Customer Service - It's The Real Thing
By Stephen Lawton
today's market, customer service is the holy grail. It's one of those
make-or-break services responsible for most user complaints. It can kill
a sale - or give you a customer for life. In the customer-service game,
some targets are easy and some are hard. Nordstrom, the venerable retailer
from Seattle, has earned a reputation for good customer service. Is it
just an urban myth that Nordstrom accepted a return of a set of tires
from a customer who insisted she bought them at the store, despite the
fact that Nordstrom doesn't sell tires - and never has? Who's to say?
It's easy to pick on the phone company for
bad customer service. You call for an appointment and they tell you they'll
be happy to come out - when it's convenient for them. And every time you
get a monthly bill, it's an adventure to figure out just where they buried
your latest increase.
I called 411 today to get a local phone
number. A recording reminded me that local 411 charges hadn't changed
(25 cents per billable call - for now), but out-of-area and national 411
calls now cost 95 cents. Isn't this the same phone company that now charges
extra for out-of-area phone books so you'll be encouraged to use 411?
Just you try to reach out and touch somebody.
Despite the recent rate increases for local
phone lines, Pacific Bell isn't done yet. On Sept. 16, the California
Public Utilities Commission will decide if Pac Bell can further increase
its 411 and other rates. Here we go again. Will local service improve
when competition emerges for local phone calls? Don't count on it - not
if we're stuck with the same phone companies running the operations. Today
we endure a "deregulated" phone system that, thus far, has no real competitors
for Pac Bell.
I wish I could tell you about some whiz-bang
phone company that will solve all of your problems. I wish I could, but
I can't. I don't think one exists. Other phone companies, such as Sprint,
don't win kudos for customer service either. I purchased a cell phone
a year ago, and the fun began.
"You need a software upgrade," I was told
when I called about poor reception. Several upgrades later (and several
complaints to Sprint about the quality of the handset), I still lose a
high percentage of my calls or get forced off the Sprint PCS network onto
an analog network, even in such remote areas as downtown San Francisco,
Oakland, Sunnyvale and Los Angeles.
Sprint's answer to the faulty handset problem:
buy a new phone. When Sprint was my long distance carrier, that service
wasn't much better.
Maybe it's time the telephone industry started
hiring sales clerks from Nordstrom. It might not improve the telephone
network, but it certainly would help customer service.