airline and pay the extra money up front. You have to pay for flexiblity... the airlines up front the travel services on the back end.
1.12.2007 5:35pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Re: Comcast, we just had them take over from TimeWarner in my neck of the provinces, and the drop in service quality was quite noticeable. Which surprised me, b/c TW was not impressive. But Comcast was worse.

Basically, I have given up expecting anything of anyone who answers phones for a living, or who works for under $10/hr.
1.12.2007 5:39pm
r78:
DB

The moving company isn't guilty of bad service, they are guilty of fraud.

This is a common scam. In each of the 3 times that I last moved, the company tried to tack on additional charges while all of my belongings were on the truck. I guess that what happens is that they believe that people will go ahead and okay the BS charges and then never follow up afterwards.
1.12.2007 5:40pm
Gordo:
Professor Bernstein, I would note that ALL of your complaints involve private, profit-making corporations, not lazy government slackers. Anecdotal proof that private sector bureucracy can be even more incompetent than its public sector counterparts.
1.12.2007 5:45pm
David Krinsky (mail):
For what it's worth:

United doesn't announce it, and I'm not sure whether your situation would have let you take advantage of it, but their policy seems to be that anytime within 24 hours from the purchase of a ticket, you can get a full refund (and then rebook to your heart's content elsewhere).

A few months ago, I booked a nonstop (domestic) flight on United (through United's own website). A few minutes later, I realized that (1) the flight wouldn't give me a seat assignment, and thus appeared to be overbooked, and (2) for not much more money, I could fly on a flight with plenty of seats on a different airline, from a more convenient airport, and at a more convenient time.

I called United's reservation number--I think I followed the phone tree for "existing reservations"--and promptly got a human. (I don't know whether it helped or hurt that it was an odd time--late at night--in the U.S.; the phone rep had a noticeable Indian accent.)

Said human was able to cancel my whole reservation with no trouble; the refund processed promptly back to my credit card with no further action from me. I bought the other ticket on the other airline's website.

I was a satisfied customer both of the other airline and of United. Even with United, customer service experiences are not uniformly bad, it seems.
1.12.2007 5:46pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
I had an experience with, I believe, United. I wanted to change a flight, called the 800 number, wound up speaking to a person with a heavy accent who could not be convinced that 1 AM was at night and 1 PM in the day. They finally had to consult with a supervisor to confirm that I was right. And this person is booking reservations????
1.12.2007 5:47pm
Tony D'Amato (www):
A severe national recession is just a few months away. When it comes, you'll see a complete change of attitude. There will be great service with a smile everywhere you go.
1.12.2007 5:50pm
Kevin!:
Customer service has been the stereotypical 'easy place to cut discretionary spending' point for big corporations. I think the idea was that outsourcing and sophisticated technological solutions would adequately take the place of human beings.

I'm guessing that we're about to see the start of a backswing. Phone trees and internet FAQs have pretty much reached the limit of their usefulness, and there's a lot of dissatisfaction with customer service in internet land. Plus stuff like the 'Technician asleep on my couch' video points out the potentially big problem with poor service. So hopefully 'good customer service' will become a competitive selling point, and corporations will compete on the basis of it.
1.12.2007 5:53pm
Anthony A (mail):
Customer service started going downhill with the tech boom, and relatively smart, honest young people finding better paying jobs in other sectors - not just tech, but in other industries which were experiencing a boom. That left the customer service folks choosing employees from a pool which was more lazy, dumb, and dishonest than was previously the case, with the results you've experienced. The dishonest will have disproportionately ended up in customer service management, just to make things worse.

While one might have predicted that the increase in unemployment would have increased the pool of available employees, many people who lost higher-paying jobs found those jobs so much more rewarding than customer service that they'd rather do anything else; or they are much more choosy about the companies they work for now. And since many of those people now have experience that's more prestigious than customer service, it's easier for them to find non customer-service jobs.
1.12.2007 6:01pm
Splunge (mail):
Oh absolutely it's a trend. Just like the fact that today in Los Angeles it was 10 degrees colder than yesterday, and yesterday was 10 degrees colder than the day before, so tomorrow it should be 10 degrees colder still and in a week or so the carbon dioxide will start to freeze out of the atmosphere, thus solving the problem of global warming.

Maybe also you should ask yourself whether you've been willing to pay enough for products and services to cover the wages of the competent, trained, intelligent agents you want the company to keep on staff for you. Here you are willing to switch airlines because United charges $15 more for a ticket. Did you inquire about the quality of customer service from United vis-a-vis their $15-lower-price competitor before thinking the latter was a better deal? I'm kinda guessing not, not if you're like most modern Americans.

One hopes if you make your purchase decisions based pretty much solely on price that you are not super surprised when companies compete pretty much solely on price and let customer service go to hell. You get what you pay for. TANSTAAFL, as they say.
1.12.2007 6:07pm
John (mail):
David, David, David. Have you forgotten that you are a lawyer? The correct response to the movers is to pay, call headquarters, and ask for the name and address of their agent for the service of process. When they ask why, tell them that you want to know who to serve with your complaint. Say you are delaying a little trying to figure out whether a simple small claims court case is the way to go, or whether it's worth your time for the full class action treatment. Explain that it might be a fun exercise for your law school students to work on the proceeding. Anyway, could they please tell you who the agent for service of process is?
1.12.2007 6:08pm
Nobody's Home:
Movers? Prof. Bernstein, you didn't try to catch the falling knife did you? I know the discounts approching 20% in Loudon County (check MRIS, you doubters) are enticing, but surely you didn't believe Nat'l Assoc. of Realtors mouthpiece David Lereah when he said (for the third time spanning 9 months of 2006) that "We've reached the bottom".
1.12.2007 6:08pm
PersonFromPorlock:

Anyway, could they please tell you who the agent for service of process is?

That'll be "press nine." ;^)
1.12.2007 6:21pm
Shake-N-Bake (www):
Get Human is a nice site for customer service. Especially nice is their database of how to get past the automated trees and get to speak to a human
1.12.2007 6:24pm
Wacky Hermit (mail) (www):
I'm with a merchant services company that I literally could not get ahold of to ask a question. I'd call their merchant support number and be on hold for an hour, only to have the person who answered the phone tell me she didn't work for them (!) but that they had outsourced their excess call volume to her firm. The kicker was when after many hours on hold listening to a recording about their "award winning customer service" and calling at various times (all of which seemed to have "high call volume" if they weren't after hours or on weekends) and never being able to get ahold of one of their representatives, I went to their website to submit my question.

