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Counselor Senior Editor Michele Bell's slanted view of the world.

Customer Disservice

Filed under: Personal

Hi Everyone and Happy 2011!

Hope you’re all having a great new year so far and looking forward to show season!

How were your holidays? I traveled to Florida to spend Christmas with my mom and stepdad, and had a few incidents happen that made me go “WTF?” (Why the Face?, in Modern Family parlance) and really contemplate what constitutes good customer service. I’m also in the midst of compiling the profiles on some of the industry suppliers who won this year’s Counselor Distributor Choice awards (to be announced at ASI’s Orlando Show on 1/23 – if you’re going to be there, join us for the awards celebration and cocktail party at 5:00 p.m. in room S320 of the Orlando Convention Center). What do they all have in common? Stellar, “save the day” customer service.

Here are two examples of craptacular customer service, from companies that could take a lesson from the award-winning suppliers in our industry.

1. TD Bank. As I was at the Philadelphia Airport two days before Christmas to fly to my mom’s house in Sanibel, Florida, I stopped at a McDonald’s to get coffee. I used my debit card, which was promptly declined. When I called TD Bank, with whom I do my banking and have credit cards, they informed me that my card had been cancelled due to “suspected fraudulent activity in Homer, Oklahoma.” According to the customer service person, Homer is a hotbed of identity and credit card theft. Who knew? I’m just guessing here that there’s not much to do in the thriving metropolis that is Homer, Oklahoma. Just sayin’.

Now, while I was thankful that the bank was vigilant in spotting the attempted fraud and shut down my credit card, couldn’t they have, you know, TOLD ME? As I explained to the customer service woman that I was ready to board a plane and would need a new card overnighted to me, she informed me that I’d have to “fax a handwritten letter” giving them authority to ship my new card to an address (my mom’s) that wasn’t my own. Couldn’t I e-mail an authorization to them, providing telling data to authenticate my identity? Nope. Ladies and gentleman, you’ve now met a business in the year of 2011 that “doesn’t accept e-mails.”

Brenda, the first in a long and undistinguished line of customer service people I dealt with, suggested — wait for it — that I find a fax machine AT THE AIRPORT and dash the letter off to them that way. Yes. Because the Rosetta Stone kiosk and the Relay magazine stand have fax machines at the ready. Clearly, Brenda doesn’t fly.

At this point I didn’t freak too much, because I was traveling to be with my family and knew they’d lend me cash, etc. But what if I wasn’t? What if this happened as I was boarding an international flight to Dusseldorf, as I will be next week? When I landed, my mom took me to an Office Max where I faxed (so archaic I might as well have used a chisel and a slate) the handwritten letter to TD Bank, who — as I called to confirm its arrival — assured me I’d get my new card the next day.

Long story short? I didn’t get my card until the following Tuesday — nearly a week – which is baffling to me in this day and age. I’ve gotten phones, flowers and shoes overnighted to me — but apparently a 2″ x 3″ piece of plastic is outside the realm of possibility. Those of you who know me can imagine how my demeanor steadily declined as I checked twice daily on the status of my card, each time speaking with a different supervisor — none of whom were “allowed” to give me their last name or direct phone number and all of whom gave me different information (“we never overnight cards,” “your card will be delivered today,” “your card is stuck in the snowstorm”). My favorite had to be when one customer service agent told me she couldn’t provide me with a tracking number “until the card was delivered.” Not a high point for my patience, I suggested she “take a moment of silence for the death of logic in that statement.” I was also so tired of repeating my personal information that I began to get more snarky than usual.

Customer Service Rep: “Can you spell ‘Sanibel’ for me?”

 Bitchy, Exasperated Michele: “Sure! S as in Subpar, A as in Asinine, N as in Nonsensical, I as in Inept…”

The lessons to be learned here (which I enumerated in a letter to the president of TD Bank):

* Allow your customers to have direct access to customer service reps so they can deal with one person and not have to repeat their story again and again. It’s annoying and frustrating.

* Get everyone on the same page. I think the thing that made me the most incensed was that even reps at a supervisory level all had different answers for me. The message conveyed was confusion and distrust — not what a bank wants to put out there, I would think.

* It bears noting that every one of the 14 people I spoke with at TD Bank was extremely nice and empathetic. However, when you’re getting the runaround and incorrect information, nice only goes so far.

* Communicate clearly with customers when there is a problem. The main point of contention with me was that the bank never notified me that my credit card had been canceled — McDonald’s did. The numerous reps apologized for this oversight and said I “should have been contacted immediately.” Shoulda Woulda Coulda. Follow through on your methods of operation.

* Let Brenda out of the office to visit an airport, for the love of God.

As an amusing little epilogue, when the credit card so guarded and protected by the bank that it was like The Grail finally did arrive at my mom’s house via FedEx, I was neither required to sign for it nor show identification. Kid. You. Not.  

2. Southwest Airlines. Truly, Southwest is one of my favorite U.S. companies. Its employees are cordial and kooky, they don’t charge for baggage and still offer complimentary beverages and snacks. And you’ve just got to love a company that was started by a genius, loony libertine (Herb Kelleher) on the back of a cocktail napkin while drinking a snoot-full of Scotch. However…

While in Sanibel and dealing with the credit card clusterduck over at TD Bank, a wicked snow storm socked the East Coast, causing my flight back to Philly to be canceled. Now, I fly enough that disruptions like this do not even phase me and I was able to go back to my mom’s house for two more days. The quandary? As I had already checked my bag for the flight that was ultimately canceled, no one at Southwest could tell me where my bag was  — still on the plane, sitting at the Fort Myers airport or on its way to Philly. What I find interesting is that these days (creepily) you can track anyone and anything with technology. Except my Louis Vuitton bag, which was apparently sneaky enough to avoid detection.

The lesson for Southwest? You guys are amazing at practically everthing you do… Perhaps you should focus as much on your technology as you do on your people.    

That’s it, I’m all bitched out. Despite these events, I had an awesome Christmas and am ready to start traveling for show season — just not to Homer, Oklahoma. ; )

Do you have a customer service story that sent you off the rails or restored your faith in humanity? Post a comment!

Cheers, and more next week from the PSI Dusseldorf Show!

– Michele


10 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention Customer Disservice : Michele Bell Blog — Topsy.com Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ASICentral, Michele Bell. Michele Bell said: Just posted my new blog on ASICentral, where I take crappy customer service 2 task (I'm looking at you, Southwest..): http://bit.ly/dXDh1U [...]

    Thursday January 6, 2011
  2. Vinnie D. Says:

    “Let Brenda out of the office to visit an airport, for the love of God.”

    nearly spit my coffee out on that one!!

    Friday January 7, 2011
  3. Mikey C. Says:

    customer service and call centers still exist in the USA?

    Friday January 7, 2011
  4. Michele Bell Says:

    Wait ’til you read about the winners of this year’s Counselor Distributor Choice Awards (February issue)! These suppliers are customer service phenomes and could give the people at my bank a lesson or two… ; )

    Thanks for posting, Mike!

    Friday January 7, 2011
  5. Great Customer Service Diatribe from ASI’s Michele Bell « IMCMiracles Says:

    [...] Customer Disservice [...]

    Friday January 7, 2011
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    Michelle, Thanks for posting this Story about your Stiletto. But to say the truth it wasn’t in Duesseldorf, this happened in Paris!!!
    All the Best Hajo

    Monday January 24, 2011
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