Customer Service: Profit or Loss

I took a few minutes and googled Customer Service, and here are some of the definitions I found:

Customer service is the process of ensuring customer satisfaction with a product or service. (Investopedia)

Getting customer interactions right has never been more important, especially since social media has given unhappy customers a louder voice. (HBR)

Makes sense and I’m going to assume we all agree with the above statements. However, in practice, customer service is an area that can be taken for granted, overlooked, or considered a cost center and treated as such.

Death by a thousand cuts.

Here is a sad story of bizarro customer service actively undermining brand and customer satisfaction while wildly inflating the cost of delivery. I do not believe that lightning struck me, that I am the exception.

I have had a subscription to my hometown newspaper for about 30 years (and my hometown is among the largest on the planet). I decided to become a digital subscriber when the most recent cost of delivery was subtracted from my credit card. I called the same day and was assured that the switch to digital was immediate, that my checking account would be charged for the digital subscription and the home delivery charge would be refunded.

The next day I looked at my online statement and the new charge was there, but not the refund.

  • I went to chat under Contact Us and was assured that everything was fine and that someone from billing would call me that afternoon or the next day to straighten everything out.
  • No one called, so I did. I was told it takes 90 days to get a refund. I asked for a supervisor and was transferred to someone who identified as “an advocate”. They started to argue with me.
  • Next I got a gentleman who apologized for the runaround and, since this was late on a Friday and the billing department was closed, he would call me back at 10am Monday morning and we would both speak to billing “and find out what it will take to get your money back right now.”
  • Monday, I waited until early afternoon, called, and asked to be transferred to him. I was told it was not possible, but they asked to help. I explained the situation and they said that someone from billing would call me back that afternoon.

I saw this play.

I completed the email form on their website. The form said it would take 2 – 3 days to get a response. Sure enough, on the 3rd day I got an email that said it takes 10 – 14 business days to get a refund and that there was no way to make it happen quicker. Included was a GIF of an iron door clanging shut.

On the 15th business day I called to inquire about my refund. I spoke to a supervisor who told me that the refund had been transferred to my account several days ago, but it would not appear on my online statement, that I should call my bank.

I asked the supervisor if they really believed that answer. On a lark I called the bank. They asked me if I really believed that answer.

On the 17th business day I received a paper check in the mail.

Up is down.

Since we started with definitions, let’s go to bizarro, which I believe was first introduced in Superman comics:

The opposite of the real world. Good is evil, round is square, hello is goodbye. (Urban Dictionary)

Up really should be up.

Many large organizations embrace the moment of customer interaction as a way to burnish their brand, to create happier customers that stay longer and buy more. There are others who do not, and this is one.

What’s the harm in having a supervisor authorize a clearly justified refund on the spot? Was this worth the expense?

The story above is chaotic and self-destructive. No company would knowingly design such a system. Fixing it begins by viewing customer service through the eyes of profit, not as a cost center.

Should I stay or should I go.

When the call ends these CSRs say, Thanks for being the best part of the (name of the publication). What a bunch of hooey. Check clears and I’m gone. It’s a perfect storm Everyone loses.