The form on their website HAD NO SUBMIT BUTTON. None. In either Firefox or IE.
1.12.2007 6:31pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
For the curious, I'm renting a townhouse in Ballston, having just returned from being away at visits at U. Michigan and Brooklyn Law School. I suspect that it won't be time to start looking until at least this Fall, but personal circumstances will make me start looking to buy this Spring.

As for cost-cutting, I didn't hire a cut-rate moving company, but a well-established major player. Speakeasy is a "premium" service, with charges to match. I didn't try to change my United ticket for $15, I tried to get them to refund the $15 as per their guarantee. And Comcast is a local cable monopoly. G
1.12.2007 6:33pm
Cornellian (mail):
My internet connection (Time Warner, recently taken over from Comcast) stopped working a few weeks ago. I've scheduled three repair appointments and so far they've got a perfect record - they didn't show up for any of them, nor did they even bother contact me to explain why they weren't showing up. I have a fourth appointment in about a week. If they don't show up for that one, I'll just give up and cancel the service.
1.12.2007 6:41pm
Pol Mordreth (mail):
Wow, I really feel for you, it seems to me to be just a run of bad luck. I absolutely love dealing with comcast, they are head and shoulders above the previous cable companies I dealt with. (Time warner, Adelphia, charter) However, that may be a factor of where I live. Comcast (here anyway) is all local. The call centre is less than 40 miles from my house, one county over. the techs are all local, and they make a decent buck being a 3rd party contractor for the cable company. I have never had to wait more than about 10 minutes to speak with a live body, and usually its less than 30 seconds from the last prompt to a real person who actually knows what theyre doing. they have dispatched techs at no charge, even when the problem was found to be with one of my devices. Suggestion: relocate to an area where people are genuinely nice and go from there.

FYI, having been a contract install tech, (for data, not cable) i just noticed why the 'moron' wanted to run the cable through the hallway. In many places it requires the OWNER's consent to damage interior walls to run cable. If you are renting, he may have been within his scope of contract to not cut into the walls.
Just a thought....
1.12.2007 6:49pm
tsotha:
DB,

Moving companies are something of a scam in general. The last time I moved with Allied I found that the people who pick up and deliver your stuff are fly-by-night contractors and not actually part of the company. So when I had a problem I called the original agent only to find there was nothing he could do because a different company was the source of the problem.

When I called the other company I couldn't reach anyone.

Anyway, my Dad, who was in the military and moved every three years, says moving companies have always been like that. He claims these companies are notorious for hiring ex-cons, and every move he ended with less property than he started.
1.12.2007 6:50pm
Ted F (www):
I've had similar experiences with the Comcast monopoly, who installed my cable wrong the first time, took seven months to figure out how to fix it, involving several missed appointments, cable outages, extensive time on hold, and a yet-to-be-corrected billing problem. That may well end up in small-claims court.

I've had good experiences with kayak.com for flight and hotel price searches. Terrible experiences with the three major on-line travel vendors, and also with hotels.com.

I'm flying United tomorrow, and went to log in to check in today. They offered me a $46 upgrade to get a few extra inches of leg room, and I was ready to take it, but their website flaked out, and when I logged on a second time, the option had disappeared. So they may have cost themselves $46, or perhaps they just sold the seat within the two minutes I was off line.

I was ready to spend several hundred dollars to upgrade my Cingular service to include internet and email, and they wanted to charge me a $30 upgrade fee. I refused out of principle, they wouldn't waive the fee, so I discovered that I didn't need a Treo after all, and Cingular has lost out on $800 in revenue and counting. A shame they have an iPhone monopoly.

I get good customer service from Southwest Airlines, from Amex, from Citibank (which wasn't always true), from Linksys, from Nordstrom, and from the guy who sells me suits. Apple's software update corrupted my girlfriend's Nano a few weeks ago, and they replaced it even though it was just out of warranty.

David: how much are you paying to rent? (A $/sq.ft. ratio is fine, if you're sensitive about that info.) I'm curious what the price-to-monthly-rent ratio in Ballston is these days.
1.12.2007 7:00pm
plunge (mail):
I'm sure, somehow, the Palestinians are to blame.
1.12.2007 7:06pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
$2,500 for a 1700 sq ft place a block from the Ballston Mall. We had a better deal for a SFH a bit further from the metro ($2,600 for 2,000 sq feet plus a basement, plus a garage), but the owner accepted a low ball bid the day we were supposed to sell the lease, and by then our options were limited. That was probably a $725k house, this is a $550K house.
1.12.2007 7:15pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
BTW, I had a terrible customer service experience with United (they dramatically changed my flight times and while they were willing to give me a refund, they weren't willing to rebook me on a different day) and swore I'd never fly them again, but they offer the only direct flight from D.C. to my destinatin, and besides it's been five years.
1.12.2007 7:17pm
Craig Oren (mail):
I have a friend who long worked in customer service. She liked doing it. The problem was that the companies didn't want to pay customer service representatives very much. So the people who do it tend to be the dregs. The companies evidently think that their customers would rather patronize a store with low prices and terrible service as opposed to slightly higher prices and better service. And they are right, given how well discount retailers do.
1.12.2007 7:23pm
DRJ (mail):
I think it may be a trend because the economy is booming in so many parts of the country and many businesses are overextended.

However, I also think you've had a real run of bad luck. My sympathies. Maybe you should play the lottery because it certainly sounds like you're due for some good luck.
1.12.2007 7:30pm
Nobody special:
When the revolution comes, the Comcast repair technicians will be the first against the wall.
1.12.2007 7:39pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
Any one working on the front line of customer service is almost certainly underpaid and improperly trained. If they can't resolve your issue in the first few minutes, ask to speak with their supervisor. Keep going up the chain of command until you reach someone who can get things done.
1.12.2007 7:49pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
Ever tried to get customer service from an attorney, who never seems to have the time or staff to update you on your case but your bill arrives likes clockwork on the 3rd of the month?

Customer service in nearly every industry is a joke. I expect that. What really angers me is when I get bad customer service from companies that act like you are lucky they decided to sell you their product. Your United example is why I fly only on Southwest. I have called them on several occasions, and fixed my issues within minutes. They never once acted like I was bothering them, and have even given me "courtesy" changes when I have asked, without charge.

And, as for Comcast, I have actually had good service from them here in New Mexico, to my utter surprise each time.
1.12.2007 7:55pm
Stork:
Maybe it's bad karma.
1.12.2007 8:09pm
Constantin:
Comcast is a complete joke. That's the extent of my analysis, but it's true.
1.12.2007 8:29pm
C:
When I moved from CA to WA, I found a mover through http://www.movingscam.com/, http://www.mooversinc.com, and they were great. Not only were there no hidden fees but since my load was less than estimated my move was cheaper than they said it would be.

