Customer Disservice

Customer Disservice - Customer Disservice These Days,...

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Customer Disservice These Days, Consumers May as Well Keep Their Complaint To Themselves By Caroline E. Mayer Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, March 28, 2004; Page F01 When Mary Culnan's three-year-old Kenmore washing machine broke in February, it took three appointments before a Sears repairman showed up. Before he even examined the machine, he blamed the problem on Culnan, telling her that she had not only used the wrong detergent but also the wrong cycle. The permanent press setting, he said, could have burned out the machine's contacts. "I have no idea what that means," said Culnan, a Boston area professor. The repairman finally traced the problem to a defective circuit board, which fixed things -- for a while. When Scott Rozett bought a family cell phone plan last June, the salesman assured him he could make and receive calls in San Francisco at no extra charge. But in November, one month after the Idaho resident visited the Bay area, he received a $160 bill for roaming charges. When he called AT&T Wireless to protest, a customer service representative told him the company was not responsible for promises made by a salesman. When an error in Manon Matchett's Sprint PCS bill caused her service to be disconnected in December, she spent three days trying to get it restored. She called at least twice a day, she says, and each time was transferred from one department to another as she tried to get credit for payments that had never been posted to her account. She talked to at least nine people, but "no one could make a definitive decision," said Matchett, an office manager in the District. Nor could she ever reach a manager, even in the middle of the day. "I was told no managers were available. It was pure hell," Matchett said. Forget voice-mail hell. As Culnan, Rozett and Matchett have discovered, customer service has deteriorated into a new kind of purgatory, one in which companies pass the buck, frequently from one corporate division to another. Or customer service representatives pin the blame on other companies. Or even, worse, they fault their customers. "Customer service is getting worse; it's not getting better," said John Tschohl, a Minneapolis customer service consultant. Certain industries are more unsatisfactory than others, he added, singling out cell phone companies as bottom-of-the-barrel bad. But, he added, customer service has gone south in all kinds of industries. There is no historical measurement to show if and how customer service may have declined over the past few years, but consultants and academics say there is abundant anecdotal evidence.
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A current snapshot of consumer satisfaction by the University of Michigan Business School reveals a large group of unhappy campers. In its most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index, the average score for the specific issue of complaint handling is 57 (out of 100) for the 40 industries tracked by the index. "No one does a particularly good job in handling complaints," said David VanAmburg, managing director of the index,
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Customer Disservice - Customer Disservice These Days,...

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