Andrea Kay column: Don't pay lip service to customer service

7:30 PM, Oct. 27, 2013  |  Comments
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In the past 30 days, I canceled service with three companies I've used for years.

Customer service was the reason. It was that bad.

But I kept my business with another company even though its actual service keeps messing up. That business' customer service is that good.

Customer-service representatives are everywhere. Anyone with a phone, TV, computer, coffee maker, credit card or insurance, or anyone who buys subscription services or makeup from shady companies advertising on TV has dealings with them.

And let's not forget about business-to-business customer-service reps.

Their numbers are growing by the minute. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the profession will expand 15.5 percent through 2020.

Call centers alone had almost 23,000 vacant jobs, more than a third listed in the past week, according to CallCenterCrossing, which calls itself the largest collection of call-center jobs. The company cites the health care law, holiday season and general economic expansion as the chief reasons for a rise in call-center hiring.

As long as companies offer things to buy and services to use, folks will need help.

Companies claim to know how important these front-line jobs are. They say they strive for a "customer-first mindset," "transparency and accountability," "positive customer relationships" and "consistent and efficient delivery of superior customer service."

So why don't more customer-service reps deliver? Is it the company or the employees?

Likely both.

Workers tell me they want these jobs because they like people. Yet too many companies do everything they can to not let their people talk to us.

Finding contact information can be like a game of hide-and-seek.

Some refuse to talk to you. Take Twitter:

My account has had a problem for four months. I've obediently followed Twitter's directions and sent in a dozen requests for help.

I'm still waiting for an answer.

On the other hand, companies such as crowdSPRING help businesses and creative talent find each other and make it easy for customers to communicate with them.

This company posts its phone number on every page of its site. No doubt this springs from the philosophy of co-founder Mike Samson who tells his reps that the spoken word is better than the written word, to say "please" and "thank you" and always end with "much obliged."

People who get into customer service tell me they love to solve problems. Yet "I can't help you with that" are the last words that a lot of people hear from a customer-service rep.

Those workers either don't know how to think like a problem solver or don't think they have the authority to help.

Some customer-service reps are plain mean. The other day I asked one that I could barely hear if she might speak a little louder.

She snapped, "No, I can't scream."

When you keep getting bad customer service, you wonder why companies keep sending surveys asking how your customer-service experience went.

I also often wonder why companies insist that customer-service reps speak canned faux caring phrases like "Have a nice day" after they've been mean and obstructive.

Chief Operating Officer Zach Cusimano of Bizness Apps, which makes mobile apps for companies, says his business doesn't coach reps to use particular phrases. Company officials do encourage them to "throw in some love" and foster more interactions by saying, "I'm happy to help," "Please let me know if you have any other questions," and "Looking forward to hearing from you again."

I contend that more people would like their customer-service jobs and customers would be happier if they did what Jesse Richardson does.

"We love our customers," Richardson says. She is conscious community officer for Conscious Box, a subscription service for eco-friendly products.


If you want a satisfying career helping solve problems for people who are frustrated, confused and sometimes angry, care for them no matter what.

Find a great company that values them and you.

In the 25 years I've counseled people with their careers, most tell me one thing: I want to be of service to others. Here's your chance.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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