Ah, Southwest. They infuriate me. They refuse to fly me where I want to go despite the fact that they fly there. I don't get it. All it would require is a layover in Houston and they do layovers in Houston but they still refuse. I even called to ask about it and no one could give me an answer about it except that they don't do that route.
1.12.2007 8:31pm
kehrsam (mail):
Having worked in both customer service and phone and online tech support, I can confirm that much of what has been said is true. Both are underpaid, and the training is a joke. If the call center is located in an economically-depressed area with a lot of reasonably-well educated young people (like where I live) you are likely to get excellent service. If not, well, good luck, you might just find the competent person in the building.

I have been outsourced four times in four years, however, even though the average pay in my departments has been @ $8.50/hr. As an earlier commenter noted, you get what you pay for.

I am truly surprised that no one has mentioned the alltime king of the poor service hit parade, AOL.
1.12.2007 8:34pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Another Comcast story.

My fiancee made an appointment to get 2 cable boxes put into our apartment. Her cell was the number they had, and as it happened, it was off when the guy came. He called and she did not pick up. Instead of ringing the doorbell, he just left. We were both home.

2 weeks later, he came again. He bitched and moaned the whole time, over the fact that we wanted 2 - greedy sonsa bitches! - cable boxes. That, I think, aggravated me more than his prior lazy idiocy. Duude! You put in cable boxes for an effing living! Ugghhh.
1.12.2007 8:47pm
Tom952 (mail):
I got a memo over a month ago at work that said if that Bernstein guy calls, give him the business. Everyone's pissed at you. You didn't know?
1.12.2007 8:48pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Oh, and the trick with movers is actually to do a cash move. They like it because they are scammers who dont pay taxes. You like it because while they own you on the front end, you own them on the back end.

My most recent argument with some movers, (who tried to literally double the price of the move at the end), finished with their boss hanging up on me and refusing any money altogether.
1.12.2007 8:53pm
Cornellian (mail):
Many times I have wondered why there isn't a high cost alternative. There are lots of relatively affluent people around (many of the posters here, for starters) who probably wouldn't think twice about paying $70 per month instead of $50 per month for internet service that was always reliable and that could always get you a repair person within 24 hours who could come to your house on a weekday evening (so you don't waste a weekend waiting for them), fix your problem and explain to you what he did. Aren't there enough such customers around to support some kind of premium service?
1.12.2007 9:32pm
s806:
I recently bought a Dell Laptop for law school. It is of the XPS variety which comes with technical support based in the U.S.

It is so refreshing to talk to someone named Rob, believing him, and it not being 1 of 12 syllables of an abbreviated or fraudulent name.

A Linksys Tech support guy recently asked me if I was single, whether I liked to travel, and if I had any pets, while he was typing in my information.

"Hi this is Johnathan number 8043211, thanks for calling"
1.12.2007 10:16pm
Eli Rabett (www):
You ask: Has Customer Service in the U.S. Really Gone to Hell?

This question contains a false assumption and is thus invalid. There is no customer service in the US, it has been offshored.
1.12.2007 10:24pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Travelocity is off my Rolodex (tm).

I booked an international flight through them on both Virgin and BMI. Within 24 hours, I learned that the people I needed to meet on the other end would no longer be available at the scheduled time of my visit.

Calling Travelocity, I was informed that my ticket was not changeable, not refundable, and the only thing I could do was to book again at full fare.

Calling both Virgina and BMI, I was told that this was a problem of Travelocity's creation. They permit the change, but cannot do a change until Travelocity 'releases' the financial information. They do that only within 24 hours of departure, making it functionally impossible for the airlines to make the changes themselves.

I ended up eating the fare, rebooking directly with BMI and Virgin (at a lower rate than Travelocity was offering anyway). But Travelocity is the loser as they have utterly lost all my business, private and commercial, for all time.

Other than a failure to show to install at the first appointment, COMCAST has been okay by me. Sure, the service calls for Internet are routed to India or Bangladesh, but I can figure out what's being said easily enough.
1.12.2007 10:26pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
On United Airlines, if you press too hard for everything, they will cry security and threaten to throw you in jail. Seriously, the time of their machines is worth alot less than your time. So yes, you can get your 15 dollars back, but it will cost you at least ten times that much in hearache and misery. Why would you expect anything different?

On the moving company, it looks like your problem is not with their service, but with how much they are charging you. Two different issues.

On Comcast, two times they didn't show up. That was better service than when they actually did show up. Get Direct TV and count your blessings.

Actually, compared to 25 years ago, the cable companies offer pretty good service nowadays. It used to be that they would tell you they would show up sometime between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., and then not show up. Now they tell you they will arrive somewhere between 9a.m. and noon before not showing up. That frees up a half day.
1.13.2007 12:06am
stan (mail):
we were all supposed to have fiber optic by now.
1.13.2007 12:08am
SlimAndSlam:
C:


Ah, Southwest. They infuriate me. They refuse to fly me where I want to go despite the fact that they fly there. I don't get it. All it would require is a layover in Houston and they do layovers in Houston but they still refuse. I even called to ask about it and no one could give me an answer about it except that they don't do that route.



Are you a victim of the Wright Amendment? (Does that even still apply?) I'd be interested in knowing your attempted itinerary.
1.13.2007 12:16am
Rick Rockwell:
Comcast recently took over for Time Warner in my area and immediately nixed one of my favorite channels from standard basic, American Movie Classics. They're wearing out their welcome quickly.
1.13.2007 12:20am
James968 (mail):
On United: Call back an ask for the email for the Vice President in Charge of Customer Experience (they actually call it that). Her name is Barbara Higgins. It won't go directly to her, but will go to someone in her office.
1.13.2007 12:40am
Jeremy:
I used to do tech support for a telecom company while I was in college. To this day, I think they had/have the best tech support in the industry.

I was doing 1st tier tech support on consumer ISDN modems, and every one of my coworkers were junior/senior computer engineering students. Kind of overkill for that kind of job, but we usually fixed problems the first time.

Here's some advice from someone who's been on the other end:

1. In most cases, the person on the other end of the phone knows less than you do. If your problem isn't fixed in a few minutes, you might as well give up.
2. If you're one of those aforementioned affluent people (or a not-so-affluent person who's frustrated), look on craigslist for poor engineering students selling their skills to make tuition. I did general computer repair/networking all four years in undergrad for 15/hour, and I actually felt guilty at the time for charging so much. College students tend to underestimate their abilities and how much they're worth.
3. If you find one of these college students, shower them with praise and tip them well, and they will be your personal slave. I had one customer who consistently tipped me an extra $20 (usually the bill was like $40) and I would have driven out to help him at 2am after that.

