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Christopher Lochhead used to enjoy the executive perks of a Silicon Valley executive--such as instant IT support. He was the chief marketing officer at Scient and then at Mercury until the company was sold to HP last year.

Christopher Lochhead used to enjoy the executive perks of a Silicon Valley executive--such as instant IT support. He was the chief marketing officer at Scient and then at Mercury until the company was sold to HP last year. Now he is mostly retired, and living life as a well-heeled consumer. He relates his recent unhappy and aggravating customer service experiences in this  guest post.

Is customer service getting worse? It sure seems that way. Global 2000 companies have spent billions on customer relationship management software, customer support websites, and call centers over the last ten years. Yet it often it feels as though major companies are using technology to purposely piss-off customers.

How far away are we from dialing 911 and hearing, “For faster service when reporting an emergency please visit our Web site. If you must talk to an agent, press one if someone is trying to kill you, press two if your house is on fire…etc.”

Cell Phone Company Can’t Setup New Account

When I left my last employer I had a simple request of Cingular Wireless (now AT&T)--transfer my work cell number to my personal account and sell me a new Blackberry (on top of the personal cell phone I already had from them). It took two and a half hours in the store. Subsequently, when my first bill came, it was very wrong. It took two hours on their Web site and over the phone to resolve the billing problem. Then, the evil spirits on their servers would randomly disconnect my wireless email service.

Fixing this problem was not possible on their support Web site. It took another four phone calls and about another two hours to resolve. All told it took a six-hour effort to give more money to Cingular. Makes you wonder how hard it is to get Verizon on the phone?

Rotten Apple

When I bought my new MacBook (which I love) at the Apple store I paid extra for the “ProCare” service (which Apple promotes as “ticket to priority repairs and available same-day service”) so that when I had problems I’d get help. Nope. After a problem with iTunes and my iPod (which I also love), I went into an Apple store in Silicon Valley and was told it would be a seven-hour wait. When I told the clerk the wait was unacceptable, he explained that when you are sick and need to see your doctor, you have to wait and that Apple’s “genius bar” was the same idea. So I split and called Apple support. They were great and fixed the iTunes problem quickly.

After that, I went online to book an appointment with a “genius” at the Apple store for the next day. I got there at the scheduled time. I still had to wait twenty minutes. The genius spent about ten minutes playing with my iPod only to tell me it was dead. The two-year-old’s hard drive was toast. So I asked what they could do. He said the best they could offer was 10 percent discount on a new one. The Apple genius failed the IQ test. 

Car Company Makes It Hard to Service Cars

Want to by a new Toyota Highlander Hybrid or Prius to save money on gas and lessen the damage cars do to the environment? I have purchased both products. They are great and marvels of modern technology. Good luck getting them serviced at Steven’s Creek Toyota in Silicon Valley. It takes three hours to do an oil change, if they can fit you in, and oh and by the way, for the basic service “We don’t provide loaners.” You will enjoy reading their complementary March 1998 edition of People Magazine to pass the time.

Stock Broker Can’t Execute Trades

Done any trading on eTrade lately? After I was unable to execute a series of trades on their Web site I called them. Wait time at their call center was half an hour. Then I got transferred to a “specialist” (more wait time). They then told me they were having a problem with their trading systems and would need to call me back. They didn’t. I had to call them back (more wait time, more getting transferred) to finally get the trades done. Oh well, who really cares about their money and investments.

Two Brands That Lie

Last summer I needed some new blinds. Found a place called “3 Day Blinds”. I went in and ordered a bunch of blinds. Guess how long they told me it would be before I got them installed? Seven to ten working days! I asked why the company was called 3 Day Blinds, if it takes them seven working days. The clerk looked at me like I was insane. She told me that if I had ordered more standard stuff, and if they had it in stock, and if they could get a guy to come out to my place, I might be able to get blinds in three days. I asked her how often they were able to deliver binds in three days. She said not often. There is a health club chain called “24 Hour Fitness.” Many of their locations are not open twenty-four hours.
So what do you do to make sure your company delivers a legendary customer experience? My next post will explore that topic.

Christopher Lochhead is a retired technology executive, part-time strategy advisor, full-time ski bum, and a grumpy consumer.