Tuesday, February 27, 2007


There are so many issues to discuss here. It goes beyond buying high definition equipment so I won't segregate this article and constrain it to HD products. The reasoning behind this article is one that inspired me to write this blog. Certain companies are synonymous with great customer service. Verizon Wireless, Costco, American Express, and Target are a few that come to mind. When it comes to bad customer service, I have a quite a few.

Now before we go any further, let's define customer service. I feel that customer service for retail would also entail customer satisfaction and the following; shopping experience, quality products, return policy, technical support, informing consumers, care and consideration. I could throw in a few more adjectives, but you get the point. Moving on, I'll give you two bad customer service encounters I've had recently.

The first instance instance is with Dish Network. For me this is one of the worst CS experiences I've ever had. I've lived all over Europe, the Caribbean and the US, and this just takes the cake. Before signing up with Dish for their HD service, I enquired about the HD-DVR. I rarely tune-in on a regular basis to shows, so the HD-DVR was important. They were charging $199 for the lease at the time, then the monthly $7 charge. I was in no rush to get programming as I mostly watch either HD-DVD or Blu-Ray rentals from Blockbuster online. I also knew that it was only a matter of time before the HD-DVR became free, so I decided to wait. The sales person called me 4 times that week. I decided to signup when he specifically stated: 1)Dish had no plans to offer a HD-DVR for free within the next 6 months. 2) If this changed, I would be entitled to any new customers deals as a current customer. I made him confirm this and place a note of it on my account and subsequently signed on the dotted line. The install was horrible. Dish use contractors to do the install. The guy gave me a window in the middle of the day and showed up 2 hrs past that. I used up a whole days holiday and had to make up a days work because of it. Then came the second issue. Their was neither a component or HDMI cable with the install. After 3 hrs on the phone and speaking to 6 reps, half stated that a cable wasn't included, and the other half stated that there was. Eventually a supervisor shipped one out to me, which arrived 2 weeks later. The next month was filled with an array of technical issues with the HDMI port going out, losing video on standard definition channels and then HD audio dropping out. The real clencher was when they released the HD-DVR for free, two months later. As expected, I called up CS and they flat told me that it was only available to current customers. I explained my story to 5 people. The best I could get was a manager offering it to me for $100. I was escalated to two different "corporate customer service relationship" experts. The best that they could offer me was full retail value of $199. Funny that. A manager offered it for half price, and the best a corporate rep could offer was full retail value.

I entered a verbal contract based on statements and facts verified by a sales person that proved to be inaccurate and false, but Dish Network still would not honor my claim to a free upgrade.
The second instance is with Sony. I won't bore you with the specifics with this one, but this is what happened. I called up to enquire about the technical specifications about one of their XBR (their top of the line) products. I got my answer. It was contrary to everything I had read online. Now bear in mind that many sources online can be unreliable. So I called up again, and surprise surprise I got the opposite answer. I was trasferred to the "top tier" technical support who offered another answer. I repeated this whole process three times until I got to another "specialist," each time getting a different answer. On the fourth try, I got the same person, so I gave up. Conclusion? Not even Sony's top level technical staff know their products well enough to support consumer confidence! Not very reassuring for a company whose book value currently stands at almost $29Billion.

Sales people in a corporation are a different breed from the other departments. They are very aggressive, and most will do whatever it takes to close the deal. Over time, this has translated to sales people misinforming, misleading, and making false promises to customers, all in the name of commission. Some big retailers like to point out that they don't pay employees comission. Sounds good in theory, but essentially now employees are encouraged to push sales, and cross-sell without benefit to them. I'm not sure which is worse!

But there's more. Customer service that has gone overseas creates another problem. Indian and Phillipino call centers are a good way for corporations to save money, but one area that doesn't really work out is the cultural difference. American's end up being even more frustrated. I watched Dell's CS go from very good, to poor when they made this move. The foreigh CS reps were very technically minded, but not as good at communicating and relating to American consumers. Imagine an American technical support team providing technical support to Indian consumers. We would not know where they were coming from, and I really don't know what they'd think of us!

Now let's talk about an aspect that really pertains to the tech field. Technical knowledge is seriously lacking from local retailers and big corporation service desks. These crash courses employees are put on aren't worth the paper the certificates they're printed on. Have you seen what personal trainers look like in the gym these days? Most of them look like they haven't touched weights in years and carry as much fat around their midsection as the average person. But that's a separate issue. Hiring of technical staff lacks real screening and testing, and managers really need to better control escalated scenarios. Consistency is also really missing. Having one apt and 9 entry level people on a technical team is not working. You get what you pay for though. If you pay minimum wage to aiport security staff with little background in security or military experience, expect careless security breaches. Similarly poorly compensated and skilled technical staff will convey inconsistent facts and allow misinformation to grow exponentially.

As a conclusion, we realise that consumers are the victim of corporate shifts while they continuously attempt to cost-cut for higher profit and favourable stock performance. No longer will a Big Mac be the same in every McDonalds, and only some Bestbuys will take back defective products with a reasonable amount of questioning. Instead of hiring highly knowledgeable and trained staff with thorough screening and testing, we get our mate from high school who's just looking to make some extra spending money. As a result, these jobs aren't usually careers, but more of a stepping stone. From my personal experience, I will always have a Verizon wireless phone, bank with BOFA, and use my AMEX for major purchases, because outside of a small group of customer service departments that know how to treat their consumers, gone are the days where the customer is always right.

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