Of course 1 year out of college, I realized how crappy consultants are and raised my rate to $75/hour :)
1.13.2007 12:48am
James968 (mail):
Oops, Barbara Higgins doesn't start til the 22 of Jan.
1.13.2007 12:50am
JB:
It's a combination of:

1) Idiots in customer service
2) Customer service drones forced to stick to the company script
3) Lousy company policies designed to screw anyone who's not very persistent

Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence; never attribute to either what can be attributed to profit-seeking.
1.13.2007 1:20am
steve (mail):
Before anyone makes a move, he or she should go to
http://www.movingscam.com -- can't say enough good things about this site.
1.13.2007 7:17am
GMU Alum:
Sounds like you live in the big city. We try and do it better out in the sticks...

As a former resident of NYC and, more recently, Arlington, VA, (I graduated from GMU LA but failed, alas, to take any class by Prof. Bernstein) and now of a small town in the South, I do believe that the urban environment has much to do with it.
1.13.2007 8:15am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Ahh, the breakdown of libertarian fantasy world where we realize that in the never ending drive for profits and the bottom line companies will ruthlessly cut those things that don't yield immediate benefits to the bottom line. Thus, customer service goes down the toilet as staffs are cut, pay, benefits, and job security go out the window and employees feel absolutely no loyalty to the company and could care less whether or not their company does well (because they rightly perceive their employer could care less about them).

and now of a small town in the South, I do believe that the urban environment has much to do with it.

Until WalMart comes to town. And then customer service will be every bit as crappy as it is everywhere else.
1.13.2007 9:36am
Virginian:
David, the wife and I moved out to Falls Church a year ago and, last spring, Verizon built out their fiber optic network to our area. We were among the first sign-ups and have had nothing but good things to say since. Not only are our television, phone and blazing-fast Internet access, together, costing us about 2/3 what they all cost before, the television channel selection is excellent (the only one I sometimes miss from Cox is NASA TV).

The hidden bonus came when we have had the occasional glitch or question: fantastic customer service. It's available all (or nearly all) hours and staffed with knowledgeable, helpful, fluent English-speaking staffers. I don't know if it's available in Ballston yet, but if not it probably will be soon, and I suggest giving it a try.
1.13.2007 9:37am
ReVonna LaSchatze:
That's the real b*tch of it, eh?

As smart and successful and flush with money as some are, they just can't convert that money into happiness with their products and services. You don't own the things, the thing own you.

Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat because you're less and less independent than the man who has a little less but can meet his own needs. Ususally this man gets to spend more time with family too, and is in better physical shape but I digress...

"You just can't find good help these days." lol

I suspect your attitude when dealing with customer service folks can be smelt a mile away, and is not rewarded. When you always think you're getting one up on somebody (the first rental that backed out and sold), people respond in turn. They don't want to do you any favors, because you think you're entitled.
1.13.2007 9:43am
ReVonna LaSchatze:
THe best way to get good service from others

"Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you." or "Treat another person doing their job as you would want to be treated if it was your child doing the job"

I suspect if you think of your daughter, how you'd talk and phrase your requests to her, you will see better service in return from those you are working with. No really... try it. Or live with diminishing returns on your investment.
1.13.2007 9:47am
David Sucher (mail) (www):
I also had a horrible experience with Speakeasy but I found its tech back-up also very poor and it couldn't solve the problem. Then they were jerks about cancellation -- even though the problem was purely technical i.e. bad service to the point of not beingt usable in a business context. Ugh.

But that is anj exception and in general I thnk that customer service has improved over the years, partly in response to the work of "the good Ralph Nader" and then to simple self-interest by business.
1.13.2007 10:25am
Yogi (mail):
Ahh, ReVonna, the "blame the victim" mentality went out a few years ago. You didn't get the memo?

I have made it a practice to be BEYOND polite, sensitive etc. and my customer experience mirros the general drift of the comments. (19! appointments to solve the issue of why the cable cards didn't work? Maybe because NOONE set them up properly? Ya think?)

If customer service were only spottily bad, I would ascribe some of it to reactions by overwhelmed CS reps. But the ubiquity of poor service makes it obvious that there is something else going on.
1.13.2007 11:37am
DavidBernstein (mail):
ReVonna, your comment suggests that I'm not only a rude person, but too stupid to feign niceness when dealing with customer service. That's not very polite of you!
1.13.2007 11:38am
Parvenu:
Hmm. I think part of this perception is that people remember the horror stories more than they remember the 15-minute call that got everything sorted out, or the technician who arrived on time and had everything he needed in his van.

It's also worth noting that not all customer service reps are created equal. I had a bad incident with Bank of America a couple of months back, called one customer service representative and got a complete run-around, eventually got fed up and broke off the call with her, called back again and got a different representative who had everything taken care of in 15 minutes.

Also, to those making an urban/rural distinction here: the Internet is basically ageographic, so for online services, that shouldn't make any difference. Likewise, most call centers are centralized. I think the corporation in question, not the location of the customer, explains a lot more, despite the variance in service levels between individual representatives at the same company.
1.13.2007 11:39am
smartalek (mail) (www):
Your customer service is perfect as is. It must be so, since the invisible hand of the marketplace always ensures the most efficient deployment of resources and distribution of goods and services. If your customer service were not the perfection that it is, then all the customers such as yourself would already have switched suppliers. (It is cleary a given, of course, that in all industries, there is a veritable plethora of purveyors from which to choose, with perfect information access on the part of yourself and all other consumers, and no barriers to entry for entrepreneurs.) That you have not done so demonstrates your satisfaction with your experiences.
If your perceptions are to the contrary, you are simply wrong.... Unless of course there is governmental regulation of any of the industries with which you've been interacting. Regulation is by definition a distortion of the free market, and clearly any problems you may be having are attributable thereto.
If you had always voted Republican, as you were instructed, such interference in the market would never exist, and your life as a consumer would be even more perfect than it already is.
I trust that you have learned your lesson for the day, and will adjust your voting behaviors accordingly in the future. If you have any questions, or need further information, please dial 1.800.URA.PEON, or visit our website, www.suckitup.com.
1.13.2007 11:52am
David W. Hess (mail):
Given that the problem you describe with Speakeasy sounds like a customer relations breakdown on their part, keep in mind that with various DSL companies and depending on the area, the ISP (Speakeasy in this case) has to deal with both the company provisioning the line (Covad?) and the phone company maintaining the local infrastructure. Given three different companies it is very easy to fall into the "you need to contact the other company to resolve this issue" trap and the local phone companies are not known for going out of their way to help what they consider to be a competitor to their own ISP. Tales of inadvertent sabotage are legion. I would actually rate Speakeasy one of the better companies in this regard but they are often at the mercy of others.

