BAD: The New Customer Service – Culture and Experience

I remember a time when (God now I feel old) good customer service wasn’t hard to find. Like bad service was the exception, not the rule, and businesses seemed to care about their customers, or at the very least, their customer service ratings.

Now however, it seems the opposite is true.

Last week we had another (yes, we’ve lost count at this point) awful customer service experience with AT&T. My husband is focusing on the lack of integrity, how store employees refused to assist us, how several agents lied to him and pulled a “Bait and Switch” and some other very sordid dealings. For me, I’m focusing on the ADA violations, bullying tactics, verbal abuse (a manager screamed at me for over nine minutes, and supposedly that call was recorded – I can only hope) and intentionally trying to exploit my hearing loss (when agents do the bait and switch with someone they know has profound hearing loss and has to use assistive devices to hear them and then blame that person’s hearing when they lie or backup – that is exploitation and gas lighting. These are facts, not a matter of opinion.

Neither of us want to stay with AT&T though I’ve already put in the emotional labor, so I want them to make this right and it’s not like they’ll send us a check if we take a walk. The truth is, I’m not sure their competitors would be any better.

I’m stepping away from the disability exploitation and mocking (yes, at the store an employee laughed and made faces at me while I was being screamed at by said manager – he was on speakerphone so the entire store could hear) to focus solely on bad customer service and unethical business practices.

Before I had AT&T, I had Sprint and their customer service was awful. I mean it wasn’t exploitive or abusive, but the agents literally were like, “I don’t care. Go somewhere else.” They didn’t try to retain customers or solve their existing customers service issues.

When we were shopping for security systems, we checked out ADT who pulled much of the same stuff AT&T did. They did the bait and switch and the salesperson tried to blame my deafness (I am profoundly deaf, which is a mixture of deafness to some pitches, and profound hearing loss to others). Of course, I pushed back (I always do) because deaf does not equal stupid. I think a lot of able-bodied people think that “people like me” make everything about their disability, but it isn’t that. It’s that in order to get away with bad service or sticking someone with something they don’t want/need etc. they exploit that customer’s perceived weakness. Maybe someone is terrified of confrontation and so they try to intimidate that customer. Perhaps they don’t keep written records and they blame that person’s memory. My hearing is a perceived weakness. To customer service reps it seems like the easy thing to exploit – they just don’t ever expect to be called out on it. And of course, once you call them out, you’re branded as “that person/customer” and somehow it ends up being on you as if you’re a diva because you refuse to be bullied or exploited.

A few years ago, when we switched to Comcast from CenturyLink we had to deal with the stupid from both sides. CenturyLink tried to charge us for two additional months of service even though we had (in writing) our cancellation and canceled at the end of our contract so there were no additional fees. Comcast tried to go back on their introductory offer, then on top of that they did not setup our phone service. We didn’t have a working landline for nearly a year which meant by the time we were through with this ordeal we had a $900 credit (introductory offer, plus bogus fees, plus comped phone service). And CenturyLink finally stopped their stupid, but not before trying to turn us over to collections.

We resolved both with multiple Better Business Bureau complaints as well as complaints filed with our state’s attorney general. But why does it have to get to this point?

I feel like corporate and customer service cultures have changed and the only way a customer gets anywhere is if they’re “that customer”. That customer who is persistent and doesn’t take their crap – otherwise known as the bitch. That customer who will be loud and vocal about the issue, filing formal complaints with every appropriate agency at their disposal until the matter is resolved. And even though it may take several hours of phone conversations, writing and filing those complaints – the customer is never compensated for their time or labor. No, the company in question simply does what they were supposed to do from the very beginning.

This seems to be the new normal, and I’m trying to figure out why. It’s both depressing and a little maddening. Why wouldn’t customer service agents go by the Golden Rule? Why wouldn’t they at least pretend to care? Why do they want to agitate customers, who surely turn their agitation on said agent? Why do companies want to promote this kind of behavior that is at best unethical and when it comes to “people like me” can be exploitive and discriminatory, and therefore illegal. Why?

I don’t have the answer, I just keep repeating the question. To me it doesn’t make sense. Forget about it being wrong, negative, hurtful, and unethical and just thinking of the bottom line – this costs businesses business. It costs them time and resources to address complaints and also leaves them with a negative record with organizations meant to watch over business, etc.

I remember when I used to work customer service and even on my worst day, I would never provide the kind of service that now seems standard. My husband, who still works a job that could be considered retail/customer service wouldn’t provide this kind of service to his worst enemy. I guess we hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard that should be universal, particularly among those who are meant to provide positive customer experiences to the people they serve…

Oh well.


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