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Friday, January 27, 2006

The Lost Art of Customer Service

Making plans to spend the vast fortune The Casual Critic has brought me, I recently began looking into a couple products. Before going on, I must thank the affiliates that have stiffed me on the sales I actually got for them; if you’ve been to the main site previously — Royal Steele Books — they can be noted by their absence. I'd also like to thank the folks — all three of ya — who checked out an ad on this site. I'll be saving my pennies for someday.

Actually, I was saving my pennies for a Dell laptop. I was also looking to save a few pennies by dumping Comcast and switching to Verizon, which supposedly offers a DirecTV package. Being mildly savvy on the internet, and having a speech disability that often makes calling companies impossible, I thought I'd get a few answers via e-mail. Instead, I got a few headaches.

The writer in me was thinking of buying a laptop so that when I sit down to write I actually write . . . instead of checking e-mail, checking the web "quickly," etc., etc. I went to check out Dell laptops, and discovered they all have a built in mouse right below the keys. I was afraid I'd constantly be inadvertently hitting the mouse as I typed, and the guy manning the store told me there was no way to turn it off. This didn't sound right, and the 'store' was really just a stand in the corridor at the mall. So, I checked with some friends ''in the know,'' and got some conflicting info.

I figured I needed to get the answers right from the Dell. After finding a way to e-mail them a question as a potential buyer — no easy task — the run-around began. Despite sending a rather simple yes/no question, and explaining why I hadn't called, I received a long e-mailing extolling the virtues of the Dell website and a number to call for my answers.

This is customer service? This is how you treat potential customers?

A polite reply on my part did nothing but elevate my frustration when the second reply offered no more signs of intelligence. A second not-so-polite reply suggested my question be forwarded to someone that actually could answer it. Only then did I receive the simple answer — yes, by the way — I needed.

Verizon was no better. I was all set to switch to them after the screw by Comcast became too much to take. Since moving more than a year ago, and signing up with Comcast's internet service and expanding the cable service already in the home, I've had nothing but problems. After my internet service grinded to a halt for the third time in less than a year, I was told I needed a dedicated cable just for the internet. (No explanation was offered as to why the other two servicemen failed to find this solution.)

After paying to have the new line put in, I finally became fed up with the snowy picture I receive on my main TV in my downstairs ''apartment.'' Reluctantly calling the service department again, and getting them to actually show up on the second appointed day, I learned that no dedicated line was ever installed. (I won’t even bother ranting about the fact that I was alone on the first service call, not so alone when the non-service was discovered, and what that may or may not say about people with disabilities getting service.)

A quick e-mail to Verizon asking for some pricing would be no problem, right? Well, you get the idea by now. I got an e-mail extolling the virtues of the DirectTV website, completely ignoring the fact that they are offering DirectTV, and therefore should know something about it, as well as ignoring my questions about phone and internet service.

Are people really this stupid? Could it be they're simply too lazy to get off their ass, figuratively more than physically, or is it just me expecting too much?

I’d love to have some nice little quippy end to this post. At the very least, I purchased my new Compaq at Staples, but still have the same internet connection and the same — snowy — cable picture. So, I guess the moral of the story is that poor customer service will cost you, unless of course your competition offers even worse service.

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