When I positively diagnosed a hardware failure of my own DSL line involving faulty wiring between me and the local office, my only recourse was to persistently go through Earthlink technical support daily for a week until the problem was escalated to the local phone company for repair. By the time action was taken, I was just past the planning stage to make the intermittent failure spectacularly permanent in a way that would leave no doubt about its condition and where the fault lay.
1.13.2007 12:02pm
Don K (mail):
I'm astounded nobody has mentioned MCI (or any other phone company) in this thread.

In '05, my phone had an intermittent problem with receiving calls. People who called would hear it ringing, but none of the phones in the house would ring. Eventually the problem went from intermittent to constant.

After doing some checks on my own to confirm the problem was outside of the house, I called MCI and was connected to the Indian call center. Explained the problem thoroughly and was told a tech would check it out. Tech came and went without attempting to contact us occupants. Problem still there.

Called MCI again and had to explain problem from the start (don't they make notes on the screen at the call center?). Repeat process for two months, at one time being told one tech had closed the ticket when he called the number and heard it ringing, despite the fact that I had said callers heard the ringing while I didn't.

Finally received a call at work from a manager in the U.S. who had the problem fixed the same day. Accepted reversal of two months of charges and kept the name and number of the manager.
1.13.2007 12:09pm
elliottg (mail) (www):
These are mainly not customer service issues.

1. I didn't read your post so can't comment.
2. You didn't want customer service, you wanted $15.
3. For $972, you could have gotten exactly what you wanted.
4. You are a renter. Cable installation requires drilling holes. Does your lease allow that or were you planning on defrauding your landlord?
5. Alcon did not prohibit you from using the purchased product.

The only customer service case was the cable installation where you wanted service that Comcast was willing to provide, but you refused because of you didn't like the offer. Maybe after reviewing the situation, they decided that they didn't want you for a customer.
1.13.2007 12:21pm
SP:
The gloating by the big government commies who drive by on this site is amusing. Because, as we all know, as bad as Comcast is, the DMV is obviously better.
1.13.2007 12:54pm
The River Temoc (mail):
Are you a victim of the Wright Amendment? (Does that even still apply?) I'd be interested in knowing your attempted itinerary.

I was about to suggest the same thing, but then I noticed that he said he was trying to fly from Houston Hobby, not Dallas Love Field. The Wright Amendment applied only to Dallas Love Field.

Most of the relevant provisions were abolished in late 2006, incidentally.
1.13.2007 12:59pm
elliottg (mail) (www):
I have never asked for a refund from the DMV. The DMV sends me a clear bill two months before my registration is due. They allow for online, in person, or by mail reregistration. They send me another notice the month it is due. If I fail to do it in time, they send me a reminder with the increased abmount due to late fees. If I pay the amount due then the registration is automatically recorded and I have always received my sticker. If I need to smog, I don't have to go anywhere, but the service facility. All of it costs me money, but the DMV does exactly what they are supposed to do. They and their website has got to be a 8 or 9/10 for customer service in my personal experience. The whining of the Libertarians is amazing.
1.13.2007 1:08pm
Guest3000:
DB: Why is it important that someone speak "English in the American vernacular"? Isn't it enough that they speak good English? Is it that their accents are too thick for you to understand?
1.13.2007 1:24pm
ChuckC (mail):
C, and The River Temoc:

I would bet "C" was in fact a victim of the Wright Amendment. "C" mentioned a layover at Houston, not an origination, so I would bet his original start was at Dallas (Love), and from wiki (grain of salt and all that)
"For example, a person could fly from Dallas to Houston or New Orleans, change planes, and then fly to any city Southwest served — although he or she had to do so on two tickets in each direction, as the Wright Amendment specifically barred airlines from issuing tickets that violate the law's provisions, or from informing customers that they can purchase multiple tickets that would allow this." which would explain "C"'s comment that "I even called to ask about it and no one could give me an answer about it except that they don't do that route"

Parts of the Wright Amendment are still in place. Southwest cannot provide non-stop service from Dallas (Love) to areas outside the "Wright Zone" until 2014.
1.13.2007 1:43pm
ReVonna LaSchatze:
ReVonna, your comment suggests that I'm not only a rude person, but too stupid to feign niceness when dealing with customer service. That's not very polite of you!

DavidBernstein: Lol. I don't know how to break it to ya buddy, but ... they tell me those service folks can actually pick up on the "feigning" part. Lol. Can you believe it?

See ... the "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" thing? It only works when you're being GENUINE. Practice in front of the mirror. Practice with your friends. Do that little role playing exercise (genuinely!) replacing the service worker's face with your daughter's in a few years... Then come back and tell me if you truly get better service.

(Remember, you can't cheat your way through this with the "feigning". Lol.)
1.13.2007 1:46pm
3L 5000:
I had a terrible experience with a moving company. So bad that I am reluctant to ever move again. Is there any prophylactic measure or anything one can do to make the experience less awful?
1.13.2007 1:53pm
Jason in TX07:
Southwest not offering connections through Houston-Hobby may be part of some agreement (official or otherwise) with Continental, which operates a hub at Houston-Intercontinental.

Strictly a guess...
1.13.2007 2:19pm
Aleks:
Re: You can't have "good" service and low prices. At least, not for the vast majority of goods and services. The two are mutually exclusive.

Maybe that's true, but with Comcast Cable you get high prices and poor service. My story: two months ago my online payment to Comcast glitched somehow. I was not notified of this; instead my cable was turned off and I was charged a bounced check fee. After spending an hour on hold, a pleasant young lady told me all I had to do was bring in a statement from my bank saying it was not my fault and my account had adequete funds on the day of the EFT glitch (in other words, I did not bounce a check). Went in in person to do so, but had to deal with a royal jerk who repeatedly refused to honor this deal. Finally he made a great show of phoning his supervisor with whom he spoke for a long time, before agreeing to waive the fee, and then lectured me on the need to be financially responsible.
As for incompetent technicians not keeping appointments, there are some people at the Time Warner office in Canton OH who hope never to speak with me again after I dealt first with a tech who was barely capable of plugging in a toaster, and then four other appointments were missed altogether.

