I’ve recently come into contact with several customer service people who don’t really serve the customer. I’m not entirely sure who these people serve. I think maybe they just play Minesweeper all day.
EXAMPLE NUMBER ONE: I recently had to deal with my health insurance company, who is the single worst health insurance company in the world aside from all the other health insurance companies. Here’s what happened: I’m sitting around the house the other day, when I realize that I haven’t paid a health insurance bill in a while. More than that, I haven’t seen a health insurance bill in a while. And I make sure all my health insurance bills are paper copies, mailed directly to the house, largely because I believe If You Give A Health Insurance Company Your Account Info should be the next book in the If You Give a Moose a Muffin series.
So I log on to the website, and I discover my account was terminated on April 30, completely without my knowledge, or consent, or even a letter informing me that I am no longer covered if I slip and fall, or if a tree limb crashes down on me, or if I encounter a pack of rabid dogs in my spare bedroom, or any of the other potential realities that convinces you to buy health insurance, such as ebola.
So I call up the health insurance company on Wednesday, June 24, and the woman admits that yes, they made a billing mistake, and she will get it taken care of “right away.” Right away. Right away. She says this many times. To confirm that she will get it taken care of right away, she insists that she will call me back in five business days. Five business days. Five business days. FIVE BUSINESS DAYS. She repeats this over and over, like a mantra; like the kind of chant the Manson family probably did right before they burned a goat.
And then she says: So I will call you back on July 6.
Now, I’m no Caesar reforming the Julian calendar here, but even by the most liberal definition of “five business days” – which would not be counting the day we were speaking – five business days would’ve been the following Wednesday, which was July 2. So I pressed her a bit on this issue, and she replied – I swear this is true – “Sir, business days do not include Saturday and Sunday.”
This woman worked in billing.
Anyway, July 2 came and went, and this woman never called me, so I called in again. This time I got the same story. We’re sorry. Our mistake. Right away. Five business days. The problem was, we now had a trust issue: they had agreed to provide health insurance, and failed. And they had agreed to call me in five business days, and failed. At this point, I valued my health insurer’s word somewhere between “street crack addict” and “Mitsubishi salesman.”
So I asked to speak to a supervisor, who insisted she would call me back by the end of the day. Now this was progress. I would hear from this woman today with a resolution to my issue. Not tomorrow. Not five business days. Not “Would you like rust-proofing with that Outlander?” I would hear today.
And yet, the end of the day came and went, and … nothing. For a while I was searching through the news channels to see if another tsunami had hit Southeast Asia and wiped out the call center.
EXAMPLE NUMBER TWO: I recently had my automobile break down, which was very embarrassing, because my automobile is bright yellow and roughly the same size as the control tower at a municipal airport.
So on Monday morning, I had my automobile towed to the dealership, where I spoke to both the technician and the very warm and welcoming service advisor, who insisted I would hear back “sometime today.” I told them to take their time because, let’s be honest here folks, it was kind of nice to have a few days off from looking outside my house and seeing a Hummer.
But by Tuesday afternoon, still no call. I was growing concerned. Around 4 p.m., I called over to the dealer and was told my service advisor was busy. Well, by God, she had better be busy, considering I haven’t heard a thing from her in two days. So I left word to have my service advisor call me back, and that was that. I figured I would hear back in a couple of hours.
Well, that evening came and went, and so did the next morning. At 11 a.m., I called again – my service advisor was still busy – and I left a chipper voicemail. “Just curious about a status update!” I said, chipperly. “Just give me a call back sometime today!” The chipperness was astounding. If I was any more chipper, I would’ve been cutting branches into tiny pieces.
So the whole day goes by, and I still don’t get a call back. At 4 p.m. – mind you, three full business days after I’ve dropped the car off, and two days after she said I would near – I finally call again, and I get another service advisor. “Sorry,” she says. “But your service advisor is busy.”
“Busy?” I asked. “Or dead?”
AND SO: After these two encounters, I have decided that there are two customer service problems here. Number one is setting expectations. “Five business days woman” should’ve never told me she would call me back in five business days. She should’ve told me the truth: she would call me back never. The supervisor I later talked to also shouldn’t have given me a timeframe. What she should’ve said was: if you wait around for me to call you back, you will be waiting until the sun burns out and swallows humanity like a snake eating a capybara.
Likewise, my dealership service advisor never should’ve said I would hear back today. What she should’ve said was: I will call you back when we look at the car, which will definitely be this year or early spring 2016.
The other problem is beyond merely setting expectations. The other problem is that most customer service people seem to have absolutely no desire to call anyone back at any time. You have to pester, and prod, and call, and Tweet, and beg, and plead, and hope. Only then will they finally look up from their Minesweeper.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He divides his time between writing about cars and sitting around his house watching Gilmore Girls without any pants on. Also, he wrote this bio himself in the third person.