A recent experiment with my internet/phone service providers left me pondering this question.
Over the last few month’s I hit the end of my rope with persistent yet intermittent internet and phone issues with both AT&T and Comcast. I have been having issues for over 2 years. It has been costly in many ways as well as frustrating and at times embarrassing.
Until recently I was using Vonage for phone service, with AT&T internet in my office and Comcast in my home. But after literally years of getting caught between the two providers passing the buck back and forth I decided to make a change. Since my issues were intermittent and it wasn’t just phone issues, I did not believe it was Vonage despite both AT&T and Comcast insisting it was. Yet that was always their easy “out” which left me with no where to turn.
So in desperation the only thing I could think of was to create a “faceoff” between AT&T and Comcast.
I changed my phone service at both locations to AT&T and Comcast, respectively. Now there was no one else to blame. Not surprisingly the service issues continued on both the internet and the phones in both locations. (Vonage, you have finally been exonerated and I miss having your awesome phone service!)
My plan was to see which service fixed the issues and I would choose one of them for both locations based on which one came through and finally fixed the problem. It’s been a 4 month process and it now appears both services are FINALLY working as promised. Although based on the past I am only cautiously optimistic. Time will tell.
Getting here, however, was an unimaginably painful and time consuming experience in navigating the labyrinth of the companies’ customer service operations.
The incredibly frustrating chain of events – the calls, the dropped balls, the failure to document calls, the numerous tech visits being told nothing was wrong, the “passing the buck”, the laziness and/or incompetence in some cases, the failure to follow through on promises, and the occasional nasty customer service agent – are case studies in the worst ever customer service.
So while both services are now working, I wish I could now choose a third provider because my customer service with both companies has been abysmal.
Since that is not an option I will leave well enough alone. As small business owners this has affected my husband and I significantly, especially in terms of time taken away from work. Comcast and AT&T you now have a hostage for a customer who will leave when we are certain there is a viable alternative.
With the economic meltdown the question of how big is “too big to fail” was debated. The question I am left with from this experience is how big is “too big to be able to serve”?
With both companies I dealt with people who were very professional, helpful and competent, as well as people who were irresponsible, lazy, nasty, and/or incompetent. That is perhaps true wherever you go.
I also understand the systems themselves are complex, problems are not always easy to solve, and when you add third party options it can make things more complex and even less clear. I don’t expect magic wands, or resolution to be simple or easy all the time. I even expect to work right along with my service providers to troubleshoot the problems knowing I may find out it is indeed a problem on my end.
Yet I do expect a service provider to own the problem and work with me to solve it.
The biggest issue of all in both companies seems to be a system that thwarts personal responsibility and accountability to the customer at every turn. Every time I called I was forced to talk to a new person. Notes on my account were rarely sufficient to help the next person if there were notes at all. I had to start over so many times I started thinking I should just start making recordings.
There was never one individual who tracked my problem from beginning to end. I was caught in loops of seemingly never ending hand offs, sometimes going in circles. Because I didn’t know these companies’ language, processes or organizational structures, miscommunication and misunderstanding was rampant.
When I tried to escalate on a number of occasions the phone magically dropped the call more than once. Other times I was told a supervisor was unavailable. When I did get to the “next level up” I often felt like I was being handled rather than heard. Ranting got better responsiveness than rational conversations to my dismay.
As I reflect on my experience here are my initial thoughts on whether a company can become too big to serve.
I don’t think it is an issue of size, but rather an issue of mechanizing human interaction to the point where…
…scripts replace effective 2 way communication;
…intelligence is stamped out by procedures; and
…personal responsibility becomes irrelevant because there’s always someone you not only can, but are expected to pass the problem along to with no expectation of following up.
Your system is broken when…
…the only person who owns the customer’s problem is the customer
…the customer is forced to learn your language and processes just to survive their interactions and finds they often knows them better than your employees.
If you , Comcast and AT&T, or any big company is going to step up your customer service, it’s time to stop trying to fix a human system with a machine based model in the never ending quest for maximizing efficiency. It is not working. The alternative is start reinventing your organizations to help employees and customers alike deal effectively with the inherent complexity and inevitable breakdowns.
You have some great people working for you Comcast and AT&T and they appear to be drowning in a sea of mediocrity perpetuated by flaws in your support systems. Please help those people so they can help us.
We really are in this together, or at least we should be...
What do you think – can a company become too big to serve?
P.S. I tweeted in frustration about Comcast and got a near immediate response. Despite the lack of “evidence” documented in their system that I deserved some compensation for my trouble, I was issued a refund for 2 months of service with an e-mail to a specific person I can contact if I have any more problems. Hmmmm