Re: Southwest and Houston
If you are trying to fly to Dallas there is, believe it or not, a law which does not allow anyone to fly into Love Field (Southwest's Dallas airport) from anywhere outside states continguous with Texas, and that includes connecting flights.

Travelocity:
Actually had good luck with them when my aunt's funeral had to be postponed a day and they agreed
to chance the reservation with just a $5 booking fee.

On my bad list though: AOL customer service. Someone in India also hopes never to talk to me after he utterly refused to listen to me, but insisted on reading from a canned script (and could not even understand the problem, let alone resolve it.) Also, Expedia, after they botched their system a reservation (it booked the return flight the day before the outgoing fight!) and they refused to believe their system could possibly make a mistake like that despite the evidence in front of their faces. And finally Uhaul, who were unable to honor a reservation I made: their "just in time" system should be called "Maybe, maybe not".

On my good list: Suntrust Bank. Anytime I have had any sort of banking problem, even when they were not the cause of it, they have fallen all over themselves to resolve it.
Oh, and re: DMVs-- since they went online I have had suprisingly good service from them, in Michigan and Florida both.
1.13.2007 2:49pm
fffff:
This is an interesting thread. If I polled VC readers, I imagine consumer class action attorneys would rate lower than garbage men in the vast majority of their minds. But they feel free to complain just as much about systematically bad customer service, and/or inane, unfair, unconscionable, or outright fraudulent company policies, but begrudge people actually doing something about it.
1.13.2007 2:49pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Why is it important that someone speak "English in the American vernacular"? Isn't it enough that they speak good English? Is it that their accents are too thick for you to understand?

Gee, wasn't it just the other day you were all extolling the virtues of globalization and telling all those poor saps whose jobs had been outsourced to India or Malaysia to get over it and that everybody benefits from call centers staffed by people who barely speak English, make a sixth of what people do in this country, and work longer hours at odd times and are unfamiliar with our customs and culture just so the CEO can make an extra $5 million this year (or Steve Jobs can backdate his stock options).
1.13.2007 3:22pm
A.G. (mail):
I was going to write from my litany of complaints against many of the companies that have been mentioned here (and my still do so with one), but I decided to go to the other side.

Any Visa card: When I call the numbers on the backs of my Visa cards, I get great customer service. Many may not know this, but they will help you out A GREAT DEAL when you have problems with vendors. A mechanic put in a defective alternator when my truck broke down. The alternator went out a couple months later and I again had to get the car towed and fixed. The original mechanic refused to help me AT ALL and used the typical mechanic bullying to try to intimidate me. The credit card company worked to reimburse me the charges of repairing and towing the second time (presumably at the expense of the jerk mechanic). I have had a couple situations like this and if I get a bad product now with an uncooperative company, I immediately call Visa. I have also started putting nearly all major purchases on credit simply because of the customer service.

Amazon.com: The best customer service possibly on the planet. Every issue with them has been resolved either by e-mail or phone with a real live human being!! And (flashback time) at least once, they significantly expedited my items for no charge when there had been a problem. Now if they could just figure out that some people in this day and age still have P.O. boxes AND physical addresses and have their shippers send it to the applicable address, we'd really be in business.

Wells Fargo: I know a lot of people have their complaints about them, but I usually get what I want from them. This goes for the aforementioned credit card companies, but I do not ever remember paying any sort of late/overdraft/minimum balance/interest fee. While some are maddening simply because they shouldn't be there in the first place, others have been serious mistakes on my part. But I've found that they have been very helpful in erasing these.

In the end, Yes sometimes it takes a couple calls and Yes some things shouldn't go wrong in the first place, but the level of satisfaction that I have had with these companies means I am willing to be a customer of all 3 for life (and that's saying a lot at 21) unless and until something fairly egregious happens.
1.13.2007 4:17pm
A.G. (mail):
Part II here is a serparate thought. Though I see some ridicule above of the free market system (see smartalek), I still am a fairly firm believer in its abilities. I think that what is necessary for a lot of us to do is to tell these companies that we demand customer service. We can do this easily by being the elusive (perhaps now extinct) loyal customer. If you like how they handle your problems don't go save $5 somewhere else. I noticed a few people above talking about their airline preference or their refusal to use travelocity, et al. If people stuck to this philosophy instead of just bitching when something with their low-fare whatever goes wrong and there's no one around to help them, then things would get better fast. I realize it's different (and many of the above cases fall into this category) when a posted advertizement or promise is not upheld. But many like travelocity simply stick to their stated (and fairly well known) stringent policies. I noticed that Travelocity has lately made the warnings fairly obvious that there are fees associated with just about anyth change. If you can't deal with that, don't shop there. And I also realize that many times you don't have a choice in certain industries. If there is only one cable company in an area or every moving company is fraudulent, then there's not much you can do except live without there services until something better comes along.
1.13.2007 4:39pm
Public_Defender (mail):
When I worked in the private sector, I treated my employer's customers with the same amount of respect that my employer treated me. If my employer treated me as disposable, I treated the customers that way.

The worst one was a fast food chain at which I worked between high school and college. I would block off a day, come in, and a few minutes later be told that they weren't busy enough and that I should go home. They nickeled and dimed us in other ways. For example, they wanted me to pay for a name badge and were surprised when I said it wasn't worth the money to me. I treated the customers the same way. It helped that I knew that my time with the employer was capped at three months.

Part of the problem is that companies no longer show loyalty to their employees, so employees reciprocate. In "the good ol' days," more people stayed with a company for life. That mixed the employees' interests with their company's interests. Now, employees know that they can be fired during even a short downturn.

Call center employees (the real subject of this post) know that their employement is short. They know they are disposable. They also know that they can get another low-wage job at the drop of the hat. So why care?

Now that I'm in the government sector, it's clear that my first duty is to my clients, not my employer or my immediate supervisors. I think many government employees feel the same way. And that's one reason why the DMV works better than AOL.
1.13.2007 4:55pm
Ellen:
I had such a bad experience with Verizon that I ended up getting my telephone service from Comcast, and my experience -- so far -- has been excellent with them. But I had no idea how bad the telephone situation is now.

Apparently, according to current FCC regs, the phone company is responsible only for providing a dial tone at the "interface" between their wires and the customer's wiring. If you live in a single family house, there's no problem. Either you or your electrician can hook you up to an interface you can reach. But I moved into a condo community that has multiple buildings, and the phone wires, like everything else, run undergroud from building to building. The phone company interface is in another building hundreds of yards away from my unit. They tell me there's a fine dial tone over there. But, I want a dial tone in my apartment, not over there. "Not our problem," says Verizon.

