Welcome to the Customer Service Department … Dante Alighieri will be your tour guide.

Who hasn’t faced the frustrations of dealing with what passes for customer service today? I recall an ordeal several months ago when I spent the better part of three hours on the phone with Hewlett-Packard’s customer service department – if you could call it customer service – trying to get an issue resolved with reloading a printer driver for an HP model that is no longer classified as “current” – which in my case was a printer I purchased five or six years ago.

Because my model was older, I was transferred to a different help desk that turned out to be an outsourced/offshore area of HP’s customer service. (Presumably, the good folks at HP seem to think that outsourcing technical questions about older equipment will actually give their customers access to better knowledge than their own in-house personnel can provide …?)

The first 90 minutes of my ordeal were spent trying to talk to someone who could actually solve my problem, but about 90% of those 90 minutes were basically spent on hold. The next nearly 90 minutes was taken up with attempting to get my $59.99 service charge reversed, since I had been unable to speak with anyone who could actually assist me with my problem.

That’s an evening of my life I’ll never get back.

… Which made a new book just published on the woeful state of customer service capture my attention all the more. In Emily Yellin’s book “Your Call Is (not that) Important to Us,” (Free Press, ISBN-13: 978-1416546894 … also available in a Kindle edition), the author gives us plenty of statistical information, polling results and excerpts from studies to help chronicle the sorry state of today’s customer service affairs.

But it is Yellin’s “customer service hell” anecdotes – far more horrific than my own experience with Hewlett-Packard – that stick most in the memory. Those stories certainly provide fodder for a sort of morbid fascination; reading them is not unlike seeing an auto accident unfold in slow motion before your very eyes: You know what the final result is going to be but you can’t resist seeing it through all the way to the end.

Fortunately, not all is bad news. The author also cites some examples of where companies are trying – pretty diligently – to deliver a customer service experience that is at least “serviceable.” The book is a worthwhile read.

But back to my own experience. How did things turn out? Well, after nearly three hours on the phone, I was finally able to get my charge for service reversed. Then, rather than spend any more time trying to work with my HP printer, I simply purchased a new one. It was a Canon.

3 thoughts on “Welcome to the Customer Service Department … Dante Alighieri will be your tour guide.

  1. Your story is one that many have shared. Unfortunately it’s experiences like these that put a bad light on those of us who pride ourselves on giving exceptional service. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is the “extra”; unfortunately too many service providers either don’t care or (maybe) don’t know how to implement and monitor business practices to ensure quality. Some of us recognize that it’s our customers who keep us in business. And…thanks to HP, Canon has a new customer.

  2. Mark Hurd at HP should read this post!

    I used to work for HP in the 1980s and 90s. Back then, the plan to “offshore” everything was just starting. But in our division at least the support engineers sat next to the R&D engineers who implented the product.

    If a support engineer had a customer on the line with a problem that was hard for her to solve, we in R&D were expected to drop wheat we were doing and help. If I had to find a driver for something I wrote 5 years ago, so be it.

    Not anymore, of course. But that was the ethos of the whole company back in the days when Bill & Dave could come and visit at any time. And of course we were all “engineers” – not “reps”. That was important.

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