Your Call May Be Recorded…

Here’s a fun side effect of the intersection of the Internet, ubiquitous recording technologies and mob mentality – your bad customer service horror stories are no longer limited to retellings around the water cooler. Thanks to blogs, video hosting services like YouTube and folks with a willingness to spread stories, you can effect actual change when a customer service rep – or anyone, for that matter – has done you wrong. I’m not necessarily saying this is a good thing.

Take the most recent example of a Comcast technician falling asleep on a customer’s couch during a call with customer support. Comcastic! This baby spread through the blogosphere thanks to posts by influential sites Boing Boing and Fark as well as many individual blogs. I read today on Fark that the technician who fell asleep on said couch has been fired by Comcast.

This comes on the tail of last week’s AOL customer service debacle which also resulted in the firing of the employee involved. Loads of bloggers listened to Vincent Ferrari’s AOL recording and recalled their own frustrations trying to cancel their service with various providers. And, while the customer service person on the other end of the line was completely out of line, I feel Ferrari may have precipitated it with his already belligerent attitude. Keep in mind: it’s not like he records all of his phone calls on the off-chance he’ll have something bloggable. As he said in his original post, “Knowing the horror stories, I decided to do the deed at work where I could record the whole thing.” This doesn’t exactly set anyone up for a friendly conversation.

The echo chamber that is the blogosphere can rapidly generate a mob mentality unlike one we’ve ever really been able to create. In the old days, the townsfolks would raid the castle (or whatever) carrying pitchforks and torches. In reality you’d probably be luck to get a dozen or so folks revolting in such a way, and only after tensions have had time to brew and simmer. The French Revolution, which was anything but a dozen angry people, was not something that transpired overnight. In the world of ubiquitous recording and communication technologies, however, the time between being wronged and retribution has shortened considerably, often providing immediate visceral proof to shock the easily shocked. No longer does it take something as odious as a bourgeoisie class building their fortunes on the backs of the poor to incite a revolution (what with the multitude of sins committed by the current presidential administration, it in fact seems that’s the only thing that doesn’t incite a true revolution on the internet). All it takes these days is one bad customer service experience.

Of course, these mini-revolutions are endemic of a much bigger problem with customer service in general. Between outsourcing to India – where the language, cultural and accent differences turn even the simplest CS requests into a drawn-out nightmare – and the apparent arrogance of large corporations and their focus on making a buck over satisfying the customer, not a single person who has ever relied on technical or customer support can report having a perfect experience. This is not to say there aren’t good CS reps out there who not only do their job, but leave the customer happy – I’ve had many recent positive experiences that I assumed would be far worse than they turned out to be – but it seems that those folks are far and few in between to find. After all, sitting in a call center all day listening to angry customers is bound to wear a person down. Combine that with the pressure to not only please the customer but help the company save money and keep generating revenue (which often turn out to be conflicting interests when all common sense indicates they shouldn’t) and it’s no wonder the system is as messed up as it is.

The message here is clear: If you are a company that provides any kind of customer service, now is the time to review your policies and procedures to ensure that your service reps are performing in line with what you expect. Both of these incidents resulted in the employee being fired and the company providing mea culpas in an attempt to spin bad publicity. As far as the consumer is concerned, this is an encouraging sign of success that these tactics work, so you can be sure their numbers will only increase. It’s better to spend the time and money now to ensure your customer service team is doing the best they can to help the customer than to play clean up later. Many customer service departments tell customers that their calls may be monitored for training or review purposes. You can be sure this will start happening en masse on both sides of the phone line.

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