The condo board says that it is Verizon's responsibility. I checked the old offering statement from many years back, and it is very detailed in stating that the association is responsible for all the shared water mains, sewer lines, electical mains, etc., but says that the phone company provides phone service. But that offering was made back in the dark ages before the AT&T breakup. It looks like a situation where no one is responsible, which is probably the way everyone wants it.

The Comcast phone works fine, but costs a lot since I don't get cable TV (I don't even own a TV set.) And the worst of it is that you need a Verizon phone to open the gate to the community when someone is coming to see you, so I have to run out there myself and do it because I can't get anyone to take responsibility for making a phone available to me.
1.13.2007 5:16pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
You see, I don't bother posting my bad experiences with government customer service (I've had two recently) because complaining will do absolutely nothing. If enough people complain about private companies this will tarnish their reputations, which will lead them to either reform or die. No matter how much the world complains about, say, the USPS, it isn't going anywhere, and has relatively little incentive to reform so long as it has a monopoly on first class mail.
1.13.2007 6:09pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Customer service at a DMV? I've seen horror stories from CA DMV service that would have gotten a private company sued into Chapter 7 - including their issuance of a second pink slip to an alleged new owner of a motor vehicle purely on his say-so that it had been transferred to him (He came in with a letter from himself stating that he bought it from his exgirlfriend and that she had lost the pink slip. They gave him a new one in his name.). They then took the position (in court) that there can be two valid pink slips in the names of different owners on the same vehicle. I've also had experience with them cashing a check for registration fees and refusing to send out registration tags because "you never paid". The check had the VIN number and license plate number written prominently on it.

There are good and bad people in customer service in every field - and there are pleasant and rude people in the same fashion (and sometimes it seems that there's no correlation between attitude and knowledge). I find that it generally pays to hang up if I'm dealing with a customer service rep who is clueless (or whose accent is incomprehensible). The next one will probably be better.

Outsourcing to India does not seem to have changed the overall customer service experience much for me - and I deal for customer service mainly with ISL and internet companies. There are more frequent language problems (although I don't miss deciphering Mississippi drawls), but the attitude is better overall.

Nick
1.13.2007 6:18pm
ReVonna LaSchatze:
You see, I don't bother posting my bad experiences with government customer service (I've had two recently) because complaining will do absolutely nothing. If enough people complain about private companies this will tarnish their reputations, which will lead them to either reform or die. No matter how much the world complains about, say, the USPS, it isn't going anywhere, and has relatively little incentive to reform so long as it has a monopoly on first class mail.

I wonder if it would be helpful, DB, to post on the positive customer service experiences you have had, where you really felt you were getting satisfaction on what you were paying for.

If you are correct about publicizing the negative experiences in private industry, to help them improve or die, would publicizing those really positive experiences help to also get the word out? Unless your point is that recently, you haven't had many of those to offset the negatives you experienced in travel and the moving experience?
1.13.2007 7:25pm
Pender:
Just charge everything to your credit card and then contest the charges. In my experience, CC companies are very willing to listen to you and always speak English. You explain what the situation was over the phone, they freeze the charge (or refund it if you've already paid it) pending resolution. Then you send in your documentation and the burden is on the other party to prove that you're wrong.

I agree with you about customer service generally. If I have to hold on the phone for more than ten minutes to get through to them, if they don't resolve the problem immediately, or if they expect me to float them the balance while they begin an investigation of unspecified length, I hang up and go straight to the CC company. It works out great.
1.13.2007 7:28pm
Joe Zekas (mail) (www):
If you want better service from airlines, book directly on their sites rather than through Expedia or Travelocity.

Do your best to concentrate your business on one airline and achieve elite status. American, in my experience, delivers fabulous, over-the-top service to its elite flyers. United also does well by its frequent flyers. Southwest is a pleasure for everyone. Stick with a major airline and, over time, your fares will be comparable to if not cheaper than discount airlines on many routes and you'll earn some great perks.
1.13.2007 7:51pm
Why Be So Negative? (mail):
ReVonna,

As someone who self-professes the virtue of the "do unto others rule", I would think your comments on Volokh threads would be less (at least apparently) sardonic and snarky. Maybe you market yourself on Volokh threads as a "common sense" person and think those who don't (i.e., other posters, e.g., DB) share your opinion are ivory tower idiots and are missing the simplicity of your view. Maybe you don't. Regardless, to me, your tone smacks of arrogance and barely hidden disrespect. I would hope someone thinking the same about me would let me know the same. No need to respond.
1.14.2007 12:42am
jstaut (mail):
Dealing with customer service agents over the phone can be a real headache. I've had numerous negative experiences with CS centers and in each case I was left feeling frustrated without any way to press my claims. However, I recently came across a new and free service intended to empower consumers by offering a set of feature intended to make companies accountable for their poor customer service.

The service is called 321-CALL-LOG and it allows users to automatically record, authenticate, and notarize telephone and email conversations they have with customer service representatives. In order to be legally compliant the service announces to the agent every 3 minutes that the call is being recorded. When a call has been completed users are able to retrieve and email their calls to customer services reps through the website. In this way 321-CALL-LOG gives consumers a systematic way to make customer service reps accountable for what they say or promised to consumers.

Checkout the site at:
www.321calllog.com

Currently the service is on invitation only bases but you can request a BETA account and expect to receive an invitation.

Hope the tip helps!

Regards,

James S.
1.14.2007 1:18am
Public_Defender (mail):
I haven't had to wait more than a few minutes at a DMV in years. Lines at the post office have been reasonable. By contrast, unless I am home when FedEx delivers (which I rarely am), they just leave a note. Then, I have to drive to their airport location and wait in a huge line.
1.14.2007 4:53am
markm (mail):
Ellen: It seems to me that your main problem is with the condo management, not the phone company. In most, if not all, places the phone companies do offer service plans for the interior wiring. Thus, homeowners can get the old-fashioned service all the way to the handset - if they pay for it. An apartment or condo might be a bit more tricky, since wiring work does involve getting inside walls, etc., which requires permission from the building management. (IIRC, this was a problem even back in the days when the phone company owned your handset and the phone wires inside the building.) Also, it's probably impractical for them to service your wires and not the other units' wires.

And finally, did anyone notice what phone service, cable service, airlines, and David's eyedrops have in common? They're all highly regulated by the government. You can get terrible service from the free market too, but it's much easier to find a better alternative if the government isn't forcing all the competitors to fit the same mold. Just don't expect to get good service and cheap service at the same place...
1.14.2007 7:48am
barracuda:
Customer service sucks! I recently purchased a cell phone for which I was promised a $150.00 refund. I dutifully sent in the refund request with all the required documents and waited. The company's website showed that it received the refund and was processing it. Supposedly, I would receive it in four weeks. Fast forward to twelve weeks later . . . I had been on the phone numerous times with various company representatives (obviously living in South Asia) who repeated the mantra of "your check will be issued in five, ten or fourteen days" (and, I love you and . . . well, you know). At the end of every phone, the rep asked: Have we solved your problem? Hell no! Finally, after spending many billable hours (probably worth 20 times the actual refund), I had had it . . . particulary after some idiot told me that humans don't write the checks, the SYSTEM does. I found the names of the CEO, CFO, VP/Director of Customer Relations and some other poobah and the corporate address. I wrote a scathing letter, on my firm letterhead, and copied the state consumer protection agency, the FCC and the Better Business Bureau. Two days later, I received a call from corporate headquaters who told me my check was being mailed that day fed ex. The next day, I received the check as well as credit for the next month's service. I no longer spend hours trying to resolve issues. A company has a couple of chances to make it right; thereafter, the letter gets sent. This is probably why lawyers have a bad reputation.
1.14.2007 7:59am
ReVonna LaShatze (mail):
As someone who self-professes the virtue of the "do unto others rule", I would think your comments on Volokh threads would be less (at least apparently) sardonic and snarky. Maybe you market yourself on Volokh threads as a "common sense" person and think those who don't (i.e., other posters, e.g., DB) share your opinion are ivory tower idiots and are missing the simplicity of your view. Maybe you don't. Regardless, to me, your tone smacks of arrogance and barely hidden disrespect. I would hope someone thinking the same about me would let me know the same. No need to respond.

Maybe if there were more contrary opinions, there would be more solutions?

Maybe my voice of "common sense" would not seem so annoying -- or ring of such perceived "condescencion" if it were not so rare, and also so true?

I thought DB was kidding -- honestly -- with his crack at "feigning" niceness to customer service reps. Did you ever try -- honestly -- to view things through a service-person's lens? No. And most of the folks posting here are elite professionals, nothing wrong with that.

But if you ask a question about why a restaurant won't gladly supply you with a aspirin, or wonder aloud why you are noticing so many customer service slights -- then as men, you should be prepared for honest answers.

You know what: I would want someone to point out to me that "feigning" niceness may just be at the root of the problem. Perhaps to prod me to further examine my social biases, and lack of awareness of cultural norms in the aspirin questions.

I am sorry if this caused hurt feelings, that my honest answer may have seriously been viewed as "impolite". But why not think through the substance. Again, try out the method I suggested above DB and others who are seeking better experiences interacting with workers. If you really want a better solution and aren't in it just to "feign" niceness toward those you might feel ill disposed toward.

No need to respond, though I'm not telling anybody how to think. You seem to be the ones with the problems and questions asked publically...
1.14.2007 8:17am
Public_Defender (mail):
I thought DB was kidding -- honestly -- with his crack at "feigning" niceness to customer service reps. Did you ever try -- honestly -- to view things through a service-person's lens? No. And most of the folks posting here are elite professionals, nothing wrong with that.

They approach should be respect, not "niceness." If you treat anyone with respect, you are more likely to get a positive reaction. You can be both justifiably upset and respectful of customer service people. Feigning nicness is just patronizing.
1.14.2007 11:28am
Tom952 (mail):
a) GOOD, FAST, and CHEAP are mutually exclusive service categories.

b) If you are over 18, you should know that when you do business with ComCast, you will get screwed. Buyer beware.
1.14.2007 1:16pm
anonassociate:
I'm still finding it interesting that you paid $2500 to rent a 1700 Sq. foot townhouse (2 BR or 3? If 3, must be a tight fit) behind the Harris Teeter; if indeed the Arlington RE market has crashed, as you seem to keep claiming, you overpaid.
1.14.2007 1:56pm
Houston Lawyer:
I ordered my new TV from Amazon.com and HD satellite service from DirecTV on December 15. The TV came in 5 days and the delivery guys were great. The first attempt at an install for the new satellite dish was on the 29th. My wife stayed home. They sent someone without the ladder necessary for the install, although they admitted that the service order specifically said that I live in a 3 storey house. We had three follow-up attempts the following week, with DirecTV a no-show every time. I finally stopped calling. On Friday last week I received a pre-recorded message noting that I hadn't scheduled an install.

Clearly, the unemployment rate is too low.
1.15.2007 10:50am
randal (mail):
We probably need more deregulation. The market will fix customer service. :P
1.15.2007 8:38pm
Kim M. (www):
I am surprised no one posted this link to Verizon Cellular customer service. Handily illustrates how poor customer service and poor education go hand-in-hand. This is a wonderful reaffirmation of my decision to home school and avoid a Math Trailblazers constructivist curriculum at my local public school.
1.15.2007 10:42pm
Kenvee:
I had a bad experience with Comcast too. I was moving, so I called to have my service disconnected at the old place and connected at the new one on March 24th. Sure enough, a few days later on February 24th, my service was disconnected. I called in that day and was told there was just a service problem in my area. They repeated that for two days, until someone finally said, "No, we disconnected your service at your request." It took calling in almost every day for the next three weeks to get it settled. I tried every customer service trick I've ever heard of -- I was polite, I told the CS reps I knew it wasn't their fault personally but I needed it fixed, I asked for supervisors, I kept track of the names of the people I talked to. NOTHING helped. Finally a friend of mine who worked for Comcast CS in another state put in a call to the correct person, and it was fixed the next day. Just in time for me to move.
1.16.2007 5:11pm
PeterH:
We are still with Comcast for our TV but no longer for our Internet. They had the better deal on paper, but it turned out that they use different installers for the TV than for the Internet. We live in a fairly large apartment building, and everytime anyone added, dropped, or changed their TV service, the installer took out everyone's Internet.

Of course, I had to take time off work and be held hostage for the agreed upon four hour block. The third time I had to wait a week for an Internet technician who walked straight to the outside box and fixed the problem in seconds without even speaking to me or entering my apartment, then checked in to see if I had service, I dropped them for my phone company's Internet. not the best, but never had an interruption. All three of the Comcast internet guys knew exactly what the TV techs were doing wrong, and all three of them said they'd reported it repeatedly.

Of course, when I called to cancel, the customer service rep went into his "what can we do to keep you?" speech. I don't know, stop sending people over to disconnect my service, maybe?
1.16.2007 5:30pm